More and more of today’s love stories start with people making contact on the Internet starts with the following: “I was going to bed at two o’clock in the morning and frequently visiting the site to check whether Dima had sent me a reply or not. Then he suggested we meet up…”

Moscow resident Milena, for example, got to know her boyfriend almost two years ago, through the Teamo.ru dating website (the name comes from the Spanish word “teamo,” meaning “I love you”).

Unlike other dating sites, Teamo.ru provides a niche service for people who are looking for a serious relationship and are willing to pay money to have potential partners selected on the basis of a psychological test.

It was not all their idea, admits Teamo.ru CEO Andrei Burin. The site is based on the American service eHarmony.com. By the time Teamo.ru was launched in 2010, the American site was boasting that, in the past year, it had introduced five percent of all married couples in the United States and Australia.

The Russian and American sites work on the same principle: when users register, they answer the questions on a test, and this is then used to compile a psychological profile of the user. The only difference is the number of criteria used. The Russian site uses 17, while the American site has 29 — almost twice as many.

“At first, Teamo.ru copied its Western prototype’s business model and interface logic completely,” says Burin. “But it soon became clear that the eHarmony business model in its pure form would not work in the Russian dating market.”

Thus, Teamo.ru made some radical changes to the site’s design and content. For example, unlike its American counterpart, the Russian site now has a section where a psychologist answers questions, as well as its own discussion forum and blog, with dozens of articles about relationships. “We stopped looking over our shoulder at the Western model and started doing what our users needed,” Burin says.

Opportunities to make money

Counting hearts on a calculator

The Teamo.ru website keeps a careful record of its statistics for “happy couples” that have met through the service: this is another part of the eHarmony.com service that the Russian site has imitated. According to the company’s own data, after a little more than two years in operation, the Teamo.ru total was more than 35,000 couples — of whom about 10,000 couples have got married.

Teamo.ru will not reveal how big the original investment in its project was. The only thing known is that the start-up received money from the Fast Lane Ventures fund, whose standard seed investment is between $500,000 and $1 million. Right now Teamo.ru’s investors include e.Ventures and UMJ Russia, and the total amount invested is upwards of $2 million, company sources say.

“The dating website models are generally very capital-intensive businesses, because you need a lot of money to create the nucleus of an operating system for the service. For services like Teamo, there is a further complication in that the questionnaires are much more detailed and contain lots of questions, which serve as the basis for the people-matching algorithm,” says Maxim Medvedev, founder and managing director of AddVenture.

Moreover, the site does not carry any advertising: Teamo.ru makes its money from paid-for services. As with eHarmony.com, the only free things on the site are registration and the selection of the most psychologically compatible partner: if users want to make contact and see photos of their potential “other halves,” they have to fork out some money: a one-month contact costs $26, three months costs $37, six months $52, and one year $79.

“In principle, we’re not ruling out new ways of generating income. The main thing is that they mustn’t cut across our vision for Teamo.ru as a service to help people find their other half,” says Burin.

Burin notes that, in the last eight months of 2012, there was a tenfold increase in the income from the site and the number of visitors — it started to make a profit. It is quite possible that, in the future, Teamo.ru will be able to develop using its own resources and will no longer need to seek outside investment.

The chief matchmaker on the Russian Internet

Experts believe that the “serious relationships” segment of the Russian online dating market remains relatively free: there is no clear leader, so there is scope for developing the business. Fast Lane Ventures explained it like this: the reason why they invested in Teamo.ru is that, as a company, they believe the “serious dating” niche, which is just beginning to build up popularity, is extremely promising.

Teamo.ru has already started working toward securing a monopoly position and dominating the niche. At the end of last year the company acquired the premium dating site Monamour.ru. After deleting duplicate accounts, they had a combined audience of 5.5 million people. At the end of January there were reports that Teamo.ru would continue to buy up its competitors, and that the next in line could be Kisses.ru.  

Last summer, however, experts at the Russian Public Opinion Research Center found that Russians are not all that interested in dating sites for the purpose of getting married. According to the results of a survey conducted by the center, Russians do not take such services seriously. Dating sites were regarded as the least reliable source of information: no more than 12 percent of respondents trusted them.

According to AddVenture’s Maxim Medvedev, the “traditional” model of dating service on the Internet (such as the Loveplanet, Mamba and other websites) is more attractive than sites like Teamo.ru, from an investment point of view. He sees two reasons for this: first, the subscription model (where the user pays for the service on a monthly basis) is not widely used or popular in Russia, given that Russians are accustomed to paying and for presents or for moving up in rankings; second, in so-called casual dating, users are looking for more brief contacts and constantly returning to the service, unlike on “serious dating” sites, where users find a partner and leave the field.

At the same time, Medvedev thinks that Teamo.ru has a big plus in the form of its target audience, since the “serious relationship” audience is older and more motivated — and consequently more likely to pay.

Top Russian start-ups.

The Essentials
Name: Fastlane Ventures Website: Teamo.ru
Concept:

Teamo.ru is a Russian-language dating website for people who are looking for serious relationships. Users are matched according to psychological compatibility.

Unique selling point:
The Teamo.ru service uses a psychological test developed by Russian psychologists, as well as a mathematical algorithm to select compatible couples who have the potential to develop strong and harmonious relationships.
Start date:
December 2010
Development plans:

To increase the number of registered users in Russian regions and actively promote the service in CIS countries (Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Belarus)

SWOT:
Strengths:
Teamo.ru is a leader in the segment for online dating aimed at serious relationships. The website has a base of 5.5 million registered users. More than 720,000 unique users visit the website every month.
Weaknesses:

According to a 2012 VTsIOM poll, only12 percent of Russians believe starting a family via online dating is possible.

Opportunities:

The service has a proven track record of couples that have connected, married and had children; the project may help improve Russia’s demographic situation.

Threats:
Although online dating Rivals in the segmet  of online dating encourage Teamo.ru to work thoroughly on its busisness plan and strategy.
Contacts:

Andrei Burin, CEO

tel.: +7 (926) 204-7224