A photo of the author altered by virtual dating assistants
I recently hired an international team of virtual dating assistants to impersonate me on Tinder and OK Cupid for a month. They wrote my bio, filtered through my matches, and sent messages on my behalf, all in the hope of getting me laid.
Scott Valdez, 30, the CEO of VirtualDatingAssistants.com, charges anywhere from $380 to $1,320 a month for this service, depending on which package and how many "guaranteed dates" his clients buy. And although it might seem farfetched (or just weird) that someone would hire an assistant to help them send girls winky faces on Tinder, Valdez's company is meeting a very real, albeit very niche, market demand. ViDa currently operates on every major dating site, has roughly a hundred clients, and, according to Valdez, takes in close to six figures a month.
Using a service like this raises obvious transparency and 'Multiplicity'-esque ethical concerns, but while Valdez admits that he operates "in a little bit of an ethical gray area," he believes "overall our service does a lot more good than it does bad."
After signing up with ViDa, the first step in the process was to let my ghost writers get to know me, which was accomplished by an hourlong phone interview. After that they asked me to send in a bunch of pictures (following the advice outlined in a 15-page PDF explaining the do's and don'ts of online profile pictures). They then gave me a spreadsheet containing a wide-range of girls on OK Cupid, and I was instructed to mark "yes" or "no" next to each account so they could better understand my taste in women. I was soon given a draft of my profile to approve.
My experiment underway, I called up Valdez to ask him about his enterprise.
VICE: How did you come up with the idea to start a company that outsources online dating?
Scott Valdez: It happened naturally. I graduated from college in 2006 and took a job with a startup company working 40 to 50 hours a week. But as the company, and my responsibilities there, grew, I found myself working closer to 70 hours a week. So although I was making good money I didn't have any time left for my personal online dating endeavors.
I had an assistant at work, but I obviously couldn't ask her to online date for me, so I had an idea that I could get another assistant with a writing background who could do this for me. I put an ad on Craigslist and ended up hiring a creative writing grad with a little bit of online dating experience to be my virtual dating assistant. I showed him the ropes and he took over my accounts and was able to produce really good results for me.
And it sort of just snowballed from there?
I told a few friends how well it was working and they all started to ask if they could get my guy working for them. That's when I realized there are plenty of successful busy guys outs there who would prefer to focus on their careers and delegate this part of their life. I quit my job and started the company in June 2009.
What are your typical clients like?
Our typical clients are a mix of guys who are simply too busy to online date, and others who are having trouble getting results and just say, "This isn't working for me, you guys are professionals—show me how it's done."
How many customers do you have, and how much are they paying? I saw on your site that if you pay more per month you get more "guaranteed dates."
We have around 100 clients and we charge them anywhere between a few hundred dollars up to a little over a thousand a month. We do guaranteed dates, but our clients don't seem to care much about that because we usually over deliver on our guarantees—so we are going to move away from that model. Our average customer pays about $550 a month and will go on one or two dates a week. Generally speaking for every ten hours we put into an account we produce at least one or two in-person dates with matches that are pre-approved by the client.
The Tinder profile you set up on my behalf had pictures with bizarre captions like "your dad will never approve," and "what are you waiting for, swipe right." What's the reasoning behind that?
We do that pretty often. Not for every client, but pretty often. The reason is because when we split-tested that method a few months ago, we got over double the match rate for our clients with captions on their pictures. I'm a stat freak, so that decision was based highly on testing, but it also adds an element of personality and humor to the photos that makes you stand out. It doesn't seem like it's overly try-hard, although it's obviously a little try-hard. The whole "your dad will never approve" was just a joke. It was a humorous reference to you being a bad boy, because women like bad boys.
At one point you guys started flirting with what turned out to be a sexbot trying to lure me into an expensive webcam session. It felt like my sexuality had been commercialized so many times that two different companies were actually just sexting each other and my pathetic little human penis had been completely left out. How often does that happen?
That's a funny angle. I've never thought about it that way. But that's a complete bot, and we actually have real people on our side.
That type of stuff used to happen on the classic dating sites, but they've gotten really good at cracking down on scammers and spammers. Now it just seems to happen on Tinder. I think that's because their service has exploded in popularity but they are still not making any money off it. It's just this huge cash-burning machine and they just don't have the moderators on staff to take that stuff off there. In comparison, OK Cupid has a thousand moderators on staff, and Tinder is already bigger than them, but with no revenue.
