OKCupid, SparkNotes, Shoprunners' Sam Yagan on success and luck - Business Insider
While I had used some apps before — OkCupid, Grindr and Tinder . CEO Sam Yagan cofounded the dating site with Chris Coyne, Max Krohn. January 6, Sam Yagan, the CEO of online dating juggernaut Match Group ( which Yagan, who was listed in the TIME , admitted that the other three co-founders of OkCupid (OkC) had never been on an online date, either. There are some things you should know before the date. OkCupid becomes the first major dating site with an app, so daters can connect with matches no.
SparkMatch debuted as a beta experiment of allowing registered users who had taken the Match Test to search for and contact each other based on their Match Test types.
The popularity of SparkMatch took off and it was launched as its own site, later renamed OkCupid. Since Augustan "A-list" account option is available to users of OkCupid and provides additional services for a monthly fee. Users were asked instead to consider other browsers. These options—which included asexualgenderfluidpansexualsapiosexual, and transgender categories—were added to make the website more inclusive.
- The cofounder of OKCupid says 3 lucky moments led him to run a multi-billion-dollar company
Rudder prefaces the experiment results by stating: That's how websites work. One dimension of this is the impact it has on men's psychology.
When the photos were restored, users who had started "blind" conversations gradually began tapering off their conversations, leading OkCupid's CEO Christian Rudder to remark "it was like we'd turned on the bright lights at the bar at midnight".
The results suggested that doing this actually caused people, who were "bad matches" under the original algorithm, to actually like each other: Rudder attempted to defend the company, in part by suggesting that it would be unethical not to experiment on users: Oh, I was super nerdy. I mean, super, super nerdy. My parents made a very conscious priority to Americanize me, and I think that's one of the great things about our cultures.
For most immigrant families, this idea of becoming American is a really important part of that transition to the first generation of American-born kids. I think I was a pretty normal kid in that I loved the Chicago Cubs and I loved to go outside and play basketball. Growing up in Illinois, yeah. Michael Jordan was drafted when I was 6, so it was, like, I thought all teams had the best player ever.
But I was a super math nerd, and up until my high-school years, I started growing up as the smartest kid in the class. And that was my rap, for better or for worse. Did any of your family remain in Syria? I mean, up until the warabout six years ago, virtually all my family remained in Syria. So with the war they all just fled? Yeah, I mean it's super sad, obviously.
I think people basically made one of two decisions. They were either, like, "We're young enough where it's worth it to restart our lives in a country where we probably don't know the language or we probably aren't licensed to do our profession or whatever. I'm super old, and if this is my lot in life, this is my lot in life. Go pick up and start over?
I just think people weren't up for that.CNN: How to look better online
So do you think that there's a different mindset now, as with your parents when they were, like, "We just want to be Americans — let's forget and move on"? Do you think that you see it differently than they did? It's not so much "Let's forget.
All my cousins were born in Syria; I was born here. Not dumb luck, but, luck. So I'm super grateful, and if you just think back, there were two or three moments in my life where I got super lucky, and I think when I was younger I used to think, "Oh, I'm just super good" and whatever. And I think once you get to the point in your life where you're, like, "Yeah, I'm good, but I sure got lucky.
When do you think you got to that point, when you became aware of it? I don't know if it was because the war started, but I think seeing so many of my family members be displaced as part of the war. And I was, like, "The things they think about when they wake up in the morning and the things I think about when I wake up in the morning, I've got Champagne problems.
How do we build this product? So only fairly recently you rethought your life. Yeah, I think so. Becoming an entrepreneur with his college buddies Feloni: And you're saying that as your parents instilled in you this willingness to just take big risks even if you weren't aware of it at the time.
When you were in college as an undergrad, at Harvard, you started SparkNotes.
When did you decide you wanted to create something? I showed up at Harvard, and one of the three luckiest moments of my life was that I got placed in a dorm with these two guys, Max [Krohn] and Chris [Coyne], who are literally the two smartest people I've ever met, and two of my best friends. And it was actually Chris who first had the idea for creating a website. And the original website was called TheSpark.
It was a humor site. And I remember Chris, he would show me, "Hey, I've been working on this thing on the side.
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And then, finally, in January, he was, like, "OK. We should really do this. What are you talking about? You'd be, like, "Oh. I'm turning down these consulting offers, and what does this mean for my career, and money," because we didn't have any money.
And I was, like, "Cool. And so that was it. So it was in the spring of my senior year, when Chris, Max, and I decided we were going to make a go out of this company called, at the time The Spark, and then weeks later we launched SparkNotes.
Were you creating those study guides yourself? One of the nice things about being in a school, a liberal-arts school with a good English program, is we had all these friends who were just getting done paying a hundred grand to a school to allow them to write papers, and so we went with this great offer: They're, like, "Wait a minute.
You're going to pay me to write a paper? And we got all this hate mail. And people were pissed. Because we didn't have the SparkNote they needed! Because we only had 10, and they wanted "Romeo and Juliet.
And it was, like, really real anger, because they're, like, "Oh we found this site with free study guides," and then they're scrolling and they don't see what they want.
But of course, that's the best kind of hate mail to get, is we need more product. And so we spent that summer, we hired a couple of editors, and their foil was to get a hundred SparkNotes up by the fall, and the rest is history. How'd you make a business out of it if you were offering it all free at first?
