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How I made it: Darren Richards - Founder of DatingDirect.com

Rachel Bridge
Published: 29 June 2003

When Richards decided to try out the website he had created, he met the girl of his dreams, Claire, on his second date. That was nearly four years ago and they have been together ever since.

He says: “We got on really well, so at the end of the evening I said I needed to tell her something. She didn’t believe who I was until I showed her my business card.”

Richards hit on the idea of setting up a dating service while idly surfing the web one evening at home. Aged 33 and having recently come out of a long-term relationship, he suddenly realised that the net could be the perfect way of meeting other singletons in his area.

But when he searched for an online agency to join, he could only find companies based in America. Even worse, none of the sites seemed to take the idea of meeting a new partner online seriously, encouraging members to use silly nicknames such as Sexy Babe and Hotpants.

He says: “It was frustrating.

I thought I couldn’t be the only person who wanted to use the internet to find a serious date.”

Richards drew up a blueprint of what he thought an online dating service should be like and spent the next three months researching the market, conducting straw polls in the street and asking friends for their views.

Encouraged by their response, he bought some software and a couple of website magazines and then built a simple site where people could post their details. He says: “It was a very basic service and didn’t work that well. But it was getting a lot of hits and it proved to me there were a lot of people out there who wanted to use it.”

Inspired by the response, Richards decided to create a fully fledged dating website through which members could contact each other directly.

The first few website developers he approached told him it couldn’t be done, but he eventually found someone able to do the job and the site was launched in 1999 at a cost of £2,500. Within three months it had 40,000 members.

Richards still had a big problem. To start making money he needed to get people to pay for his service online by credit card. Barclaycard, however, wasn’t interested.

He says: “It was a nightmare. I knew the company wouldn’t survive unless we could take credit-card payments. But we were turned down three times by Barclaycard, which felt a dating service was a high-risk area in the same category as gambling and pornography.”

Refusing to take no for an answer, Richards went to see the man in charge of applications and gave him a demonstration of the website. The man was so impressed he agreed to grant credit-card facilities on the spot.

That changed everything. Richards started charging £15 a month for members wanting to contact potential partners through the site. The concept worked. DatingDirect.com now has 800,000 members, of whom a third are subscribers. Last year it made a profit of £1m on turnover of £3m, and this year it is on course to make profits of £3m on turnover of £8m, valuing the company at between £20m and £30m.

Richards had dreamt of setting up his own business since he left school at 16. Between stints of working in restaurants and as a holiday rep in Gran Canaria, he had tried putting several ideas into practice without success. He says: “My friends would say, oh here comes Darren, I wonder what new idea he has today.”

He says he still can’t believe he now heads a company worth millions: “I was beginning to think it was never going to happen. But the moral is, if you think you have a good idea, keep going for it. You have only to find one idea that works.”

   
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