Most Silicon Valley outsourcing is done out in the open.
You can probably name half a dozen ride-sharing and food-delivery services off the top of your head. And even if you scoff at those who use them, you’ve probably heard of companies for outsourcing laundry pickup, dog walking, clothes shopping and plant buying.
But there’s one service hardly anyone will admit they’re paying for, even as it empties their pockets, shapes the way they dress and perhaps even who they marry: high-end matchmaking. Powered in part by the tech world’s appreciation for avoiding unpleasant tasks or wasting time, plus a regional concentration of wealth and online dating fatigue, elite matchmaking has cemented itself as a small but thriving industry in the Bay Area.
And while the sky-high cost — ranging up to hundreds of thousands of dollars — is prohibitive, clients have to do more than just pay.
“I call it boutique shopping versus department store shopping,” said Greta Tufvesson, a co-founder of matchmaking firm The Bevy. “It’s not for everyone. You have to be accepted into the club.”
Aside from boasting an offshore account or two, that means having good looks, an elite education and usually a sparkling job — plus the right attitude, said matchmaker Amy Andersen, who runs Menlo Park-based Linx Dating.
Spanning a full wall in Andersen’s Menlo Park villa is a whiteboard with people who passed that test, including a venture capitalist, an astrophysicist, a Los Angeles plastic surgeon, an information security adviser, a Google corporate strategy executive and a North Bay architect — complete with notes like “nice sporty Marin dad” and “good hair.”
Andersen started Linx more than 15 years ago after she grew tired of being a “female player” in San Francisco’s Marina dating scene, wondering why it was so hard for smart people to find the right match. Upon moving to Palo Alto, she married a Stanford economics professor and built up a reputation with a wide roster of wealthy clients — many of them older women who feel the ticking of a biological clock or stereotypical Silicon Valley geeks.
“I’m able to really extract intuitively what they need,” Andersen said, tossing a hand up toward the whiteboard. “That’s based off my experience — the thousands of conversations with clients I’ve had and being able to read people.”
The process itself is simple enough. Andersen is approached by someone, usually a friend of an existing client, and screens them for the essentials. That could lead to an in-person meeting — sometimes lasting for hours on end — before she decides whether to take them on.
Some clients individualize their contracts with bonuses, like paying an extra $150,000 if a match ends in marriage, for example. Others have specific demands about religion, geography, politics or race, all of which can rack up pricing. The Bevy and Three Day Rule, another matchmaking service with Bay Area clients, have similar processes, though the business models vary slightly; only male clients pay The Bevy, for example.
What people are really paying for is time, said Talia Goldstein, founder of Three Day Rule. Most of her clients are “working nonstop” in tech and finance and recoil at the thought of spending hours weeding out potential weirdos online, grilling people for their resume on first dates or getting ghosted with no explanation.
Once the client begins meeting matches, the matchmaker’s real finessing kicks in — reviewing basic dating etiquette, trading photos of possible outfits, giving last-minute pep talks.
“I’ve had people go straight from a hot sweaty yoga class to a date, believe it or not, and it’s probably not going to go as well as you’d hoped,” said Stacia Firestone, a San Francisco-based matchmaker with Three Day Rule. “So I like to have my clients feel like they’re prepared.”
Some coachable clients take kindly to that feedback; Goldstein recalled a man who was mortified to learn that he shouldn’t shake women’s hands after dates and practiced hugging. But some Very Important People — billionaires, CEOs — are less than thrilled with explanations for why their dating success has fallen behind everything else.
Andersen, for instance, once dealt with a finance giant who had hundreds of written “musts” for his match: Must support putting premium gas in the car, must love 2,000 thread-count sheets, must be a University of Pennsylvania grad. (The mention of Penn practically “brought him to tears,” Andersen said). When asked how she maneuvers egos that big, the matchmaker jokingly threw her head back in despair.
“How much time do you have?” she said.
Real constructive criticism from another person — as much as some clients try to reject it — is what ultimately brings success in dating, matchmakers say. Many clients arrive after having cycled through apps without any luck, or desperate to learn the rules of dating after many years out of the game.
Perhaps for that reason, or the price tag, none of the matchmakers interviewed for this story could find clients willing to speak publicly about their experiences. Their ilk remains exceedingly rare: According to a 2017 representative survey from Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld, fewer than 1% of U.S. couples met through human matchmakers.
And while she has been invited to several clients’ weddings, Andersen is most often referred to as “a friend” by couples she’s matched.
“To admit to their buddies, their peers, their colleagues, ‘Yeah man, I just signed up for Linx Dating and spent $35,000’ — they’d be like, ‘Why do you need that?’ “ Andersen said.
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