Interview With Shayan Zadeh, CEO of Zoosk

-Shayan Zadeh Headshot-Last week AllFacebook has the opportunity to speak with Shayan Zadeh, the co-Founder and co-CEO of Zoosk, one of the leading Facebook dating applications. The company has recently surged to the number one position in terms of daily and monthly active users for any dating application. Many have attributed this growth to an aggressive user acquisition model. Whatever the reason for the growth, dating is clearly a hot item on Facebook, ranking it among social games in terms of user engagement.

If you are in the online dating industry then social platforms are most definitely on your radar. Many offer a completely free platform but Zoosk differs from most in that they use a freemium model, limiting things like “flirts” and messages, charging users for increased activity. Check out our interview with Shayan Zadeh below.

AllFacebook (AF): What is Zoosk and how long has Zoosk been around?
Shayan Zadeh (SZ): Zoosk is the largest social dating community enabling singles to meet love interests and forge lasting relationships. We launched Zoosk in December 2007 on Facebook and since then we have helped more than 16.5 million singles around the world meet new people. Zoosk is also the only dating application that connects users on multiple social networks with each other by leveraging our platform-agnostic capabilities breaking down the silos created by social networks on the web.

AF: What differentiates Zoosk from competing Facebook dating applications?
SZ: Zoosk is the only dating application on Facebook that actually helps singles find dates. It might sound counterintuitive, but if you use any of the competing applications in the dating category on Facebook you quickly realize that only Zoosk offers key functionalities that singles look for:

  • Ability to search on basic criteria: Few dating applications on Facebook capture information that is relevant to daters (such as height or education) let alone allowing singles to search based on those criteria. Zoosk is the only dating application on Facebook that provides a very rich search functionality.
  • Photos beyond your Facebook Profile Picture: We have heard pictures are worth a thousand words and it is even more so when it comes to dating. I wonder how some applications positions themselves as dating providers when their users don’t have the ability to upload multiple photos. On Zoosk, we have millions of photos that users have hand picked to represent them to their potential dates with most of our users choosing to have more than two photos.
  • Extensive Localization: Dating is a local experience and to give our global user base the best experience, we have fully localized the Zoosk experience into 12 languages in addition to English. We have seen significant improvement in user satisfaction since the release of the localized Zoosk and I believe we are the only dating application (and probably any social application) with this level of internationalization.

AF: Zoosk has been aggressively acquiring new users, including acquiring applications to obtain new users. Has the application acquisition model been successful for retaining users?
Like all other Facebook applications, we have experimented with many customer acquisition models. Based on what we have heard from other developers as well as our own tests, we quickly realized that application acquisition is not an effective way of building a loyal and engaged user base. So instead, we focused on improving the value proposition of the application and our user retention model. This strategy may not give you the steepest growth curve, but it has proven to be a sustainable strategy in the long run.

AF: What have been the biggest challenges for Zoosk in light of the Facebook redesign?
Obviously the redesign changed how our users on Facebook interact with Zoosk. One of the major challenges for our users has been discovery of the applications after they first install Zoosk. Previously applications would automatically get added to the menu bar for users. The new paradigm of bookmarking has been difficult for users to understand. Recently Facebook has made a few changes to help with this issue, but we believe more can be done to help users re-discover applications that they have installed and like.

AF: It appears that your monetization model is to charge for premium access. Is there a reason that you’ve decided to go that route rather than creating a free dating platform?
We actually have a freemium model. Users on Zoosk can signup and create profiles for free. They are also able to initiate and respond to messages others send them for free. A percentage of our members select to upgrade to premium membership that gives them privileges such as unlimited communication and premium placement.

We also monetize through sales of virtual gifts utilizing our Zoosk Coin economy. Many of our users purchase gifts to be attached to their messages, which in return give them higher visibility with their potential matches.

And lastly, we do monetize through advertising, although we do it in a much more non-intrusive way than most Facebook applications do advertising.

AF: As the application exists, it doesn’t appear that there are any social features in regards to integrating the social graph. Why launch as a Facebook application rather than a destination site? Is it simply due to the decreased new user acquisition cost?
You are correct in that the social features of Zoosk are not the forefront of the experience compared to social games or other applications. However, this is a direct result of the nature of dating business. Many singles want their dating experience to be private and we respect that desire. Therefore, you don’t see most of the social functionalities front and center.

However, as users engage deeper with the application, they can decide to engage their friends in the process wherever appropriate. For example, one of the popular social features on Zoosk has been friend testimonials. Zooskers can request their friends to say a few words about them, which, after their approval, appears on their Date Card. By having their friends vouch for them, these singles gain a lot of credibility within the community and end up with more dates.

As for a destination site, we launched www.zoosk.com late last year, which is simply another entry point to the Zoosk experience, and we have seen an amazing interest in it since. So, even though Zoosk started on Facebook, it now has become a ubiquitous platform for singles to meet each other regardless of where they are on the web, a social network for singles if you will that can seamlessly integrate with your social network of choice.

AF: Your Daily Active Users have jumped significantly since February 1st. What have you changed about your application?
We have actually seen a surge in traffic since start of the year with another bump in February. The first two months of the year are naturally very strong months for dating business with singles thinking about their New Year resolutions and then with Valentine’s Day around the corner. This has been true both for traditional dating sites such as Match.com and also for Zoosk.

AF: Any plans to go mobile?
As I mentioned before, we think of Zoosk as a platform agnostic online dating community. In other words, in our vision a Zoosker should be able to take advantage of Zoosk regardless of where and how they are online. Naturally, a mobile Zoosk experience is under consideration.

AF: How are other platforms performing in comparison to Facebook?
Facebook is the largest platform for us with www.zoosk.com quickly becoming a second performer since its launch a few months ago. Bebo and Hi5 are strong performers as well. MySpace has recently improved the quality of its communication channels, which should result in a better experience for users on its platform and by proxy for us.

AF: What privacy concerns do you have or issues to deal with when integration Zoosk.com and the Facebook application? What technical challenges do you face with integrating Zoosk.com?
Since we built Zoosk from the start with the idea that it would be a platform agnostic community, adding other platforms with www.zoosk.com simply being one has been fairly simple. In terms of privacy, since we mask any identifiable information about users regardless of their platform of origin, we haven’t had any challenges with bringing users from multiple social networks together while respecting their privacy.

AF: What new features or products do you plan on rolling out in 2009?
We have a number of exciting projects underway for roll out in 2009. We’re working on new ways of enabling Zooskers to take advantage of Zoosk regardless of where or how they are online. We are also working on a few projects that will tremendously help Zooskers in their user discovery and pursuit of love. And finally, we’re constantly working on refining the social aspects of Zoosk while balancing the need for privacy for our users.

AF: Anything else that you’d like to mention?
I want to thank you for the opportunity to share some notes about Zoosk with your audience. The phenomenal growth of Zoosk has been driven by its ability to help singles build new relationships and the more we can share that story, the more people we can help.