Alex Ziff, founder of new dating app, Ciao Date and grandson of Marjorie and Arnold Ziff, spoke to JLife’s Laura Sefton about what makes an entrepreneur and how Yorkshire will always be home.
Did you have a lightbulb moment that triggered the creation of Ciao Date?
I’ve always had a big interest in how technology can be used to benefit human relationships. Coupled with that, I realised that in the 21st century, because people are so busy and in many ways there is less of a face-to-face community than in the past, it was more difficult to meet potential compatible romantic partners.
I was aware how the current online dating sites and dating apps weren’t meeting the needs of a lot of people. It occurred to me that a new type of dating app that that was more about romance was needed.
I also realised that the way a lot of dating apps operate – by using phone tracking technology – is a huge worry, especially for a lot of women. I wanted to develop a dating app that puts the safety of women at the forefront, while creating a space for potential romances to bloom.
Have you had any success stories so far?
We released the app in February and the amount of downloads in the first couple of months have surpassed what we aimed to see, so I’m more than happy.
I’ve had emails from users saying that they’ve met some interesting people via Ciao Date that they see potential with, but obviously it’s too soon to have any long-term relationship stories yet. I’m sure these will come though!
We’ve had a lot of positive feedback, particularly about the app’s feature that allows users to set their budget and agree how the costs of dates are going to be split in advance. Money can be a very awkward issue on a date, so we developed this feature to help users focus on what’s really important: the chemistry and getting to know each other.
On the subject of your upbringing, do you still have ties to the Jewish community in Leeds?
I still come up to Leeds whenever I get chance. I’ll never forget my roots as a Yorkshireman! I’m Marjorie and Arnold’s grandson, and they have provided inspiration for me in different ways.
You studied at the University of Leeds. How did your degree help you with the project?
I graduated from the University of Leeds in 2013 with a BA in Art and Design. Being at Leeds allowed me to think creatively and channel that into long-term projects. Through various subject specialisms, I was able to explore processes and ideas, including digital imaging. Fundamentally it shaped me into a creative professional who develops ideas with the end user or audience in mind. This is at the heart of the Ciao Date app.
What did you do after you finished university prior to setting up Ciao Date?
I began working on the concept development for a number of innovative apps as soon as I could after graduation. I also brought together a team of other developers to help me make the Ciao Date concept into a reality.
At the same time I was pitching the prospect to a number of venture capitalists to secure the funding for the launch and development of Ciao Date. This is really a highly competitive market place and the process involved very detailed technical modelling, market research as well as financial forecasting.
Would you say you’ve always been entrepreneurial?
I’ve always been very driven and looked at products from the end user’s point of view. Also, being an art and design graduate, good digital design has always been a priority for Ciao Date.
I’m very dyslexic and this has made me look at things differently to other people; I’ve always wanted to create something. I’m happy to give things a go, and love seeing how I can develop an idea, which I think epitomises an entrepreneurial spirit!
What are the key ingredients to launching your own business?
Being tenacious is a given, but you have to also have a business idea that in some way is unique to anything else out there, and be able to communicate this to financial investors as well as to the target audience. Having a clear idea of your audience’s motivations and needs is key, and brands need to nurture two-way communication with their audiences.
Do you have any tips for those planning on setting up on their own?
The starting point of any business is good market research and financial forecasting. Creative ideas are the cornerstone of any successful brand, but without business acumen and strategy these ideas won’t come to fruition, and without a proper business model they won’t survive – I think something like half of new businesses fail in the first five years in the UK.
What’s next for Ciao Date?
I’m now looking to grow the team by bringing some new, innovative people on board, including developers, designers and brand experts.
We’re in our phase one strategy which entails expanding use of Ciao Date in some key conurbations in the UK. We’re achieving this through marketing tactics, including an exciting brand ambassador scheme, as well as creating a dialogue with our customers.
Ciao Date is available on both iOS and Android. Visit Ciaodate.com to find out more.