Eight Years On – How It All Began (Part 1)

As I sit here writing this, reflecting on the last 8 years, I’m looking out over alluring Arizonian mountains whilst the sun shines in a baby blue sky and pool water laps gently at my feet. Enjoying the comfortably dry 40 degrees Celsius weather, I ask myself – where did it all go so right? And more importantly, why did it all go so right?

We’ve just finished our best month ever, beating pretty much every record we’ve ever had. All the metrics we use to measure business performance are up – and a lot of the initiatives we put in place months ago to improve things further still haven’t had their full effect.

Together with our partners, we’re now generating over $50million/year in revenues and still growing rapidly. We’ve gone from being a small UK business to a truly international operation, with sites in Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. And this is just the start – we’ve got some exciting news on our international plans to announce at our partner conference in October this year.

We’re now nearing almost 100 full time staff and investing millions in the development of our platform and marketing efforts. We’ve helped dozens of partners give up their jobs and focus full time on the promotion of their online dating sites.

But it wasn’t always like this…It all started with an idea. Just an idea.

Back in 2003 I was an oiky 25 year old running Rawnet, a web agency I started whilst at university. I was single, living at home with my parents and regularly working 14 hour days and weekends. Online dating was the only way I was going to get out and meet people, but there were only a few sites to choose from at the time and they all had similar technology and database of members, with the brand being the only differentiation between them. It struck me that there may be an opportunity here – an opportunity to create a platform that allowed companies to put their own brand to a dating site and market the site, much in the same way supermarkets put their brand to a box of cornflakes that is actually made by someone else.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but this is known as a white label service and is a very effective distribution tool for businesses.

It was while discussing this idea with Steve, who worked in the same building as me and was originally a client of my web design business, that we realised the true power of this concept. Steve had a background in sales and could see an opportunity for newspapers, magazines, media companies and even individuals to launch their own dating sites on such a platform. These “partners” would focus on building their brand and marketing the site, while we would focus on the platform and behind the scenes customer care, billing, support and development.

We spoke more about the idea and after a lunch where we enjoyed great food and a LOT of drink, we signed the papers to set up Global Personals Limited.

One of the things that we’re most proud of is that we’ve never needed to take external investment – together with the team and our partners we’ve built a $50million/year business without a penny of external investment. We almost bankrupted ourselves in the process of course, but looking back I think we both remember it fondly 🙂

Without a database of members we’d have no business, so we had to build that database. Steve re-mortgaged his house and we both racked up tens of thousands of pounds of credit card debt buying advertising on Google to acquire members. Month by month we juggled our debt, using income from the site to pay off one credit card, then buying more traffic on that card – Egg, Mint, Goldfish, Capital One – we had them all – and we juggled them for 4 years, growing our revenues from nothing to $5million/year in that time.

But that was just the beginning….. Read on for Part 2 of the story!

Ross Williams, CEO & Co-Founder.

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