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IceBreaker raises $7.2 million, brings online dating to cell phones

Date: 2007-06-05

IceBreaker has landed $7.2 million in new financing, money that the Bellevue startup will use to continue marketing its mobile dating service Crush or Flush. It also plans to use funds to bolster a research and development center in Beijing, where the company now employs more than 20 people and is looking to add more.

Unveiled in mid-January, the Crush or Flush service allows singles to find potential matches by browsing picture profiles of other members on mobile phones. So far, more than 150,000 registered users have signed up. Vice President of Marketing Josh Levine said that the average user visits the site twice a week and spends about 20 minutes per session.

Some have described the site as a mobile version of Hot or Not, with Levine saying that users can browse by age, geographic location or interests. While and others have unveiled mobile dating services, Levine said that Crush or Flush was designed from the beginning as a mobile social networking application.

He said the site is easy-to-use, allowing people to upload picture profiles and choose who they might want to meet.

"If you find someone you like, you 'crush' them and if you don't like them you 'Flush' them," he explained. "When two people have a 'crush' on each other, they can chat anonymously on their cell phone without giving up their cell phone number or any personal information."

About 40 percent of the registered users on Crush or Flush are female, which Levine said is "quite strong" for a dating site. Because the company is actively recruiting females, Levine said from the beginning they have stressed the importance of privacy and safety.

"The key thing, especially for the women, you don't have to talk to anybody that you are not interested in because you need a mutual 'crush' to chat, so you don't get anything unsolicited from anybody," Levine said. "People really like that."

Crush or Flush has not yet started generating revenue, with Levine saying that they are kicking around a few business models. That could entail advertising or subscriptions.

At this time, IceBreaker has promotional agreements with four wireless carriers: Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, Alltel and Virgin Mobile.

Ben Bajarin, consumer technology and digital media analyst for Creative Strategies, said there are interesting opportunities in bringing online dating to mobile devices. But he also said that no one has really figured out the best way to do it, especially given the challenges related to security in the mobile environment.

"A lot of people have had issues with the business model," said Bajarin, who was not familiar with Crush or Flush. "How does that work? Will people pay for it? What are the security concerns for something like that? The question is what is the complementary mobile experience to what is working online?"

Investors in IceBreaker include Frazier Technology Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Levine declined to disclose total funding or additional products that the company plans to unveil.

IceBreaker is led by former Microsoft employees Michael Robinson and Eric Hennings.

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