The Ottawa Citizen, Careers section, Saturday, July 20th, 2002
Entrepreneurial Spirit / Successful Small Business
THE SINGLE OPTION
Irene Yarkoni puts a new spin on matchmaking
Iris Winston reports
The dating game was often tough for shy people to play even when the rules were clear. As rules and expectations change, it gets tougher.
These days, if Jack is interested in Jill, he is more likely to give her his telephone number and hope that she will call him than simply ask her out.
And Tom is unsure if Mary will be insulted if he picks up the restaurant tab or consider him stingy if he does not.
In some ways, when parents and chaperons set up the meetings for their sons and daughters. It was even more practical to deal with a formal matchmaker in the fashion of the hit musical, Fiddler on the Roof. (Remember a trio of marriageable women singing “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match”?)
And now it seems that a modernized yenta (matchmaker) is back in fashion as dating services become more popular.
The Single Option was set up to provide an avenue for singles seeking partners to meet and take the stress and uncertainty pout of dating. But, emphasizes founder Irene Yarkoni, the seven-year-old company is not a traditional dating service. Rather, she sees it as part education, part socializing and adapts programs to suit current trends and needs.
Beginning with a weekly discussion group in 1995, she soon added guest speakers and a series of special events.
“The idea was to organize events for singles where they would not feel the stress of meeting and dating,” says Ms Yarkoni, who emigrated to Canada from Kenya with her son in 1995, after he husband died. “When the focus is on learning about something else, people are less stressed than if they just go to meet each other. There’s a great need for people to educate themselves before jumping into relationships.”
Starting small without a major capital investment in “small business that relied on myself only” was also less stressful for her, she adds, as well as being a marked contrast to managing 1,600 employees, as she had in Kenya.
Offering venues where singles could meet proved popular but “it was sometimes hard for people to overcome their fears and ask for a date or a telephone number. I would often get calls after a dinner event or a workshop asking for a contact number of someone they met,” Ms. Yarkoni says. “Apart from being a lot of work for me, that missed the point of them communication directly.”
Therefore she decided to take The Single Option in a new direction. After reading about “speed dating” during a trip to Israel, she decided to adopt the principle of mini dates to create the opportunity to meet several people in a short time in a non-threatening environment.
Calling her version Spin-dating, she pre-screens groups of 16 to 20 people, matched for age, education and interests, and brings them together for two hours.
“I knew that people would like the idea,” she says, pointing out that the modest cost of $24.50 adds to the comfort level. “They know they are in a safe environment and they like having me there.”
Following a general introduction (“the only time when people might feel awkward”) women are seated at tables around the edge of the room while men “spin” from table to table at 10 minutes intervals.
“They are not allowed to ask for phone numbers or last names. At the end, they give me a sheet with the names of any people they are interested in”, she says. Then I check the matches afterwards and put them in touch. There’s an average of 70% of people who choose and are chosen by the same person.”
The track record for the business, which now has some 3,000 names on its data base, and for individuals finding long-term partners is good, she adds. “Although people don’t always get back to me with the good news, I know that there have been at least three marriages and many lasting relationships so far.”
Currently, The Single Option runs an average of two spin-dating sessions a week. “The hardest part is to make sure that people coming back for a second spin don’t meet a second time, but it’s not usually a problem as new people sign up all the time.” She also runs higher priced “personalized spins” for individual clients not comfortable in the group setting.
The company still runs a number of special events. For example, as well as sessions such as golf or dance workshops, relationship education is still high on the agenda. On July 24, for instance, Ms. Yarkoni hosts a one day conference on new approaches to dating.
“I’m very much gearing special events to educating people. I’m a very practical person,” she says. So I am always looking for ways to help people to re-evaluate and give them tips and tolls on what to do.”
This, she adds, is how the dating coach section of her business developed. During one-hour consultations with clients, she suggests ways that they can improve their dating and relationship skills. “I also redirect people when necessary. I’m not a psychologist or a lawyer. I’m a business-woman. And it’s not good business to advise someone to start a relationship if they’re not ready. You have to love yourself before you’re ready.”
The singles conference, registration fee is $15, and is on Wednesday, July 24 At Nepean Sailing Club, Dick Bell Park, on Carling Avenue. Please call in advance for reservarions.