16 January, 2014

Looking ahead to 2014

Ross Williams, Co-founder and CEO of WhiteLabelDating.com, reviews our last year in business and looks ahead to 2014.

At a time when most companies like to kick back and relax, we always find ourselves working through the busiest time of the year for online dating - Christmas and New Year. As widely reported, we see a significant peak in our registrations from Boxing Day through to Valentine’s Day.

I remember checking our registration stats back in Christmas 2003, shortly after we launched, and seeing a new member upgrade on Christmas Day - at the time it seemed like quite a novelty.

Ten years later, I’m still checking our stats like I do every day. This year on Christmas Day though we had almost 1000 new members upgrade, as well as over 25,000 new registrations across the entire platform. Those would be very low numbers for us normally, but on Christmas Day that’s still very impressive. A couple of days later, we saw those numbers nearly double as the online dating season headed towards its peak.

2013

Whilst in many ways 2013 was a stabilising year for us, laying the groundwork for our next decade of growth, I am pleased with the progress we made across the year. We continued to differentiate ourselves in the market, investing heavily in the customer experience. Whenever I show people our customer care operation, they are consistently blown away by how much more we’re doing to help customers - I challenge any other online dating business to match our levels of customer support.

Indeed, in summer 2013 we called on the industry for an inclusive industry body, later launching OnlineDatingProtector.com across our platform to reassure our members and communicate the safety systems we have in place for them.

But it wasn’t all good news in 2013.

Mid-way through 2013 we moved to an agile development process to enable us to launch projects faster, making a lot of internal changes to support this. However, the reality is that despite our best efforts, there was significant disruption to our product development plan as our team took time to adjust to the new (but now better) processes.

We also failed to keep up with innovation at the front-end of our platform, which is traditionally one of our strengths, instead devoting our development resources to backend systems and processes such as our payment module. As an example, the payment module will enable us to have far greater visibility into the reasons behind payment failures, as well as offering many new payment methods for members. It also allows us to have multiple payment providers, allowing us to optimise payments on a per-country basis; a very important project - but one that in the short term has zero effect on conversion or ultimately how much our partners are making on the platform.

Juggling short-term revenue-enhancing projects with longer-term revenue-protection projects is a constant battle - and I feel that we could have done better to manage the prioritisation of these projects in the summer of 2013.

On the other hand, we are now in a very good place to grow into 2014, having put in place far more redundancy throughout our application to reduce bottlenecks and single points of failure. We’ll certainly do better in 2014 and are razor focused on delivering the improvements to the customer experience our partners expect from us.

It’s also great that we continue to receive independent recognition of our success. This year alone we secured a place in the European Media Momentum Top 50, were finalists in the Sunday Times Profit Track and International Track, were ranked in the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA for the fourth year.

Our team was also recognised when I was selected as a winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and the Great British Entrepreneur awards.

2014

So - what’s in store for 2014?

On the back of the painful changes to our development process we incurred last year, we now expect to see more product releases more often, with a growing number of product development teams aiming to deploy web and mobile platforms.

We have invested in a number of other properties such as Smooch.com and SmoochBingo.co.uk, which we believe will help to increase member monetisation for partners - enabling them to enjoy a better return for their marketing spend. We also have many more digital properties planned to help generate a greater return for our partners.

Since launching our new London office in Covent Garden (with wraparound balcony and rooftop terrace!), we’ve curiously found it easier to recruit and are rapidly adding to our team there. This will enable us to develop better products, faster.

We know partners enjoy our annual conference (if you’ve not seen it already, hear what our partners have to say about our last conference in October 2013), so we’ll be inviting some of our top partners to a mid-year conference to share our immediate plans.

We’ve got some very exciting developments to announce over the next few months and I look forward to sharing them on here once we’ve taken our partners through the news in person.

In the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys great success through January and I look forward to updating everyone fully in February.

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