This interview was made possible by our friends at DomainNameSales.com:
The marketplace for domain names.
Originally born in Ukraine, Alex Furmansky graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pennsylvania’s Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology, with a B.S. in Finance, Systems Science Engineering, and Entrepreneurship.
Previously, Alex served as Director of Business Development and Director of Finance at OpenPeak Inc., a growth company that supplies touchscreen tablet devices, software, and cloud services to telecom carriers and enterprise telephone distributors worldwide.
Alex launched Sparkology, an invite-only online community for young professional singles in metropolitan areas this pastp October.
MO: Why did you create Sparkology? How did your background and experience contribute to the development of the site?
Alex: While I’ve been sitting on the idea since college, I started putting serious thought into Sparkology when my girl friends complained at the dearth of quality men on online dating sites. I then tried online dating myself, but quickly found that the dynamics of the existing platforms just amplified the skeezy behavior you’d find in bars and nightclubs instead of promoting genuine interactions. I was determined to build a clean dating experience for young professionals that encouraged kind behavior.
As the son of a programmer, I’ve always grown up with software around the house and that certainly helped our technical angle. My experience at OpenPeak was invaluable for understanding management, business processes, and most importantly, the sales cycle. The experience on Wall Street helped us create a very lean and fast-paced working environment – after the weekly all-nighters at Evercore, the startup hours are a relief! Finally, the Penn network has also been incredibly helpful in our success. I’m surprised and thankful that alums are so willing to help.
MO: What advice would you give first time entrepreneurs who are trying to raise funding? At what point does it make sense to start talking to investors?
Alex: The earlier the better. There’s generally a long runway between your initial conversation with an investor and the day the check clears the bank. First you’ll need to show them of the high level vision, then deliver all the details via powerpoints or offering memorandums, then Q&A, then deal structure, then all the legal mumbo jumbo. You should expect a minimum of 3-4 months. All the while, they are looking for you to show progress. So if you plan on only approaching investors only when you run out of cash hoping to close a round in a week, you better have the next Facebook.
As a first time entrepreneur, your biggest challenge is credibility. If you’ve worked in corporate finance your whole life and want to start a tech company with a hand-drawn mockup and no tech cofounder, you won’t get a serious look from savvy investors. But if you took 3 months off, learned PHP or Python, inspired a UX or graphic designer to join the team, created a proof of concept, and have real users, that’s something worth a look. But you should still approach the investor with that hand-drawn paper… you want him or her to see how you overcame the challenge. Your actions build your credibility.
MO: What are the main advantages of using Sparkology? What are some of your favorite features of the site?
Alex: Sparkology fits well for two kinds of people: those who have never tried online dating because they were uncomfortable with the nature of existing sites and those who’ve run the online dating circuit and feel disheartened by the lack of meaningful dates. Our number one advantage is the quality of our members base. Since each member must be invited and all men are verified grads of top universities, every member is someone with potential.
We also have a unique pricing structure whereby men only pay to initiate new conversations with women. This curtails the spam-style approach you find on nearly every other site where men send the same canned message to every girl they come across.
Since our audience is highly time constrained, we did away with long profiles. Our profiles are super short and a complex algorithm suggests matches based on your actions on the site, much like how Pandora recommends music based on music you’ve liked in the past.
My favorite feature is the Spark – the virtual currency men use to initiate a new conversation with a woman. Since every interaction now has a price, men are naturally discouraged from sending canned pickup lines to dozens of women. Our women love this because they know each message is personal and meaningful. It also helps the men because nearly 100% of all messages get read. On other sites, women learn to just ignore a full inbox of messages because most of them are spam.
MO: Can you tell us little about the ‘Insider’s Society at Sparkology?
Alex: This all began when we sent wine glasses to some of our active users in the first month as a Random Gift of Kindness. One of the recipients had an extravagant glassware collection already and told us he’d be far more interested in meeting me to talk more about our story and offer his feedback. This became the Insider Society, where we invite select members to meet us in an intimate group setting over cocktails and tell us about their experience. Not only has this provided invaluable feedback, but our members have effectively become a part of our company and are therefore equally vested in our success.
MO: How did you manage to reach 1,000 members just 2 months after launching? How have you been able to gain traction so quickly in such a competitive market?
Alex: The market is definitely competitive, but we’ve used that to our advantage. We have effectively branded ourselves as the anti-match.com. We’ve also managed to stay true to our claims. We don’t just say we are exclusive, we are exclusive. We don’t just claim to show only real profiles, we seriously only show real, qualified people that are ready and able to respond. Finally, while our invite-only model is risky for an online dating company, it is the right model for our target audience and is working quite well.
MO: What can we next expect from Sparkology?
Alex: Mobile and national. Our iPhone app is ready to rock and is just undergoing testing by Apple. This will help increase message traffic volume, especially during the day when our members don’t feel comfortable using Sparkology on their work computers. Also, we are taking our platform national. San Fran, Boston, Chicago, LA, and DC are all set to launch in the coming months.
Find the right Domain Name for your business at Fabulous.com!