Zoosk Abandons Plans For IPO Amidst Leadership Shifts

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Back in May, things were looking good for Zoosk. The company had just filed its S-1 registration statement with the SEC and announced plans to raise $100 million in an initial public offering. The website had reached 26 million members across 80 countries, including 650,000 paying subscribers. Revenue was up 63% from 2012 to 2013, rising from $109.1 million to $178.2 million, and net loss had decreased drastically.

These days, the story is a little different for Zoosk. The company just announced major changes in leadership. CFO Kelly Steckelberg will be taking over as CEO. She is replacing co-founder Shayan Zadeh, who will become a member of the board. Zadeh will be joined on the board by co-founder Alex Mehr, who is currently president.

Along with the leadership shuffle, Zoosk is reconsidering its IPO. “Since the time we filed, the market condition around comparables that would be used to help value our company, like Angie’s List and Care.com, have not performed well,” Steckelberg told TechCrunch. “While the overall market might seem receptive to a public offering, subscription businesses have suffered.”

Zadeh agrees, saying that consumer subscription business are not currently fairing well in the market, forcing Zoosk to table it's plans for an IPO until a later date. He, Mehr and Steckelberg are adamant that the leadership changes have no bearing on Zoosk's decision and are merely coincidental.

Still, however, there is plenty riding on them. TechCrunch notes that Steckelberg is a logical replacement for Zadeh, because “She has experience building internet subscription businesses serving as controller and chief accounting officer at WebEx, joining Cisco as part of an acquisition and later serving as divisional CFO in Cisco’s WebEx consumer segment.” She has also held positions of power with Epiphany and PeopleSoft.

At a time when online dating, especially in the ever-evolving mobile sphere, is hotter than ever, Zoosk's changes stand to have a huge impact. Mehr explains that “Since day one of the company, we’ve been making product decisions over long periods of time. It created more of a top-down approach to design, where people were focused on decisions that Shayan and I were making. Kelly’s approach is more collaborative. She wants to listen to many more voices in the company when it comes to product decisions.”

Can that new collaborative approach keep Zoosk alive – and profitable – in the years to come? Steckelberg is confident. “Zoosk will be in a situation when cash-flow and current cash balance are going to be enough to carry this company forward,” she assures.

Zoosk Offers New Insight Feature for Daters

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Popular online dating company Zoosk announced this week the launch of Dating Insights, a new feature on its site that allows members to see a holistic view of their dating activity and preferences culled from Zoosk’s original “behavior-based” matching technology.

Zoosk has long marketed the benefits of its technology, which tracks how users behave on its site and matches them accordingly. For instance, if Zoosk notices that you mostly reach out to bookish guys, then it will start matching you with more literary types. It works for both daters and Zoosk, because the more you use the service, the better (and more curated) your matches will be.

The new feature Dating Insights will offer members information about their own individual dating preferences, and will also aggregate information about members who have shown some interest. The idea is to help you understand your patterns and preferences so you can have a better overall dating experience.

Dating Insights is divided into three sections:

Who Likes You – this feature provides demographics of matches who have shown the most interest in the user, like those of a particular age, body type, education, ethnicity, religion, and whether or not they smoke.

Who You Like – Zoosk sums up your preferences, not based on your profile, but on your behavior. For instance, Zoosk will let you know that “you put more importance on a man’s level of education than most” or “The Lord of the Rings is the book liked most by the men you’re interested in.”

Your Dating Style – this shows how often (and how well) you are using the dating site, and provides tips on how to improve your experience.

It only makes sense that the online dating company would harness its own technology to offer daters insight into how they are dating, since they use it to match daters anyway. But they aren't the first.

OkCupid has used information gathered from its own users as well to shed light on how people date online. Co-founder Christian Rudder analyzed the extensive data the company collected to understand online dating trends and to provide its members with more services they want (for a fee) – such as the ability to rate dates and filtering out people who don’t physically match your ideal. eHarmony also provides insight to daters as part of its package of services, though it is more personalized. eHarmony offers a “profile book” once you have finished with its extensive questionnaire, where you can find out what your strengths and weaknesses are as a dater and in a relationship.

Helping daters understand the online dating experience and what they want isn’t new, but hopefully the more opportunities daters have to see this kind of information, the better their experiences will be.

For more about this service you can read our Zoosk review.

