December 20, 2012

Founder has tough love for eHarmony

He has replaced management, reduced staff and plans to add services to revive the brand.

Los Angeles Times

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Neil Clark Warren, founder and president of eHarmony, admits that the company had “gotten a bit lost” as it struggled to compete. Now he wants eHarmony’s brand to include more than just online matchmaking.

Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times/MCT

How EHarmony manages that wealth of member information – users fill out an extensive questionnaire when they join the site, answering questions about their daily habits, likes and dislikes, past experiences and goals – will be the key to whether the new ventures are successful, said Mark Brooks, an online dating industry consultant.

“I’ve seen a few Internet dating companies moving into other areas and failing,” Brooks said. “But in the case of eHarmony, it makes a lot of sense because they have deeper information on their users than any other company I can think of.”

Still, Brooks said he doesn’t want eHarmony to lose focus on its core business, which “no question should have been a half-a-billion-a-year-revenue company by now.”

It’s a criticism Warren doesn’t dispute. EHarmony has been comparing his CEO appointment as similar to when Steve Jobs returned to Apple Inc. in the 1990s, and is hoping that a tighter relationship between the company and its founder helps it get back on track.

Already, eHarmony has seen its business stabilize and shown growth in some key areas, executives said.

The privately held company declined to release financial details, but said new memberships increased 20 percent in the last month from the month before. It also said a member’s average total amount spent on the site is up 15 percent year over year (membership costs vary but are generally $60 monthly or about $250 annually, among the highest in the industry).

“We have a good trajectory coming up,” said Armen Avedissian, eHarmony’s new chief operating officer. “We’ve got over 1.2 million people who have been married using the eHarmony services. We’re going to try to expand it into other industries and see how far that takes us.”

For Warren, who worked as a clinical psychologist, relationship expert and author before founding eHarmony with his son-in-law, holding a big corporate job has been an unexpected turn of events.

He and his wife of 53 years, Marylyn, moved from a spacious home in Maine to a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica.

He takes a cab to work and puts in 12-hour days. He jokes that he must be one of the oldest CEOs in the country, but says he plans to keep this up for five years before retiring for good.

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