The women I talked to said they were originally attracted to my profile because it seemed clever and funny compared to other guys who just send dick pics. If you had a client who wanted you to send dick pics on his behalf, would you?
We probably wouldn't do that. It's just really not what we do. I have no problem with that kind of thing, but it's not going to work very well unless you're a really attractive dude going after girls who are less attractive than you. I have friends who have tried and I know they get very limited results. It's not really a strategy I recommend.
If a client was really looking at that I would be like "Listen dude, just let us get you on a lot of dates, and let the seduction happen on the dates. Because if your goal is just to get notches on your belt then you're going to get a lot more this way rather than sending creepy dick pics on these sites."
One of the phone numbers I finally received belonged to Krystal, a 22-year-old barista who I called and explained the service to. She said, "Matt from Tinder was very persistent and annoying. He just wouldn't stop. I would feel fooled and cheated if I met someone this way. That's why it's dangerous to meet people in real life from the Internet and I don't do it." What do you make of that?
I think a lot of time we are persistent as hell because that's how you get girls numbers on Tinder. Over 30 percent of numbers we get are from girls who at some point in the conversation stopped responding to our messages. So when they stop responding we do keep sending messages.
The style you saw on Tinder is a little more aggressive. Our style on classic dating sites is completely different. I mean you saw what your Tinder profile was—it's for a hook up app, and it requires game. We actually have some really good writers who we don't let use Tinder because they don't have game. On Tinder you have to game kind of hard and be a little bit aggressive. You just say shit that's over the top—that's what works on Tinder.
About what she said, well… she gave you her phone number so obviously she liked you online.
Yeah, but do you think using this service is dishonest?
Obviously I don't really think so. I understand the arguments against it. I think that online dating is a very superficial and mechanical screening process. What we do is help clients show an authentic and most attractive version of themselves. We really do work hard to represent them as accurately as possible.
We really try to get to know them and write a profile that's a good fit and ask them to give us feedback. As a business and from the inside we feel like we are doing a great job of representing people in an authentic way, and that's also the feedback we get from our clients.
I understand why on the outside the service might look deceptive, but we really do work hard to represent our clients as accurately as another person could. I also understand we are in a little bit of an ethical gray area but I think overall our service does a lot more good than it does bad.
Before the whole process got underway I had an hour-long interview with my "online wing woman" so that your company could get to know me. I spoke with her about how I don't drink alcohol. My profiles reflected this, but in chat I saw my standard opening line was asking girls to go "halfsies on a bottle of Cristal." What gives?
Yeah, the thing is a lot of time those openers aren't really supposed to be serious. The opener I created which that one was built off was "Why don't we go halfsies on a bottle of Jack and create a bastard child before next weekend?" It's a little too racy for some of our clients so we toned it down a bit, but I've sent that message to a lot of girls and I've gotten responses, met a lot of them, hooked up with some of them, and we've never actually gone halfsies on a bottle of Jack. I think the writer probably knew that about you but it didn't seem like a big deal because it's not relevant and the opener was just supposed to be a joke anyway.
Do you classify yourself a pick-up artist?
No! I'm not a pick up artist at all. We don't use a lot of what's taught in the pick-up industry. Our clients aren't pick-up artists who are trying to neg girls ("neg" means to a give backhanded compliment meant to lower a girls social value). Our clients would hate that stuff. We're virtual dating assistants.
Eventually my OK Cupid profile was "ghosted," meaning that other profiles could not see me, effectively banning me from the site. Is what your company doing against the rules of the site and how often do you run into issues with sites cracking down on your company's actions?
The sites occasionally upgrade their security systems to crack down on accounts with suspicious user activity. Since we have several dating experts from our team working on each account from different locations, we have naturally had some accounts flagged in the past.
As far as it being against OK Cupid's rules, we basically operate in a gray area. Their Terms of Service states that third party services aren't allowed to open accounts on their site. But we tip-toe around that by having our clients open the account. We just manage it for them.
We have to game the system because obviously they don't want us to do this, but they can't stop us. And this is the first time they seem to be fighting us directly.
For the people who actually start a relationship through you guys, do they ever admit they used your service?
Some clients will ask us, "When should we tell him or her?" Because the other party would never find out unless you told them. We advise our clients to take it to your grave or wait until you know she loves you.
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