Dating Website Zoosk to go Public Most Likely in 2015

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According to Bloomberg News, the popular dating website Zoosk is scheduled to go public. The company filed earlier this year, but the latest stock market volatility might delay their offering until 2015.

Zoosk has long touted itself as a major contender in the online dating game due to its large international user base, alongside brands such as Match.com and OkCupid. The company has more than 27 million members across 80 countries, and the online dating market is reported to be worth $1.4 billion.

The appeal to investors goes beyond the revenues to be had in the online dating market. Zoosk company executives are betting on their extensive user base and tracking technology to help leverage their value. Unlike many online dating websites that rely on lengthy questionnaires and profile descriptions, Zoosk’s technology is purely behavior-based. That is, when users of the site navigate through profiles, send messages, or set filters to view other members, Zoosk is tracking this data and responding by providing matches that have similar behavior or seem most compatible. In other words, they are honing in to what users really want by seeing what they actually do online.

The more a user interacts with other members in the Zoosk community, the more Zoosk learns about that person to give them better matches. To the company’s benefit, it also gives them a wealth of data about their users, which is a valuable asset for investors.

Zoosk is also integrated so users can log in no matter what platform they are viewing on – phone, laptop, iPad or tablet, and is the #1 grossing online dating app in the iTunes store, according to its website. But its marketing expenses might be cutting into its revenue.

Website SeekingAlpha.com has been speculating about the opening price the company will decide upon, based on current statistics. Zoosk’s options granted in April 2014 had an exercise price of $7.72, so SeekingAlpha.com assumes the pricing discussions are in the range of $8-$16, which might not be an incentive for investors looking for a deal (and also looking at how the company can bring in more revenue). Right now, the dating app is free, but members pay to use features like messaging, chatting, and connecting with viewers who have viewed their profiles.

The opening price of the company’s stock is a matter of concern, but what does it mean to go public during such a risky market?

“Nobody wishes they went public today or over the last week,” Max Wolff, the chief economist at Manhattan Venture Partners, an investment firm focusing on late-stage private technology companies, told Bloomberg. “A regular bout of intense selling, like we’re seeing now, makes people feel like it’s smart to stay private longer.”

So the next move is up to Zoosk, but the company anticipates that investors are willing to bet on it.

Please read our Zoosk review for more information on this service.

Photos - The Double Standards Of Online Dating

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If you want to put your best foot forward and drum up the most interest from potential partners, you won't be surprised to learn that it all comes down to your profile photo.

Okay, not all of it. Some people do actually read the words you painstakingly chose. But let's be real: the profile pic is the first thing someone sees, and it has a lot to do with how well you sell yourself online.

Before you start contemplating plastic surgery, remember that the perfect profile picture isn't about conventional beauty. There are plenty of other factors that go into a photo that catches eyes, and none of them have to do with how well you apply eyeliner or how much time you spend in the gym.

Zoosk conducted a study of 4,000 online daters and discovered some of the more unexpected elements that attract attention online:

  • Yes, your pet is cute, but your furry friend is not helping you find a date. Photos with animals lower the average number of messages received by 53% for both men and women.
  • Posing with human friends also lowers your average – by 42%.
  • Women get a 60% boost in messages received if their profile picture is taken indoors.
  • On the other hand, men get 19% more messages if their photo is taken outdoors.
  • A full body shot is must, regardless of your gender. It'll give you a 203% bump in your incoming messages average.
  • Ladies: your selfies earn you 4% more messages. Gentlemen: sorry, your selfies lower your incoming average by 8%.

What you're seeing here are some similarities, but also a couple of key differences. Take that last one: why is it we think it's normal for women to take selfies, but think it's vain for men to do the same thing? Shocker – we have double standards were beauty and gender norms are concerned.

Those double standards continue into the text of the profile. Zoosk's research came to the unsettling conclusion that honesty is the best policy for men, but that women should keep their mouths shut about the big issues until later on. Looking at the data, Zoosk found that:

  • The words "separate" and "divorce" up men's incoming messages by 52%. Mentioning children means another 7% boost.
  • For women, on the other hand, mentioning the same words causes the incoming messages average to drop by 7%.

So what does that mean? Does that mean women should hide their pasts while men should celebrate them? Does it mean that online dating is fundamentally broken?

