Hot Stuff

Online Matchmaking, Children's Enrichment Programs & Organic Foods

Hot Biz:Online Matchmaking
The future of online matchmaking is no longer the bastion of lonely singles searching for love. According to market research and consulting firm Marketdata Enterprises Inc. , as the dating services industry continues its stellar growth, reaching $1.14 billion in 2003, the growth of online dating services that simply copy popular sites is beginning to plateau. Innovative entrepreneurs are now taking a look at the successful business model and spotting new opportunities that, while still matchmaking, offer a twist.

Finding a fresh niche is key to the success of sites like Friendster.com, a virtual wildfire boasting more than 2 million subscribers despite zero advertising. Founder Jonathan Abrams was inspired by how his friends met people-through other friends. "I wanted to create an experience that was more reflective of real life," explains Abrams, 33. The invitation-only membership site offers a pool of potentially limitless friends and their friends (up to four degrees) with whom clients might make friends, network or, yes, date. While the basic membership will always be free, says Abrams, Friendster plans to eventually add a premium subscription service, though the specifics have not been worked out yet.

After a struggle to find a business partner earlier this year, Craig Maiman, 43, started EntreMate . Entrepreneurs post profiles and search an online database to find prospective business partners or founding team members. Criteria like industry, skills, location and alma mater aid entrepreneurs in zeroing in on a match. Some 900 members joined within six weeks of launching the site, and Maiman expects over 10,000 registered users by 2004.

With market research firm comScore Networks Inc. citing online personals as the single-highest category of paid content for Americans, people are obviously willing to pay for connections, social or professional. "It makes sense," says Bruce D. Weinberg, associate professor of marketing for Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, and expert on the online consumer experience. "[Online matchmaking] taps into what is the heart of the Internet, helping people connect for some kind of potential for exchange." -A.Y.P.

Learn More

  • HeartsOnline.com - A portal for online matchmaking sites, HeartsOnline.com provides a list of dating sites, including their history, cost and what makes their service unique.
  • Dating Services Guide.com - Another guide for online dating services, this site offers reviews and articles. Tips, resources and a newsletter are coming soon.

Hot Biz:Children's Enrichment Programs
If anyone needs a daily planner, it's today's kids. With everything from dance, martial arts and foreign language to sewing, organized sports and chess programs to tempt parents, it's no wonder enrichment programs have spawned a billion-dollar industry.

Why the push for extracurricular activities extraordinaire? "Given the number of homes where both parents work and a corporate culture that demands people put in longer hours at the office, many families depend on organized activities to fill the after-school void," says Stacy M. DeBroff, author of Sign Me Up! The Parents' Complete Guide to Sports, Activities, Music Lessons, Dance Classes, and Other Extracurriculars (Free Press) and other parenting books, as well as founder of the online portal Mom Central Inc. "Organized activities hold intense appeal since they are theoretically safe and overseen by responsible adults who monitor what's going on in our absence."

Whether you operate a physical location, take your business to area schools or offer private lessons, the opportunities are boundless. Archer Altstaetter, founder and owner of Dance Emotion, a dance studio in Irvine, California, offering all manner of kids' dance lessons, chose the studio route. A former dance student himself, the 33-year-old is a natural with kids, and it shows. "Word-of-mouth is currently my biggest ad," says Altstaetter, who started Dance Emotion in 1997 for around $12,000 in cash and credit cards. "I just can't pay for that. I have 500 happy clients."

Altstaetter expects to have 600-plus students enrolled by springtime, which should up this year's estimated sales of $210,000. With future plans for a built-in theater, a mommy gym, a snack shop and possibly day care, Altstaetter should have no trouble taking those next steps. -Karen E. Spaeder

Learn More

  • National Network for Childcare - This site provides a collection of resources and information, such as child development, quality childcare, health and safety, etc.

Hot Biz:Organic Foods
Consumers craving healthy, environmentally friendly fare are turning to organic foods in greater numbers than ever. And as demand grows, stores are clearing space on their shelves to make way for organics.

"We're beginning to be found in so many more places than at anytime in our past," says Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association . "If you're an entrepreneur, there's lots of opportunity in terms of possible markets." U.S. sales of organic foods are about $11 billion, yet account for only 2 percent of retail food sales, according to the Organic Trade Association, making for nearly limitless possibilities.

Going organic can mean anything from adding organic produce to your restaurant menu to creating and selling an entirely new product. If you're not growing it yourself, you'll pay a premium for certified organic foods. "Look carefully at your client base, and determine whether they're going to be willing to pay a premium price for [organic], or whether you're willing to sacrifice your bottom line for it," says Jackie Keller, founding director of Los Angeles-based NutriFit LLC , a company that makes and delivers healthy, prepared meals to clients, using organic ingredients.

Many companies are finding a way to balance those options and are boasting healthy sales in the process. For O'Naturals , a Falmouth, Maine-based fast-casual chain with 2003 estimated sales of more than $3 million, about one-third of what is served in the company's four restaurants is organic. Fairfield Farm Kitchens Inc. of Brockton, Massachusetts, has obtained organic certification for its line of frozen entrees, soups and bakery products. The company estimates sales will top $15 million this year.

Co-founders Eric Schnell, 33, and Steven Kessler, 43, of The Healthy Beverage Company , based in Newtown, Pennsylvania, expect to earn $2 million this year from their line of organic sodas, Steap, made of carbonated green tea. "Carbonated soft drinks have been flat sales-wise because the beverage category has been moving toward healthier beverages like juices and natural beverages," says Schnell. "[Steap] is a soda, but it's also healthy."

If you want to go organic, creativity is key. "Are you addressing an unmet need, are you bringing something new to the category, or are you just another substitute for what [stores are] already carrying?" asks Bob Burke, owner of Natural Products Consulting Institute, an Andover, Massachusetts, firm that helps bring natural and organic products to market. Come up with a good answer to that question, and you could soon be seeing tasty profits. -Devlin Smith

Learn More

  • Organic Consumers Association - This non-profit organization focused on organic consumers covers issues of food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, corporate accountability, and environmental sustainability.
  • All Organic Links - This organic portal features carefully-selected organic industry links with descriptions. You can use their search function or browse through their directory, most popular links and more.

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This article was originally published in the December 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hot Stuff.

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