Tommy was looking for love. As a blue-eyed, Ivy-League-educated biotech entrepreneur in his mid-40s who had taken several companies public, owned homes in New York, Colorado and Florida--and who had accumulated an eight-figure net worth--Tommy didn't have a problem getting dates. But he didn't want dates. As a busy divorced man with kids, he wanted a wife.
Enter Samantha Daniels, a Manhattan matchmaker with a reputation for being discreet and skilled at the art of the setup. For $20,000, Daniels set Tommy up with Gina (both names have been changed).
The two immediately hit it off. Each had two children around the same age, enjoyed throwing parties and shared an interest in politics. They were married a year and a half later. A month after the ceremony, Daniels received a bonus check in the mail for $150,000.
The world will always be filled with single people looking for love--and people who think they can pair them up. While the matchmaker is as old as history and thrives in cultures where marriages are arranged, in modern day America the need has created a market plenty have exploited, from speed-dating services and social clubs to online dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony.
Yet many singles are taking their dollars offline as the Internet has become the modern-day bar: too many choices, few suitable and often with high incidences of married folks looking for infidelity. All that leaves a niche for professional matchmakers.
Almost all of Daniels' paying customers are men, most of whom work in finance, the professions or entertainment. She won't name names, but Daniels claims to be currently working for several professional athletes and A-list actors. She says she once worked for a member of the Forbes 400.
"There are several niches within matchmaking," says Daniels. "I chose to go after a high-end, highly educated crowd." When talking about her business, she never fails to mention that she went to an Ivy-League school, has an apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side and a place in the Hamptons, and is very discreet, all qualities the single billionaire bachelor might look for.
Here's how her business works: A lovelorn man will hear about her company, Samantha's Table, through a friend. For $425 Daniels will meet him for a two-hour consultation. The meeting takes place in a social setting, often the bar at the Regency Hotel in New York, so she can see how he acts in that environment ("Does he spend too much time checking out the pretty girls walking around the room, or is he all business?").
The man brings photos of his ex-girlfriends and his homes, plus financial records about his businesses. After filling out a one-page questionnaire about himself, Daniels peppers him with queries: "Do you prefer cute or sexy?," "What's your definition of 'thin'?," "What makes you laugh?" and "What annoys you?"
"The baseline for men is always looks," says Daniels, 38, who claims to be responsible for 75 marriages and more than a thousand serious relationships. "But everyone defines 'hot' differently. Once that's established, if I can find two people who laugh at the same things and are annoyed by the same situations or people, they'll probably work."
If Daniels takes the man on as a client--she says she only works with 50 people at a time, and that 200 ask for a consultation every week--she will offer them a suite of services that includes dates, love-life coaching, styling and a personal shopper. Her minimum price today: $25,000 (though we think she can probably be negotiated down), plus a hefty bonus if she gets them married.
For $50,000, Daniels will do a "hometown" search. She says she recently flew to St. Louis to build a database of women for a local entrepreneur who was having a hard time finding a wife. She's done 10 such searches so far.
Daniels, who works out of her apartment in New York and has an office in Los Angeles, arranges all of the dates herself. A first date is cocktails, and the man pays. One mistake Daniels no longer makes: throwing dinner parties. "One-on-one matchmaking is much easier," she says. "Trying to get eight people in the room who might like each other on the same night is almost impossible."
The evening before the first date, both the man and the woman get a confirmation e-mail with a small description of their companion, plus their cellphone number, which is only supposed to be used if someone is running late. Pictures are never exchanged. Daniels clients are forced to trust her.
Samantha Daniels was born and raised in Philadelphia, the oldest of three children to a lawyer dad and stay at home mom. She made up her first match at age 13, setting up her brother with his first girlfriend at summer camp. She set up her friends while studying at the University of Pennsylvania and in law school at Temple.
Ironic, then, that in 1993 she moved to New York to take a six-figure salary working as a divorce attorney. "It was driving me crazy taking people apart," she says. She began to promote parties in the evenings as a way to help her young single friends find dates. She convinced nightclub managers to let her bring people to their venues free of charge in the early evenings, collected business cards at the door and put together a database of potential clients and matches.
Hosting events, including all female ones, remains a prime source of contacts. Today Daniels claims to have 10,000 men and women in her database, broken into categories such as Intellectual Petites, Ivy-Leaguers, Older Blondes, even Gold Diggers.
Her marketing strategy? Lots of hobnobbing. Daniels says she did just one direct mailing and shied away from magazine ads used by popular dating services like It's Just Lunch. Instead, she hit the social circuit of charities and art gallery events--in one case in an attempt to meet 100 women just to find a match for one client. "You can't put people together just because they might find each other attractive," explains Daniels, who has no formal training in psychology.
In 2003 Daniels hooked up with Sex and the City creator Darren Star to produce Miss Match, a short-lived NBC comedy staring Alicia Silverstone, and whose name lives on in her blog. Two years later she wrote a beach-read novel Matchbook, about a year in the life of a New York matchmaker. She also hosts a weekly chat on PalTalk.com.
But when it comes to making moneymaking matches, just getting your name out there isn't enough. "A few bad matches and you are finished," says New York matchmaker Fay Goldman, who runs Meaningful Connections. "Word travels fast, and every other matchmaker is looking for a chance to knock you down. You are only as good as your reputation."
While the market for matchmaking continues to expand, Daniels maintains that she isn't afraid of the competition. "There are always going to be hoards of single people," she says. "The world needs more matchmakers, not less."