By Special to Capital Business
Monday, September 13, 2010; 23
When Stephen Bennett realized his life had become so busy with work and school that he never had time to meet new people, he decided to try to create a solution. So, Bennett and co-founder Benjamin Gottlieb created eTourage, an online dating site focused on setting up group dates rather than potentially awkward, one-on-one dates.
"I'm single and in my 20s, and by the time I go to work, go to school, do my homework, walk the dog and go to the gym, there is very little time to actually meet new people," Bennett said. "Naturally, I turn to the Internet to meet new people, but the only options currently available online really aren't geared toward the younger crowd."
"There is a $1.18 billion market for online dating sites, and if you look at the demographics of single Americans, 18- to 29-year-olds are 47 percent of the market. However, they aren't using the existing sites because of the high costs and the 'last resort' stigma surrounding them. In addition, most online dating sites promote love, dating and marriage, but for many young people, that's not really what they are looking for. The solution is eTourage, which we launched in July 2010.
"On our site, users create a profile and recruit their single friends to be in their eTourages -- these are friends that a user feels comfortable meeting new people with. Users can then search the Web site for girls or guys who interest them. After they get to know each other through the site, they can ask each other out and simultaneously ask the members of their eTourages if they'd like to go on the group date, pairing up members from the two users' eTourages. For example, if I like a girl named Kim and want to take her to a movie, I can see if someone in my eTourage wants to go on a double date with someone in Kim's eTourage. . The site then creates a double or a group date with sets of mutually interested couples, depending on how many members of each user's eTourage are willing to participate in the date.
"One of the benefits of eTourage is that it is safer for women. A lot of women aren't comfortable with meeting someone they talk to online in the physical world, so having a friend with them on their date immediately makes it safer and more comfortable. ETourage dates are also less awkward. People are more likely to be themselves if they are with a close friend -- and if you aren't having a great time with your date, at least you are out with a buddy.
"We've had several confirmed eTourage dates, and everyone has said they are much more natural. The question now becomes, how do I really make it blow up -- how do I get more users?"
Asher Epstein, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business
"ETourage should work on getting more users without heavily marketing at first. Recruit your friends and have them spread the word to their friends. Grow the network of people who know about your Web site and encourage your existing users to actively try out the site and give you feedback. That way, you will know exactly what product you should be offering. Only market your site once you know the people who are already using eTourage like the site and are using it on a recurring basis. Make sure you have the right offering."
"I really need to work on growing my database and encouraging existing participants to regularly use the site. ETourage has great potential but won't succeed with a small database of users for members to choose from.
"Once I grow my database more and see more results from eTourage dates, my next step will be to create PR material and start reaching out to bloggers who give dating advice or blog about activities in the Washington, D.C., area. I also want to get in touch with Web sites that focus on group activities, such as LivingSocial and Groupon. We can say, 'You are looking for large groups who want to get together and have fun, well eTourage has them.'
"We also want to create BlackBerry and iPhone applications in the future and are tossing around the idea of creating a premium membership. We've been thinking about adding extra features for a fee and keeping the basic things free, like they are now."