Scott Valdez graduated from the University of Georgia in 2006 and hit the ground running. He joined a startup specializing in business services and learned all the ins-and-outs of getting a company off the ground. As young go-getters are wont to do, Valdez worked all the time, some 70 hours a week. It barely left him enough time to play hockey with his friends or get to the gym, let alone meet women. In other words, he was a perfect candidate for online dating.
"I had to choose between having a social life and keeping in shape," says Valdez, 26.
Like an estimated 40 million Americans, Valdez eventually utilized online dating services. He had prior success via the Internet, meeting his first serious girlfriend through Facebook in 2003, but the ongoing process of monitoring, maintaining and updating the online profiles took up way too much of his time.
What Valdez needed was a 21st-century version of "Seinfeld's" relationship intern, albeit one who would pay close attention to the details and not get distracted by "frolf" a la George Costanza.
Valdez posted an ad on Craigslist and hired someone to keep tabs on various sites like Match, Cupid and Yahoo Personals. Using the profile that Valdez created, his personal online dating assistant sent out the messages. In return, he sent Valdez back an updated Excel spreadsheet with female profiles that might be of interest. When Valdez told his overworked friends about it, they all said it was a service they could use.
In 2009, Valdez founded Virtual Dating Assistants, a one-stop shop for outsourced online dating needs. Basically, the service eliminates the time-consuming grunt work that comes from trolling for fish in the sea. "At the end of the day, online dating is filtering the masses to find the appropriate profiles," Valdez says. "No matter how you play it, dating is a numbers game."
Virtual Dating Assistants offers two levels of service: The Premium is $600 a month and guarantees 40 hours of dedicated account work and two dates, while the Executive is $1,200 a month for 80 hours of work and five dates. Valdez says it took him a while to figure out the pricing structure, but it more or less boils down to $15 an hour for assistants to sift through the rubble. The number of dates is a minimum; some clients may go on more. The company tends to piggyback on the larger, more reputable dating sites, but it has utilized smaller, niche ones like a New York site dedicated to sailing aficionados.
A typical customer is a professional male in his late 30s to early 40s, with an income of more than $100,000, looking more for a long-term relationship than for a one-night stand. Virtual Dating Assistants serves clients in a range of professions, including a few entrepreneurs, and all kinds of ethnicities. It's mainly an urban crowd -- Valdez says small towns have a limited pool and the service would not be effective there. Locale is just one part of the overall screening process prospects go through to ensure fruitful relationships. It also helps make the first dates at least theoretically smoother by analyzing 17 variables in every introductory e-mail to see what works.
Jake, head of sales for a Palm Beach, Fla.-based software company, joined Virtual Dating Assistants several months ago and now has a problem most single men would love. "I have too many dates, and they're with more intelligent women than I meet in the bars," he says. "These guys are better at it, and even if a date doesn't work out, I'm not let down because I didn't put time into setting it up."
At 29, Jake is a bit younger than most clients, but he came of age in a time when online dating lost its stigma and became a way of life. Valdez says it irks him when his clients are viewed as unsociable misfits, because most of them are outgoing -- they just happen to be really busy.
Roughly a quarter of clients are women. They tend to be in the same professional class, and the processes are generally the same for men and women, although Valdez has noticed a few subtle differences. "Women like to be more involved, and when we send them candidates, unlike men who always say yes or no, women often respond with a maybe," Valdez says. "We don't actually have maybe as an answer."
To all prospective horndogs wondering if Virtual Dating Assistants guarantees any results along the lines of T.J. Mackey's "Seduce and Destroy" methodology, you're barking up the wrong tree: Sex is never mentioned in the online profiles. Valdez emphasizes his clients usually yearn for something serious, and more importantly, it's none of the company's business.
Currently, Virtual Dating Assistants has around 30 clients -- Valdez expects that number to double in the next few months. But when the company is successful at its mission, the dating industry Catch-22 catches up with them: A few happy customers are now in committed relationships, so their accounts have gone dormant.
Valdez, however, isn't one of them. He just ended a committed relationship, but he doesn't have time to find a new one because he's working longer hours than ever.
"I'm not dating at the moment," he says, "I'm in much worse shape than most of our clients."
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 7/22/10.