VentureBeat: On the technology side, do you have to do a lot of investment, and where does it go? I assume security is paramount, but how would you describe that?
Keable: I look at it two different ways. Every day we have to wake up and look at what’s happened in the world that’s changed, and what we need to do to be better and [boost] security. There’s no checkbox, where the team can say, “Okay, we’ve done security. We’re okay for the next six months or a year.” It doesn’t work that way. Obviously, we’re continuing to invest in that team and invest in that space, both technology and people, to build that framework.
On the more product side, we heavily invest in research and development. If we stay status quo, eventually someone catches up with us. Eventually, we would become obsolete. We’re investing in new forms of chat features, in the tech people use to connect. How is — not just dating in general — but how is marriage and monogamy changing? One thing we do is we work a lot with universities around the world to conduct research on the nature of infidelity, monogamy, and marriage to understand — what are people thinking, outside just our business perspective? Where are the long-term trends that are starting to emerge? We work with universities to produce this kind of research that informs us on societal trends so that technology can be designed and built around where people are heading.
VentureBeat: You mentioned that the lockdowns we’re having, the coronavirus effect, are causing a change of some kind. What’s the way to understand that?
Keable: One of the busiest jumps for us is usually the first week of January. Particularly in Western cultures, people spend a week or two, more potentially, with their family, potentially their extended family, over the Christmas holiday break. That emphasis on family time amplifies the tension that might exist in those relationships. When people head back to work in that first week of January, we usually see a 10-15% jump, if not more, in our daily signups. It shows us that we are, again, answering people’s problems.
In this case right now, when people are working from home, and some people are in multiple-week quarantines, those fractures are going to be exposed. They’re going to deepen. People are going to look for outlets. I saw a report the other day coming up on my Twitter feed that there was a sudden spike in divorce filings in China after the quarantines were starting to be lifted. Again, those fractures were opening up in that locale, and people were discovering that maybe this wasn’t the situation they wanted to be in. We think that, with our offering, we can help them.
VentureBeat: The kind of chat that happens, has there been much change in that over time? Is it essentially just email, or do you have other kinds of real-time chat or voice and video chat?
Keable: Right now, it’s primarily through an email-type function. We’re looking at some options that would potentially include video. That would have some discreet filters incorporated into the product. We’re also looking at products where you could chat with somebody from a fantasy standpoint, because sometimes what you’re looking for is a different, more unique type of experience. We’re always looking at testing different aspects of — what are the experiences people are looking for? What are the release valves people are trying to pull with regards to a relationship or a marriage, and how can we build that for them?
VentureBeat: What do you see by aggregating data? Do you notice that married dating is most popular in certain parts of the world? Is there anything that surprises you?
Keable: It’s funny. I’ve been with the company now for a little over six years, but the first few weeks my mind was being blown daily. There are still always surprises that come to the forefront in terms of the anecdotal stories, but from a big data perspective, that’s really what helps inform us in terms of why people behave and how things occur.
I can look at, for instance, when more people are likely to sign up. It’s Monday morning. Why is that? Because, again, you spent the weekend with your partner, and those cracks amplify. You seek other solutions on Monday mornings. Conversations usually ramp up closer to the weekend. They might peak on a Thursday. You’re making plans, potentially, for the weekend. That’s what really guides us.
As far as the changes around the world, that’s the interesting aspect. Something like eHarmony or Match, their business model doesn’t necessarily export so easily around the world, because dating changes from culture to culture, whereas affairs are very similar, no matter what part of the world they exist in. If you look at our reports, there are some places where we see more women in the ratio, but for the most part, it’s a fairly balanced ratio of men to women in every market that we operate in. It depends on the population size, the economy, and access to mobile internet. All those little elements feature into it. But we feel that for the most part, affairs of the heart are universal, and the language may be changing, but the actions are very similar no matter which part of the world you’re coming from.
