THE DATING WRITE-UP: Best Practices For Finding Love in B-School

Whether we’d like to admit it or not, many single HBS students are preoccupied with the search for a mate. For years, we focused our time and energy on our academic and professional achievement, and now that we have “arrived”, we sit back and think, “Now what?” For many of us, the answer to that question is, “Find Mr. or Mrs. Right.” At first glance, it seems like HBS would be the ideal place to find a mate-especially for women looking for husbands. However, we all know that every business decision is that much stronger when backed up by a trusted HBS framework. Thus, an analysis of the dating environment of HBS using Porter’s Five Forces will inform our conclusion and the inevitable action plan.

The Firms

HBS women are beautiful, ambitious, independent, and accomplished. For the right person, we offer the product of love, companionship, fun, encouragement, and empathy. But is this the right market for us to be offering our products?

Threat of Substitutes

HIGH. A myriad of substitutes for dating an HBS woman exist for the HBS man. The most obvious ones are case preparation, the job hunt, hanging out with friends, and fulfilling his needs for affection with the post-Redline hookup. Buyer switching costs are low to none, since all it takes is a few clicks to change his Outlook calendar and find something else to occupy his time and attention.

Threat of New Entrants

VERY HIGH. While getting into HBS is very difficult, gaining entry into the HBS dating scene is very easy. New competitors exist in the form of everything from Kennedy School women, grad students at other schools in Boston, undergrads at Harvard and women in the greater Boston area. These new entrants’ comparative advantage is usually having more free time and not being perceived as competitors of HBS men (i.e., not competing for jobs or class participation). New entrants have high access to distribution channels through the widely advertised HBS parties, conferences, and section activities held around town. Retaliation by incumbents will be little more than a few uneasy glances, so the market is essentially wide open to new entrants.

Bargaining Power of Customers:

VERY HIGH. Given the high number of substitutes and threat of new entrants, the most desirable HBS men have a ridiculous amount of bargaining power. Low dependence on the existing channels of distribution (classroom interactions, student clubs, Cambridge bars, and section mixers) increases the bargaining power of HBS men.

Bargaining Power of Suppliers:

LOW. If HBS women are the firms in the industry, our suppliers are all the businesses that help us bring our product to the market. This is everything from our parents and teachers who contributed to our intelligence and maturity to the salons and gyms that help us stay fit and fabulous. Due to low differentiation of inputs and high degree of substitutes, the bargaining power of suppliers is fortunately quite low.

Competitive Rivalry within the Industry:

MEDIUM. Since women comprise only 38% of the RC class, and there is great diversity among the female population, rivalry among us so-called competitors is not tooth-and-nail. Additionally, classcards lower informational complexity and the rumor mill virtually eliminates information asymmetry. Rivalry is most obvious when it takes place within a section-two beautiful women vying for the love of one fellow sectionmate. We’ve all watched the not-so-subtle flirtations of multiple women with the same “hot guy of the section.” However, low exit barriers (i.e., graduation) and an industry growth CAGR of 5.7% heighten rivalry. (Note: Women comprised 34% of the population for the Class of 2008 and 38% of the population for the Class of 2010, equaling a CAGR of 5.7%.)

My analysis shows that the HBS market is quite unattractive for women seeking to date HBS men-but that it isn’t a hopeless situation. I recommend the following action plans for our female protagonists:

Offer a premium product:

Being the low-cost provider can only sustain your business for so long. Focus on being your best self and people will be attracted to your positive energy (think pull strategy rather than push strategy).

Seek out new distribution channels:
HBS women have to seek out new ways to meet eligible bachelors. I recommend entering the markets of other graduate schools, professional organizations, and I especially recommend pursuing the online market.

Increase your bargaining power relative to buyers:
Having several willing buyers ensures that no firm feels pressured into any sort of fire sale, giving away its goods and services to whoever is willing to take them. Unless you are absolutely sure that both parties in a relationship are exclusively dating, the HBS woman should make sure to have plenty of options.

In an industry, firms are constantly balancing responding to market realities and working to shape the market itself. I hope these write-ups can be one more tool in the arsenal of those working to increase the size of the dating pie for all of us at HBS.

Author’s Biography
Kaneisha Grayson is a proud native of Austin, Texas. She is earning an MBA & MPA, and plans to one day work as a talk show host, self-help author, and filmmaker. She welcomes feedback and further ideas for lifestyle and dating articles at her HBS email address or the comment section on the online version of this article. Check out her blog The Dream Catcher at // Thanks to Brooke Jenkins (NH) for her hilarious input and analytical capacities for this article.
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April 6, 2009
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