In just two weeks, a new online dating service launched by a pair of MBA students at Columbia University has registered 3,000 new users; 300-500 per day on average. The site—designed exclusively for college singles—launched on November 8 and has since spread to NYU, FIT, and nine other schools in the San Francisco Bay area including University of California Berkeley, Stanford, and Santa Clara.
Sound familiar? Jean Meyer and Balazs Alexa, second-year students at Columbia Business School, came up with the idea for a niche dating site after Alexa went on a date with a girl who mentioned how tough it is to meet people outside of her existing circle of friends and classmates. Enter DatemySchool.com—or DMS as it’s been dubbed. Meyer and Alexa are calling it the anti-Facebook. “On Facebook all of my contacts are people I already know. It’s so annoying,” says Meyer.” “With Facebook you only contact the people you know. With Date My School the purpose is to contact people you don’t know.” Anti-Facebook it may be, but users have already likened it to the mega social networking site because of its addictive appeal. People who sign up will also see a few familiar features such as instant messenger and the coveted “like” button.
Here’s how it works. Undergraduate and graduate students at Columbia and other participating universities sign up for free. Like Facebook mandated when it first launched, you can only join Date My School if you are a student with a university issued email address. Once you become a registered user, a few simple clicks to create your profile (don’t forget to upload a picture!) and you’re on your way to finding your perfect match.
So how do the two MBAs hope to differentiate themselves from competitors like Match.com and eHarmony? First and foremost, anonymity. Many students wouldn’t be caught dead on “Match” because they wouldn’t want people to know they had to seek professional help to get a date. DMS lets students choose which schools at Columbia and NYU they wish “to be invisible” to. So business students can block their profile from being viewed by other business students, and any other department if they wish. Secondly, DMS is exclusively designed for college students at specific schools and schools within close proximity to each other. Columbia students can only search for matches within Columbia, NYU, or FIT. Stanford students can only search for matches within Stanford or the other member schools in the San Francisco region.
Meyer and Alexa say they plan to move into Chicago and Boston where the same rules will apply. To this end, DMS functions as a micro dating site, giving it a social networking feel that is not offered by other match making web services. Third, with a price tag of “free” DMS is budget-friendly which is crucial for their target market. Another differentiator, Meyer says, is the reduced odds of attracting weirdos and psychopaths. With Date My School, this factor is virtually eliminated with the [dot][edu] required email address. If you’re wondering about curious professors or alumni with [dot][edu] email tags, don’t worry because DMS has a tool in place to ensure users are current students only.
Of the 3,000 new users on the site, 54% are female and 46% are male. In the NYC region the majority of users are Columbia medical students (9%) followed by NYU Arts & Sciences students (8%). Meyer, who is French, and Alexa, who is Hungarian, say they are surprised by how quickly DMS has caught on. Their primary marketing strategies have included targeted listservs and posters plastered across various campuses, but the number one driver to the site has been word of mouth. The two have encouraged student club leaders to plug the site during meetings and events, and the same for fraternities and sororities. But what would a start-up be without hardship? DMS has bulldozed its way to twelve universities in fourteen days.
Yet the only university that has given Meyer and Alexa pushback happens to be their very own. IT officials at Columbia have accused the young entrepreneurs of spamming Columbia’s students. Oddly enough, Columbia University is blocking the project while Columbia Business School continues to support it. In the short-term Meyer and Alexa intend to expand into new markets and continue enhancing the site. After graduation in 2011, they hope to gain more financing and introduce premium, subscription-based memberships to generate revenue.
As far as Meyer’s and Alexa’s luck with the ladies, Meyer is attached while Alexa is still looking. But the two have an unofficial policy not to date anyone from DMS. If it doesn’t work out, that could be bad for business in more ways than one.