Sarah Beeny's dating website seeks suitors
Saturday 27 August 2011
My Single Friend, an online dating website founded by the television presenter Sarah Beeny, has been put up for sale for up to £15m.
Its major shareholders – Ms Beeny and the technology company Telecom Express – have hired the accountancy firm BDO to handle a sale of the company this summer.
First-round bids of between £10m and £15m were submitted earlier this month, primarily by rival online dating businesses, but some private equity firms are also interested. BDO declined to comment, while My Single Friend and Telecom Express did not return calls.
Ms Beeny, who hosts Channel 4's Property Ladder programme, owns about 40 per cent of My Single Friend, which she co-founded with her friend Amanda Christie in 2004.
The site is unique in that subscribers must nominate a friend who will write a description of them – which, unlike other dating sites, means that a user's profile features both their own words and those of their friend.
Looking for romance on the internet has lost much of its stigma, analysts say. There was 25 per cent spike in traffic to UK dating websites in July – the highest peak in visits for three years, according to Hitwise.
Last month, internet dating accounted for one in every 160 online visits made by computer users in Britain.
While the shareholders are looking to sell My Single Friend, it is understood they would consider selling a minority stake to help launch the website overseas.
A source said: "The real opportunity is international expansion because no one else in the world does this [friend recommendation] and it works really well. The site is very sticky."
My Single Friend attracts 9,000 new singles a month from across the UK. It is on track to make underlying profits of about £1.5m this year.
At least one private equity firm has bid for My Single Friend, but the main interest is from rival internet dating players. While it is unclear if they have submitted first rounds bids for My Single Friend, its suitors could include IAC, which owns Match, and the US company eHarmony.
Telecom Express, which provides online and mobile services for media companies, bought its stake in My Single Friend last year. The company also runs dating sites for newspapers and the Classic FM radio station.
Ms Beeny says her own attempts at match-making gave her the idea for a website where people could describe their friends. She also co-founded the website Tepilo, which helps users to buy, sell or let their properties with no charges or commission.
Looking for love online
*My Single Friend is the tenth-most popular subscription-based internet dating site in the UK and has about 20,000 members.
*The odds of finding love online seem better for men, at least in London and Manchester. In London, there are 5,780 straight women looking for men aged between 30 and 40, but only 3,800 men seeking women in the same age range. In Manchester, the ratio of women seeking men, and vice-versa, is 460 to 300.
*The most popular online dating website in the UK is Plentyoffish, although this is partly because it is free. Plentyoffish accounted for 21.23 per cent of visits to dating sites in July, according to Hitwise.
*The biggest UK player with a subscription model is Match, which received 7.3 per cent of dating traffic.
*Others featuring in Hitwise's top 10 include Gaydar and Sex in the UK.
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