DateMySchool and the Business of Love: MBA Startup Profile

MBA startup

Entrepreneurial-minded MBAs are known for being able to spot any gap in the market, any need, and turn it into a business. That even includes those pertaining to romance, it seems! Indeed, dating sites are rather well-trodden ground for MBA startups, which means finding the right formula is even more essential for startup success.

The Columbia University founders of college dating site, DateMySchool, stumbled across such a formula, evidently. That is that users are able to target their search by school and subject being studied. The idea is to bring people together with people in other departments who they might not otherwise meet!

We spoke to cofounder, Balazs Alexa (BA), and a company spokesperson, (CS) to find out more about the business of love…

Give us a bit of background on the story of DateMySchool so far…

CS: DateMySchool began at Columbia [University] in late 2010. Within one week of its launch, 5% of Columbia’s student body registered for the website. Early on, the service expanded to other schools in the Ivy League, as well as select schools in and around New York City. DateMySchool is currently open to all 2,400+ accredited two-year and four-year colleges and universities thanks to a great core team and a network of student ambassadors to promote the brand on their respective campuses. The service now has over 1,000,000 registrations and our user base is growing rapidly. 

DateMySchool is unique in the sense that unlike those other dating sites, we have three key advantages. We are:

1) Anonymous: Members may restrict schools, departments, age ranges and individuals from accessing their profiles. None of your friends or classmates will know you are using it. Profiles are never available anywhere off of DateMySchool and nothing is indexed in Google.

2) Safe: We provide advanced privacy and safety features to our users, so they can only be seen by the people they want to be seen by. Visibility on DateMySchool is a two-way street: You have to want to see the other person and the other person has to want to see you. Two users MUST fall within the privacy settings of each other, otherwise neither user will be able to view the other. We are safer than any other online social platform in the world.

3) Exclusive: Only verified students and alumni may join. Members are authenticated by their school email addresses and other databases, including Uni-LDAP and alumni directories.  

Did you always want to start a business or did it come to you while you were at Columbia University? And did you decide you just wanted to launch something, or was an online dating site specifically what you had in mind?

BA: I am Hungarian and used to work at McKinsey before starting my MBA at Columbia [University]. In parallel I had a startup that did free online movie streaming. During the day I was working for McKinsey, and during the nights and weekends, I was trying to buy movies from producers. It was something like an Eastern European Hulu; it was subsequently acquired by the largest online media house in Hungary.

Jean (Meyer), my cofounder, who has since left DateMySchool, is French and had an online education startup before the MBA. So both of us had an entrepreneurial spirit and I specifically started the MBA because I wanted to launch a startup in the US, the world's largest, homogeneous free market. I thought it's the best place to start something, and if I could succeed there then I am really cut out to be an entrepreneur. Otherwise, I thought I should probably just go back to McKinsey or another large corporation – in that order.

The idea of online dating was Jean's, obviously – suffice to say that he is French! Joking aside, we noticed that in the Watson MBA Library, there were a lot of women hanging around from other departments. After talking to some of them, it became clear that they liked the environment because there were a lot of single guys – 70% of the MBA class back then was made up of guys. In other departments, such as the teacher's college or the nursing school, the ratio was reversed, they had mostly women students. And these women were the ones sitting in our library. We also went across 120th Street many times to the teacher's college to get lunch, and the opportunity for serendipitous ‘rencontres’. Nevertheless these forays rarely played out how they were supposed to in our imagination. Hence we needed a website…just kidding! But it was clear to us that there could be some demand for this, so we decided to launch the platform after some more research.


How’s it going as a business? Any hiccups so far? What are you particularly proud of?

BA: Well, it's like any other startup: Some bumps, some successes. Fortunately for us, so far we have persisted and have grown to become the largest college and alumni dating site in the US by a mile. We are about to launch in Europe, and we also have Asian investors that are pushing for us to launch soon in Korea and Japan. I am most proud of our world-class team, which is the most important asset of a startup. It’s hard to convince amazing people to join, believe in a common vision and stay loyal during hard times. Bad teams, demotivated teams are one of the most common reasons many startups fail in my opinion.

