Entrepreneurial Profile: The Founders Of DateMySchool
DateMySchool is the largest online dating platform specifically geared towards students and alumni nationwide. Columbia University classmates Balazs Alexa and Jean Meyer founded the company in November 2010 after a woman in the nursing school complained that her department was 90% female. They were in the business school, which was 80% male.
They realized that there was a bigger market – lots of students want to meet across departments and campuses, yet cannot do to differentiated classes and schedules. Failing to find a better solution out there for the problem, Balazs and Jean created DateMySchool.
Within one week 5% of Columbia’s student body registered. Their early success cued DateMySchool to expand to other Ivy League schools, and subsequently nationwide. Today, DateMySchool has 125,000+ users at over 1000 schools nationwide – over 30% of Columbia and New York University uses DateMySchool.
Balazs Alexa is a former consultant at McKinsey & Company. Balazs has worked with clients in both the media and telecom industries across Europe and the Middle East. He has also worked at OpenPlug – the creators of ELIPSStudio – and is a founder of Belanski Films, a distributor of Eastern European films. In 2011, he received an MBA from Columbia University.
Jean Meyer also received his MBA from Columbia University. He is the co-founder of Bankexam SARL. With four million hits a day, and an active community of 300,000 students, it is one of the largest players in online education in Western Europe. He has also designed software applications to price derivatives for BNP Paribas, the largest global banking group in the world.
Elite had the chance to talk to both Jean and Blazs about their burgeoning site:
So what was that moment like when you both both knew that you wanted to be entrepreneurs? Was this a lifelong passion to build businesses by yourselves, or a random moment where you realized you were good at starting a venture?
Jean and I met at Columbia's business school and spent a lot of time talking about startups. We came to the MBA program knowing that we wanted to launch a company in the US. And as we both had experiences in startups – I founded Belanski Films, kind of like the Hulu of Eastern Europe, and Jean is the co-founder of Bankexam SARL, one of the largest online education sites in Western Europe – we knew how to go about launching one.
It is true that social networking websites, even in the last ten years have become cliche in their repitition. What inspired your idea that is now a variation of the "Dating Site"?
While we were getting our MBA's at Columbia, a girl in the nursing school complained about how hard it was to meet guys outside her department, which was like 90% female. The business school was about 80% male, and we were always seeing nursing girls flirting with guys at the business school library, which really isn't the most efficient place to find a date. We knew there was a bigger market – lots of students want to discover new people across departments and campuses – but we didn't find a better solution out there. So we created DateMySchool in November 2010. Within one week, 5% of Columbia's student body signed up. Today, DateMySchool is the largest online dating platform for students and alumni. We have over 125,000 members at a thousand schools nationwide, including 30% of Columbia and 25% of NYU's student bodies.
College has long been known as the place where anyone can start over from high school and be themselves. At the same time, we know so little about the person sitting in the desk next to us who could be from a completely different country. Why would you guys say college is the best place to start a relationship?
Whether they're looking for dates, friends or study-partners, students want to discover new people during college. But, with all those 20-page papers, fraternity parties, and internships, students are busy. They don't have time to meet all the cool people on campus. DateMySchool helps folks safely and quickly discover new people on campus and campuses nearby.
Does your algorithm differ from those offered by Match.com or eHarmony.com? Or is it the same model, just applied to a different demographic?
We don't use algorithms to match users. Similarly to The New York Times, we don't see their effectiveness: just because an algorithm identifies your mutual love for sushi, doesn't mean you'll emotionally connect while eating California rolls. Instead, we trust that our members know who they want to meet: with our unprecedented filtering functions, members may search through schools, departments, age range and even individuals, body type and smoking preferences to discover their ideal match.
Now, I use NYU's facilities, and I'm no stranger to the stealth advertisement you guys have put in all the men's bathrooms. What is your general marketing plan? How do you build student interaction online when a campus is already so open and accessible?
As you've seen, we tend to market directly on-campus and have found it to be really effective. Again, students are busy, they can't meet all the amazing people on campus. It's easy to get stuck in those small, friend circles – always going out to the same parties with the same groups of friends – and it's hard to meet people across departments. Our users know that if they want to safely and quickly discover someone new on campus or campuses nearby, they will find success on DateMySchool; we're responsible for over 50% of the dates at schools like Columbia and NYU, where we have a major presence.
What does success mean to you, and how do you attain it?
We want to be responsible for 50% of the dates at all campuses nationwide, and our team will work as hard as possible to achieve that goal.
What advice would you guys give the entrepreneur looking to venture out with a social internet product? How can they be successful?
What is the biggest failure you guys have experienced and what did you learn from it?
Our company culture is not to dwell on problems, but rather to find solutions. I have never encountered a problem that didn't have a solution. I don't care about mistakes or failure -- I just care that we work hard and try.
Are there any side ventures you guys are moving into, whether through DateMySchool or another project?
We're about to relaunch DateMySchool with a newly redesigned platform that looks awesome.
50 years down the line, if you two have attained all of the goals you have at this moment, where do you see yourselves and DateMySchool?
In 50 years, I hope to inspire my grandchildren with DateMySchool's lasting success to create their own startup if that will make them happy.
Check them out at: http://datemyschool.com/
Aidan Sakiri | Elite.