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To listen to all of our archived shows please subscribe to our iTunes podcast.View Our Expert Profile for Greg Waldorf
Greg Waldorf is the CEO of eHarmony.com, a popular online-dating site that boasts 20 million visitors per month and 120 marriages per year. He was also a founding investor, and has been with the company since its inception in the late 1990s. Waldorf has a successful history of working with high-growth companies. In 1994, he and several students from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business created Start Up, a non-profit company that “trains and supports entrepreneurs who have limited access to resources to help them create prosperity for themselves and their communities.” Waldorf quickly became a successful venture capitalist and entrepreneur. Two years ago he launched Destination-U.com, a site that helps students find colleges that best fit their needs. He was also a former general partner of Charles River Ventures. We spoke to him about the first 30 days of online dating.
What types of people are dating online right now?
I think one of the most exciting things that has happened to eHarmony and, more broadly, in the industry, is that everyone is pretty much going online. When the industry emerged about ten years ago, you used to see very specific age groups, very specific urban areas. Today, one of the most exciting things is that you really can’t point to any demographic group that is not online. Everyone from young users who have never been in a serious relationship all the way through to a very fast-growing group of people who are 55 and older. In our case, this is one of the fastest growing age categories.
How would you handle the objection that “online dating isn’t for me?”
What I would say is, if you’re interested in a specific kind of relationship, you should be able to augment whatever you’re doing offline with an online service. eHarmony is for people who are seeking serious relationships. There are other sites for people who are looking for less serious relationships. Consumers should do their homework and talk to friends. I think that online dating is a perfect complement to all the other things someone might be doing to find a relationship. I find that people will oftentimes set up their own barriers to why they don’t want to go online. When you look at the cost involved, it’s modest compared to all the things that people do to prepare for offline dating. So, I think it’s a good place to spend time, and it’s a reasonable place to spend money.
How do you think the online-dating world has changed in the last couple of years?
I think that the biggest change in the last few years is the decrease in stigma. People who have relationships or marriages who have come from our site are just as excited and have all the same emotions that people who may have met through a friend, or in a restaurant, or a bar, wherever people meet. That decrease in stigma has really reduced one of the biggest barriers [to online dating]. I think that the relationships that come out of our business are just as authentic, just as special.
How can a negative online-dating experience be avoided?
I think the number-one thing that causes bad experiences is probably not giving it enough time. It’s one of the challenges in marketing our business. We are talking about helping people find something that is so life changing, and yet, it doesn’t happen for the average user on the first day, or in the first week, or even the first month. So, if there’s one thing I typically tell people, it’s to give yourself enough time, set your expectations, perhaps adjust the method of dating that you’ve used in the past. I think six months is a great amount of time when you’re thinking about giving a site a chance.
The second thing is to be more open to people who are not in the exact category that you thought [you would be interested in]. I’ll use geography as a good example. On our site, people can set the distance they’re willing to [drive] to meet someone. Typically, people will be very strict about that. They’ll say, “I only want someone within 30 miles.” I think being more flexible gives you a greater chance to be successful. So, I would say time and openness are both huge keys to being a winner on these sites.
What are the most important things for people to do or to know in the first 30 days of dating online?
First, the more honest and accurate you are in describing themselves, the better job we do in matching. I think in those first 30 days, sitting down, taking the time to—in our case—fill out what is a fairly lengthy personality profile, in real detail, and not just blaze through it as fast as you can. Be thoughtful about your responses, not that there’s any one response, but really put the time in, and then look at the personality profile you get back, and see if it’s really reflects you. If we’ve understood you, we’re going to do a much better job on matching you to someone.
[Try] not be overly focused on who you’re trying to meet. Instead, understand yourself. People often come to our site after a divorce, after having not dated in quite a while. Then, we’ve got the very large group of people who are single and dating all the time. You have to try to become more comfortable online. If you’re a little rusty, be patient, take it seriously, and use common sense when you’re meeting people.
Can someone expect to meet the person they want in the first 30 days? What should they expect in terms of connecting with another person?
It’s difficult for me to answer in broad generalities, because if you live in rural western Pennsylvania, and you have very specific criteria of the person you’re trying to meet, by geography, or maybe by age, you may have a difficult time. The more open [you are] in terms of the person you’re willing to be matched with, the much greater experience you’ll have in the first month.
It would be very unusual for someone not to get any matches in their first 30 days. In most cases, people fairly quickly move to “let’s go on a date” if they’re mutually interested. We have a lot of confidence that if people use their time wisely, and they go out on enough dates, they’re going to find a good relationship. I never discourage people from just giving different kinds of people a chance.
Is it possible to be on an online-dating site and still remain somewhat private?
I think it depends on the kind of site that you’re on. [Many] sites allow you just to browse profiles, and over the course of a long evening, you could browse thousands [of them]. I think the best way to get privacy is to use a matching service like ours, because nobody can browse your profile unless he or she is matched with you.
I think part of privacy is the embarrassment people sometimes feel, but the other part is safety. I just can’t emphasize enough that although we have relatively very few incidents of an individual’s safety being compromised, people need to use common sense. If they use common sense, they will, in almost every case, be just fine. I think part of this issue around privacy is tied to safety. I urge people not to give out their home phone numbers until they’re comfortable. Communicate through the site, don’t give out your email address, meet in a public place. We have a lot of dating tips on our site in terms of how to put that safety part first.
How easy is it for people to be matched correctly when the element of chemistry isn’t present?
Chemistry is something that people have to figure out for themselves. We never try to pretend that this is a substitute for the [special feeling] of a first meeting. Many stories we hear of success [are from] people who have spoken on the phone over some larger distance for a month or something, and they just have this incredible anticipation of meeting [the other person].
We do find that you typically can have a wider range of meetings you will find acceptable at a chemistry level—and I don’t just mean physical attraction. It’s something deeper if you know that you have a basic level of compatibility. We’re trying to give you a great starting point. We would never recommend that you just start a long-term relationship with the first person you get matched with. As I suggested, you personally really have to figure out the chemistry piece.
What keeps you inspired, having been with eHarmony for so many years?
There is such a sense of mission at eHarmony. We feel deeply connected to the people who are our customers, and in particular to the customer who is successful [in finding someone]. If you were here in my office, I could walk you around and you would see photographs mailed in by our users who have found love and happiness. No matter how long the day or how tough the business situation is, knowing that we’re helping people to achieve happiness is an incredibly powerful part of working at eHarmony. So, I feel it’s a privilege to lead this company, given what we do for people.
What is the belief that you go to personally during times of change in your life?
I think the thing for me is during happy times of change and difficult times of change, I have a fundamental belief that things will work out positively. That gives me an enormous amount of strength to get through difficult times.
The best thing about change is…
Something better can come of it.
What do you think is the best change that you’ve ever made?
Marrying my wife.
For more information on Greg Waldorf and eHarmony, visit http://www.eharmony.com.
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