Q&A with Oasis Active co-founder and CEO, Dave Heysen
How did Oasis Active all start? Tell us the story you’ve told a million times.
The other co-founder is Daniel Hague, and he developed Soulmate technology, and I started working for him in 2000. He sold that to Match in 2002, and I stayed on and worked for Match, and then we formed a company in 2003, and we went off and worked with MSN on an avatars platform called Mego [pictured]. We launched with MSN in about 25 countries and 15 languages with Megos, and about 40 million people used it over about two or three years. And that was a successful venture, but obviously things change and MSN changed, so you sort of look for the next thing, so we started building a new data product. In 2007, Channel 10 bought into Oasis, or our 3H Group, and took out about 35 per cent at that stage, and we launched the product in April 2008. We focused on Australia first, and became number one [Lifestyle-Dating category] according to Hitwise about 14 months ago. By that time we were already starting to launch in different languages and different countries. Oasis has just launched in traditional and simplified Chinese, and we think we’re pretty close to being the biggest Spanish speaking dating site in the world. We are certainly number one in Colombia and Chile and number two in Mexico, and we have been reported as the biggest Spanish speaking site in the US. We also launched in the UK and Spain as well. We are number three in Spain at the moment, and we’ve just launched in Brazil about four or five months ago in Portuguese. So it’s keeping us busy.
You just started off because your friend was making the software?
In dating? Yeah. I just got into it, I was in another job in 1999/2000, and saw it as an opportunity, and Daniel employed me and we went from there.
Is he still involved with Oasis?
He is the other co-founder, and he is really the architect behind the whole technology behind Oasis, so he’s been building it for a couple of years.
He is not the CEO though?
He’s the CTO. He's more important than the CEO.
It was funny, I told someone about this interview and they kind of scoffed when I said I was interviewing Oasis Active for a social media feature, and I didn’t know why, and he said, “Isn’t that a dating service?” And I said it is, but surely that’s damn social. I guess some people need to know, how is Oasis Active social media?
It’s certainly social media. I think the major difference with Facebook and a dating site is that you have the chance to interact in real time with people on Oasis, you can send out contact requests to people. You certainly have a lot of people to socialise with. The major difference is that in a Facebook or a pure social network, you are many to many, but in a dating environment that we have developed, you are actually one to one. So, we always go along the theory that you don’t really want your mum to know who you’re trying to date. But certainly the interactive side of things, the ability to search on members and communicate with them is certainly part of the social media, but it’s kind of a different vertical part of it I guess.
What are the differences between Match and Oasis Active?
Oasis is 100 per cent free, so you never have to pay. Match claim it’s free to join, which they are, but as soon as you want to contact someone, you have to pay. I guess the real difference is we have kind of developed a system that we believe gives people more choice. We go along the theory that if you stick 20 people in a room, some people are going to be attracted to each other. I think a case in point is probably something like Big Brother, where a lot of people are in the house, and when they first went in, they wouldn’t look twice at each other, but by the end of the journey, a lot of them have hooked up and were in happy relationships. We just believed that by offering the ability to communicate with people you wouldn’t normally communicate with, or meet new people outside your social group, you certainly are going to find someone for you. I guess that’s different to a paid site where you have to pay to contact someone and they can only receive your contact. RSVP is a good example where they have contact stamps. You can only use so many. And I guess the other side of it is real time communication. So, we don’t really depend on email at all. We obviously send out emails if you haven’t jumped on the site for a while, or send you some latest matches of new people who have joined, but everything really happens on the site. So, if you’re logged in and looking at someone’s profile, they will actually be alerted at that time that you’re looking at their profile. So, their natural instinct will be to look at who is looking at them, and then you can choose whether you wish to send a contact request or not.
What kind of effect do you think breaking down that pay wall has? Tell me about the importance of making social media free? What have you found?
I think for us, it’s certainly – we believe, being Australia’s number one at the moment, we believe we have certainly opened up the market and given a lot more people the opportunity to try social media, or try online dating. Especially with dating, people would normally be turned off that they have to pay. I think there is also a bit of a stigma involved about paying. A lot of people are more comfortable using a free site because it breaks down that stigma of ‘I have to pay to contact someone’, because you’re just meeting someone like you put on Facebook or any other social media.
Do you think there’s still a stigma, a desperation stigma about online dating full stop?
I would say that’s been severely broken down since Daniel and I have been in the industry, 10, 11 years now. It’s completely different to what it was, and especially our major demographic. While we do have a strong over–35 user base, our major demographic is 18 to 35, and we kind of think it’s like a transition for people, they go on their laptops or their phone and they check their mail and then they go to Facebook and check what’s going on, and then they check their Oasis to see if they’ve managed to hear back from someone they wish to date or contact.
What other ways has the online dating world changed in the last decade?
It certainly used to be a place for people who probably didn’t interact as well socially as others. But I think that’s all gone now. I think it’s just part of socialising these days. You socialise on a dating site. You socialise on Facebook, you socialise at the pub. It’s kind of like people socialising by text messages. So, it’s all really relative to what’s going on out there. 10 years ago, people took a lot more time about finding a date as well, they got a lot more into their profile, they put a lot more into their emails. Email communication back then meant that you would have to wait two or three days before you got a response, compared to real time now. So, that would be the major difference. In terms of people using it, we certainly find a lot more single parents these days, and as I said, I think the younger demographic is probably the major change. Back 10 years ago, there weren't many 18 to 25 years olds using an online dating site, and that’s certainly changed now.
How do you guys make money then?
All advertising–based, and one of the major functionalities of our site is every single bit of content and every single photo gets manually vetted or approved before it goes online. So if there are any untoward photos or any texts that give away contact details or say anything defamatory, it will get rejected, and the user will be told they need to upload a proper photo or write proper content. What that has led to is advertisers wanting to use our inventory, and one of the great things about that is it’s a very target oriented inventory as well. So, while it’s all anonymous, we do collect age and demographic, location, gender obviously, and we even go down to interest groups. So, some advertisers actually target via interest group, and it tends to perform pretty well for us.
And there is nothing else you do with the data?
No. We obviously send out some emails, but no, we don’t do anything with the data outside of what we do with it ourselves.
You have got good targeting obviously. What do you reckon you offer brands other than that? Is it better than Facebook advertising?
I think with us, people respect the fact that we try and have more safety or security aspects about our site. We try and have the content vetting going on, so I think that – and also the fact that we’re free, people kind of respect it. We have never had complaints about our advertising on the site. We don’t bombard the site with advertising. Users are very engaged while they’re on the site, but they can be in a conversation with someone and there is a little ad sitting down the bottom of their Messenger box, which is sitting there for 15 minutes. So, it’s a very good branding exercise, and I think that is more quality traffic than Facebook, you could say. But, yes, obviously Facebook do get a lot greater traffic.