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James Hong

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Return of FREE!

Messaging other users on HOTorNOT is now FREE! (but sorry, you still have to double match them first! :) )

Six years ago, Jim and I decided we had to start charging for the "Meet Me" section of HOTorNOT. Despite charging, the site became the largest paid dating site that focuses on the 25 and under demographic that we know of...Even though the point of the site is NOT to facilitate serious relationships specifically (we want to enable meetings of ANY kind), we estimate about 5-10 marriages per day are generated through the site!

We started charging because we needed to make ends meet, but we did so reluctantly. The site converts over 15% of free Meet Me members into paid members, a conversion rate we are told is nothing short of phenomenal. But to us, we don't think 15% is great. We just see the 85% who wanted to meet people, but did not.. simply because they could not pay.

Well, we say No more!! Although common belief in the early 2000's was that sites HAD to charge (for instance, wrote an article talking about how Free would never work), times have since changed. A REAL advertising model has come back (backed by actual commerce, not by VC money), and the day Jim and I talked about 6 years ago, the day when we might actually be able to make the site free again, has arrived.

It is now free for users on HOTorNOT to send messages to each other without paying. One interesting side effect of this is that it allows us to enable users to post more user generated content without threatening our business model. We think that is going to be a very, very big deal.

Doing this is financially very risky. HOTorNOT does well over $5MM a year in subscription revenue right now, and we are throwing that away. From here on out, we are commited to developing advertising and our virtual goods engine. At present, those make roughly enough for us to break even, but we think we can improve that situation over time... more importantly, HOTorNOT will hopefully begin to faciliate relationships at an order of magnitude larger scale.

Wish us luck, and if you know someone looking for hotties to meet, please let them know they can once again do it on HOTorNOT... for FREE!

PS. It's interesting to note that even Evan's "The End of Free" blog, where he tracked sites that started charging for stuff, appears to be offline now.


Blogger Simply Me said...

Well, I wish you and Jim the absolute best of luck with the new free HoN! It's been great this far, I hope it only gets better. ;)

8:50 PM  
Blogger john dodds said...

Great initiative James - I will be interested to see how people differentiate themselves in their messages and/or if sheer volume actually reduces ongoing communication.

2:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Expanded API anywhere on the horizon?

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have been meaning to comment for awhile. I am super psyched about your decision. I heard a friend say risk and uncertainty have been the most thing about being an entrepreneur.

Let me know if/where I can help.

12:17 PM  

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