Love connection: one-and-only.com has 300,000 personal ads.
I’D NEVER PLACED A personal classified ad in my life until I decided to write about the One and Only Network, a Dallas-based company that publishes the world’s largest database of online personals. I was nervous when I first logged on to www.one-and-only.com; with 300,000 searchable listings, I worried that my ad wouldn’t stand out. But once I clicked on the site’s tutorial, I came up with a catchy headline that seemed appropriate for a journalist: “Anyone Else Out There Tired of Y2K News Stories?” Did that help me snag Mr. Right? Well, to be honest, I wasn’t looking, but I did learn how the service works.
Although 30-year-old Will Bunker and 32-year-old Dave Kennedy would like to say they started their company in 1995 because they were looking for dates, their motive was strictly business. “At that time, America Online was the biggest thing since sliced bread,” says Bunker. “We looked at what people were doing there, and they were chatting.” The pair couldn’t figure out how to make money from a chat room, but they later learned in a magazine how profitable personal ads are for newspapers. When they realized that those same personal ads could be put on the Internet, their company was born.
Bunker and Kennedy lost money that first year, but they have been in the black ever since and expect to generate $1 million a month in revenues for the rest of 1999. Three years ago the site averaged only 360,000 hits a month; now it boasts about 3 million—double the number of its closest competitor.
The listings are categorized by location, gender, and other preferences to make finding a match easy. Anyone can read or place an ad for free, but only a user who pays the $25-a-month fee can respond. The real moneymaker, however, is the company’s associate program, which has seen an annual growth of 1,509 percent since 1997. The same business model used by Internet companies such as amazon.com, it allows smaller sites that post personal ads to tap into one-and-only.com’s database. If someone places a new ad at the associate’s site, it registers in the One and Only Network, thus increasing the size of the listings. More ads mean a better selection, which translates into more traffic for both the associate and one-and-only.com. Associates don’t pay for this service; instead they split a 15 percent commission of the sales. Currently the company has 80,000 associates, and some make more than $4,000 a month.
So what does all of this have to do with my ad? Well, in two weeks it received eight responses, one from a guy in Mississippi who suggested that we meet in New Orleans because I like jazz. But for the most part, the replies were from people in my hometown. And though I didn’t find that special someone (remember, I wasn’t looking), there have been plenty of success stories. One couple who met through the site wrote a book about their romance, and on average a couple reports a marriage or engagement every three days, which just goes to show that some people really do meet Mr. Right on the Internet.