Shayan Zadeh & Alex Mehr – Zoosk 2 of 2

"The product is just part of the story, you need to convince others to share the dream with you." Zoosk is the largest social networking site for online dating.

Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation, what have you learned about your users that you didn’t realize before you launched?

Shayan: Most important thing is you can not predict consumers. We think we’ve pretty good intuition, but out of the ten ideas that we have, nine of them are going to fail. At the beginning, it was really heart breaking, because we would be so excited, this thing is going to work, people are going to love it. You roll it out and it’s a complete fizzle, or something that you never thought is going to be important or big just explodes beyond your imagination.

We’ve learned our lessons, we’ve been humbled through the process, and now our approach and strategy is that if you have a good idea, or somebody in the company has an interesting idea, try the cheapest way to bring it to fruition, the minimal viable version of it, whether it’s a feature or product. Throw it out there and see what the user base says. Like I said, nine out of ten, you’re going to be wrong but you can’t find it until you try. Make it cheap to experiment and then listen to the response you’re getting and then improve from there.

Alex: That listening part is really important. So, basically whenever you have a new idea or you launch a new feature, you need to have a use case. You need to be able to imagine how a user would use that particular feature. But most of the time, the way you think people would use your feature is not the way they actually end up using it, and it’s very important to have a use case. Meaning a specific case for a particular feature, but once you launch it, be ready to be surprised by how the customers use it. Then change your strategy based on the response you get from the market.

Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make launching companies look easy. We know it can be very difficult, so we want to dispel some myths here. My question for you is: what talent or skills come easily or intuitively for you? What has been difficult, and how have you managed that?

Alex: Intuitive and easy part is the quantitative part. The both of us are very comfortable with numbers and statistics, be able to instrument the product, and measure how the customer is responding to our product.

Matthew: What is the challenge?

Shayan: As an entrepreneur, building the product itself is just part of the story. You need to be able to convince other people to come and share the dream with you.

Alex: Getting the traction.

Shayan: Early on, employees, investors, press, partners. You’re constantly selling this idea that you believe in truly and you’re seeing excitement around it. Especially for people who come from a technical background, they might find it very challenging, that they need to continuously have this sales approach to them, and have this sales hat on. It doesn’t matter where you are. You’re at a party, you’re at a grocery store, or you’re in front of a venture capitalist.

Your are the embodiment of that idea, and you’re supposed to be the cheerleader for it. So, getting to that, it might take some time for some people, but after a while, you become so good at it that you can do it in your sleep, so it doesn’t hurt too much.

Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching Zoosk?

Shayan: The most important lesson?

Alex: Iterate as many times as you can, as quickly as you can, as cheaply as you can. That’s, I think, the one takeaway. I think that applies to most entrepreneurs, not everybody. If you’re looking at a new drug, or a new cure for cancer you can’t iterate that quickly, but for web companies, at least, the key is to iterate as fast as you can with an open mind. Always go with a specific target, have a particular use case like I said, for your product. But, be ready to change.

Shayan: I think that’s the important part. Embracing a change doesn’t mean you’re wrong or it’s a bad thing, or you missed the mark, it’s just part of the process. Engaging in that knowing this is going to happen makes it a lot easier on people.

Matthew: What bit of advice do you wish you would’ve known before launching Zoosk?

Alex: So many things.

Shayan: There are a lot of tactical things.

Alex: Choose your investors very carefully, we got lucky there.

Shayan: That is true.

Alex: Don’t take money from anybody who offers it to you. Do your research before doing that. Like I said, we were first time entrepreneurs, so we were basically like any first time entrepreneurs, we were looking for funding, and we got lucky that we had really good investors, but now that I look back at it could have gone the wrong way.

Shayan: We’ve seen stories of things that didn’t turn out well. Another thing is a lot of talk in the tech community in the early days was focus on feature, focus on feature, the business model will emerge later. I think that can be a dangerous path to go down because a lot of things might get lots of traction in terms of user engagement.

You might never be able to put a business model around it, and if your goal is build a company to last for years to come beyond you even, being able to, at least, start thinking about it. Not a hundred percent of your focus day one is going to be how am I going to monetize this, but having it in the back of your mind is very important to guide you where you end up.

Matthew: What mentor has played a significant impact in your development?

Alex: I think our board members have been very instrumental. Early investors and board members, they’ve basically pushed us in quite a few occasions. They’ve encouraged us on many occasions, and that has actually helped us learn a lot about the business.

Shayan: The entrepreneurs, especially in the valley, it’s kind of like a class system. Like the class of 2007 companies, the class of 2008 companies, and being in touch with the people who are doing something completely different, but in the same time period, probably utilizing the same trends that you’re taking advantage of. In our case it was, for example, social, and later on mobile trends.

Being in touch with them and sharing war stories helps a lot. One, it makes you realize that you’re not the only person who’s dealing with the problems that you’re dealing with, which is very needed sometimes. Also, then sharing stories back and forth, and learning from each other is important.

Matthew: What advice would you like to share with our audience about launching a start up? If you have to distill it, what are the key elements?

Shayan: Pick a good co-founder, I wouldn’t do it alone. I think it’s very hard and scary to do it alone. Don’t get married to the first idea that you have. I guarantee that’s not going to be your business in two years.

Alex: I would say the most important lesson is to become comfortable with failure early on in the process. In other words, learn that you might put your heart into your product and launch it, thinking that you’re going to change the world, and nobody actually seems to care. The faster you become comfortable with that concept, the better you’re going to be. It allows you to free up a lot of emotional resources instead of trying to say, I did this thing and people, they don’t understand me, they don’t come to my site. Look at your product, and try to iterate as quickly as you can, or think of newer strategies to get people to use your product. That’s the best use of your energy.

Matthew: Before we close, I would love for you to give our audience your vision for Zoosk and how you hope it will continue to change the world?

Shayan: Sure. We have a lot of work to do on so many fronts still in this company. The product is still improving, we know there’s a lot of room for improvement there, and we’re excited about the road map that we have ahead of us.

Globally, this company is expanding very rapidly. Like I said, currently we’re in 70 countries, very big in 20, 25 countries already. We want to continue with that, and really become the household name for years that people would tell their grandchildren how they met and why they’re together now still. What else?

Alex: I think you mentioned it all. I think we want to get to a point where every single has his Zoosk account, and makes new friends on Zoosk, and that’s how they meet the love of their life.

Matt: Excellent. Well, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your continued success at Zoosk. For those in our audience who would like to learn more and join your community, you can visit them at This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. Thank you so much.

Shayan: Thank you.

Alex: Thank you.


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