Smartdate, the French startup everyone is asking questions about

Nov 22, 2011
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First off, for anyone who doesn’t know Smartdate, it’s often defined as the French Zoosk. It’s a Facebook-based dating platform that helps you date people within your online network. The company officially launched in March 2010 raised some €5.5 million with 360 Capital and 2 well-known French entrepreneurs (in the country where it is supposedly impossible to raise money), launched its platform in 6 different languages and accumulated 650K members within a year.

And now the CEO is gone.

Huh? Ok, well not gone – just working on a new startup in New York. Not a lot of details have been revealed about why he is no longer at Smartdate – simply that the company may’ve had “overly-ambitious” growth plans. Well, that seems to be the official story – which is somewhat contradicted by who first broke the story last week noting that the company site was down and the company’s problems were displayed across different forums on the web.

So the CEO says…

Last week, Fabrice Le Parc (the former CEO of Smartdate) revealed a bit about his experience on his own blog – namely underlining a bit about what he has learned as an entrepreneur (and oddly stating in his headline that he built a successful startup in one year, casually ignoring it’s recent demise).

TechCrunch France published additional details – including that SmartDate had 4.5 million users (which I think may be an incorrect figure since the last verified number I had was 650K users from end of 2010. But it could very well be since it is noted on the company’s website – and since it was also very difficult for users to unsubscribe from the site). Then again, an article in French newspaper Les Echos (titled “Social Dating Doesn’t Exist!”) did correctly point out that you can have millions of users but they’re not really any good unless they pay. Still, while I have always struggled with some of the aspects of social dating (i.e.: do you really want people you know to find out that you are looking for someone?) and I haven’t always been a huge fan of lots of the different dating sites I’ve seen, I’m not sure I really agree with all their criticisms of social dating.

What do the investors have to say?

Despite the various ways that the company could’ve been salvaged, it seems that no solution was found or agreed upon. So according to TechCrunch, Mr. Le Parc finally had to close shop and lay off his 30 employees. Funny enough, none of this is evident on the company’s website – which is still up and running. Obviously everyone is waiting to hear what the investors – namely 360 Capital and the famous founders of PriceMinister who also invested in Smartdate – have to say, as they are well respected investors and obviously wouldn’t just abandon a project in which they had invested 5.5 million so easily.

One final blow…

And as if things couldn’t get any worse, I did discover that Smartdate was mentioned in an article where a woman had been scammed on the dating site. Obviously, the scam isn’t the fault of Smartdate at all – it actually is the result of poor judgement on the behalf of the internet user. But I don’t really think that Smartdate’s name is mentioned in the article. The service is meant to put you in touch with real people within your network (supposedly more secure) but obviously even Facebook has loopholes.

La French reaction.

I have to say that for my part it has been interesting to watch the different reactions to this. Marc Simoncini – the founder of competing dating site Meetic – didn’t have particularly nice things to say about Fabrice Le Parc’s company on Twitter. Seeing a respected entrepreneur like Simoncini tell Fabrice Le Parc not to launch another company in dating was a little, well, harsh – and definitely makes me wonder. But hey, I’ll just keep my head out of their relationship since clearly there seems to be a bit of history here.

Clearly a few loopholes.

The story is clearly has a few holes. Have the investors really abandoned a €5.5 million project? What specifically went wrong? And if they have abandoned it or haven’t, what will happen next? As it is currently 1am Paris time, I don’t have those answers right away – but I have reached out to the respective people involved in this story and will keep you all posted.

Credits: I’d like to thank Ronan Amicel who helped provide supporting info for this article and Jeremie Berrebi who first brought the loopholes in the story to my attention.