Last week, I attended the iDate Mobile Dating Industry Conference in Beverly Hills. The conference is held three times a year (in Las Vegas, Beverly Hills, and an international venue) and has been around for 11 years.
I have never attended before and was not really sure what to expect. I hoped to learn more about the landscape of online dating as it stands today, see some interesting presentations, and make a few connections.
While some of that did happen, I also saw some extremely poor presentations, was witness to plenty of misogyny, and was disappointed by the lack of content about actually HELPING people meet their romantic partner (as opposed to just driving traffic to an online dating site or app to make money). There are 3000+ dating sites out there!
I got a kick out of the hotel–the SLS–it was very swanky LA, full of quirky art (like people painted on the elevator walls).
There were two talks that had titles that indicated there would be a discussion of algorithms and compatibility measurement, but both fell quite short. There was a lot of discussion of sleazy dating sites, “d*ck pics,” and comments like “thanks for giving us a tax-free excuse to hang out with hot 18 year olds”. I went to a talk called “Using High-End Offline Events to Improve Membership,” but after the speaker started showing a video from their Halloween party at the Playboy Mansion full of half-naked women, I left.
I’ve been to a lot of tech conferences in my life, and while there is still plenty of sexism to go around there, it’s nothing like the iDate atmosphere. Ad posters of half-naked women were in the networking area. And I am so tired of men referring to women as “females”.
There was a party on the first night of the conference up in the Hollywood Hills at Tai Lopez’s house. He’s an entrepreneur who was once on the Millionaire Matchmaker. That was…interesting.
What WAS good about the conference? Here’s a summary of presentations I did get something out of:
- The best by far was a pre-conference session I attended by Steve Dean, CEO of Dateworking, called Mobile Dating App Innovation. Steve is in his mid-20s and has tons of dating experience, which he applies to consulting for dating companies. He is someone who obviously spends a lot of time thinking about dating, and his presentation was full of interesting information and real data.
- The keynote on the first main day of the conference was by Syuzi Pakhchyan of Fashioning Technology, called “Connected Bodies: Shaping the Future of Wearable Tech”. It was a fascinating overview of the current space in wearable tech. There was not a big tie-in with online dating, but she did give some good food for thought, such as using open environments like Jawbone’s UP Band to enhance dating communication (perhaps a vibrate on your wrist when someone you like messages you?)
- Mark Brooks, CEO of Online Personals Watch and Courtland Brooks, gave an overview of the dating industry over the last year, including some interview clips with Sam Yagan (CEO of Match), Markus Frind (CEO of Plenty of Fish), and Aaron Schildkrout (CEO of HowAboutWe). He also brought up the fact that most matchmaking conferences are attended primarily by women, but the iDate conference is primarily men. What’s up with that?
- There was a session called “CEO Therapy” in which a CEO stands up for a 5-minute presentation, and then gets feedback from the audience on their business model, etc. Eve Peters gave a brief but terrific talk about her startup, Whim, which gets you out on a date that same night. She had some great data on the time one invests on various dating sites before you go on an actual date. (It can take weeks on some sites.) She also had one of my favorite quotes from the conference, “This is not an entertainment app like Tinder.”
- Alex Kilpatrick from Beehive ID gave some interesting information about potential for using social graphs for dating.
- Mark Brooks interviewed Michael Jones, CEO of Science, Inc. Michael knows a lot about the industry and gave some good insights. Also, can I just say there is a lot more swearing at iDate presentations than at tech conferences?
- Christian Jensen, Chief Evangelist at Sinch, talked about adding voice to dating apps, and why aren’t more people doing it?
- I enjoyed hearing from Jill James, COO of Three Day Rule, a matchmaking service recently bought by Match.com. You submit photos of your exes and they use facial recognition software to figure out your facial “type”.
- There was some talk about “couples’ apps” being the wave of the future; once you’ve got someone matched, how can you retain them as a customer and help them in their relationship?
The last session of the conference was a panel with 10 people (sadly it only included one woman, Jill James) that had the audience asking questions about the industry. It had a few interesting insights.
In summary: I’m glad I went, I did learn some useful things and meet some interesting people, but I was also disappointed by a lot of the content and angry with the blatant misogyny. I did have fun staying at the conference hotel, where I ate the best grilled-cheese sandwich of my life. Check out my Flickr photos of the conference.