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Match CEO Explains The Algorithms Of Love

It used to be there was a stigma attached to online dating, but not so much anymore. (jordansmall/Flickr)
It used to be there was a stigma attached to online dating, but not so much anymore. (jordansmall/Flickr)

One of the biggest online dating sites, Match, turned 20 this year, and a lot has changed since it debuted in 1995. It used to be there was a stigma attached to online dating, but not so much anymore. The Pew Research Center recently recently found a majority of Americans now say online dating is a good way to meet people.

But these days Match.com, while still one of the biggest online dating sites, is just one of thousands of online dating sites. For this week’s View From The Top, Here & Now’s Lisa Mullins speaks with a leading figure in the online dating world about getting ahead and staying ahead in a competitive industry.

Sam Yagan, CEO of The Match Group, oversees online dating sites owned by parent company IAC, such as Match, Tinder and OKCupid. He says dating sites are great for helping you identify the people you would or wouldn’t be interested in, but we’re “decades away” from predicting chemistry between people.

Interview Highlights: Sam Yagan

On how numbers can help find love

“When the choice was: Do I want my love life determined by a psychologist or a mathematician, I pick mathematician every day of the week… We fundamentally believe that the way to predict compatibility is to rely on data and and to allow people to customize an algorithm that would take into account their preferences and their lifestyle to cull through the millions of profiles we had to find the people that were most compatible with them.”

“I would say the larger the pool you have to select from, the more likely you are to find the most compatible person for you, if you have the right algorithms working on your behalf. If you just have a very large search pool, and you don’t have good data, then you’re just fishing in a big pond and you don’t have any way to know that you’re going to get a good catch. I think it’s unrealistic to say that we can look through millions of people and find the one person who is best for you, but what we can do is of these millions of people, here are the top 100 that might be the best for you to look through and here are the bottom 1,000, or 100,000, that you shouldn’t waste your time with. That level of granularity, sort of picking the most likely and the least likely, that’s something that an algorithm can do really well. Predicting chemistry, ‘who is the one,’ that’s something that we’re probably decades away from being able to do online.”

“When the choice was: Do I want my love life determined by a psychologist or a mathematician, I pick mathematician every day of the week.”– Sam Yagan

On the beginnings of Match

“My three founders and I, all Harvard math majors, none of us have ever been on an online date, despite having started one of the most successful online dating companies. Some people come to entrepreneurship and innovation through a need that they are trying to solve for themselves. For us it was more of a need that we saw in the marketplace. We saw that there wasn’t any dating site at that time that was focused on an algorithm data-based approach. Now, that’s where the industry has moved quite a bit.”

On setting trends in the online dating industry

“There are really three things that I look at. The first is of course the customer. I get to be the noisiest friend or acquaintance that anyone has because it’s my job is to ask you about your dating life all the time. My friends and the people I know understand that I’m going to ask them what they’re doing, how they’re dating, who they’re dating, where they’re going and what they’re doing. I’m constantly asking those questions and making sure I’m in touch with the customer.”

“The second is to make sure you’re always using competitive products. I think that’s something industry leaders sometimes don’t do. They sometimes assume they’re the ones setting the trends and doing the innovating, and me, I use our competitor’s product as much as we use our own. I have all of our competitors’ apps on my phone.”

“The third is just generally staying current on technology and really trying to think not just in our category, but looking at what people are doing in other categories, and thinking what are the applications of something someone’s doing in a different vertical, in a different industry to dating. Use of location-based services for example, and use of video.”

On the influence of Match

“If you think about products that really impact humanity, dating is one of the most influential out there. There are over a million people running around the United States that were born to parents just on Match.com alone, to say nothing of the other properties we run, so that’s a million lives that our company just had a little to do with in bringing their parents together. That’s a lot of influence. Definitely, the relationships that come out of online dating cross more boundaries than those that don’t so I think in that way it’s very influential and it has a huge impact in the trajectory of our society.”



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