eHarmony's Founder Explains the Joys of Breaking Up
BY Kasey Wehrum
Not every love story has a happy ending. eHarmony's Neil Clark Warren on the company's recent rifts.
Neil Clark Warren, theologian and founder of the online dating site eHarmony, knows a few things about bringing people together. Since launching in 2000, eHarmony has helped more than 550,000 couples get married. An average of 271 eHarmony couples get hitched every day.
In an effort to turn around the struggling company, however, Warren has become adept at ending relationships as well. After firing the CEO in July of last year, Warren took over the role and proceeded to make cuts across the board, noting that the he and the existing management weren't, well, compatible.
Subscriptions and revenue had both slipped. “We had a bloated situation,” says Warren. “There was no precision to our definition as a company. We were in a kind of disarray and we had way too many working for us.
“We needed to be nimble and we needed to be able to make fast decisions instead of arguing over everything,” says Warren. To that end, Warren slashed the company’s board of directors from nine members to just two: himself and former Walmart executive Greg Penner.
The cuts didn’t stop there. Warren fired all 12 members of the company’s previous executive team. “The best thing we’ve been able to do is let all those people go who were leaning hard in the direction of pessimism about the company’s future and bring on people who have a vision of success for our future,” he says. The new executive team is a mix-up of outsiders, current eHarmony employees, and former eHarmony employees. "My philosophy is if you possibly can, hire someone you've known for a while. Virtually every person on our executive team is someone I've known for at least six years."
The axe also fell on the rank-and-file. eHarmony’s total workforce shrunk to 160 employees from roughly 320--a reflection of Warren's desire for a fresh start, he says. “There was a general feeling here that we had to give a lot of incentive bonuses to employees to get them to stay,” says Warren. “I thought, why would we give bonuses to get people to stay when the people who were here were bringing the company down.”
Becoming leaner isn’t the only change underway at eHarmony. The company is looking to broaden its reach beyond dating to other types of relationships, including matching employees to potential employers as well as helping people find compatible friendships. To that end, the company is amping up its advertising budget. Warren, whose grandfatherly countenence anchored the company's advertising before being removed by previous management, will return as eHarmony's face.
Warren and the new executive team now meet for two hours every morning to discuss the company’s new strategy. Befitting a company whose expertise is helping people get along, Warren says the new team is much more in alignment than the previous team. “It has been the most harmonious leadership team I have ever been a part of,” says Warren. “We were extremely lucky in that we haven’t lost a single person we wanted to keep and we haven’t kept a single person that we wanted to lose. We’ve aligned the company so well.”
Staff editor KASEY WEHRUM has written for Inc. magazine on subjects ranging from the businesses behind professional bull riding to gadget inventor and father of the infomercial, Ron Popeil. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Worth, Budget Travel, and on MSNBC.com. He lives in Brooklyn.