Posted on July 25, 2016 by staff

Big interview: Apprentice’s Vana Koutsomitis on dating game


Vana Koutsomitis may have missed out on winning The Apprentice but she believes her business, DatePlay, will become the world’s most in-demand online dating app.

With one in five relationships now starting online, Koutsomitis believes it’s the perfect time to launch a dating app – but there’s a twist.

DatePlay combines gaming and online dating to bring people together and she’s convinced she’s onto a winner – even if Lord Sugar wasn’t.

The last time Koutsomitis was seen on our screens she reached the last two of The Apprentice in 2015 but lost out to Joseph Valente, who walked away with a £250,000 investment.

“I think Sir Alan Sugar understands the opportunities of technology, but I think that the difficult part for him was maybe the dating space,” she reflects.

“I think it’s hard for people in a different generation to understand what the online dating world is.

“The online dating world has revolutionised the way we meet people now, it’s very different to how it was 20 years ago.

“We want to encourage people to explore and learn and research the online dating space because it’s going to grow and it’s only going to get bigger in time.”

The number of young adults using online dating apps has tripled since 2013 – which Koutsomitis has found both a problem and a solution in the already crowded market.

All types of online businesses are seeing increasing personalisation – and this is especially true of those seeking to match potential partners.

“I think the current problem with online dating is that it’s very transactional and there’s no personal touch,” Koutsomitis says.

“And that’s what we’re bringing to the market with DatePlay – by integrating games to the interface we’re allowing people to have a more engaged user experience – that’s what’s missing in online dating.”

While apps like Tinder allow the user to use a swiping motion to look at photos of potential mates, DatePlay’s USP is getting people to connect over a game that also profiles your personality.

“DatePlay is an app that allows you to play games in order to meet your perfect partner,” Koutsomitis says.

“The games analyse your personality and understands who you are in order to match you with the right person.

“It won’t be based solely on looks – looks are an important element so we will be including that in the interface – but we are using a two-step process.

“The first step is you play the game, we’ll give you some potential matches from this and then show you your compatibility with that person. Then we ask if you like them or not based on a photo.

“Both parties have to agree to speak to each other based on the compatibility and the images, as we believe that’s the best way to match people.”

BusinessCloud reported recently how another unique dating app, Once, secured big venture capital investment from France.

The entrepreneur has been reported as saying she expects the business to make a £7m profit within three years – although she didn’t want to discuss the financial side in our interview.

However Koutsomitis was more forthcoming on the theory behind her app, which she says places less emphasis on how people look.

“A study was conducted by one of the largest US dating companies about a year ago, and on Valentine’s Day they took away all of the photos on the dating website,” she says.

“That meant everyone was speaking to their matches blind. They found that people were more likely to stay together when they met each other without seeing an image beforehand.

“The most important thing to realise is that people are willing to take a leap of faith and if they enjoy the user experience and they enjoy using the app they are willing to invest the time to potentially find some good matches for them.”

With a history of successful matchmaking the half Greek, half Colombian businesswoman is familiar with the world of online dating.

Koutsomitis explains: “I started off working in investment banking. I realised I wanted to create a tech product, a website, that allowed people to network within the financial services.

“When I did that I realised people actually didn’t want to network for professional reasons, they wanted to network for personal reasons.

“So then that led me into the matchmaking side of things which I never, ever guessed I would have done. I started to help people with their online dating; I showed them how to write their bio, what photos to use for example, and within a year-and-a-half I’d made four marriages.

“Essentially I hacked the online dating space, and I found a problem.

“There wasn’t a product that was meeting everyone’s needs. There was a product for casual relationships and one for serious relationships, but there wasn’t a product for the younger generation – unless they wanted something more casual.

“DatePlay is for 18-24 year olds, who are looking for a relationship.”

Losing out on a £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar in the final of The Apprentice didn’t stop Koutsomitis from finding another way of turning her dream into a reality.

“We invested everything we had in order to make this work,” she explains.

“We started speaking to different people from the industry and people who I had met during the process of The Apprentice, such as the CEO of and the CEO of eHarmony.

“They were telling us that we were onto something and we soon realised that there were people who were really interested in advising and investing in DatePlay.

“We’ve been working with a couple of personal investors – people we’ve met both in the investment and online dating industry to make this come to life.

” We ended up coming to the decision that crowdfunding democratises the way people invest, so we created a campaign to open it up to everyone and allow them to get involved in the marketing spend that we’re going to need.

“We don’t want DatePlay to just benefit the millionaires and billionaires; we want everyone to get involved so we made sure that each of our minimum shares is £10.

“We wanted to make sure that even though Lord Sugar didn’t invest, we’re giving everyone who believes in DatePlay the chance to get involved instead.”

With online dating now a multi-billion dollar global industry, Koutsomitis is convinced there’s money in what she’s doing.

“Monetisation dating apps always have an element of advertising – most online dating companies make 25 per cent of their revenues through advertisement. So it will be in our business model too” she explains.

“We’ll also have a premium payment system, which means the app is free but you can pay £4.99 a month to get some advanced features.”

The businesswoman, who turned 29 in July, says there aren’t enough female role models, especially in tech.

“I’m hoping to inspire and encourage young girls to get into tech,” she says. “Personally I think there are barriers to entry for women within the technology space, and I think it’s more difficult for women to succeed in this tech male dominated world.

“I experienced it first-hand when I tried to pitch my idea to a room full of men. I think they underestimate the fact that female founders are very powerful, especially for a dating app.

“Having a female founder attracts women and gives them hope and trust in the product.”

Koutsomitis believes shows such as The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den still have a lot to learn in regards to technology in business.

“I think that things are slowly transforming when it comes to how the media is approaching and understanding technology,” she explains.

“The fact I was on the show at all is a testament to the open-minded approach that the media is having towards tech. There’s still room for improvement, however.”