The world of online dating is almost unrecognisable compared to 10 years ago, when I first took a detour in my career as a business psychologist, opting to help people with their love lives instead of their work lives. Ten years ago, I had just about heard of the online dating site, and there were but a handful of introduction agencies in the UK who catered for the more discerning clientele (some still using folders with printed profiles of eligible singletons to browse through). The USA, on the other hand, were ahead of the game.

Nowadays, I literally can’t keep up with the number of new offline matchmaking agencies springing up, not to mention the hundreds (perhaps thousands!) of online dating services. I can only imagine how daunting it is for single men and women to choose their method of finding a partner (online dating vs offline matchmaking) let alone researching the available options. Choosing the right service is a matching process in itself!

There are so many factors to take into consideration:

  • Time vs money. Free online services demand complete investment of your time to trawl through profiles. Professional matchmakers, on the other hand, conduct the search for you, but you pay a premium for their time.
  • Online vs offline. Are you happy for your profile to be available to the public? The stigma previously associated with online dating is rapidly diminishing, so generally speaking people are less sensitive about the lack of privacy associated with online dating. But for some, the risk of their profile being seen by a colleague or friend is simply not one they are willing to take.
  • Big brand vs boutique. Is it better to go for the big names in dating – eHarmony, and the like, which are household names, or opt for niche service, which could be a London-only dating app, or of course a high end matchmaking service such as Vida Consultancy?

I find that people who are new to the dating world (recently divorced etc.) go straight for one end of the dating industry spectrum i.e. either at one end, or a very exclusive matchmaking service at the other. Many people don’t seem to even know about the plethora of options in the middle that may actually be more suitable. As the industry matures, more clarity will be given to consumers about what types of services are out there, which in turn will enable people to research and select the most suitable option(s) more appropriately, leading to improved experiences and ultimately success in finding a partner.

Once someone has selected their service of choice, how can we, as an industry optimise their experience? This is where I am delighted to observe dialogue opening up between the online and offline worlds. At its most extreme, online and offline are polar opposites. The geniuses behind dating sites and apps are scientists, developing complex algorithms to help consumers find their match. It is high volume and automated – completely impersonal. Well, it was in the early days. Matchmaking on the other hand, is very personal. Clients of elite agencies have their matchmaker’s number on speed dial. The matchmaker is there, by their client’s side, taking them through the whole journey. The matchmaker becomes a concierge, a best friend, a confidante, a headhunter and a coach. But every introduction that is set up takes hours, if not days of painstaking research, vetting, profiling, setting up and finally gathering feedback on how the date went.

The last couple of years have seen a dramatic change in the dating industry landscape. started running singles events, but much more than the naff singles parties of yesteryear – today’s events offer unique experiences as a backdrop. At Vida, I never thought I would be persuaded to run events, for the very reason that I thought they were naff. Then I met Barbara Brudenell-Bruce who convinced me otherwise. She set up Vida8, the events arm of Vida and her events have become so popular that our most recent event had over 100 guests and a near-perfect split of men vs women.

There are pros and cons to every dating service. From the multiple conversations I have had with dating app entrepreneurs, there is indication that the industry is heading in the direction of an ultimate service – a hybrid of offline, online and events. I for one can’t wait to see what the next few years will bring to this ever-evolving and growing industry. Watch this space!