It all started as a bit of a joke but the success of UK website Toyboywarehouse.com is no laughing matter as it prepares to go international.
London artist and entrepreneur Julia Macmillan was getting bored with online dating so she set out to create a website that allowed her and thousands of other women to find, flirt and possibly create a future with younger men.
The website, challenging the belief that the man should be older than the woman in a relationship hit the ground running with more than 700 people waiting to sign up as the site went live.
Two-and-a-half-years and 18,000 users later the website is being revamped for its international launch. Having achieved a self-funding website Julia’s next challenge is to attract American men and women looking for courtship or companionship to Toyboywarehouse.com.
In the beginning:
Julia couldn’t find a dating website she liked. She felt that the process of completing a personal profile was more like filling in a job application rather than searching for a significant other.
She was unhappy with the results she was getting from the websites. She had fallen in to the habit of dating younger men but couldn’t seem to find them online.
Middle aged women complained to her that they too weren’t interested in the attention they received from men in their late fifties who enjoyed playing golf on other dating sites.
Julia spotted a gap, followed her instincts and set about creating a dating website for younger men and older women. Men are limited to searching women at least one year older and women to men at least a year younger on Toyboywarehouse.com.
Julia used the extra income earned from selling her artwork to fund the website. She established it on a shoestring budget, finding free software and hiring a freelance programmer to customize it.
Her lucky break came when a piece was published in the Saturday Telegraph about the developing website and the social trend of women dating younger men. By the time the site went live more than 700 people had signed up.
The website was free to users as it gathered momentum during its first year. It’s still free for users to sign up and search the database but people have to pay a weekly or monthly fee to contact other users.
Julia is the sole owner of the business which is self-funded in the UK and has now employed part-time workers to help her with the administration of the site and its 18,000 users along with programming and design. A financial director is willing to come on board once the site has launched internationally. Julia’s goal is to launch Toyboywarehouse.com in Dublin and New York by the end of the year. It’s a big task but one she feels ready to take.
Why is it so popular?
Julia believes there is a social shift towards women wanting to date younger men. Today’s women are more dynamic, financially independent and are not looking for someone to provide for them. So women are making different choices. She says her website attracts feisty independent women, not women looking for a meal ticket.
Dating younger men has become more mainstream with a number celebrity women choosing younger partners. And there is no shortage of men wanting to date older woman with the site attracting more men than women.
The biggest challenge:
Julia found a niche market but her biggest challenge was getting the software right because she wanted to keep people on the site even after they had found a match.
She has created an interactive site where men and women can flirt in a virtual bar while women can chat to each other about relationships and their experiences in an open forum. Forums also give good feedback on how well the site is working. Julia can adapt and improve the site to meet user’s needs by taking on their comments.
Twitter has also been a great source of advice about on-line marketing, increasing site traffic and social media. She recommends entrepreneurs keen to learn more about social media, which she believes is the way forward, to check out mashable.com.
To help her through her next challenge, Julia has hired a mentor to help her develop a marketing strategy for the websites launch in the United States.
Secrets of her success:
Spotting a gap in the market:
Julia found her niche by spotting a gap in the market and followed her instincts to set up the website.
Scrimp until you can afford to splurge:
Julia put profit at the top of her priority list, having learnt from past business ventures. She kept spending to a minimum until the website was firmly established. Because she waited, she has more cash to spend on adding all the bells and whistles to the site.
The name says it all. Julia believes the domain name, Toyboywarehouse.com, caught media attention. The site has been featured in loads of British newspapers and Julia has given numerous radio and tv interviews although she has courted the media just once with a press release when the site launched.
Julia knows the value of authenticity and having a human face to the business. She’s the figurehead of her business. She tries to connect with people by being available online and by frequently twittering. Julia makes sure she’s available to give interviews which means the press often come to her first. It’s not the faceless corporation but being real and human that is really important.