Obligatory MBA question – how do you think your time at Columbia University helped you to launch and run a business? What advice would you give to other would-be entrepreneurs?

BA: Columbia [University] is a phenomenal institution, with an amazing faculty, students and alumni. It's almost unreal. As for myself, in my small startup world, it helped me to meet great people who helped along the way; among others, our first two investors! They were our classmates who used the product and found so many dates that we couldn't talk them out of investing!

To any MBA students out there: if you want to succeed in the startup world as a founder, you'll need a ton of stamina. It's even tougher than McKinsey or investment banking! Even after a number of years, I still sleep in the office sometimes…if I get to sleep at all! You need to solve real-world problems that no one has ever solved before. So only do it if you are up for the ride and have a strong gut, otherwise you'll get ulcers...as my cofounder did. Forget about what you learned in books, forget about the articles on TechCrunch and the Facebook movie. That movie tells probably 1% of the story. I consider this to be the Olympics of the business world, an arena where only the toughest survive. You can flush all your papers down the toilet and start everything from scratch. I have three master’s degrees and speak four languages – and all that is worth exactly nothing with startups, they don't prepare you for the real thing. The only way to prepare is to actually roll up your sleeves and get started.

It's also very rewarding. You are completely free, you do what you think is important and you solve problems however you can and want to. There is no boss or partner who tells you how to do it. However, the failure is yours alone too; there is no one else around to blame. I love it and would not do anything else. As I said only today to my CTO, if a corporation suddenly offered me an eight-figure CEO job, I wouldn't take it. Money is just a tool in achieving what's important for you, not an end. I couldn't care less about money.

Where did you get the idea that being able to narrow down people by school and subject was the way to go? Was it from market research or personal experience of online dating or a mix of the two? 

BA: DateMySchool was founded after a woman in the nursing school complained that her department was 90% female. We were in the business school, which was 80% male. We realized that there was a bigger market – lots of students want to meet across departments and nearby campuses. Failing to find a better solution out there, we created DateMySchool. Subsequent to getting the idea, we conducted extensive market research and competitive analyses of other online dating websites, as should obviously be done by anyone who is crafting a formal business plan, but the very original idea came in conversation with another student at Columbia [University] rather than from personal experience.

What should you study and where if you want to be a hit with the guys/girls? Does everyone want to date law students from Harvard or are there some more surprising popular areas?

CS: This really depends on the user. The best thing about our user base is that it's extremely diverse. There is someone for everyone on the website and everyone has different preferences. Some Harvard students only want to date other students from Harvard. Some law school students only want to date other law school students, regardless of whether it's the same law school or not. Some users have no preference about where a prospective match attends school, as long as the person is local to his or her area, while some other users look to connect on some other type of level, such as specific interests or religion, regardless of school or location. We actually had two users get married, one of which lived in North Carolina and the other in Oregon. Their first face-to-face interaction was meeting at a midpoint somewhere in the Midwestern United States! 

What are some of your favorite stories from the people who use DateMySchool?

CS: As we are private and anonymous, not all users choose to share their stories. We have certainly created tens of thousands of dates and relationships, but the best stories are when we hear that two users from DateMySchool get married. We have received several stories about marriages, some of which are profiled on the homepage; one was also profiled by CNN.

What are your plans for the future of the site?

CS: Growth wise, DateMySchool plans to expand internationally this year. This will include expansion to South Korea, Hungary, the UK and France. We also plan to open in Canada and Mexico to complete the coverage of North America. Another plan of ours is to keep creating success stories. We are always looking to improve the service along the way in any way we can to maximize our users' chances for success.  


Visit DateMySchool to learn more!

  • This article was amended on August 23, 2016. An earlier version had incorrectly identified the article's second interviewee and gave a misleading impression of their role at DateMySchool. These responses are now attributed to a 'company spokesperson' with references to the aforementioned individual removed after we learned that they had not been present during the interview(s) on which this article is based. 
Written by Mansoor Iqbal

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of TopMBA.com. He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.

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