While the term “blind date” might conjure up images of old game shows for many westerners, they are still very common in Korean culture.
Especially as one gets older, it is common in Korean culture to feel pressured into getting married and friends or family will often try to set couples up on “blind dates”. However, due to the nature of Korea’s busy working environment, which involves working long hours, it is sometimes difficult for people to find the time to just get out to meet people.
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Founded in April last year, I-um is an online dating service which has been incredibly successful over the past seven months. The service is primarily aimed at students and workers in the 20-30 year old age bracket and has a promise to introduce users to one new person a day. If users are interested in the person recommended to them, they then confirm and an alert is sent to the recommended user. If that user also decides that they are interested, then they are given each other’s contact details so they can begin talking.
Though Korea is well-known for having hundreds of “wedding information services” which match people via their personal information for the specific purpose of marriage, there is not much in terms of casual online dating sites. CEO of I-um, Park Hee-eun could see a change in the way Koreans were meeting people to date.
“The U.S. online dating services make up a market revenue of up to 1.3 billion dollars but in Korea there is nothing like it. There are many wedding information companies and chatting services but I decided to create the company because there was nothing for the blind-date market.”
I-um is still a young company and so are the staff — so much that walking into I-um’s offices feels more like walking into a lounge at a university. With an average office age of 24, Park herself is only 26 years-old.
While the number of employees has increased from 11 to 26 during the last year, the company’s growth in this same period is something that cannot be ignored. Since January 2011, user numbers grew from 40,000 users to 190,000, a stunning 375% increase. At the same time the company also managed to boost its revenue by 87%. Users have been successful too — some 20 couples have got married as a result of meeting through the site. Park herself has been surprised at the success of I-um.
“We are creating an online social dating culture for 20-30 year olds that wasn’t there before. The reason I started this was to show people that meeting others online is not dangerous and demoralizing but actually something which fits with today’s social lifestyle. The amount of people using our service is much more than we had anticipated.”
Park realizes that online dating sites have the potential to draw less than reputable characters and has put in safeguards to prevent a few bad apples from ruining the image of the site. When users sign up they must undergo a sort of ‘immigration’ process which involves users answering a number of questions about themselves. Anyone that provides short or vague answers will most likely have their application rejected. Age is restricted from 20 to 39 years old and married persons are not allowed to join the service.
I-um requires users to register with their real name and national security number, a common trait of Korean websites, which will most likely become a thing of the past once new laws are passed banning the collection of these numbers on the internet. Though the website is not currently open to foreigners or Koreans with foreign citizenship, the site reports that it is making preparations to allow these users to register and will be made easier once the real-name system is abolished.