What it takes to run an online dating site in Kenya

Ian Isherwood is a serial entrepreneur who has a deep passion for all things business. His strong belief in building relationships lead him to start Kenya’s largest premium dating website – www.DateMeKenya.com – an online dating site that helps singles find long lasting and meaningful relationships.

Who is Ian?

I use my passion, skills, and experience to help manage and grow companies from the ground up. Preferring the ‘lead by example’ approach. I am always striving to bring 100% to the work that I do, and my goals as an entrepreneur are to build strong, long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.

You are a pioneer in the online dating space in Kenya. What inspired you to start an online dating site?

It is a combination of both a personal tragedy and the experience of a very lonely single friend, in Nairobi, who expressed his frustrations at meeting quality women. I grew up in a single parent household, due to the sad loss of my father in a road accident. My mother raised four boys alone, all under the age of 6. She never remarried because she could not meet anyone, or should I say not enough people for someone to really capture her heart.

In 2011, a friend complained about going to bars, cafes, events and just not meeting quality women. Then a lightbulb went off. On my globetrotting adventures, I remember seeing how incredibly convenient online dating had been to millions and how it was changing how people meet across the world. So, I thought I would create a site tailored for the Kenyan market.

And how is Kenya’s dating culture in Kenya?

It depends on where you are, cities like Nairobi and Mombasa have an extremely open, fun and flirtatious dating culture. While other smaller cities in rural areas that are not exposed to the fast paced city life have a more reserved and conservative culture.

How did you go about registering your business?

With the help of my accountant and his lawyers.

Do you need any license or permits to run a dating site?

We only need the standard business permit.

What challenges did you face in the first two years?

The biggest challenge was trying to keep my members happy and ensure there was enough interaction on the site. After all, singles join dating sites to meet other singles. But when you start an online dating business you need to start with one person and grow from there. I am glad the site no longer has this problem, but it does have many others. It is as if when you solve one challenge, two new ones appear, but I actually love challenges… Just as long as the business continues to grow I am happy.

How much capital did you start with?

I injected roughly 4m at the start.

How does the site make money?

Through membership subscriptions, events and advertising.

What technical support/expertise did you need and how did you get it?

I know my strengths, coding is not one of them. Luckily, I know some amazing people and one of my best friends in Scotland is a genius when it comes to coding, so that was a no brainer. He also had amazing recommendations for all the other technical stuff we needed such as graphics, user interface etc. I also spend over one year researching online dating site across the world, I even travelled to Singapore for three months to talk to experts and see what works, what didn’t etc. If you look hard enough, everything you need is out there and it’s usually FREE.

We have a lot of websites in Kenya, do you think they are fully optimized?

Let’s just say we are getting a lot better and it’s exciting to see some of the sites popping up across Kenya.

Have you ever encountered corruption? If yes, how do you deal with it?

I am happy to say that being an online site, I have not encountered it as much as many of my ‘offline’ business friends. But when I do, I always smile at the person and say I will look at reviewing this with my lawyers. Never let them bully you!

What is the worst mistake you have made as an entrepreneur? What did that teach you?

I have made a few, in fact, I often make the same ones over and over again. I can smile now. But it can be frustrating. My worst mistake is thinking that no one else can do a better job than I can. This was mainly when I was younger. I have quickly realized there are SOME things I am amazing at and other that are better handed to more qualified people. Don’t let your ego or passion to be in control of your product override the quality of the work. Know your strengths and learn to let go! Ohh, and don’t forget to always have a mentor to help guide you, this really help when you need to ask for help or keep the pressure on yourself.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out in self-employment?

Be more confident in yourself and realize that money goes, and money comes. Not every business or venture will make you money, but you must always learn from your mistakes and most importantly, you must always believe in yourself and enjoy the journey. When you believe in yourself, it gives you a sense of fearlessness, because you know even if you lose one time, you will start again and win five-fold.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start an online based business?

Know your product, research your market in depth and be passionate about what you do.

Then ask the right people for advice and guidance. The more people you talk to about your idea, the more doors will open. Don’t be afraid to partner with people who can help grow your idea or business. Remember, it is better to have a small slice of a BIG pie then a big slice of a small pie.