A Dear John Dot-Com

BreakupService.com means never having to say goodbye.

They say you can't buy love or happiness, but now you can buy your way out of a bad relationship. With online matchmakers flourishing, countless e-friendships are headed nowhere and begging for a merciful conclusion. Enter the Web-based assisted breakup service, the next step in the evolution of online relationship management. For those people without the skills, tact or nerve to handle their own good-byes, breakupservice.com can do the deed, getting rid of your lover, significant other, business associate or annoying friend using as soft a blow as possible.

Launched two years ago by husband-and-wife co-founders Ren and Deanna Thompson, the Web site was conceived when Deanna was forced to consider the best way to divest herself of questionable suitors. The pair met after she posted a personal ad online, which not only attracted her future husband, but a slew of less-than-desirable prospects. Deanna got so many freaks that she asked, How do you get rid of these guys if you choose the wrong one, reports Ren, who serves as part-time company president and spokesman while maintaining a full-time job in the high-tech industry. We recognized that there weren't any complementary businesses to help with the fallout when things didn't work out.

Breakupservice.com offers two basic services: a Dear John letter (sent by certified mail) which expresses the intentions of the individual wishing to end the relationship; or a Happy Ending counseling call, in which a breakup specialist delivers the news over the phone. Either way the company charges a flat fee of $50an amount that 200 or so customers a month are willing to pay to avoid the stress and confrontation a breakup inevitably demands.

Not surprisingly, the bulk of the clients are post-college twenty-something'sperhaps they met online or at a bar. Maybe they didn't have their best judgment when they got together and didn't know an easy way to get out of things, says Ren. But mature adults and advanced professionals are also responsible for a substantial portion of business. A small percentage of jobs even involve improving non-romantic relationshipsbreaking the news to a friend or relative about bad breath or offensive body odor, for example.

People are usually incredulous at the beginning of the phone call, reports Ren. The most typical reaction is, What are you selling? Am I being recorded? Who is this? You can hear the wheels turning in their mind, he continues. This is where the information gleaned from research and an extensive client interview comes into play. We are able to identify ourselves as people that know a lot about them and their lives so we're quickly able to turn that corner and get busy with the process. Believe it or not, we've never had a confrontational response from anyone, he says.

Then again, breakupservice.com periodically must turn away business to avoid potentially volatile situationssay, when an individual wants to pursue a divorce or seems likely to turn to violence. We don't handle anything that requires somebody of professional status to intervene, says Ren, whose formal credentials are limited to a Bachelor of Science in Psychology." If somebody calls us who's married we instantly refer that person to an attorney. Or somebody that's in a relationship where a crime has occurred or has a fear of being assaulted. We advise them of what different avenues they should pursue because it's a more serious situation than we are qualified to deal with.

Yet, for an additional fee, the company will perform what it calls mediation servicespicking up compact discs, clothing or other property that is commonly left behind with a former partner and no longer accessible to the client. We had to recover an iguana for a guy who had neglected to take it when he left and was unable to contact his former girlfriend, says Ren. In extreme cases, breakupservice.com can even relocate a client, albeit for a substantial price. It's a turnkey service where you can wake up one morning in your house, go to work and come home to a new addressall your stuff has been moved and you can start over, he continues.

As one might expect, the company's business cycle is very predictable with inquiries spiking around all the gift-giving holidaysValentine's Day and Christmas in particular. According to Ren, the percentage of male to female clients is roughly fifty-fifty, with females contracting for a slight majority of the jobs because some guys just don't get it. I've found that women don't have a problem pulling the trigger, but guys have a problem hearing it and they don't take it seriously or they don't believe them or don't think they've thought it through, he says.

To date, breakupservice.com hasn't had much trouble attracting customers even though its only advertising vehiclemeant literally, in this caseis a sign on the family car displaying the Web address. The company has attracted clients through national media coverage and subsequent word-of-mouth. It currently employs six representatives outside the San Francisco Bay area where the home office is located. In the near future, Ren and Deanna hope to work out a partnership with match.com (a large online dating site based in Richardson, Texas), and ultimately sell out to a media conglomerate like match.com's parent company, InterActiveCorp. We want to grow to the point where we're attractive to a company like that and they can integrate us into their service, says Ren.

In the meantime, Ren and Deannawho, as executive vice president and chief breakup specialist works full-time to deliver the bulk of the bad newscontinue to plug away, breaking up one relationship at a time. You learn how to diffuse emotions more effectively once you've experienced the situation," notes Ren. Our corporate philosophy is to leave both parties in a better place than they were before they contacted us. It's always our intention to smooth the edges of a bad situation.