Online dating has been transformed in recent years, with niche websites cropping up to match a person’s every whim. Jason Hesse explores how Tastebuds.fm is bringing music and dating together.
Over the past few years, the online dating industry has exploded. Websites are now a socially acceptable way of meeting a partner. Tastebuds.fm offers a fresh approach to the market, bringing music and dating to one platform.
Tastebuds.fm is a free dating website which matches users based on their taste in music.
People can either input their favourite bands manually, or they can connect to the site via Facebook or Last.fm, from which Tastebuds.fm can pull in their data.
The idea for the website came after Alex Parish and Julian Keenaghan became frustrated with existing sites: ”My co-founder and I always found ourselves trying to break the ice on dating sites by talking about music, which is our passion,” says Parish. “We thought: ‘why can’t we just match people based on what music they like?’”
The website’s users tends to be young. Eighty per cent of users are aged between 18 and 30 years old, and nearly half of the users have never used a dating website before. “We don’t scream and shout that we’re a dating website; it can also be used to just meet other people,” says Parish. “Online dating is now socially acceptable. Tastebuds.fm is good for bringing back people who had previously been turned off by online dating. Music is our alibi, it’s our secret weapon.”
Although, after launching in 2010, the initial uptake was better from men (“due to being featured on Mashable,” explains Parish) today the site has more female users than male. In terms of sexuality, the majority of users are heterosexual; around ten per cent are looking for same-sex dates.
The online dating market is massive, worth more than $4 billion per year globally. In the UK, too, online dating is growing significantly: UK searches for dating websites on Google rose by 50 per cent last year.
Parish does not consider some of the larger online dating websites, such as Match.com or eHarmony.co.uk, as competition. “Those sites are marriage sites. We’re more about casual dating and meeting other people,” he explains. Instead, Tastebuds.fm’s competition comes from younger websites, such as Badoo.com or Zoosk.com, which appeal to a younger audience.
Tastebuds.fm was founded by Alex Parish, 28, and Julian Keenaghan, 30, in 2010, after the pair met while playing in a band together.
Both founders have a developer background. Keenaghan has always worked at start-ups, and worked at events start-up Spoonfed before founding Tastebuds.fm. Parish was previously technical director at PR agency Edelman, running the company’s developer team.
“We’re both passionate about music and have a strong developer background,” explains Parish. “As soon as we started playing in the band together and realised that we were both developers, we knew we wanted to build something cool together.”
The company also employs a designer, Tim Keeling, and an intern.
Tastebuds.fm is build on Ruby on Rails and is hosted at Heroku. The site was built from scratch which, says Parish, wasn’t easy but has paid off. The founders chose not use any frameworks or any off-the-shelf products as they wanted to give the site a different feel. “We wanted it to be as slick as possible. The best way to do that is to build it bespoke. This has helped to make Tastebuds.fm stand out and be a bit different from the rest of the market.”
Being hosted on Hiroku has been “great so far”, says Parish, as it allows the company to scale easily. However, he adds that in the long term, the site will consider other options: ”As we get bigger, we’ll probably deploy our own hosting. This will make us more scalable. Hiroku is good and is affordable, but it will get costly as we scale.”
The site connects through Facebook Connect and Last.fm’s API. “Facebook is our preferred method for users to connect, however, as it pulls in people’s gender, their location, age and what music they’ve ‘Liked’,” says Parish. “The only thing we don’t get out of Facebook is our users’ desired gender. With Last.fm, we can get our users’ age and location, but not as much additional information.”
A key advantage of enabling users to create their profiles through other social networks is speed. “It allows a user to set up a profile on Tastebuds.fm really quickly.”
The site is also integrated with Songkick, the life music events website, pulling in the events that users plan on attending. “This helps our users to organise meets at events. Concerts are a good place for a first date; you don’t have to speak for the entire date and it gives you something to talk about after the gig as well. It’s much better than meeting at a coffee shop.”
Future features that the team is working on include a set of premium features. Parish says that while the site will always be free to sign up to, premium paid-for features will give users the ability to search more deeply into the database and promote their profile. Other advanced features, such as real-time chat using music, is also “in the pipeline”.
Tastebuds.fm has 45,000 users, mainly based in the UK. London is the site’s biggest city, followed by Sao Paolo (“Brazil is a huge market and the demand is massive,” says Parish).
More than one million messages have been sent through the site, which has a high response rate. Users have a 43 per cent chance of receiving a reply, based on current statistics. This, says Parish, is much higher than other dating websites.
Parish says he knows of one marriage that has occurred thanks to the site, and that users are successfully finding partners after using the service: “People are going offline after using Tastebuds.fm; meeting up, hooking up and getting together.”
The site’s main challenge is reaching a critical mass of users. The company is focusing on achieving “full coverage” of the UK before moving to the US.
“We are currently growing organically, which has given us a quality user base,” explains Parish. “The vast majority of dating websites use a ‘seed and weed’ technique, where they create hundreds of fake profiles when they launch, and then weed out the fake profiles once they’ve grown. We’ve never done that and never will. The quality of our users reflects that. Our users shine compared to the bigger sites.”
The company is using its set of premium features to help grow the number of users using Tastebuds.fm. While users can pay to access the premium features, they can also receive the access for free if they invite a certain number of friends to join the site. “Some people don’t mind paying the money, but others prefer to invite their friends to join us in order to receive the feature,” says Parish.
The company is also considering affiliate schemes, where the site works with big media partners to encourage sign ups. This would be done on a revenue-share basis.
Tastebuds.fm was initially funded by the co-founders’ family and friends, but the company is now actively looking for a seed-round investment. “We’ve got a few offers on the table which will bring in a lot of capital and allow us to grow the team.”
Parish hopes to hire two developers who will be able to focus on mobile apps. “This would make it easier for people to meet offline or while on the go, finding people near them. We want to make a big impact using mobile, but we’ll need to hire a couple more developers to achieve this.”
He acknowledges that the site must become mass market to become successful. “We’ve done alright so far, but we need to ramp up our growth – that’s our plan. We’ve only recently gotten to a stage where we are confident about the product. The site has fantastic users and we’re seeing great results in London, achieving a significant critical mass.
“It’s very hard to break the ice when using a dating website. But something as personal and visceral as music can help make the connection.”