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Interview with Romantic Planet's Steven Roberts

Steven Roberts was a psychology major at UCSC. After graduating, he developed design and business skills as co-founder to a company that developed and sold art related products to museum gift shops.

During the dawn of the personal computer, Steven had been a child programmer. When he turned 30, he returned to his roots and took to the keyboard to fashion Romantic Planet.

Steven met the love of his life salsa dancing. When he’s not running Romantic Planet, he is teaching a nightly salsa dance class with his wife. Although he didn’t meet his wife through online dating, two of his best friends had. This showed him the potential of this new technology and inspired him to commit himself to making Romantic Planet the very best it can possibly be.

Online Dating Magazine (ODM) recently had the opportunity to chat with Steven Roberts about Romantic Planet.


ODM: When did Romantic Planet open to the public and what was the inspiration behind starting a new online dating service?

Roberts: Although Romantic Planet opened its doors on February 14th, 2002, it has been a work in progress since 1996. Back then, online dating was in its infancy.

I was single at the time and trying out many of the dating services. I met lots of different women and found myself very interested in hearing about their experiences with dating services. Very quickly I began envisioning a service that would better cater to the needs that the women were expressing.

ODM: And what were some of the things you were hearing the most?

Roberts: I heard over and over again that the women were being bombarded by men that didn’t match what they were looking for. This decreases the “shelf life” of female members as they either get fed up, overworked, or guilt ridden from not responding. Along the same lines, women complained about men being too persistent. “No” really should mean “no”, but men are a bit confused about the new rules of dating.

Women expressed the desire to have more information about the men on the dating sites. Essays (while everyone hates them) are key. Also, “showing, not telling” is important. That’s the reason we have a quote as the profile headline. It reveals more about someone than a simple description. Having people select a postcard when sending an introduction also reveals information. The more information a woman has, the better she can assess her own security and comfort.

ODM: These days there are literally hundreds of online dating services. What do you feel truly makes Romantic Planet different from the rest?

Roberts: It is the experience that someone has on Romantic Planet that is most unique. It is a combination of visual design and navigation, profile questions and membership base, humanitarian values and absence of advertisements, and the overall intelligence in how we do things. Dating should feel magical, not like you’re out shopping. Romantic Planet is sublime in the way it facilitates the process while keeping the magic alive.

ODM: What has been the biggest challenge so far in operating Romantic Planet?

Roberts: Trying to satisfy everyone’s needs is the most challenging part of running Romantic Planet. Every opinion has value and every need or problem deserves attention. Another challenge is avoiding “feature creep.” We want Romantic Planet to be simple and uncluttered, yet we get tons of suggestions for new features. A lot of care and thought goes into any implementation that we do.

ODM: Taking a look at the opposite spectrum, what is the most rewarding part of running Romantic Planet?

Roberts: I’ve spent many of my earlier years in life feeling rather isolated. I overcame these feelings by making an active decision to help others feel more connected. Providing the guidance to help people find each other, whether it be for the sake of friendship, community, or romance, warms the cockles of my heart. Truly.

ODM: At the time of this interview the monthly fee to become a member of Romantic Planet is listed as $14.95 a month while most other services are between the $20 - $50 range. What keeps your prices low?

Roberts: We are very efficient in how we do things and have stayed small. Also, we are self-funded so there is no external pressure. It may be hard to believe, but making money is less of a concern than providing a good experience for people.

ODM: When searching on Romantic Planet, one of the things it calculates is a "score" (1 - 1000) that determines which matches are more compatible with members. Without giving out to many secrets, how does this work?

Roberts: That would be taking the magic away. Any good magician never reveals their secrets. I can say that the brain behind Romantic Planet is MatchMind. MatchMind is highly intelligent and learns about your preferences every time you write to someone. As you use Romantic Planet, you’ll notice your scores periodically adjusting as MatchMind incorporates new information it has learned. If finding a soulmate is similar to finding a needle in a haystack, then MatchMind is like having a giant magnet.

ODM: I noticed that there is a "double dating" technology (DoubleMatch) built into Romantic Planet. How exactly does that work and what is its benefit to members?

Roberts: DoubleMatch was capable of matching two compatible couples for a double date. However, we recently decided to remove that technology because it wasn’t being used.

Back in my days of being single, a friend and I placed a “double date us” ad in the local newspaper. We had a lot of response and found that dating with a friend was more comfortable than dating alone. Unfortunately, not all good ideas work out. Somehow, there’s an insurmountable resistance to online double dating.

ODM: It’s a shame that you couldn’t break through that barrier as it is an original concept for a dating service. And speaking of original concepts, I understand that you have a “charitable program” associated with the site. Can you tell us more about that?

Roberts: Money is such a strange thing. For some people, $14.95 is a drop in the bucket. For others, it is food for two days. We don’t want anybody to be turned down from Romantic Planet because of their circumstances in life.

We were strongly advised not to offer charity in this form, but we chose to do it anyway. The danger is that people will take advantage of us. I may be naive, but I trust that the majority of people will do the right thing.

ODM: What tips do you have for users of Romantic Planet to get the best results?

Roberts: Failure is Success. You are likely to meet many people who aren’t what you’re looking for. This is part of the learning experience. There is a process of elimination that must take place. Recognizing what doesn’t work will help you to find what does.

Rejection is Selection. When someone turns you down, it’s part of the selection process. Someday, you’ll thank those people (who rejected you) for steering you in the direction towards the person you were ultimately meant to be with.

Less is More. People often write vague or dishonest profiles hoping to attract as many prospects as possible. But when you’re not being yourself, you attract lots of people who are looking for something else. Wouldn’t you rather meet a few people who like you for who you are?

Weaknesses are Strengths. When completing your profile, spend the time to reveal more about yourself than you would normally. Showing your vulnerabilities will make you more human and will be a powerful force in attracting the right people to you.

Isolation is Motivation. It is natural to have feelings of isolation and loneliness. Allow these feelings to motivate you to reach out to others. Many wait to be contacted and miss out on wonderful opportunities. After completing a profile, introduce yourself to lots of people and create possibilities

ODM: What are some of the future plans you have for Romantic Planet?

Roberts: We are on the verge of releasing a new section of Romantic Planet that we’re very excited about. “Friends” will link up all of the people on Romantic Planet that you’ve invited and the people that they’ve invited and so on. It will be a way of meeting “friends of friends” and seeing who knows who and what they have to say about each other. The best part is that you will be able to write personal messages to anyone in your “friends” section for free. Even though our prices are affordable, we have been looking for a way to get back to the free service we once were. The increased word of mouth will enable us to cut back on our marketing overhead.

ODM: Thank you for taking the time to share your insight with our readers. In closing, what is the best advice you have for people seeking to find their match online?

Roberts: Love happens when you least suspect it. Although you may get instant results, it may also take a while to meet the right person. It’s like tossing your message in a bottle out to sea. You never know when the right person will find it. That’s part of the magic.

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