fastest-growing 'Net-based relationship service, outpacing even the Barry Diller-owned site that remains the segment's well-financed giant, Match.com.
By now, eHarmony's national TV and radio commercials have become ubiquitous, and so has Warren, whose crinkly, warm voice is featured in the ads and who penned a book explaining the success of the eHarmony concept, Falling in Love for All the Right Reasons: Finding your soul mate.
The genial Warren didn't set out to become a dot-com entrepreneur, although he grew up with a father whose creative mind was constantly thinking of new business opportunities. "I was just trying to find some way to use everything I'd learned about why relationships fail, in a positive and systematic way," says Warren.
Having served as the dean of a graduate school of psychology and as a clinical psychologist, by the nineties, Warren was consumed with creating materials to teach people how they could have a better marriage instead of ending up paying him big bucks to growl at each other across an office. In 1992, he wrote, Finding the Love of Your Life, basically a primer on all the qualities that two people should consider before committing to marriage. The popularity of that book led to a demand for Warren to present seminars to groups of singles across the country and to a video series.
"With what I learned, I also began to think about how to actually help turn around the divorce rate in this country—not just with the couples I counseled but for the whole population," Warren recalls. "I admit it was an ambitious idea."
Warren's conclusions about what makes couples click were the basis of a system that he eventually would term 29 "dimensions of compatibility," which must exist for a couple to enjoy a long-term relationship, including "sexual passion," "mood management" and "spirituality." Of these categories, ideally, couples should match up on at least 25. Last year, eHarmony.com was granted US Patent No. 6,735,568 for Warren's idea.
In the mid-nineties, Warren hooked up with Pete Hart, the former CEO of MasterCard and the eventual CEO of Advanta, a financial-services company for small businesses. Hart encouraged him to adapt his compatibility model to the Internet so that Warren could create a truly meaningful pool of individuals to match. An associate came up whimsically with the name "eHarmony." And although it's a relative mouthful compared with, say, "Match.com," Warren says that the name was "a stroke of genius" because of what it indicates is the mission of eHarmony.com.
In August 2000, Warren became a dot-com-preneur, founding eHarmony in Pasadena, California. At first, the company struggled mightily, among other reasons because it was competing in a space that already had become notably occupied by Match.com and hundreds of other would-be matchmakers. The company ran through its initial capitalization of US$ 3.1 million before it even had any users. But in addition to dedication and savvy, Warren had at least two things going for him that the other sites didn't.
First, eHarmony from the start presented a major differentiator: an emphasis on long-term relationship-making (ideally marriages) rather than the quick-hit dating orientation that most early sites took. Its exhaustive, 436-ITEM questionnaire is evidence of that, as is the fact that the company will only pair two people when it is 95 percent confident that their compatibility rating falls into the top 25 percent of matches in eHarmony's own rating index.
Over the last couple of years, eHarmony's growth has validated Warren's approach. And so have his competitors: Match.com is among the major online sites that recently have focused more on promoting the aid they give to forming meaningful and long-term relationships rather than dating per se.
A second crucial factor stemmed from relationships as well—in this case, Warren's long association with James Dobson, a popular Christian psychologist, author and national policy-making influence. Still struggling to develop business momentum for eHarmony, Warren appeared on Dobson's radio show in August 2001, along with ten successful eHarmony couples, talking about his company and his passion.
The response was explosive. "We got ninety thousand new referrals to our website, which overwhelmed any previous level of activity we had had," Warren says. Within two years, the number of singles in the site's database had ballooned to more than 350,000 from just 4,000.
Writing in his book, Warren says, "Had we spent millions [...] on radio commercials, we could never have achieved the same response as the interviews [on Dobson's show] elicited."
In fact, Warren's 2001 appearance on Focus on the Family provided the startup with enough new registrations and cash flow to produce and place radio and TV ads. Nowadays, eHarmony claims credit not only for several million members on its site but also for several thousand marriages.
Membership at eHarmony is about 42 percent male and 58 percent female, compared with a ratio at Match.com that is just the opposite. The preponderance of women on eHarmony helps lure plenty of males.
Warren runs eHarmony with a management style reflecting his own personality, and the company remains a family company in many ways. His wife of 46 years, Marylyn, assists him at every turn, for example, and his son-in-law, Greg Forgatch, is eHarmony's chief executive officer, presiding over staff that now numbers about 130 people.