One-to-one: Flirting pays off

AT: What is Flirtomatic‾

MC: it is a British web site that allows people to flirt via mobile or online. It went live in 2006 online and later that year on mobile via WAP. All 780,000 of those who've signed up can send messages to each other via the sites and, rate each other free of charge, as well buy each other virtual presents and pay to have their rotten ratings deleted. Most of our subscribers are 18 to 30, but there is a long tail up to 45 years old.


AT: Do many people cross-over from whichever medium they sign up on‾

MC: There is a higher cross-over at the moment from web to mobile, two to three times higher than the other way round. Originally people did tend to remain loyal to the original medium, but now if they sign up online choose Premium SMS (PSMS) as their payment mechanism for the premium services - flirting and rating is free - then we send them a text with a link in it and a lot of people start accessing Flirtomatic from their mobile as well.


Few people go to their WAP browser and just type in the URL, although we are seeing more people do that - between 70 and 100 a day.


AT: Which type of users do you prefer‾

MC: Phone users are better spenders than web, and they are also faster to use the premium services, so we have concentrated on marketing to them. We're also almost sure from our data analysis that a large percentage of our user base relies on mobile as their most frequent touch point with the internet - that they haven't got a PC at work or at home. About 300,000 of our user base communicate by text, the rest use email.


This is fascinating as we know that only 15% to 20% of the UK's population is using the mobile Internet. We also know that our subscriber base comprises a broad social mix, it's truly mass market and you can tell a great deal by what in linguistics is called the register of their language. So while many of Flirtomatic's mobile users are early adopters of using mobile data, they do not fit the classic profile - early fixed broadband users were the digerati, this is more like people learning to use SMS which just spread like wildfire right across the population.


This group of people, from a variety of backgrounds, really love their phones and once they've discovered what they can do with them, it has opened up a new world.


We've found that although the conversion to spending online is slower, once web-based users are there, their spending is as high as people accessing Flirtomatic using  mobile.


We are now working on promoting to web-based users too.


AT: How many users do you have on a month-by-month basis‾

MC: In April 08 we had around 110,000 unique mobile users - that is, about a third of the total mobile subscriber base - and about 40,000 unique web users, so altogether more than a 150,000 unique visitors who between them accounted for some 130 million page impressions in that month. Mobile users are heavy users - they are right from the beginning and their usage barely changes, that is, it doesn't tail off.


AT: What premium services do you offer‾

MC: They were only launched in April 2007. There are four categories. Around 15% of our mobile users buy these services each month, with spending ranging between £7 (€8.80) and £8 (€10) a month.


The first is virtual gifts, mostly bought by men, and the most popular gift is red roses. We also did chocolate rabbits at Easter, which sold amazingly, and  leap year rings: 14,500 women sent them in three days around 29th February. You can display the gifts you've been sent, and some men are buying for themselves.


On the other hand, women subscribers are more internally focused. Anyone can rate anybody at any time, on a scale of one for freak (a group of males compete to see who can get the most freak ratings) to 10 for off the radar. Only the aggregate score is displayed, not who, when or what was voted. Subscribers have to pay to find out that detail and can also pay to have the worst ratings deleted. Women account for the majority of all ratings queries and spend.


The third premium service is Look At Me - people can advertise themselves and the higher they bid, the higher up that day's rankings they appear, which means they get more hits on their profile. Most nights the top five or six have spent between £10 (€12.56) and £20 (€25) to get to the top spot, although it has been as high as £40 (€50.33).


The fourth is location - this doesn't involve GPS or triangulation, all it needs is the first three characters of someone's post code, which most people supply voluntarily. We discovered there was a pent-up demand for this, to find someone near you. We starting offering this service in March, charging 56p for each enquiry - and we don't give out anything more specific than in a five mile radius - and it upped our revenue by 20% overnight.


AT: What about mobile advertising‾


MC: We do sell advertising against location. Overall advertising on Flirtomatic is buoyant, but it does bob up and down. It is up 36% on the quarter. We now advertise through Vodafone, 3 and O2, so that when a user clicks on an ad on their site, they are taken straight to the landing page.


We are hugely frustrated though with the mobile industry concerning the lack of published data about mobile advertising. It makes it very hard to benchmark performance and, for instance, issues over transcoding are a real threat.


I do believe we are nearing a tipping point though. We are a very numbers driven business. We provide an excellent user experience and put a lot of effort into trying to understand the numbers. Until this month we were buying everything available within our marketing budget that fitted our the price parameters - what we were prepared to pay for the cost of acquiring a new user. Some months we literally couldn't find anywhere to spend our budget, but this April and May finally there was more inventory on offer than we could afford.


Obviously, this reflects the fact that more people are using the mobile Internet, so there are more opportunities for advertising.


AT: Do you have plans to expand overseas‾

MC: Certainly, but I'm not at a point that I can reveal them. There will be announcements in the coming months.