Dating Tech: We’ve Only Seen the Tip of the Iceberg

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Dawoon Kang, co-founder of Coffee Meets Bagel and Women 2.0 conference speaker, compares online dating today to ecommerce before PayPal.

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By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Probably you know a few happy couples who met online, but it’s also probable that you’ve had friends tell you online dating stories that mix the hilarious and horrifying. Dating via tech, in other words, retains a bit of Wild West flavor — sure, you could strike gold, but it’s risky and just as likely that after all that adventure, you’ll end up high and dry.

But all that’s going to change, according to Dawoon Kang, the co-founder and COO of dating app Coffee Meets Bagel and a speaker at our upcoming Las Vegas conference.

“Similar to what happened to gaming, I envision an influx of a ton of people coming into online dating,” she told Women 2.0. What will drive this wider acceptance of and comfort with tech-enabled dating? Kang points to business model innovation.

“It’s a very exciting time for online dating because this industry hasn’t been disrupted for a very long time. Match.com came along in the ‘90s and opened the industry. eHarmony was the next [company] that innovated the business model in that, instead of search and browse, they did the algorithm. Then OKCupid came along and did this free thing. Other than those innovations, most remain pretty much the same,” she explains.

But, Kang believes, further change is on the way as the the sorts of founders tackling the space becomes more diverse — with the notable exception of Match.com, which was co-founded by Fran Maier, in the past most dating states have been started by men. “Business model-wise it’s completely going to shift from subscription to an a la carte freemium type of model where people don’t have to pay for what they don’t need. I feel like many of the not so good things we see in online dating are a side effect of that subscription business model.”

And with new business models will come new users. “Similar to what happened to gaming, I envision an influx of people coming into online dating because it’s freemium. They feel a lot more comfortable. They feel safe. Before, if you think about gaming, it was just hardcore guy users. Now with the casual games, the market just opened up with many more women participating. I see something like that happening with online dating. Eventually it will become so normal,” she predicts.

That’s good for singles looking to find love (without fending off an army of creepers), but it’s also good for founders in the space looking to be taken seriously — and VCs looking to make a buck or two. “A lot of investors don’t think it’s big enough of a problem, which I find a bit ironic because there are so many single people in the world,” says Kang of her fundraising experiences with CMB. “I think the current market size is like the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much potential,” she says before going on to compare online dating today to the early days of ecommerce.

“When pioneers were experimenting with ecommerce, a lot of people were like, ‘are you crazy? I’m not going to give my credit card. That’s ridiculous!’ So they didn’t participate, but with PayPal and all those secure online tools that actually made people comfortable, ecommerce now is huge,” she says. “I feel like, with online dating, if you just provide people with the right tool, why not, right?”

Do you agree we’ve only seen the tip of the online dating iceberg?

jessicaJessica Stillman (@entrylevelrebel) is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others.