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See, you have to put yourself back in time. Any time you talk about the internet, you have to time-adjust. So this isand so pre-bubble, and at the time, eyeballs — right? No one had even come up with anything other than advertising, for the most part. And so that was the idea. And if you think about SparkNotes, you can argue business models eight ways from Sunday. But I think a SparkNote is the perfect thing to be ad-supported, because it's write once and publish a zillion times, right?
So whatever we paid — we paid bucks for a SparkNote in — you probably have the same SparkNote up today. Maybe you update it once a decade or something. But the upfront cost is so low and the use is so high that you can make your notes profitable on an ad model. I think over time there's a huge opportunity to turn in a lot more revenue based off the study guide, but that hasn't been a priority.
Or did you think you were going to be a founder? I knew I was never going to go to a typical career. I think once you've had a modestly successful CEO experience, it's super hard to not have that again. So that was with SparkNotes.
Yeah, that was with SparkNotes. We sold SparkNotes twice — the second time we sold it to Barnes and Noble. And I stayed at Barnes and Noble for a year, and I remember at Barnes and Noble — because they have a publishing business; they have a retail business — at the time, especially, it was a really big, successful company.
And I remember realizing how much I didn't know about business, right? It was, like, ad revenue and payroll — that was it. I didn't have to know anything about accounting, I didn't have to know anything about marketing, I didn't have to know anything about HR.
We were an person company. And then you get there and you show up at an accounting meeting, and you can't get through the third minute before you're super confused.
I didn't even know any of these terms. Most people go to business school for the strategy classes, and I went to business school for the core. I was, like, "Yeah, great. I'll do the strategy classes, but I want to understand how accounting works. And I want understand how HR works. You had already built a business, but you found yourself in over your head, essentially.
If your first job is a CEO, like, normally you'd train for this job and you'd become a domain expert, or you manage people. There are whole creative-element plans to prepare you to be ultimately a CEO, and I had none of that. And so I showed up, made a ton of mistakes, obviously, but, more than that, I just never had the foundation on which to build my professional success.
So you had eDonkey, right? And that was kind of like a Napster for video. Yeah, I mean after — Feloni: Or a BitTorrent client. Yeah, so after Napster had its legal demise, a whole set of decentralized file-sharing networks joined. So this is Kazaa, LimeWire, and BearShare that would have been the peer companies at the time, and we were one of the decentralized networks.
Because our technology, my partner, Jed McCaleb — who's one of the best technologists ever, now super active in crypto — he had this vision for the technology, and because it was so fast, naturally people used it for video because video files are so much bigger that audio files.
So we became the de facto file-sharing network for video because the technology was so perfect for that. Well, what is your experience with eDonkey?
What did that teach you? You know, I think I learned a bunch of things. One is the difference between market success and economic success. I still consider eDonkey a success. We reached millions and millions of people. We ultimately ran into the regulatory and legal headwinds. But I think I understand that a lot better now. I really value the importance of clarity in laws. People talk about chilling effects, and ambiguity, and you're going to stifle innovation.
And I think some of that is real. And what entrepreneurs need, and especially investors, but entrepreneurs is, like, what are the rules of the road for this business? And we will play within the rules if it's clear what they are. I think the more ambiguity there is, there is this chilling effect of saying, "Well, I don't want to go invest a bunch of my life to build something that could ultimately just go down.
Why did you get into the online-dating business in with OKCupid? Ah, because Chris called me from a bar on a Friday night and said, "We should start a dating site. Chris is your friend from Harvard? Yeah, my cofounder from SparkNotes. It was really late; he was at a bar on the lower East Side, and I was, like, "OK — he's probably going to forget about that.
And the faces of online dating were Dr. Phil, who had a deal with Match, and Dr.
Neil Clark Warren, who's still on the eHarmony commercials. And the four founders of OKCupid were all math majors. And so we were thinking like, "This can't be the future of online dating. That really became what, I think, to this day is still the gold standard for matching.
Maybe you see it differently, but when I'm looking at these three businesses that you founded, it was hard for me to see what was driving you. Why one to the next? What did you see? How do you approach entering a business? What are you passionate about? In all of them they're about building great product — really thinking first about the customer and building products that customers are going to love. Preferably using either a technology transformation or business-model transformation to empower them or to enable them.
So if you think about SparkNotes, the innovation there was the internet. I know it sounds trite now, but CliffsNotes were these books and nobody had yet gone and said, "We're going to use the internet to better consumer experience. And with OKCupid, it was really about using data — "big data" wasn't even a term inI don't think — using data to drive compatibility assessments. Those are the common threads. And at ShopRunner, where I spend my time now, it's all about thinking, "How can we make a Prime-like experience for the other retailers that aren't Amazon?
With OKCupid, 10 years in, online dating had become a massive business, and then people started using smartphones.
How did that change how you sell what you wanted to accomplish here? The smartphone dynamic in dating — and people will write business-school case studies about this eventually — it had a couple of interesting effects.
OkCupid founder: Tinder has 'endless potential' in the world
I think the first is, for the first time, you could use location beyond the ZIP code. Number two, the way dating used to work was it was something people would do when they got home at night.
So, in fact, we had seen our logs, like 7 p. It's because you didn't do it at work because you're on your computer. Now it's something that you're checking throughout the day, and it's something where, as you move around the town, or as you move around your day, who you're matching with can change.
And then the third and most important is, because it wasn't something you were doing at home in your basement, it became something you could do with your friends. But one of them was, you could just sit there at a bar, or at your friend's, and just start swiping.