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New era for Cupid as it targets core markets

PHIL Gripton, chief executive of Cupid, has brought in a slew of senior staffers and is refocusing the Edinburgh internet dating company on its core markets and on improving customer service in what he said is a "new era" for the firm after a tumultuous year.

PROVIDING ASSISTANCE: Non-executive director Bill Dobbie retains a 20.6% share-holding in Cupid.
PROVIDING ASSISTANCE: Non-executive director Bill Dobbie retains a 20.6% share-holding in Cupid.

Mr Gripton, who replaced Cupid co-founder Bill Dobbie at the beginning of the month, has already held meetings with the company's main investors. They have seen its share price plunge 68% in the past year following allegations over its conduct and its targeting by short-selling hedge funds.

He is also putting the finishing touches to a relaunch of its flagship Cupid brand.

Initially hired a year ago as managing director of its dating services division, which includes the likes of Uniform Dating, Mr Gripton insisted that seven-year old Cupid has a strong offering.

"We have a membership measuring tens of millions and have a solid foundation," he said.

He added: "The process is about simplifying the things that we do and focusing on key markets."

This will see the company's efforts concentrated on a few geographies, including the UK, US, France and Germany. But other regions, for example the Nordics, will get less attention.

He also wants a continued push on improving services to customers which he said began after he joined Cupid.

"I made sure that we had a very strong push on focusing on the customer. I did not feel that we had that enough," he said.

Cupid has faced claims that staff used fake profiles to encourage customers to sign up to services although an investigation by accountant KPMG cleared it of deliberate wrongdoing.

Mr Gripton oversaw the disposal of Cupid's controversial casual dating businesses in July to another co-founder Max Polyakov. He believes there had been sometimes inappropriate cross-marketing between the its casual and mainstream brands.

"In my business we clearly need a good perception from the people who buy our services," he said. "Casual assets have challenges in terms of providing the right proposition to the customer."

But he added: "These things are behind us now."

Mr Gripton said that after intensive customer research over the summer it is preparing a rebranding of its core Cupid offering. He also intends to overhaul its mature dating brands, which include datingforparents.com, which he believes are in a key growth market.

A larger role is being devised for events business Speed Dater.

The digital marketing expert has taken much content work for its products from back office staff in Ukraine and handed it to those in the relevant markets.

Big hitters with experience at rival Match.com and Skype have been brought in in place of established staffers at its Edinburgh headquarters where employee numbers stand at 22.

Mr Gripton met investors ahead of formally becoming chief executive. They agree his strategy "makes sense", he said.

He added: "What they want to see is the results from that."

Cupid's early strategy "clearly worked", he said, but "businesses and markets change".

He insisted that there would be no clash with Mr Dobbie who remains a non-executive director and 20.6% shareholder. He no longer has an office at Cupid's headquarters but will assist Mr Gripton on future acquisitions.

"I am the chief executive. It is me and my team that will run the business," Mr Gripton said.

He added: "As far as I am concerned this is a new era for Cupid."

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