Interview with Robert Ryall (DateinaDash)
DateinaDash is a London based speed dating service.
I interviewed Robert Ryall, DateinaDash founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and twenty second in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Robert!
How would you describe DateinaDash in under 50 words?
We are the market leaders for Speed Dating events & Singles Parties in London. We host up to 20 events a month somewhere across the capital for singles of all ages.
What gap in the market did you discover that persuaded you to launch DateinaDash 2011?
It wasn’t so much a ‘gap’ in the market but after attending a speed dating event myself I quickly realised that there was a huge demand for this type of activity and I was confident that I could do it better.
I was amazed at the amount of people who attended the event I went to, I remember doing the math in my head at the time and calculated that they must have made over £800 in ticket sales alone! It was obvious that they had a deal with the venue to get the room for free so there were minimal overheads and it seemed like a great deal of fun!
I set about finding more upmarket venues to hold the events in, offered complimentary drinks on arrival, decorated the venues with heart shaped balloons, had bowls of candy on the tables, it was definitely the little touches that made the big difference initially.
As a host I would spend a great deal of time getting to know my customers, building rapport at the events and following up with an e-mail or phone call the next day.
Was it a difficult decision to resign from your job as a Police Officer?
It wasn’t a difficult decision to make because I wasn’t enjoying the job anymore, long shifts and not enough time spent with family and friends. I found myself spending any downtime I had in the job working on DateinaDash, it was where my passion lied.
It was definitely a risk though, after all I had a secure job, decent salary, pension and I gave it all up for a business that wasn’t even making £500 a month but I knew that if I gave it my full attention it could make a lot more money.
How long did it take to put together the initial website?
The website hasn’t changed much since it was launched back in October 2011. I think from start to finish it was online in about 3 months. The longest part of the development process was spent programming the backend which is custom built. It’s constantly evolving and we’re always fixing bugs and adding new features.
What was technically the most challenging part of developing DateinaDash?
The challenge wasn’t in building the website as we work with a great team of developers but it was learning how the online and offline worlds would meet. It was an interesting concept to match people up at ‘live’ events and then tell them to go online to continue the conversation, it seemed a bit backwards.
In the early days we used to provide any matches with the persons e-mail address and contact number, we quickly realised that this was losing us traffic as people were leaving the website to move to e-mail. After the second or third event we changed it so that users could only communicate with their matches through an internal messaging system thus keeping members on our website.
When we launched in 2011 we just missed the boat on ‘mobile apps’ and our biggest challenge now is converting our existing website into a mobile friendly one.
Who do you see as your target audience? How are you reaching them?
We run events for single people of all ages, right from 18 to 65. All our events have an age guide so we welcome people if they’re slightly younger or older.
We have strong organic rankings in Google, we’re #1 for ‘Speed Dating London’ which gets 8,000 exact match searches a month and drives 50% of our traffic and sales. Nearly 25% of our customers come via word of mouth which is a strong indication to the quality and success of our events.
How difficult was it finding employees confident enough to host your events?
Most of our hosts are part time actors who have appeared on stage or TV so have a lot of experience performing in front of lots of people. We’ve never openly recruited for hosts most actually approach us or attend one of our events and get talking to us at the bar. The first question people ask me when I’m hosting an event is ‘So how long have you been doing this?’ they’re fascinated by it and think it’s a really cool job but that’s the easy part.
Has DateinaDash got the feedback and growth you expected since launching?
The feedback to our events has been fantastic, we always hear from our customers about the great experiences they’ve had and it’s especially nice when they compare us to our competitors and say how much better our events were.
Our growth rate is phenomenal, we are signing up 500 people a month to our events (probably the fastest growing speed dating company in London!) word of mouth accounts for so many of our bookings and that says a lot!
How do you differentiate yourselves from your competitors?
I don’t necessarily think you need to be different from your competitors to be successful, you just need to better in one area, whether you offer more value or deliver a better experience. When I first launched DateinaDash we started running events in the same areas, to the same age groups and at the same prices as our rivals but we just made sure that our experience was 10% better.
We held our events in upmarket and stylish bars as opposed to backstreet pubs. We offered a complimentary drink on arrival, decorated the venue with heart shaped balloons, had candles on the tables and we even had our own DJ in the early days! From the moment a guest walked through the doors they were greeted by friendly hosts who make a conscious effort to put them at ease, introduce them to other guests and break the ice. We spent time getting to know our customers, building rapport at the events and then following up with an e-mail or telephone call the next day.
We started offering a range of activity based dating events that no one else was offering. I always thought the best dates were when you’re doing something, it puts people at ease and gives you something to talk about. We started running bowling parties which were a roaring success. We now offer more events than anyone else in London from wine tasting evenings to singles bar crawls, there really is something for everyone!
Have you started a relationship through DateinaDash?
Ironically I’m probably the only person I know who has (although I’m sure there are dozens more!). I met my girlfriend back in early 2012 at one of my first events and we’ve been together ever since, in fact we’re now looking to move in together!
Any plans to expand out of London?
Absolutely, we held a couple of events in Birmingham & Manchester last year but we probably expanded a little too soon as we didn’t have the infrastructure in place to run these regularly. We’re currently looking at a couple of options to expand including a franchise route.
Where do you see DateinaDash in 5 years time?
The dating market is shifting more and more towards mobile and offline dating events. I’m not sure people will be using traditional online dating websites like Match and eHarmony in five years time. I think it’s fairly telling that Match launched their ‘stir’ events brand last year and that Plentyoffish (the worlds biggest dating site) recently acquired the Speed Dating franchise FastLife.
DateinaDash will certainly be going mobile via an App, this will allow us to combine online dating with offline events. I also see an expansion across the country, possibly via a franchise model. I’d like to think that within 5 years we will be the largest dating brand in the UK operating more events and in more cities than anyone else.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
One of the biggest problems anyone running a Speed Dating business will face is ensuring there is an equal ratio of men and women at the event. Back in the early days we’d have to recruit people from dating websites or give away free tickets to past customers. I remember spending hours stuck glued to the monitor sending our hundreds of messages to people on Plentyoffish, fortunately we don’t have to do that anyone!
What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?
Start a business based around an interest or hobby, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel you just need to take an existing business and make it better, cheaper or faster by 10%. Give it time and keep plugging away, DateinaDash was a loss making business for the first two years so don’t expect to get rich quick!
What are you most excited about at the moment?
We’re always trying to keep things fresh and are constantly coming up with new and creative ideas for dating events. Last month we launched the world’s first ‘Zumba Speed Date’. Behind the scenes we’re really excited about our mobile app which is currently in the early stages of development but we can’t reveal too much about this yet!
Finished reading? Check out DateinaDash!