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Online dating start-ups get real

Onur D'Angel | E+ | Getty Images

Dating isn't what it used to be and neither are dating websites.

"Dating sites were founded in the late 90s, early 2000s, and they were based on models that made people stay online," said Aaron Schildkrout, co-founder and co-CEO of HowAboutWe.com, at a panel hosted by TechSeri.es earlier this week.

(Read more: We used to meet in person—America's crush on online dating)

But Schildkrout said his service strives to take daters offline.

HowAboutWe is a site that connects people based on users' suggested activities. Though some traditional filtering tools are available for searches, potential companions are ultimately chosen for their creative ideas—hence, the "how about we."

The aim was to fill a need for a dating site that felt more natural, Schildkrout said, though the company still uses algorithms to help the make the first meeting go smoothly.

The thing about successfully pairing people up, however, is that their business goes away, he said, adding, "Our happiest customers were lost."

So the company evolved to fill the needs of clients as they entered relationships.

In March 2012, HowAboutWe launched "How About We Couples," which curates date ideas and deals for twosomes.

(Read more: How to turn your smartphone into a dating device)

Investors seem to be a fan of the evolving business model, too, with the company recently closing $4.2 million of its $5 million series B round of funding.

Another dating service, Cheek'd, takes an approach that's part traditional come-on, part scavenger hunt. Members get "business" cards that contain a pickup line and an ID code. The cards are handed to targets, who can enter the code to uncover more information about that stranger—sort of a "real-life game of tag," CEO Lori Cheek said at TechSeri.es.

Cheek'd users pay $20 for a deck of cards and $25 to customize a deck or get a themed deck (themes include dogs and Wall Street). Keeping the ID code active costs $9.95 a month, less than the average dating site.

(Read more: Best cities for online dating)

The self-funded start-up, which will launch a mobile app in the next few weeks, is active in 28 countries and starting to generate revenue.

An architect by trade, Cheek came up with the idea when she was out to dinner with a male colleague who wrote a dinner invitation on the back of his business card and left it for a woman at a neighboring table. She decided there must be a way to take advantage of a chance moment without providing personal information.

Online dating no longer has a stigma attached to it, according to Cheek.

"We're the answer to missed connections," she said. "The real-life chemistry lets you put the matter into your own hands—it makes everyone a customer."

—By Deborah Findling, CNBC producer

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