2014 marks the start of celebrations, where online dating is concerned. This summer Guardian Soulmates celebrated its 10 year online anniversary, with a party at Guardian HQ, and My Single Friend has also now seen a decade of online dating. A number of the most well-known British dating sites began in the late noughties, so it looks like we’ve got lots of parties ahead of us!
To celebrate MSF’s achievement, the company threw a special party for some of its many success stories, at The Fable, last week. Cutting the cake was none other than Sarah Beeny, who founded the site with her husband back in 2004. I was lucky enough to chat to Sarah about the ups and downs of ten years of online dating.
Sarah first became involved with dating because of her own single friends. “I remember in my twenties, everyone would go to a pub, two or three times a week … people would bring a couple of friends from work … and everyone would pile in and just hang out and have a really nice time. There were these events with lots of single people going on all the time, and as I got to my late twenties, I noticed people started to meet people and have permanent relationships, and suddenly this massive group of people going out stopped happening. That single pool got smaller and smaller and smaller, and I just thought there’s less opportunity to meet people, because there’s less people around, and less people bringing along their friends. The pool was getting smaller and it was getting harder and harder for the single people to meet new people, and I just thought wouldn’t it be great if we could artificially make that big group again online!’
And that as exactly what she did. From the perspective of someone who was in her early twenties when MSF in what I would consider the company’s hay day, My Single Friend played a significant role in changing the face of online dating. By using peoples’ friends as wingmen, doing the ‘online sell’ for their friends, the site removed some of the stigma which has surrounded online dating from its inception. Suddenly people had an excuse to be dating online, because their friends had signed them up. And because their friends were signing them up, they had people to talk to about it all. Personally, I consider My Single Friend to be a site which brought online dating into our social vernacular, helped obviously by Sarah Beeny’s big media presence. But has it stood the test of time? We will find out later this month when the new app is released – one which is promised to turn My Single Friend into an up-to-date community, where more than one of your friends can help create your profile.
Sarah still remains extremely proud of the brand. “It’s evolved massively in the last 10 years, but it’s stood the test of time – not many online dating sites have last 10 years. But I think (the site) will always have legs because people will always want to meet other people, and they will always want their friends involved.”
I asked Sarah what some of the biggest hurdles have been with the site in the past ten years.
“Getting the first ten people on the site was a real challenge. Getting to page two … I had to beg everyone I knew! I would offer to buy them dinner if they put their friend on the site … and their friend dinner, and everyone they knew dinner!
” One of the other big difficulties we had was, because the original model worked really well, but there were a lot of barriers to entry, and as time has gone on, the premise of the business model – that your friend has to put you on – became a lot harder, and there were a lot of hurdles to getting onto the site. But the internet has moved on. It’s much quicker – now we’ve got it all at our fingertips. The biggest change in the last 10 years is the speed of the internet. It’s sped up so much, and that’s been the biggest challenge because a few years ago we realised we needed to not just have a website that is modern and well-built, but the whole process of MSF needed to slightly shift, because people have less patience these days. So probably the biggest challenge, was when we rebuilt the site and built the app, we had to build it for 2014 and not 2004. It needed to give people instant results, which it didn’t used to do. The team have really amazingly kept the sense of My Single Friend, but the new app (which is out this month) gives you instant gratification.”
And are there any particular achievements that stand out in mind? Sarah describes her first encounter with a My Single Friend baby (or ‘Beeny baby’ as MSF MD Gail McLachlan likes to call them!)
“I was walking through St George’s Hospital and this really attractive guy came up, and told me that he’d met his wife through My Single Friend. He was one of the first people to approach me about the site (rather than because of my TV appearances). He introduced me to his wife, and she had a baby on her hip, who was about six months old, and it was the first My Single Friend baby I had met, and I just burst into floods of tears! Amazing! That was a really amazing moment, and I still find meeting My Single Friend babies, just so amazing!”
“The thing I always ask people is, do you think you would have met anyway in real life, if it weren’t for My Single Friend. And normally they say ‘No, there’s no way!’ and I just think ‘Wow!’ I’m a big believer in fate … and a bigger believer in making sure fate happens for people!”
Congratulations to Sarah and the team, for ten years of MSF marriages, and countless Beeny babies! Fingers crossed the new app will lead to many more engineerings of fate!
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx