On the Money

In 'swipe left' era of mobile dating, eHarmony tries to avoid getting 'frozen in time'

Search and match
Search and match

Finding a romantic match online has become the new speed dating. Free dating apps like Tinder let you act on instant attraction with a mere swipe.

Yet eHarmony is the opposite. The 16 year old company still uses an extensive questionnaire with 150 questions designed to match single men and women for long-term compatibility. Founder and former CEO Dr. Neil Clark Warren is still seen in television commercials explaining how the site helps connect adults interested in marriage.

"We find great relationships for reasons that matter," new eHarmony CEO Grant Langston told CNBC's "On the Money" in an interview. Still, he admitted "the way we do it has been frozen in time." He said an "antiquated communication process" had left the "product feeling dusty."

A longtime eHarmony veteran of the company's marketing side, Langston has been "trying to make the use of our service easier" since taking over top job in July. One change is letting people take the questionnaire a little at a time.

"We want to get you in the tent," Langston told CNBC. "If you're going to take 10 questions, if that's the number you think you can stand to get through, then you're going to get matches that are less compatible." Langston added that as you answer more questions, they can provide "better matches. "

Despite evolving the company, he insisted he's not changing "what we're doing or the mission of the company. We're always about trying to find you your last first date."

A recent eHarmony poll found the most important attribute men and women cite is "sense of humor," followed by "kindness…charisma" and "intrigue."

Langston says it's more than that. "Truth of matter is you just need a lot of [those qualities]. It's a broad-based compatibility that makes people happy together for a long time. But if I had to pick just one that makes a lot of difference, it's adaptability. People that are rigid and not adaptable are much harder to match them."

The Match.com application is displayed in the Apple Inc. App Store on an iPhone.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The stakes are high for eHarmony, with an estimated 109 million Americans being single and the effort to match them up becoming an even bigger business than ever. According to IBIS World, the dating services industry took in $2.7 billion in revenue last year, and is expected to grow at a 5 percent pace this year.

Match Group is the largest company with a 34.4 percent market share, and 45 brands that include Match, Tinder, OKCupid, Plenty Of Fish and Our Time. Meanwhile, eHarmomy is a distant second with an 11.3 percent share.

While many dating apps are free, eHarmony charges monthly subscriptions that cost up to $59.95 a month.

Langston says in the last five years free apps have brought twenty-somethings into the marketplace. "People start with free swiping casual connection apps, and if they don't get what they want they tend to drift to us."

"For most of our history the average age of users was 36 to 37 years old," but Langston said with the influx of younger users to the online dating category, "now it's closer to 30."

He said usage peaks between the holidays through Valentine's Day, during what he calls the "high season." Yet eHarmony said it's seen a 35 percent increase in users since the presidential election on November 8th, and Langston suspects he knows why.

"Whatever your politics are, the world is less predictable than it was a year ago. People want to be with someone in that kind of environment." Langston added there was one other time that triggered a similar membership boost.

"We saw the same thing after 9/11," he said, speaking of the Sept. 11 attacks. "I was at the company then and people just want to be in a relationship."

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