True.com president Buell stays on top of the technology the online dating service uses to screen out felons and protect clients' privacy

Laurie Sullivan, Contributor

July 23, 2004

3 Min Read

In the competitive world of online dating services, True.com has been trying to build a name around trust. Specifically, that you can trust that the person you're connected to isn't hiding something. "No married people allowed, and we screen for felons," its ads promise.

Ruben Buell, True's president and former CIO, says most apps were built in-house.



Buell, True's president and former CIO, says most apps were built in-house.

The man behind that promise is Ruben Buell, a 30-year-old programmer-turned-matchmaker who's president of True LLC, which claims nearly 800,000 paying members.

True began promising to help people avoid flirting with felons earlier this year, using an XML connection with a company called Rapsheets Criminal Records, a provider of online criminal-record searches. Rapsheets, which combs through 160 million criminal records for the information, was recently acquired by ChoicePoint, a spin-off of credit-reporting firm Equifax Inc.

True uses other tech-enabled features related to privacy, such as letting clients block uninvited members from viewing photographs or sensitive information such as religion and race, and preventing E-mail recipients from tracing back the sender's E-mail address. The upstart company is trying to use its privacy pitch to compete against much-larger rivals such as Match .com LP and eHarmony.com Inc. Buell, the company's former CIO, says nearly all the technology was built in-house. "We develop 98% of the applications running on the site," Buell says. "The nice thing is if my IT team says it can't be done, I show them it can."

Beyond privacy, there are gadgets such as video chats where up to five members can gather in a virtual room simultaneously to get acquainted. Gaming features are in the works, and on Aug. 15, True will offer tests that clients can take to assist in their search for a mate. These include humor, sexual compatibility, music, and fear of commitment--27 in all. Each member has 700 attributes fed into several servers that are bidirectionally indexed to create matches.

The infrastructure is built on Microsoft .Net, running on 20 Dell servers, Buell says. The core infrastructure operates on Microsoft SQL Server.

The latest ad campaign seems to be working; the company says membership is growing by about 20,000 weekly. But recent success has drawn the suspicion of competitors--lawyers for rival Match subpoenaed nine former employees who defected to True to see if they breached confidentiality agreements by disclosing trade secrets.

Buell works for True founder and CEO Herb Vest, a longtime family friend who grew up down the street in Dallas. It's not the first time the two have teamed up.

After graduating from high school in 1992, Buell started Rose Software in Dallas, running the 16-person company selling time- and bill-management software, mostly for accounting. After four years, he shut it down, and went to work on larger projects at H.D. Vest Financial Services, Vest's company.

H.D. Vest Financial Services needed a programmer to build a browser-based IT platform to support 6,000 independent broker consultants across the country. Buell joined as H.D. Vest's chief technology officer and CIO. "Ruben came in with bait, wire, and chewing gum, and together with others built H.D. Vest's IT infrastructure out of nothing," Vest says.

Vest sold H.D. Vest Financial Services to Wells Fargo & Co. in 2001, and Buell went along for the ride, eventually becoming director of brokerage technology for platforms. In June 2003, Buell left Wells Fargo, and the next month hooked up with True. He plans to stay put for awhile. Says Buell: "I now get to enjoy what I like most--having a heavy hand in technology, but also making a company successful."

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