Dating Group, a Malta-based social discovery platform, which operates several online dating brands, raised a $50m fund earlier this year. Dating Group CVC Fund Managing Partner Bill Alena answered our questions about the vehicle, its mission, modus operandi and future plans.
FinSMEs: Hi Bill, can you tell us a bit more about you. What’s your background?
Bill: I’ve been in the dating and social space for 14 years. Previous to joining Dating Group I was the CRO of The Meet Group for 11 years.
FinSMEs: Let’s speak about the Dating Group CVC fund. You’ve announced the launch of the fund in March, just at the beginning of a global pandemic. Was this launch planned or did you quickly realize that dating will be on the rise for the next period of time?
Bill: The launch was planned prior to the pandemic, but we did recognize the potential opportunity and began to focus on investments that can thrive in this environment or the ones that will proceed the pandemic. In addition, we did evolve the way we hope to support companies with which we partner and open up new avenues for investment.
FinSMEs: What’s the mission behind the fund?
Bill: Our fund really has multiple missions. We want to help the industry grow with good smart ideas and entrepreneurs, but also believe we can be so much more to companies than just the money. Lastly, we want to invest in companies that might be interesting for us to fully acquire in the future.
FinSMEs: How does Dating Group CVC fund differentiate from other VC funds investing in dating projects?
Bill: As a company that already owns over 15 brands in the dating space, we know what we’re doing. We hope to offer more than just an investment but access to numerous resources. We want to be a true partner to our portfolio, as mentioned the money is just where we start. Once we’ve invested we can then offer resources to help support their business. Accessing our internal to help grow their business can be invaluable. We teams of engineers, marketers, PR professionals and much more all with decades of experience in the dating space.
FinSMEs: What is your investment philosophy or methodology? What does a startup need for you to invest?
Bill: We look for a number of factors when investing, some are quite similar to most VC’s and others are unique to our situation. For instance, like traditional VC’s, founders are a priority. We have to believe in that entrepreneur and the team. This, to us, is priority #1. We are looking for passion and ideally a past history of success.
Additionally, like most investors a quality product and vision is vital. The dating space has a lot happening and there is a continual flow of new entries into the space. We are looking for unique ideas but ones that we believe can scale.
Where we different from most is that we are also looking for companies with synergies to us, operation consistencies and ones that we may be able to potentially acquire.
FinSMEs: Can you share some numbers and achievements of your business? What is the size of the fund, how many companies have you already invested in etc?
Bill: As noted, we just began the fund in March, at the start of a worldwide pandemic. To date we’ve only made two investments but are in detailed conversations with multiple parties to expand our portfolio.
FinSMEs: What’s your medium and long-term plans?
Bill: Our medium term plan is to invest in multiple properties and build a detailed infrastructure within Dating Group to help these businesses grow. As mentioned, we don’t want to just invest, we want to see our portfolio companies succeed. Building tools and resources to help this process is a vital stop in our growth.
Our long term plan is to have an expansive portfolio in the dating space and see companies grow. We hope to be in a position to acquire the companies in which we invest or see them to strong exits. Ultimately, we want to be the first place “Dating” entrepreneurs go when they’re raising money.
FinSMEs: Dating Group has strong expertise in the dating area as proven by previous successes. Why does this industry attract you and keeps you engaged?
Bill: One thing about the dating space is that it’s always changing. There’s always something new and exciting on the horizon. Since the beginning of digital dating it’s been a constant evolution. I don’t see that changing. We believe, based on our long experience in the space, we can see what’s coming next and have a vision on what products and leaders are most likely to deliver the next big thing.
FinSMEs: How positive are you for the future of the online dating industry? Don’t you think that when the pandemic is over, people will stop being so involved in online dating?
Bill: The digital dating space isn’t going anywhere. There is a universal need to find love and I expect the industry to continue to grow. I think the pandemic helped us evolve faster than we might have with things like video hitting the market bigger and faster than expected. Ultimately, as people continue to get more comfortable with digital dating we expect the industry to continue to expand. There will always be new entries to disrupt the status quo.
FinSMEs: What’s your best piece of advice for someone looking to invest in dating?
Bill: If you’re looking to invest in the dating space I would recommend a few things. First, find a good founder. The person leading the team is the most important piece of the puzzle. The industry is always evolving so the product can be adapted, the founder is the heart and sole of the business. Second, find a unique product that is executable. Make sure what they’re trying to build is realistic and can both be built and marketed at reasonable costs and resources. Lastly, find a business that can scale. Dating sites can often get too niche. Finding a unique market is a good thing, but be sure that market isn’t too small or not interesting enough to deliver that unique audience at scale.