Katerina Lyadova is looking for love, but says work hardly leaves her time to swipe and type.
As an experiment, Lyadova, the 30-year-old co-founder of a graphic-design company in Toronto, hired a part-time “dating profile manager” on Wednesday through an ad in the jobs section of Craigslist.
As dating sites and apps multiply, she isn’t the only one looking for an Internet dating agent. A few companies specialize in spicing up the dating profiles and managing the online romantic pursuits of clients who lack the hours, energy or perhaps charm to arrange dates themselves.
VirtualDatingAssistants.com and PersonalDatingAssistants.com provide customers with ghostwriters who treat the art of seduction like a lucrative science.
These firms didn’t appeal to Lyadova because they seemed impersonal and aimed at men who have trouble wooing a date. Flirting is not her problem, she said, but her time is precious. So she looked for her own cupid on Craigslist.
“No, this is not a joke,” her ad said.
Her matchmaker will gain access to her personal information, photos and dating profiles on Tinder, OkCupid and the relatively new app, Happn. The successful candidate will be paid $12 per hour to find potential suitors, flirt and line up dates.
“If you find a match that leads to a meaningful relationship, you’ll get a bonus,” the ad promised. “If it turns into a real deal i’ll double the original bonus.”
Applicants had to commit to work for two months (seven hours per week) and undergo a police background check (on Lyadova’s dime).
In less than three weeks, she received about 30 email applications and interviewed eight people, all women between 19 and 35, she told the Toronto Star over the phone.
Choosing a dating profile manager wasn’t easy. After much deliberation, she hired a college student whose artistic interests dovetailed with her own. That person didn’t wish to be interviewed.
Lyadova, who was born in Irkutsk, Siberia, and moved here to study visual art at Humber College in 2007, spent less than a year on matchmaking sites and apps before outsourcing the work.
“When I was looking at my data usages from last year, I managed to swipe like three gigs on Tinder. I surprised myself,” she said.
As the co-founder and creative director of a graphic-design company, Lyadova works more than 50 hours per week. At the office, she recently discovered the joy of delegating and plans to apply the same lesson to her private life.
“That’s what I do with other projects: I hire designers, developers, writers. Why not hire a dating manager?” she said.
That’s basically the same principle behind VirtualDatingAssistants.com, one of the first Internet dating outsourcing companies, based in Atlanta, Ga. Coincidentally, it started with a Craigslist post much like Lyadova’s.
Eight years ago, the site’s founder, Scott Valdez, was working 70 to 80 hours a week at a new job at a tech start-up. It left him no time to chat up women online, so he looked for a dating assistant on Craigslist. He hired a creative writing grad, who was soon scheduling five or six dates a month.
Valdez’ brother and friends asked if they could borrow his hired Casanova.
“I thought, wait. If these guys want to hire my assistant, wouldn’t there be thousands of other guys out there who’d love to do that?”
Today, Virtual Dating Assistants has 240 clients, mostly men in North America, he said. In Toronto, the company has 19 subscribers, including two who signed up for its premium service.
That “diamond” package, which costs $1,500 (U.S.) a month, comes with a ghostwriter who will prepare a personal profile on various dating websites and apps. The company’s cheapest package goes for $460 (U.S.) per month.
According to the company’s website, the first step is a phone interview with a “female account manager,” who will get to know a client so Virtual Dating Assistants can dress up their dating profile.
“Professional experts” then choose dating websites and apps that are the best fit.
“Female experts” rank the attractiveness of a customer’s pictures and use aggregate and average scores to pick the best.
Customers sign off on the finished profile before it goes live and their assistants begin to flirt and set up dates. The customer pre-approves each date.
Then the lucky gal or, more likely, guy is on their own. (About 80 to 90 per cent of Virtual Dating Assistants’s clientele are men. The company plans to launch a “female-friendly site” within a month, Valdez said.)
Many Virtual Dating Assistants have a creative writing or comedy background. They’re paid $14 to $18 (U.S.) an hour plus a commission: a bonus for every phone number and a larger reward if they successfully schedule a date.
Typical customers are men with money to spare who don’t have much success in dating and value their time, Valdez said.
To critics who say it’s deceptive to hire a dating manager, Valdez said it’s no different from most online dating experiences.
“Knowing that a lot of what you see online isn’t exactly what you get in person, we represent our clients just as accurately as the average user does,” he said.
That may be true. The average OkCupid user exaggerates their height and income, the website said in a 2010 blog post.
Lyadova wants to be represented accurately, and with flair.
Less than a day into the job, her dating manager already faces a daunting first deadline: Valentine’s Day.
“Two weeks is more than enough time,” Lyadova joked.