VentureBeat: I don’t know that you have a way of measuring this, but do you know how many people just chat, as opposed to actually meeting someone?
Keable: I can’t put that in a data point, because obviously not everyone is going to inform us, but in talking to a lot of members, and we talk to them every week, I do know a lot of people in particular that just come for the conversation, that outlet. And all sorts of different types. Not just sex talk. There can be just casual conversations.
One of the more interesting things — we did work with the University of Missouri and Dr. Alicia Walker. She did a long-term study with both men and women. We certainly know that people chat, and sometimes they’re looking only for conversation. Through that study, we know that men, in particular, are more likely to come on seeking emotional validation. That often comes in the form of chat. That’s one of the primary needs or desires, more so than anything physical. I’m not saying all men want that, but it was a bigger proportion than we had originally thought. On the flip side, women were coming almost exclusively because they were looking for a physical outlet. There was a much bigger cohort of men who were looking for an emotional outlet through chat versus a physical interaction.
VentureBeat: As far as security tech goes, are there any interesting developments on that front in the last few years that have helped you? Do you go through testing that produces any kind of report on that?
Keable: Absolutely. We have a vetting program that’s always up and running. We have pen testing that’s constantly being scheduled. When we launch new features and releases, it’ll go through a phase where we obviously want to look into that. Our security team, as I mentioned earlier, is working constantly. They’re not just thinking of, “What are we going to do today?” Not just for the needs of the product as it is, but as we’re building toward new things and expanding into new areas.
It’s a funny part of the business. It’s the one that people ask the most questions about, but it’s the part we talk about the least. Whenever we give away details, that obviously gives away information that would be useful for a bad actor. We do all the things that major corporations in this space do to make sure that our security is where it needs to be on a daily basis.
VentureBeat: Did you have any luck appealing to Facebook on the advertising issue?
Keable: We have had multiple conversations with them, and no, it’s a fruitless conversation, unfortunately. They let in some dating platforms and block others. This is part of the problem with Facebook, in general, in that they get to pick and choose which companies are going to advertise on the second-largest, if not the largest, digital advertising platform in the world. We question the validity of that. We look at some of the competitors there on the platform, and obviously look at Facebook’s dating platform, and we think we should be allowed. We would be happy to work within their guidelines and framework that any brand would have to follow, but it’s been an absolute no.
VentureBeat: Can you talk about how the company is run? How many employees are there, and what are most of them doing?
Keable: We’re about 159 people in our offices. Obviously, the vast majority would be on the technology side, running and administrating the platform. They’re building new products and new features. We have a robust business analytics component that helps us manage our data from the perspective of, “What is this trying to tell us?” Not just getting overwhelmed with the numbers. Of course, we have the security team, and then we have a small marketing team, five or six people. The vast majority of our traffic is organic, as I said, word of mouth reaching people who understand that it offers something to them. And then the last people would be our customer support team. People contact us needing help with the technology, how to use the platform, and we’re always there to help them with any questions they might have.
VentureBeat: Have you ever needed to raise money, or is it all self-funded?
Keable: Self-funded from day one. At this stage, we would never say never to a capital opportunity, but at this point, we’re still self-funded. We always keep our eyes and ears open if there are interested parties.
VentureBeat: Is there anything else you feel like you need to communicate to people?
Keable: The biggest thing is that we’re not out here to tell people that our business is good or bad, obviously. But before you judge, try to look at the information and understand why people choose infidelity. Then try to make a more informed decision. Not just because your government or your religion says it’s bad. There’s a lot that’s going on behind the veil. We’re always willing to talk about it. There’s more to this than meets the eye, to a certain degree.
Ashley Madison is one of the more resilient brands out there. We’ve gone through some life-altering events and we’re still standing. As we look forward to the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be offering a solution for some people. Hopefully, we can meet the demand when it shows up. There’s an opportunity for us to provide a solution for some people, even if it’s just a release valve for the next few weeks or months.