Ross Williams: How I made a million in the dating game

Serial entrepreneur Ross Williams set up his online dating company in 2003 - now his empire turns over over £44m.


Ross Williams of Venntro Media

Ross Williams (now 37) is a serial entrepreneur. When he was at school, he would buy old magazines in the local market and re-sell them for a tidy profit. Then, when he became a student at the University of Plymouth, he put his keen interest in computers to good use by founding Rawnet, a one-man web design agency. His fledgling business benefited greatly from the explosion of demand that came with the early years of the technology boom, and helped him to pay his bills while he was completing his degree (in psychology and French). More importantly, it also gave him the "big idea" that led to his current success.

While running Rawnet, Williams had noticed that the majority of his repeat business came from the large number of small dating websites that catered to specific audiences and areas. So in 2003, he set up Global Personals, with co-founder Steve Pammenter. The company offered a platform, under the brand name White Label Dating, which made it much easier for people to start their own specialist dating websites.

Not only did the company provide web design and hosting services, it also took care of payments and managed customer databases. One key innovation was to provide the data of customers who had signed up to one site but might be interested in joining another. This enabled even niche dating websites to quickly build up their membership and achieve critical mass.

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While Williams was "never 100% certain" that the venture would be a success, the duo were confident enough to use credit-card loans to fund their marketing. Global Personals quickly attracted clients who were willing to partner with it. This gave the company a fast-growing revenue stream and spread the risk across multiple businesses. Although Global Personals started as a UK-only business, the pace of growth encouraged Williams to expand into Ireland only three years later. Two years after that, he became romantically involved with a South African woman, so naturally he started working with websites in that country as well. By 2012 he was also serving the Australian and US markets.

The company, which recently changed its name to the Venntro Media Group, now has a turnover of £44.3m and over 3,000 partners. It is also extremely profitable, having made £2.5m last year, enough to have paid out a dividend of £1m recently, most of which went to Williams as the major shareholder. As far as the future of his business goes, one of the biggest challenges facing Venntro and the rest of the industry, he says, is dealing with the growing switch from desktop PCs to tablets and mobile computing "smart" devices used on the move. In an effort to capture a wider share of the mobile market, Venntro has launched several mobile apps, including

Williams has won a host of business awards, such as the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and British E-Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year, both in 2013. He is very enthusiastic about encouraging others to follow in his footsteps and found their own business. If you're considering making the move, you should just "get started". And don't be overly worried about whether it's been done before "it's not the idea, but the implementation that matters".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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