Matchmaking enterprises don't offer guarantees--just chances to meet Mr. or Ms. Wonderful. "People are looking for opportunities to meet other eligible singles," says McDermott. "They go to dating services because they don't have access to the type of single people they hope to meet and date in their day-to-day lives. Really, singles go to dating services to purchase access to other singles."
Singles on the hunt look for particular characteristics in their prospective mates, so it helps to find a niche before starting a venture. Inspired by visiting chat rooms, Jory Rozner, a single Jewish woman and CEO of Zipple.com, decided to capitalize on the Web's popularity in 1998 and start her own online Jewish community. Today, her Singles Scene section has thousands of clients from more than 20 countries and receives more than 500,000 hits a month. Rozner, 31, took $35,000 from her savings and persuaded three former business associates to pony up $65,000 more for a percentage of the company. The investment has paid off: Rozner expects sales to exceed $2 million this year.
"Singles are always looking for new ways to meet," says Rozner. "The Internet is perfect. It gives the most comprehensive forum for interacting, screening and meeting. With chat rooms, bulletin boards, pictures, profiles and essays, a person can really do a good job at selecting someone appropriate for them. It's better than being fixed up by your mother's friend who thinks every single Jewish boy in his late 20s or early 30s is `just adorable.'"
While developing her site, Rozner outsourced much of the design work but kept herself involved in the process. "I wanted the site to be cool, hip, colorful and fun," she says. "Jews who are already involved in Judaism will go anywhere on the Internet to get the information they need, but you have to make a special effort to appeal to young people and nonaffiliated Jews."
Online personals also appeal because of their low cost. "Often, online dating is associated with newspaper personals," says Will Bunker, 30-year-old CEO and co-founder of One-and-Only.com, an online dating site in Dallas. But Bunker believes the two hit different demographics, with newspapers used more often by blue-collar workers who earn less than $25,000 per year and Web sites frequented by white-collar professionals earning $50,000 or more.
"Brick-and-mortar dating establishments have typically been too expensive for the average single, take up too much time, and, more often than not, turn out to be a waste of time and money," says Bunker, whose company's sales hit $10 million in 1999. "Online matchmakers allow people to get to know each other from the inside out on their own time and at a price they won't regret."