Alex Mehr Zoosk Co-Founder and President
Zoosk, with over 40 million active members worldwide, is one of the largest social dating portals ever. Founded in the USA, it has been going for a long time in Australia. Alex Mehr, co-founder and president of Zoosk, we could not wait to ask why it had to be such a strange name…
Instead of the usual questionnaire, we look at how users behave when looking for a partner.
Mr. Mehr, this is either the most common or never asked question: How does the social dating portal Zoosk get its name? And is there a deeper meaning that we do not yet know?
This is the result of a totally strategic consideration: Our name should start with "Z", because "Z" is a sexy letter. Then we absolutely wanted to integrate the double-o because "oo" finally have many successful companies in the name - Facebook, Google, Yahoo. And we wanted to end with a "k" is the most common consonant in all languages.
The Zoosk headquarters is based in San Francisco - how many employees are now employed at Zoosk.com?
A total of 177 people work for Zoosk.
We are interested in the direct comparison between USA and Australia: What are the similarities and the biggest differences between the two in terms of online dating?
The biggest difference between Australian and American users is in terms of security requirements. Australian daters attach great importance to data security, so the Americans are perceptibly more uncomfortable.
US users are undoubtedly more experienced in online dating: they are simply "more trained" in all online dating questions. When an American single encounters a suspicious profile while online dating, he or she notifies us of the fake suspicion as a rule or blocks the profile. For Australian users we rarely experience this – Americans and Australians show different behaviours in dating.
Zoosk has claims such as the "romantic social network" or the "clever kind" of online dating: for which main target group the platform is intended?
Zoosk is aimed at individuals who are seriously looking for a partner, but with us not necessarily life partners for matching and marriage, as is expected in the USA from a classic partner matchmaking. Our goal is that people live a fully-fledged partnership. We are less concerned with certain kinds of relationships, rather more about what partnership and fulfilment for each one means.
In the USA the Zoosk target audience is on average almost 9 years younger as users on bigger online dating platforms and partner agencies. The average Zoosk user is at the end of their twenties – start of their thirties. The entire range is of course much bigger, we also have people around the 60 or even 70-year range who are successful on Zoosk.
And what is the biggest distinction criterion from Zoosk to Badoo?
Most of the dating portals are based on a more or less complex questionnaire which the user must first complete upon registration. When we started with Zoosk in 2007, we determined that also in most profiles information is requested for the personal background. In addition, who and what someone is looking for and for which type of person in which you are particularly interested. In our experience, people are not aware of exactly who they are looking for before they discover a concrete profile and are interested in it.
So we wanted to develop a feature that, instead of vague ideas of a desired partner, evaluates the actual behaviour of the user to create profiles which are based on the actual preferences of the users.
You talk about "behaviour-based matchmaking," right?
Exactly. Amazon was the first vendor to work with these parameters – the products you click on and what you buy are registered and further products suggested to you will be based off this. Zoosk has transferred this principle to online dating. We evaluate a variety of data based on this, we can also refine the contact suggestions more and more exactly to the individual user at Zoosk.
So "online dating in a clever way", as the saying goes, through Behavioral Matchmaking™ - how does this technology function exactly?
The patented Behavioral Matchmaking™ Technology from Zoosk makes it possible in a completely new way to match people. The System at Zoosk can learn, it “observes” the click behaviour and the interaction of members and processes what they do de facto. The matchmaking at Zoosk is not based on a static, standardised questionnaire which divides the members into rough groups and assigns them accordingly.
The Zoosk principle is dynamic and adapts individually to every single member. All signals coming from the user - whom do I click, whom do I ignore, whom I send a message to and whose request I respond to - are fed into behaviour-based matchmaking. This makes it possible for us to make contact with individual members which he or she will very likely positively answer.
An adaptive, further developing matching system: is this a small revolution in the online partner search?
If you fulfil the Australian data protection laws, then you automatically fulfil them everywhere else.
The whole algorithm is oriented towards reciprocal attraction, that is why we think that Zoosk users get faster to their personal "dating success" than on other portals.
Some other platforms have the goal to provide the users with the largest possible selection of partner suggestions via search filters at Zoosk. On the other hand, we want to present the right partners in the fastest possible time.
However, the evaluation of click activities and member interactivity gives us much more extensive insights. Based on Zoosk statistics we are even able to map a correct cartography of the Australian partner search behaviour. Singles from Sydney, for example, may prefer to stay together while the Zoosk members from Perth will also diligently send contact requests beyond national borders.
How interesting is the Australian market for such a global player like Zoosk?
Two important aspects for successful dating companies are data protection and security, especially with regard to international law. You say: "If you fulfil the Australian data protection laws, then you automatically fulfil them everywhere else."
We are doing well today - and that is our claim. Our general principles also include, for example, that we do not advertise on our site and do not give anyone any data for advertising purposes. This is compatible with the Australian market.
But apart from that Australia is, of course, a really big and exciting market for Zoosk.
What do you think you are doing differently with Zoosk in order to stay on the market?
We try above all to learn from our international experiences alongside cultural differences in online dating and to fine-tune our product accordingly. We believe that the local adaptation of the portal is a key factor for success.
But we try nevertheless to develop a product with Zoosk that is not US-specific and just tailored to a single dating culture. Rather, something that in principle functions the same way for singles all over the world. The behaviour-controlled matching, which is based on the Zoosk system, is globally applicable and therefore also suitable in order to help Australia singles live a fulfilling relationship.
How important is mobile for Zoosk.com?
Mobile plays a big role for us, of course. We nurtured Zoosk so that it works very well in mobile, because there are no lengthy formal processes and questionnaires. People are moving from different platforms to Zoosk. For example, you can pay for the mobile version but be on your home screen on Zoosk. Online and mobile use therefore complement each other.
In the video spot "Zoosk beats the competition", you can make a direct comparison between Zoosk.com and Match.com and you also don’t shy away from the statement that finding a partner through Zoosk is more successful. Was not that an issue with the competition?
No, no reaction to this video has come to our attention. For us it is primarily about this to distance ourselves from the other suppliers and to make clear the ways in which Zoosk is different. That’s why we like reporting it and why people enjoy their experiences with Zoosk, such as the couple in the video. The two met on Zoosk and are ecstatic about it.
In fact they had both previously tried Match.com and told us that they were both disappointed in online dating. Then each of them decided for themselves to simply try Zoosk. We love stories about finding personal happiness because it is always a success to know that we have helped people find each other.
Simple, free mobile apps like Tinder are also currently a big hit in this country. What do you think of this trend? Do you consider Tinder competition?
We consider Tinder a kind of online dating game, a hot topic for a short period of time. It’s cool until everyone’s tried it. Tinder pursues different principles to Zoosk, there is little motivation here to find a serious relationship. Tinder is more about flirting and casual dates without obligation. We do not play in that league and that is not our goal either.
The online dating platform Zoosk is available in 80 countries and in 25 languages – a successful worldwide business. To come to the last question for today: What is the greatest wish that Zoosk should fulfil?
Our mission for the future? We want to help people to lead a happy love life. And we want to offer Zoosk as the best product for exactly that to bring people all over the world into a fulfilled partnership in different cultures, different age levels and with different preferences.
This is a great task that Zoosk has set up, and we try to master it step by step. In the US, we are the number 1, but until we are the number 1 in every country, there is still a lot to do.
Alex Mehr, we would like to thank you for the interview and wish you lots of fun and success with Zoosk.com!