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Kai Ryssdal: On the face of it you might not think the U.S. and Singapore have much in common at all. One’s Asian, the other’s not. One’s a 25-square mile city-state, the other’s not. One’s a global industrial economic powerhouse, the other’s more of a service and finance economy.
One thing they do have in common, though, is a falling birthrate. Rachel Louise Snyder reports Singapore has taken an unusual approach to pushing couples down the path of procreation.
Rachel Louise Snyder: We’ve all been there: 8 o’clock on a Saturday night. Your happy coupled friends are out enjoying their coupled lives, and there you are, a minute from donning your pj’s and settling down with a bag of microwave popcorn.
Terry’s been there, too. He tells me about it at a local coffee shop:
Terry: I was alone at home, and every day I go back to a empty, empty home.
Like many professionals, Terry didn’t have much time to date, or many chances to meet girls. Friends suggested he go out dancing.
Terry: I mean, it depends on individual’s choices. I am not naturally inclined to clubbing.
He was, however, naturally inclined to movies. So when a friend told him about GoMovieDate.com, he was all over it.
Matthew Tam: The couples will actually meet inside the theatre probably 15 minutes before their show. We call it ice-breaker time.
That’s Matthew Tam, the founder of GoMovieDate.com. It works like this: you sign up, pay a fee of $18.65 depending on your membership level, create a wish-list of things you want in a date, and the computer sends you possible matches.
Then you invite a match, who gets your invite via text message. If he or she accepts, tickets are mailed to both parties with assigned seating.
Tam: Ours is like lifestyle dating. We feel that there actually are, there’s a growing market for it. Alone in Singapore, there’s 700,000 singles out there. These people are actually willing to pay money to go for services like movies or lunch or drinks.
Matthew’s not alone. The Singaporean government also sees a growing market and they’re willing to give seed money to startups or established dating services all with the hope of hooking up.
Anna Goh: In 2004, the low fertility rate of 1.24. I think that signaled that there was, that there needs to be more measures to tackle the issue of falling birth rate.
That’s Anna Goh, deputy director of Singapore’s Social Development Unit. The SDU began in 1984 as a way for educated professionals to meet and marry.
Since then, 47,000 members have married, and the SDU’s created a slew of single’s activities — from salsa dancing and speed dating to tea ceremonies and relationship counseling. What they didn’t have was a dating industry.
Goh: Having the government play such a key role in providing such services for the past 20 years, we do see that the market has not fully developed in terms of the private sector.
So the SDU came up with the idea of accrediting dating services, so people would know they were dealing with legitimate agencies and vetted clients.
With an initial $650,000, they also funded burgeoning partnerships with dating services, like GoMovieDate.com and Lunch Actually.
Yvonne Lum is the founder of Lunch Actually. She says starting a dating business isn’t just about having a phone and a computer in an office.
Yvonne Lum: There are quite a lot of intricacies in this industry because you’re dealing with people’s emotions.
Yvonne says they meet with clients for an hour and won’t sign anyone up unless they have potential matches. Then, they reserve the table. All you have to do, Yvonne says, is show up and have fun.
But one of the biggest challenges of having a dating service is that you’re pretty much always working to get rid of your clients. Anna Goh calls it the “churn.”
Goh: The success of an organization or a dating agency is really about how well you match and how fast you match them, and it’s not about retaining clients like in most other business models.
As for Terry, well, he persevered through 30 movie dates, and then . . .
Terry: We met during the movie called this “Date Movie,” and after the movie we hit it off instantly. And we got married officially the 2nd of February this year.
For those of you wondering how he did it, he has this advice:
Terry: Cut out the crappy jokes and corny jokes.
In Singapore, this is Rachel Louise Snyder for Marketplace.
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