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Match’s CEO explains how dating has changed during the COVID pandemic

September 3, 2020, 3:15 PM UTC

After spending several months trying to understand what singles want from online dating during the coronavirus pandemic, Match CEO Hesam Hosseini thinks he’s found the answer.

“The first phase was really, ‘What’s going on? Should I be dating? Do other people still want to date?’” Hosseini said. “It’s evolved now to, ‘Okay, we’ve figured out how to get to know each other virtually. How do I actually form a connection with someone who is wearing a mask and staying distanced?’”

Match’s decision during the pandemic to introduce features like video dating has helped to give its parent company, Match Group, a financial lift. Its revenue grew 12% to $555.5 million during the second quarter, beating analyst estimates of $520.3 million.

While the company credited Tinder—one of its other dating sites—for much of its growth, Match, the flagship brand, has also seen historic highs during the pandemic. The service said that more singles have made more matches in July than during its typical “peak season” around Valentine’s Day. 

Hosseini said that’s partly because of Match dating coaches, who have doled out advice during one-on-one conversations with more than 15,000 of the service’s users since the pandemic began. Those coaches then report their findings back to Match, which can then develop strategies based on the problems that users face.

“It really helps us keep a pulse on what’s going on in the mind of our members, and that really is great feedback for the business to evolve and adapt,” Hosseini said.

Hosseini spoke with Fortune recently to mark Dallas Startup Week (Match is based in Dallas). His comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Photo courtesy of Match Group

Fortune: How did the pandemic affect Match’s business initially?

HH: The first two weeks, I would say things were really up in the air. We didn’t know what to expect. There was a lot going on internally, but also with singles. Do they want to date? What’s going through their minds? Very quickly, probably around the beginning of April, we started to see our business stabilize. 

Since then it’s grown tremendously. Match has had several record months just this past summer [in matches, messages, and usage. Average subscribers for Match Group was 10.1 million during the second quarter, up 11% year over year]. The core service we provide is needed regardless of the pandemic or a recession. It just looks a little bit different, so we did do a few pivots early on. 

How did the business pivot?

We’re the first dating app following the outbreak to launch video. We also have a team of experts at Match that are available via phone to our paid members. We opened that up nationwide for free to the entire country because we knew navigating a relationship and dating in this environment was tricky.

We actually were working on introducing a free tier at Match [which limits users to six matches a day]. As soon as the pandemic hit, it was a no-brainer. We rolled that out to the whole country to make sure Match was as accessible as possible. 

What do people want from a dating service like Match right now? 

During the pandemic, with hooking up really off the table, we’ve really seen that accelerate a strong demand for services and apps that provide more meaningful connections. 

Something that sort of took a turn is video dating. Match has tested several versions of video dating the last 10 years, and prior to the pandemic, interest was really muted. Something like 5% to 6% of singles said they would do it, which was why we didn’t really invest in the feature prior to this. 

The pandemic served as a catalyst for video dating to become more common and remove some of the stigma. If you think about it in a non-pandemic world, a quick video date before you decide to meet in person is actually a great tool. In some ways it can be less awkward as a date. You don’t have to decide who’s paying, you don’t have to decide where to go. It’s really just a more low-pressure way to get to meet someone. 

Does Match offer any health guidance about dating during a pandemic?

First thing we always say is comply with what’s going on with your city, whatever the guidelines are, No. 1. We always encourage folks to get to know someone digitally at first. 

Pre-pandemic, there was this sort of rush of let’s just go out and get to see each other in person. We are encouraging folks to just take a beat. It means you’re going on less dates in real life, and I just think that’s a safer way to approach the dating process. 

When the pandemic initially hit, we launched a series of tips around dating during a pandemic, which were safety focused. We published that on our microsite and our blog.

How has Match addressed societal issues like the racial justice movement and the presidential election?

The topic of racial injustice is super important to us. I’m an immigrant myself. I moved to North America from Sydney, Australia, when I was 12.

Around the time when this was put in the national spotlight, we took action. We had a lot of tough but necessary internal conversations about the topic about how we could do better. We also put our money where our mouth is, and we made donations to several charities we felt were progressing these views. We also had donation matching for our employees to make sure the causes they felt passionate about [were supported]. 

Regarding elections, for the Latinx community we actually launched an initiative to encourage voter registration. Chispa, our dating app for Latinx singles [that emerged from the company’s internal incubator +1 Labs founded by Hosseini], partnered with Voto Latino, a nonprofit focused on getting Latinx folks registered. 

How do dating trends change in an election year?

The No. 1 question that we get is when and if users should talk politics on a date. In the past, we would encourage users to get to know someone on the first, and then on the second or third date that’s when you should talk about politics. 

One of the things we’ve seen this year is the pandemic has forced a lot of what we call “big talk” on first dates. The pandemic has just got people talking about more intimate, personal topics earlier on in a relationship. It’s a clear trend we’re seeing, so that may lead to more political conversations on dates early on. 

In the 12 years I’ve been at Match, I’m always surprised that when we ask our users, politics doesn’t matter that much when it comes to love and a relationship. It’s a vast minority of singles that say politics can be a deal-breaker. 

How has Facebook Dating affected Match since it debuted last September?

We haven’t seen any impact to our business as a result of Facebook launching Facebook Dating. Of course, it’s Facebook. We can never rule them out.

What’s ahead for Match?

Video dating, I think, is here to stay. It’s definitely a must-have tool through the pandemic, but I think that users are very interested in continuing to use it in the long run.

Singles are entering into a phase of, “Okay, I’m dating. I do want to meet folks—although safely and cautiously. But how do I get to know them better in this world of social distancing?”

For the next six to 12 months, there is going to be some element of that when it comes to dating. So we are working on a few things that can help members maybe get over those more awkward conversations early on. “Are you going to wear a mask? Do you want me to wear a mask? Are you okay if I take you to a restaurant, or do you want to just walk in a local park social distanced?” Things like that to help members date a little more effectively.