Interview: Sam Yagan from Ok Cupid

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LoveToKnow had the opportunity to speak with Sam Yagan, gaining a few words of online wisdom from a co-founder of OK Cupid - one of the largest free online dating services available. With a BA in Mathematics from Harvard, an MBA from Stanford, plus entrepreneurial experience developing such online successes as TheSpark.com and eDonkey, LoveToKnow is proud to introduce the subject of the next exclusive interview at LoveToKnow Dating. Meet Sam, a busy individual who obviously enjoys the thrill of starting and running a new exciting business adventure.

Getting OKCupid Off the Ground & Into Hearts

LoveToKnow (LTK): Tell us a little about your background and how you got started in the OK Cupid online dating scene.

Sam Yagan (SY): I am one of the original founders and the CEO who oversees the entire OK Cupid business. I am a Harvard mathematician, although it sounds more impressive when you say it. I have started a variety of free website community businesses in the past, and my current partners at OK Cupid and I have been friends since Harvard.

LTK: What was the turning point in deciding to pursue an online matching service?

SY: We basically looked at what we were good at, which was building large free communities. Then, we looked at where these free communities were being missed. We found that on the dating sites. When we reviewed it, we were shocked at how much money many of these dating websites charged their customers. We felt it was a business that should be free, and we researched other dating sites to realize that their main expenses were driving visitors to their site. So, we thought if we could drive customers to our site differently, we would be able to use the free business model for dating services.

The Science of Desire Online

LTK: So, how do you drive visitors to your Ok Cupid site?

SY: When you have really good site content then users bring other users through word of mouth and spreading good will. Basically we encourage our users to refer people to our site.

LTK: How does a mathematical model translate into the social aspects of relationships and personality matching?

SY: We created the mathematical model after researching the matching methods of competing sites and discovered they didn't truly match the real world dating scene. In the real world, when you would find out about a potential person from a friend, you would start immediately asking questions. Because you are going to be trying to figure out if there is a lifestyle match.

The questions in the OK Cupid model are designed to gather your personal opinions, but they allow you to determine whether or not you want your match to share your same view or not. A good example is the question "Do you believe in God?" Now let's say you do not believe in God, but you really want your kids to be raised with at least one parent who is more spiritual. So, the way you would answer the question is, "No, I do not believe in God. But, Yes, I want a match who does believe in God." So our model does not simply match people's answers, but how well does the outlook for one another match up.

LTK: How did you create your questions?

SY: The questions are all submitted by OK Cupid users. We figured if the actual users submit a question, then they really are interested in it. While we have had tens of thousands of questions submitted, only about 2,000 questions have been accepted. The questions are all reviewed by an OK Cupid user panel to determine their worthiness; then, if 90% of the panel feels a question is good, it goes to our internal review.

LTK: Given the concept of matching individuals to ensure successful dating, does everyone need to find their match for a healthy relationship?

SY: Even though you may be different, your core beliefs will need to match. Most of our questions tend to focus on these types of values. An example is the question about pets - if you really don't want pets in the house, you should not match up with an animal lover. This is a conflict you really need to get out of the way early.

Staying Ahead in the Dating Game

LTK: Describe how your website, OK Cupid, differs from the competition.

SY: Much of the competition in dating sites is actually a personal ad based site, with simplistic matching systems like, a male in the age of 30-35 in the city of Portland. Or there are sites like eHarmony that have you take a really long personality test when you join them. Then they send your results to basically a team of psychiatrists, who pour over your results and find a "soul mate" for you.

LTK: Do you feel your model has been successful?

SY: That is a really hard question to answer. It is hard to track people on the website, and once they begin dating they tend to disappear. So, it is really hard to quantify how many relationships occur or what percentages of the relationships succeed. What we do receive are dozens and dozens of emails every week with pictures, testimonials, wedding invitations, and we even get baby birth announcements… so we know people are meeting, and dating, and marrying, and having kids.

LTK: In your opinion, how has the Internet changed dating and relationships?

SY: Well, I don't really feel that the Internet has changed relationships all that much because ultimately you still have to meet. What I think it has done is made it possible to meet a wider array of people. Plus, online it is so easy to reply to an email or instant message that you get to meet a much wider broader range of people. It makes it easier to meet a more variety of interesting people and also help shy people who would not do as well in a typical bar scene.

Finding Your Online Match

LTK: What advice would you like to pass on to all those online dating searchers out there?

SY:

  • The biggest thing is to be honest - with yourself and with other people. Be honest with yourself about who you are, what you are looking for, and what kind of people you are looking for.
  • Number two would be - don't just be an online dater. Online dating should be one piece of the dating experience. You should not spend all your time online dating… you should still meet people in other environments.
  • Lastly, you should always be safe. Your first date should be somewhere public like a coffee shop and always let someone know where you are going.

LTK: Anything else you would like to add?

SY: Give us a try, even if you have a profile on another site. OK Cupid is free, so it couldn't hurt to have double the exposure.

Website Information

Take your own adventure and check out the scene at OK Cupid yourself.

Interview: Sam Yagan from Ok Cupid