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The year that nobody will forget!

The CEO of Inner Circle, a serious online dating app, shares his opinions about 2020.

How are businesspeople managing 2020’s challenges? If we want to be correct, there is just one right answer: differently. Not only because they work in different countries or economic sectors, but their thought and decision-making processes are diverse. One thing is universal: those who can handle this situation can provide useful ideas, or at least, they can motivate others to move forward.

In September, we spoke to David Vermeulen, the CEO of Inner Circle. Inner Circle is one of the market leaders in a fascinating field, online dating, which is still new for a lot of businesspeople. They reject “casual dating” culture and focus on deep, meaningful connections. COVID forced people across the world to re-evaluate their relationships, and Inner Circle has the data to prove it.

Most professional business developers say that the structure of the economy is completely changing. What goes through your mind when you hear sentences like this?

In my opinion, the economy is not completely changing. Obviously, we are in the midst of an economic crisis, but things are already starting to recover. If you look at the stock markets, and I think there’s a big discrepancy between the stock markets and employment, the employment rate will follow and so will a recession. But I also believe that things will go up again. So, things are not going to get easier in the short term, but in the long term, I’m positive that things will get slightly back to normal.

What is your opinion about 2020 so far?

I mean, this year is one that nobody will forget, and this is the year that we will tell our grandchildren about fifty years from now. So, what we are seeing is not normal, and I think we are also seeing the true selves of people, countries, and politicians. 2020 has had a lot of effects: some horrible, some not so horrible, but in any case, people have suddenly had to live in very different ways. People have had to adjust, not just physically but mentally as well, which is sometimes good, not everything about this year is negative.

Now, you mentioned a couple of things that were interesting in that response. The first one is about telling your grandchildren. The second is people showing their true sides. Now, your company deals with dating and matchmaking, but at a deeper level. Can you tell me a little bit more about your company and what you do?

Of course. So, Inner Circle is a service that matches people that are serious about dating online, but also offline. So, before the Crisis, we had events all over the world where singles met. This was from Sydney to New York to London to Paris. Everywhere.

COVID attacked people’s private and professional lives at the very same time. And we distinguish this from 2008’s Great Recession because that was more of professional lives affecting private lives. COVID is hitting both quite hard. How have you felt this in your business and private life?

From a business perspective, we immediately saw back toward the end of March that people started to try to rein in their expenses, so they did things like cancelling all of their subscriptions. They were in fight/survival mode, so we immediately saw a negative impact on our business.

Later, we saw it in all the different countries where we are active at the moment, things became a bit clearer, and the numbers of the pandemic were stabilising. We also saw that people were OK, that we have it under control. My government has it under control. We did the necessary things, so now we can relax a little bit more. And everybody was following the news like crazy, looking to return to normal activities. For example, by summer, dating picked up again, which we saw quite clearly in our data. So, we saw a decline from the end of March into April, but then things stabilised by then the end of April into May. Since June, it started increasing again, and now our user numbers are higher than ever before. So that was how we experienced it from a business perspective. But that data also shows exactly how individual people experienced the Crisis.

Can I take that one step further and ask — I mean, this is your area of business — but do you think that COVID made people rethink that they want out of a relationship, so they want deeper connections now?

Yes, that is actually a really good point, and it is something we clearly see in the data. So, I think that the whole COVID situation was a moment that made you take a step back and to think about how you’re living and where you are in your life. And we didn’t do a survey, but what I have heard, felt, and read is that people want to take life more seriously and get the best of it. And it results in thoughts like “OK, maybe this whole casual dating, this endless swiping is not something I really want; what I really want is a serious relationship and meaningful connections”. And this is what we see as a trend. So obviously, Tinder is by far the biggest dating app out there. But we see that people are getting what we call “Tinder tired”, and people are getting bored with Bumble because it’s just swiping and more swiping.

You mentioned that COVID really affected you in the short term. How do you think it’s going to affect your approach to the next six months/two years?

I don’t know if things will go back to normal like before. One of the reasons for this is that people have very different mindsets, as I already mentioned. I really, really hope that that new mindset stays. And in the meantime, it also forces not only our business but business, in general, to be more creative and think about different revenue models, different ways of offering services to your customers. So, for example, we implemented brand-new features during COVID, such as live quiz competitions for our members and online speed-dating, which were ideas we had before, but that we had never implemented. So that is something I hope will remain in our approach of how we go to the future. We learned that we should also be innovative, innovative, innovative. So that’s something that will definitely, definitely stay.

OK, this is a changing topic a little bit, what kind of tasks should a good, responsible manager perform right now to prepare their business for the future?

Well, I still believe that it’s key for a company and good management to have a goal on the horizon, and this did not change even during COVID. So, set that goal and set milestones toward it and really communicate it clearly within the team. That’s something that’s especially important nowadays; don’t get distracted too much.

What are your main challenges right now? You probably have a lot of data about how different countries are responding to the virus, usage rates per country, and how they’re drastically affected by how their governments are responding.

We have taken a regional approach because, for example, live, in-person events just are not possible everywhere. I mean, they’re definitely not possible in the US, and they’re not possible in Spain or England. For example, here in the Netherlands, it’s possible to host events up to 100 people. So, how slow do we take it? And that’s important. If we do something like that, it should be according to the law, and everybody should be safe. But we also feel a responsibility to work towards that goal again, because that’s what everybody wants. And we have people in each of our regions that inform us about what is now possible based on what the government decides. This is something that the government decides that’s not possible. So, we hope that we have a good feeling of what we can do where. But at the same time, we will not just have an event, even if it is legal, unless we feel it is safe.

We’ve seen that in a lot of different markets, two separate poles are emerging, the premium market in the mass market. What do you think about this?

We see that a lot of our users have good educations and impressive jobs, so I can say our service is premium, even if we don’t charge our customers in this way.

And now for our last question: what advice do you have for managers all over the world for the next six months?

I would definitely say keep a strong focus on the long term and take care of your people. I think it’s really important to over-communicate during these times, which is difficult because obviously a lot of offices are closed at the moment, and they will be closed for most of the year and beginning of next year even. Take your time to listen to people and try to check in regularly.

Thank you for your time, David. We wish you and Inner Circle all the best.

Thank you!


You can find out more about Inner Circle at their website,