Online Dating Service Flirts With Public Stock Offering

By Gabriel Sanders

Published August 13, 2004, issue of August 13, 2004.

Online dating service seeks IPO investors, long walks in the park.

After it was announced last week that the corporate parent of JDate.com, the leading Jewish Internet dating site, was making moves toward an initial public offering of its stock, JDaters stopped to wonder: Just what does this mean for me?

“As though I didn’t feel like enough of a commodity already on JDate…,” sighed Adeena Sussman, 33, of New York’s Upper West Side.

“So if we’re members, can we get in on the friends-and-family?” asked 29-year-old Beth of New York City, referring to the special shares that companies that go public set aside for insiders. “Probably not.”

Founded in 1997, JDate has, according to the company, more than 1 million users. The site’s corporate parent, the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based MatchNet plc, which also owns AmericanSingles.com as well as a number of European dating sites, boasts close to 10 million users.

The company points to a confluence of forces in explaining its decision to go public. For one, the tech-stock phobia that followed the burst of the Internet bubble seems to be in retreat. At the same time, the stigma once attached to online dating seems to have faded.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen online dating enter the mainstream,” said JDate spokesperson Gail Laguna.

In the case of JDate and its popularity in New York, this may be an understatement.

“JDate is basically like walking around the Upper West Side,” said Sussman. “Everyone looks vaguely familiar.”

Last week, the public was reminded of JDate’s ubiquity when Washington’s Roll Call newspaper “outed” Rep. Steve Rothman, the New Jersey Democrat, as JDate subscriber Steve3366.

Reached for comment last week by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Rothman seemed unfazed. “This is simply what modern people do,” he said.

According to his online profile, Rothman, 51, is looking for a “funny,” “musical” companion between the ages of 43 and 53, “an old soul, with the playfulness and energy… of a young woman.”

(Because the story now has a stock angle, Rothman’s office, fearing a potential conflict of interest, declined to comment when approached by the Forward.)

News of the IPO hasn’t elicited giddy reactions from everyone.

“It’s the pessimist in me that would buy the stock,” said Jennifer Walper, 28, of Brooklyn. “I know legions of women who’ve been on JDate for years and maybe have had short stints in relationships, but things mostly don’t work out. And yet they keep on trying.”

With echoes of the old Roach Motel advertising campaign, Walper sinisterly suggested that JDate use as its motto the phrase, “Come on in and stay a while.”

MatchNet, which hopes to raise up to $100 million with its IPO, has its own plans for burnishing its image.

“We’re going to use a significant amount of the proceeds from the IPO for marketing and branding purposes,” said Laguna.

“But we’ll also be investing some of that money to enhance and improve the user experience with new features, new technologies, and other ways to help our members meet and communicate with one another.”

Some change-averse JDaters, already dizzy from the multiplicity of options the site has to offer, are fearful of what sorts of newfangled changes might be in store.

“I think they’ve overdone the features at this point,” said Deborah Gasiorek, 32, of Palo Alto, Calif. “JDate used to be very simple: You look at others; you write others. It’s gotten more neurotic. There are ways to check if other people have looked at you and who’s looked at you and when they’ve looked at you. It’s too much information.”

But, all quibbling aside, let’s say MatchNet stock catches fire. Would that make JDate users hotter commodities?

“If they’re investors,” said JDate’s Laguna, “they might be pleased.”



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