OneStop Singles, Small but Profitable, Flirts for Attention in Crowded Online Dating Industry

Standing out in New York can be a challenge for a young company—especially one serving the singles scene. The “been there, done that” attitude is difficult to overcome in Manhattan when pushing a dating website, given the plethora of paid and free services available such as Match.com, eHarmony, OkCupid, and PlentyofFish. While many dating services draw generic masses of users, OneStop Singles offers its clients à la carte–style options based on their deal breakers when it comes to romance.

OneStop is the parent company of OnSpeedDating.com and SingleAndTheCity.com, which organize themed speed dating events and singles parties in the New York City area, respectively (two to five events per week in total). OnSpeed and SingleAndTheCity are ad-based websites with paid events. OneStop also operates the free online dating site Kissburg.com, which is not anchored to the New York market. Members of OnSpeed and SingleAndTheCity are automatically enrolled in Kissburg.com.

Co-founders Amber Soletti and Carmine Di Re created OneStop Singles in 2008 out of dissatisfaction with existing dating websites and the speed dating options in Manhattan. Soletti and Di Re make up the company’s staff, though they also collaborate with event promoters and hosts throughout New York City.

OneStop Singles is self-funded and profitable, according to Soletti, thanks in part to its low overhead. The company is growing at a time when dating sites are seeking ways to generate revenue even as the public can connect through free social networking portals such as Meetup and Facebook. There has been some consolidation too. In February, subscription-based Match.com paid $50 million in cash to acquire New York City’s OkCupid, an advertising-driven website that is primarily free to use but includes some paid services.

While its technology is no moon-landing breakthrough, OneStop Singles structured its services to appeal to daters’ preferences based on interests, background, and physical attributes. Soletti said the idea is to give singles the chance to target the niche groups they are attracted to, such as firefighters, blondes, Ivy Leaguers, and even men with accents. “If you’re a busy New Yorker who doesn’t have a lot of time, you can come out and you’ll have some kind of starting point that you are into,” she said.

Soletti, 35, a transplant from Austin, TX, serves as vice president of marketing for OneStop Singles (see left). Her role can include beating the bushes for daters to populate themed events. “If it’s my ‘Gentleman Prefer Blondes’ night and I’m short blondes, you better believe I am hitting every hair salon in New York,” Soletti said. Prior to launching OneStop, Soletti worked as global marketing director of hair care with Avon and in a similar role with Aveda. Some 18 months ago, she committed herself full-time to OneStop. Di Re, 36, a native of Brooklyn, handles Web design and technical aspects as vice president of development; he retains his job as a senior developer for a New York City media firm.

Other singles sites can inundate members with unwanted contacts, Soletti said, and traditional speed dating events tend to be grouped simply by the ages of the participants. Soletti said she wanted a better option for herself and others after enduring some of her own dating nightmares. Her first speed dating experience in New York coincidentally put her with a contact she turned down from Match.com. “The first guy I sat with mentioned, ‘I e-mailed you 10 times and you never responded. Now you have to talk to me.’ It was really kind of painful,” she said.

OneStop Singles uses themes, or “dating deal breakers,” as she put it—such as political affiliation, height, and career choice—to attract singles interested in those groups. “Initially it was selfishly about offering events where we would be interested in the singles attending,” she said.

In 2008, the company launched OnSpeedDating.com, which offers 75 different themed events for singles to choose from. The speed dating events draw 20 to 40 participants, Soletti said. She said the company then expanded with SingleAndTheCity.com, which lists themed mixer parties for singles that can draw upwards of 75 attendees, she said. “Our firemen singles party is a huge event for us,” Soletti said. “We usually average around 350 people for that.”

Other observers say coaxing New Yorkers for an evening out is increasingly difficult given their ever-growing options. Jeff Strank, founder of business and social events company NetParty in New York, said the dating industry must innovate to compete these days. With the rise of online networks that inspire homegrown social meetings, competition has increased for the public’s attention, he said. Furthermore, Internet dating services need to evolve with technology, Strank said. “A lot of major dating sites are not that much different than they were in 1998,” he said.

With the advent of location-based apps, Strank said, smartphones are the latest platforms the dating industry can leverage. “The most innovative thing happening in this space right now is mobile apps,” he said. Such apps include SingleSquare, which lets people use New York-based Foursquare’s check-in technology to alert others in the vicinity of their availability, and SinglesAroundMe, which locates other users via Google Maps. Strank said more of these apps may be in the works as the public becomes more receptive to using location-based services. “It hasn’t reached critical mass yet,” he said. “Some of the early tech adopters are aware of it.”

Meanwhile, Soletti said, OneStop is working on its own innovations. The company is developing another website that will offer deals targeted at singles akin to what Groupon and LivingSocial provide, but with more social networking. For example, a hypothetical offer might be a hot air balloon ride that includes a deal on a bottle of wine with dinner at a restaurant. “After you purchase the deal, we have a hookup blog where the singles post and find a date for the outing they just purchased,” Soletti said. She expects the deals site to launch within the next three to six months.

Soletti said OneStop wants to add staff and bring its concept to other metro areas such as Los Angeles and Chicago within the next three years. “The singles business seems to thrive in any type of economy,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to be in love or meet someone?”

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