Finding love is never easy.
Monetising it, meanwhile, is another thing entirely.
In recent years, a new crop of Cambodian virtual dating agencies have sprouted to pair up lovelorn singles, and operators are confident that demand for the services exists. But in a market rife with free competitors, local entrepreneurs are still trying to find the right chemistry to make the business sustainable.
Social media is riddled with pages offering matchmaking and dating services that have either gone belly-up or never quite got off the ground at all.
According to Beth Ceaorn, who manages the iDatingCambodia Facebook page, the majority of similar pages were initially created by entrepreneurs in an attempt to gauge local interest in the fledgling matchmaking businesses.
“This is called a trial period,” he said, noting that his venture was similarly testing the waters, and has yet to finalise a revenue-making strategy.
“I now have my own Facebook page, but do not yet have a website. We are hoping interest will be high enough for us to launch sometime next month.”
The page for iDatingCambodia promises basic matchmaking services, along with speed dating events and relationship advice. For potential users interested in joining the service, a sign-up button is situated in the top right corner of the page, but nowhere is it made clear that services are not yet available.
“Our website will be free for users. But we will charge for additional services,” Ceaorn said, adding that he hopes the venture will become profitable sometime in the next two years.
But if past efforts’ experience is any indication, success is far from certain. A former operator of a site called KhmerFriendly, who declined to be named, has stopped pursuing a profit model for the business and now allows the website to run for free, claiming that the venture was not able to generate revenue.
Most businesses in the online dating world chase profits by selling other dating-related services, but some have had marginal success by securing advertising deals.
David Wilkie, who established the Chatterbox Dating Mobile application in 2011 to connect rural singles, said that the app was initially able to make a profit through revenue-sharing partnerships with local telecom operators. This worked for a time, with Chatterbox getting a cut of the revenue from the data users burned while using the app, but as the price of data fell, the cut got increasingly small.
“This worked in the beginning, but it was difficult for us to get the operators to update their pricing model to a subscription based service,” he said in an email.
“Once mobile data became cheaper and more mainstream, the service was just too expensive to [keep up] in the end.”
Ultimately, Chatterbox’s dating service failed, and the company pivoted to using the same app’s open-source technology software to find humanitarian solutions with backing from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).
Meet Mister Match
While online dating platforms are relatively new to the Kingdom, a handful of traditional dating services have been active and profitable for years. Hash Veasna, better known as Mister Match, began offering more traditional offline dating consulting services in 2007 and claims to be the first certified matchmaker in Cambodia.
In a recent interview, he proudly held up his certificate from the New York-based Matchmaking Institute and explained how his career in finance abruptly shifted to one in the love industry.
“I was getting older and didn’t want to find love by myself, and I thought, I just want to give someone a resume and have them find my love match for me,” he said. “So I established my consulting agency.”
Noticing the growth of online sites, Veasna has recently reorganised his business according to an increasingly virtual model.
“I tell people that this is not different from an arranged marriage – it is just another tool to find the right match,” he said.
Be a VIP
There are five services available on Veasna’s website, DaiKouChivit, which means “life partner”. The first, which provides only a basic free digital profile, was only recently launched and already has 9,000 registered users.
“I think it is good to have online dating – you can find love under your blanket,” Veasna said. “Many people using this free service choose to upgrade, and I interview each person who is interested in joining our VIP group.”
The VIP group, currently stocked with about 200 singles, costs about $30 annually, and is where Veasna hopes the real revenue will start to trickle in. Members are required to post exhaustive resumes that cover not only education and work experience, but also achievements, annual income and a list of foreign countries visited.
DaiKouChivit also promotes speed dating services conducted online or at mixer events, which are routinely stocked with 60 eligible bachelors and bachelorettes, each paying $100 per session.
For those especially thirsty for love, the company also offers a “secret” package that provides anonymity and costs $200 per arranged date. With this service, Veasna personally reviews resumes, inquires about desired physical traits and conducts a financial background check.
“I interview all of these confidential clients, take notes and set them up with who I think best suits them,” he said.
It’s good to have a day job
For an unlimited number of arranged dates, clients can pay $500 or a month’s salary, whichever is higher, in their quest to find a match.
Though Veasna declined to offer detailed financials, he said DaiKouChivit is currently profitable – sometimes. While the site earns several hundred in profits some months, he says, in others slow business forces him to take back up his sideline as a translator.
While Veasna is still unmarried himself, some of his clients have had better luck, despite their initial hesitation to use matchmaking services.
Toch Chariya was one such client who was reluctant to try the online dating service.
“I thought it might be bad to sign up for dating services because it goes against Cambodian culture, but I did it because I was too busy to find a husband,” she said. “I met a man [on an arranged date] who lived close to my work, and we liked each other.
“We’re both not very young anymore so we thought it was about time,” she added. She said she will be getting married on December 1.