On March 28, 2014 we posted about the new Tiny House Dating website under the title “Tiny House Dating? Really?” It turns out that the answer to our main question – whether the Tiny House Community actually wants or needs its own dating site – was a resounding YES!
Given the site’s unexpected success, we invited Kai Rostcheck back for a follow-up conversation.
Tiny House Blog: Welcome back. The last time we spoke your site had a couple dozen members. What’s happened since then?
Kai: Well, the site blew up, so there was that…
Tiny House Blog: Blew up? How so?
Kai: As you know, Tiny House Blog has a pretty big following. After your article ran we saw an immediate surge in registrations (about a hundred or so within a couple of days). But what happened next was totally out of control. Your audience includes editors from Treehugger, Outside Magazine and other related publications. They picked up the story and ran with it. Within 7 days Tiny House Dating had been mentioned by a dozen major outlets. We ramped to 650 members and generated nearly 1.4 million hits – the tipping point was when Yahoo! Finance mentioned us on their homepage – and our infrastructure broke.
Tiny House Blog: Ouch.
Kai: Pretty much, yeah. I think it’s like buying a crappy trailer for your Tiny House build. You are all excited until you go to move it for the first time and the wheels fall off. Not a great feeling.
Tiny House Blog: Needless to say, you didn’t see that coming…
Kai: Not in the least. You and I had discussed in very real terms whether anyone would ever want to sign up. I had no idea Tiny House Dating would be so popular, so I built it on an off-the-shelf WordPress theme and $5/month hosting. Whoops.
Tiny House Blog: How did the community respond?
Kai: Unbelievably. I mean honestly, after the first few days the user experience just sucked. People couldn’t complete their registrations, uploads weren’t saving, sessions were timing out…it was a mess. So I did the best I could to communicate with people through email and Social Media. Their responses were so encouraging…I can’t tell you how many people said “Thank you,” “Keep at it,” and “It’s worth the wait.” I imagine that it’s like your own Tiny House build…when you get halfway through and realize you are in way over your head. At that point you might be ready to quit, but you’ve become part of a community that’s pulling for your success. They keep you going.
Tiny House Blog: And the Tiny House Dating community contributed financially too, right?
Kai: I don’t even know what to say…it chokes me up. The truth is that this site would never have come back online if early members – and people who wanted to join but hadn’t had the chance – had not stepped up and crowdfunded our re-development.
Tiny House Blog: So let’s talk about them. Who are your members? Where are they from? What are they looking for? Are they all Tiny House people?
Kai: In reverse order – no, they are not all Tiny House people…yet. Our site is is a community of people who care about their values more than their stuff. They might already live in a Tiny House. Perhaps they plan to at some point. Or maybe they just think that Tiny Houses (along with the kind of people who celebrate right-sizing and quality-of-life) are cool. This expands our community into related groups like Minimalists and Socially and/or Environmentally-friendly people. It’s an organic mix and they seem to get along really well! The actual demographics amaze me. Our members range from 18-70 years old. About 58% are women and 42% are men. The really thrilling thing is geographic dispersion – it’s primarily U.S. so far, but we also have community members from Canada, U.K., Ireland, Turkey, Croatia, Australia, Brazil, Chile, the Middle East…even Bhutan (she’s looking for an online romance for now). I guess it’s true that It’s a Tiny World After All (did I really just say that?)!
Tiny House Blog: The relaunched site includes some differences, right? What’s new?
Kai: The main difference is the membership levels. When I had time (during redevelopment) to reflect, I began to understand how word about our site was going to continue expanding in a way that I can’t control. I mean, Yahoo! Finance? Really? I even heard from CNN and a Reality TV production company. I’m flattered by the attention, but first things first – I don’t want this site to lose the authenticity that is (in my mind) the hallmark of the Tiny House Movement. I recognized that many people would see a free dating site as an opportunity to exploit…and I don’t want “spam” profiles polluting the member experience. So we put paid membership plans in place as a filter.
Tiny House Blog: Paradoxically, are you worried that people are going to see this as exploitative?
Kai: I was, definitely. But I think we’re figured it out. Our new plans include a “Scholarship” option. It’s a full-featured 1-month membership for free. And it can be renewed as necessary without limits.
Tiny House Blog: Scholarship plan? That sounds like an interesting idea. How does it work?
Kai: It’s simple; if someone wants a free membership, all they have to do is ask for it and tell us why they want to join the community. We are never going to exclude people who really want to belong, based of their inability to pay. Period.
Tiny House Blog: So I presume that the flip side of that is what you call the “Pay-it-Forward” plan?
Kai: Exactly. That’s a 6-month plan (for $9.99/month). It helps offset the costs for scholarships. Our goal was to provide a way for the community to give and receive. Let’s face it – sometimes life lifts us up and sometimes it knocks us down a rung. I just think it’s good karma to give when you can and be open to receiving when you need to.
Tiny House Blog: We do, too. So what’s next for you, and for Tiny House Dating?
Kai: We’re working on additional feature enhancements while listening very carefully to user feedback. Besides Tiny House Dating, I am also building out Tiny House Lending. We are committed to finding low-cost, short-term solutions for tiny house financing. I’ve talked with dozens of potential lenders so far, and have a few promising leads already but I think it’s kind of like Edison inventing the lightbulb – I’ll find 1,000 ways not to do it before discovering the right formula. But there is a light at the end of it.
Kai Rostcheck is the founder of www.tinyhousedating.com, www.tinyhouselending.com and www.ilovetinyhouses.com. He considers himself exceptionally fortunate to have Tiny House friends all over the world. To make Tiny House friends (or maybe even meet a romantic partner!) join Tiny House Dating.