Stephen Stokols WooMe
is the latest upstart to take on the web dating establishment, launching out of beta last week. 

Backed by European VCs Niklas Zennström, Janus Friis and Klaus Hommels, it enables speed daters to interact via in-browser Flash video technology, then charges them to contact each other if they are ‘woo’d’.

It has competition in the form of SpeedDate.com, among others, but says it is also being used for a range of non romance-related tasks. It has also been approached by firms that want to use its technology in HR, internal comms and elsewhere.

We had a quick chat with founder and CEO Stephen Stokols about its plans for the future.

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Why is now a good time to enter the online dating space and what do you offer in terms of new pricing models?

If you look at standard online dating pricing models, they are all subscription based. We have a disruptive business model. I have talked to the heads of online dating companies and they can’t do this because they can’t risk their subscription revenues.

They can offer their subscribers new features, but they can’t create a whole proposition around this type of thing because it will undermine their business model. The implication of WooMe is it could force prices down and a complete change in business models, if it really takes off.

However, we’re not really going out for the hardcore dater. It doesn’t take 45 minutes to fill out a profile – you could have met 45 people in 45 minutes on our site. It’s about the chemistry between people, not about browsing through profiles.

There’s a big market out there of people that don’t want to engage in dating sites because they don’t want to pay or don’t like the stigma associated with them. WooMe is about enjoying the minute – it’s all very playful. There’s no testimonial so you won’t find your wife on there.

We’re a destination site and the Skype guys have really helped us develop it is an open platform. We don’t want to limit or ringfence how many people use it.

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WooMe homepage

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How are things going in terms of usage and what benchmarks do you need to reach to be profitable?

We measure usage in terms of sessions rather than registered users because the site is session based. The number of sessions we need per month to be cashflow positive is about 8,000, which is not monumental. Eight thousand sessions per month amount to about 40,000 users.

The cost of each of video session is about $0.30 so you need about one match per session to break even, while the cost of a voice session is about $0.08. It’s not a huge cost, like in YouTube where you are streaming live video and the costs are monumental. The variable costs are relatively low.

We did about 1,000 sessions in our closed beta [2500 sessions have now been played on the site]. About 500 of them were dating related, but almost 30% were being used for completely different applications. There have been commuters looking for driving partners, and about 20 that we couldn’t categorise. There have been Uzi lovers looking for shooting partners.

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Are you looking to license or white-label the technology?

There’s a lot of interest in that but it’s a bit of a distraction. Some companies want to use it for their interviewing process – to be able to screen through a bunch of people quickly. It’s interesting for us but we’re not quite there yet.

What we may do in the next few months is let dating sites white-label it. There is also a huge group in the US, which I can’t name, which wants to use our platform for their members from across the country to meet. They have 3.5m members in the US and about 340 offices.

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What do your backers add to the business? 

Janus is probably one of the brightest product guys in the world. Niklas gets a lot of the credit but Janus plays the kind of Steve Jobs role. He spent a few hours with us drilling into the product this week.

Niklas is very good at that as well, but he takes more of a broader perspective. He’s the reason we have created the openness around the service. He told us to open it up as much as possible; that Skype is now being used in ways that they never thought possible.

Klaus is a strategic thinker from a measurement perspective – making sure your business is worth 30% more than it would otherwise be by moving metrics slightly. He’s got us measuring things we wouldn’t have thought about.

Plus, when it comes to distribution deals, Klaus is very well connected and can get you into any major company in Europe. So he’s lining up a lot of distribution deals for us. It’s a great balance.

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Are you committed to the UK as a base for the business, and how are you looking to market the site over here?

We chose to launch out of California because we wanted to pre-empt competitors, but we’re a London-based company. The core product development team is in London and will stay here, and we plan to use London as a launch point as well.

The UK is a big offline speed dating market. It makes sense to focus our marketing funds on California for the next few months and have London trail that.

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