DatingDirect.com

DatingDirect.com

Darren hit on the idea of setting up a dating service while idly surfing the web one evening at home. Having recently come out of a long-term relationship, he 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'.

Darren 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. "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, Darren decided to create a fully fledged dating website through which members could contact each other directly.

The first version of the site was launched in 1999 at a cost of £2,500. Within three months it had 40,000 members.

Darren 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. "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, Darren went to see the man in charge of applications and gave him a demonstration of the website. He was so impressed he agreed to grant Darren credit-card facilities on the spot.

That changed everything. Darren started charging £15 a month for members wanting to contact potential partners through the site. The concept worked. Several years later in January 2007 and with over 4.5 million members, Darren sold the company to Meetic (owner of Match.com) for £30 million.

» Darren is always interested in investment opportunities. Click here to pitch your idea to him