Interview: Ian Isherwood on the Business of Love

Interview: Ian Isherwood on the Business of Love

We go through life not wanting to hurt people’s expectations of us because we think they are not strong enough to handle the truth.

Ian Isherwood founded DateMe Kenya with a clear goal of offering a private, secure and safe platform for relationship-minded singles. Today, his company has grown to become the largest premium online dating platform in Kenya with close to 75,000 registered users since its launch in 2013.

The 32-year-old entrepreneur who describes himself as a ‘work in progress’ shares some of the wisdom he has picked up along the way with Damaris Agweyu.

After 5 years of running Date Me Kenya, what have you learnt about love?
The philosopher Alain De Botton, talks about love being a skill, and I fully agree. We all love to think that we will meet someone and there will be an instant connection. Where they know what’s on your mind and you know what’s on their mind- the assumption is, ‘if you really love me you should know my needs’ but that’s not true. You can’t meet someone and instantly know what they want. You constantly need to help each other understand each other, to compromise, to take and to give feedback constructively. It’s continuous learning. Not many people are willing to put the required effort into love. It’s important to be frank and truthful and to do it from the beginning in order to open that safe space for growth.

But everyone pretends or rather, shows their best selves in the beginning, are you saying they shouldn’t?
It’s inevitable to show the best version of yourself when you first meet someone. However, after a certain amount of time the real you will come out. What I am saying is, be clear about who you are from the very beginning. If you want something from a relationship, don’t wait for 2 years and then start complaining about how you never get what you want. On DateMe Kenya, there are people who put in a lot of effort to upload their best photos and then there are others who are so true, they will put a photo without makeup as if to say, this is who I really am, this is the face you will wake up to every morning; they may add another glamorous photo to show they are able to make an effort when required but they are not ashamed to put a real photo and show their true selves, I admire that.

And if, eventually, you find that you are just not compatible with someone, is there a right way to break up?
I think so. It’s about being brave. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. I wasted many years of my life in a wrong relationship but it’s because I was comfortable. You owe it to yourself to be honest about the situation, who you are and what you want. Working on yourself is the most important thing you can do in life, and this means auditing your life regularly – who are your friends? what are your beliefs? what are your plans? Then you take control of your life and if someone comes in with different ideas, you will be so solid that you can immediately give an answer as to where you stand, instead of wasting a year, 2 years or a lifetime.

What motivated you to start a dating website?
Having lost my father when I was 2 years old and being raised by a single mum, who by the way did a great job raising 4 boys on her own, I realized how important it is for children to have a father figure. I also saw how to this day, 30 years later, my mum is still in love with my late dad and understood and believed in the idea of finding and having true love in one’s life.

And so when I was older, after having travelled around the world, I had seen the success of online dating so I thought to introduce the concept to the Kenyan market. I was naïve enough to think, ‘OK great I’m going to bring a European concept, tweak it to the Kenyan culture and it will be a huge success’, but I didn’t know anything. It hadn’t been done here before and I hadn’t studied or learned from anyone else.

Yours was the first in Kenya?
There were a few small sites that were attracting a totally different audience. They were focusing a lot on sex and casual relationships and I didn’t want to go down that road. When I launched, I became very private and niche market. I was going for the top 5% in Kenya which is great because I wanted to build a strong brand. I believe I have done that but it’s also divided because not many people can afford 4,000 shillings a month. I honestly thought Kenya might have been a bigger market, but when it comes to business, Kenya as a whole is hard. Unless you’re mass market and selling sugar, everyone needs sugar.

Everyone needs love as well.
But with my concept, Kenya is still very far behind when it comes to accepting that you can meet someone online. There is only a handful of people who are willing to admit that they found a life partner online. People will be like, ‘oh you needed an online dating service to meet someone. There’s still that negativity but its changing slowly thanks to sites like Tinder.

​Is Tinder giving you a run for your money?
Not really. It has actually helped us because…

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