What it really means, more than anything, is that online dating sites serve as a microcosm of society as a whole. Regardless of gender, double standards are firmly in place – and we'll never beat them online until we beat them offline.

For more on the dating site that commissioned the study you can read our review of Zoosk.

You Can Get A Verified Profile On Zoosk – And You Don’t Have To Be A Celebrity

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There are a few common complaints every online dater has, and at the top of the list is "They looked nothing like their picture.” You could call it superficial, but let's be honest – who doesn’t appreciate truth in advertising?

There's always an embellishment aspect to dating, especially when dating means filling out a profile and answering personality tests, but there's a point when embellishment becomes flat-out lying. And that’s not cool, folks.

There’s never going to be a way to ensure that everything said on an online dating profile is fact, but a new feature from Zoosk will at least ensure that the photos associated with the profile are real. The new feature is called Photo Verification, and it uses a patent-pending process to compare members’ photos to videos they submit of themselves.

The verification service is currently available only on iOS, but an Android version is in the works. To use it, open the Zoosk app on your iPhone and select a profile photo that you want verified. You will be prompted to record and submit a video selfie that captures your face from multiple angles. Zoosk will then compare the video to the photo to ensure it’s an accurate representation of your real life appearance. If you pass the test, you will be certified with a badge on your profile. It’s basically the dating equivalent of Twitter’s verified profiles for celebrities, except you don’t have to have a famous face to use it.

Note: the video will remain private, so don’t worry about how much more awkward it is to take a video selfie than a photo selfie.

“One of the most important concerns of online daters is going out with someone who doesn’t really resemble their profile picture,” says Shayan Zadeh, co-founder and CEO of Zoosk. “By innovating a system for our members to validate the accuracy of existing profile photos, we believe we can create better first-date experiences that will lead to lasting relationships.”

By adding a new layer of transparency to online dating, Zoosk hopes to create a more authentic experience that will boost trust between daters and increase first date satisfaction. "Zoosk developed this feature in order to address its members' interest in having more transparency and trust in their potential dates," the company said in a statement. "By creating a Photo Verification process, Zoosk has become the first company in the online dating industry to directly address this concern."

To find out more about this dating service and the other features they offer you can read our review of Zoosk.

Zoosk Introduces New Date Feedback Feature

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Oh boy. Just when you thought online dating couldn’t get any more stressful, you now have to worry about what feedback your date is sharing with the site that connected you.

Zoosk recently announced the launch of Date Feedback, a new feature that will allow members to provide commentary on their online dating experience. When Zoosk’s system recognizes that two users have exchanged a significant number of messages, Date Feedback will ask each to offer their opinions on how the conversation progressed and the likelihood of an off-line meetup. Zoosk hopes the new feature will provide valuable insight into the matchmaking process.

“At Zoosk, we are constantly improving our technology to help our members discover fulfilling relationships, and Date Feedback will be one of the first ways we’re able to add offline dates to the list of signals our algorithm can take into account for matchmaking,” said Shayan Zadeh, Co-Founder and CEO of Zoosk. “With the launch of Date Feedback and the important data points it adds, our platform will have the ability to become that much more adept at understanding how a member’s online dating experience transitions into an in-person meeting, and hopefully, a relationship.”

The goal is to offer each member a more personalized experience. By gathering data on what conditions are most likely to lead to in-person dates (and, afterwards, relationships), Zoosk is hoping to improve its Behavioral Matchmaking engine. The matching system will be better able to predict which introductions will lead to successful offline connections, making the website a more powerful tool than ever before.

It’s no surprise to see Zoosk taking a more technological approach to dating. The company has always espoused a tech-based methodology for matching, rather than a strategy based on self-reported questionnaires. The Behavioral Matchmaking engine works by tracking a user’s actions on the site – like where the user clicks and what messages s/he sends and responds to – in order to deliver better matches. Rather than using a one-size-fits all, static approach to dating (like a quiz or fixed profile), Zoosk constantly updates to accommodate your preferences and adapts its dating experience to your actions.

Now is a particularly good time for Zoosk to bring out the heavy artillery. Though it has yet to turn a profit, revenue continues to grow and the company filed documentation to become a public company in April. Zoosk plans to raise $100 million in its initial public offering later this year.

For more information on this dating site you can read our review of Zoosk.