Finding love for $300,000: Behind the scenes of a luxury matchmaking business

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MONTECITO, Calif. — Amber Kelleher-Andrews is looking for a husband: preferably attractive, ideally successful and, above all, indisputably rich.

She has just the right woman lined up for him.

“Her face is more beautiful than any woman you’ve ever seen in your life. It was, like, stunning,” Kelleher-Andrews says of her newest client, a 29-year-old from London whom she’d just met for lunch at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. “She just sits down and says, ‘Hello hello, I’m going to finally meet my husband.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, we are!'”

They say you can’t put a price on love, but the elite matchmaker has put a price on finding it for you: $30,000 to $300,000 a year for her company’s services. “I know it sounds like a lot of money,” she says, “but it’s pocket change to the wealthy.”

As co-chief executive of Kelleher International, one of the country’s largest matchmaking firms, Kelleher-Andrews, 52, has been pairing off super-rich singles for more than half of her life. The company’s clientele is a tabloid’s dream lineup of Hollywood entertainers, Silicon Valley founders, professional athletes and coaches, politicians and Wall Street tycoons. The list is of course confidential, though a few recognizable names — Terrell Owens, Cheryl Tiegs, Hoda Kotb and Bode Miller — have copped to being members at one point.

There is no minimum net worth required — being able to pay the membership fee is proof enough — but clients must be serious about wanting long-term commitment. It is not, Kelleher-Andrews says, “showing up for a hookup.”

Earlier this month, she was conducting business poolside at the Rosewood Miramar Beach resort, looking first-date ready in a sheer mini-dotted black dress and chunky Versace sunglasses, cherry-lacquered mani-pedi matching her bright red lips, striped straw hat perched atop platinum blond curls. The beach just below, her 16-year-old daughter, Tallulah, says, is where Travis Barker recently proposed to Kourtney Kardashian while kneeling in an enormous heart made out of roses.

This has been Kelleher-Andrews’ temporary work setup for months after relocating the company from its longtime headquarters in Marin County to Montecito during the pandemic. While construction is ongoing at the firm’s new offices next door — she’s converting part of the space into a “mini retreat” for clients to come mingle — the corner cabana at the lavish five-star hotel is where she often takes matchmaking calls and hosts virtual staff meetings.

Kelleher-Andrews and her mother, Jill Kelleher, who founded the company in 1986, panicked at the start of COVID, fearing it meant the demise of their business. Their team of matchmakers almost always met in person with potential clients to get to know them and to eliminate liars, losers and low-incomers. Besides, could sparks really fly over Zoom?

They could. The $5-billion U.S. dating industry surged during the pandemic. Kelleher International recorded its best year ever in 2020; revenue then nearly doubled in 2021, to $12.4 million. The firm is on track to top $18 million this year.

Times of crisis have often translated to an unexpected boom in business for the company.

“We did really well in 2001 when the World Trade Center went down. We were so busy,” says Kelleher-Andrews, a former actress who has appeared on “Baywatch” and “Melrose Place.” “And then when the recession hit, we were so busy. And then when COVID hit, we were so busy. People are reevaluating. Bush said, ‘Go home and hug your family,’ and they’re like, ‘I don’t have a family, I’ve been working on Wall Street.'”

Matchmaking in the era of free dating apps seems almost quaint, but Kelleher-Andrews insists the two don’t compare — particularly if you’re famous and loaded. It is one of many ways the rich use their money to insulate themselves from annoyances visited on regular folk, whether it be commercial flights, airport security, home cooking or taking care of their own kids.

“It’s the most important task of your life; why not have someone do the legwork?” Kelleher-Andrews says. The wealthy are “busier, much more successful and have much more to lose, and don’t like putting themselves out there publicly because they could have gold diggers or stalkers.”

Priming the pump

On a Tuesday morning in January, the Kelleher International team has gathered on Zoom. They are a glamorous and gregarious bunch of nearly all women, the tiled screen resembling a hair salon lookbook instead of a corporate weekly all-hands meeting.

Image, Kelleher-Andrews says later, “is everything.”

“We’re not selling a car; we’re selling a lifestyle,” she says. “And if we don’t match their lifestyle, they don’t understand how we can find them their match.”

The company permanently closed its branch offices during the pandemic and now its 40 employees — matchmakers, entry-level network developers who focus on vetting, relationship coaches and membership salespeople among them — work remotely. Many are located in Southern California, its largest of more than a dozen markets including San Francisco, New York City, Dallas, Denver, Miami, Atlanta, Toronto and London.

“So many of the clients actually do have COVID,” one of the matchmakers, Molly Davis, reports at the beginning of the call. But they’re being “particularly safe in terms of how they’re moving about, even with the luxury of private transportation.”

After Kelleher-Andrews reminds her staff to sell clients on upcoming member events — an intimate retreat to Richard Branson’s Necker Island resort in April and various Grammys and Oscars parties — the team turns to client challenges. One network developer bemoans a British man who was perfect in every way, save for one flaw.

“He was a guy that we loved, he had a great personality, overall very attractive,” she says. “But we kept getting the same feedback: ‘He’s so great, but his teeth.’ It’s something that a lot of people couldn’t get past.” (She ultimately passed along the criticism, with a gentle suggestion to get them fixed.)

The majority of the firm’s 800 inquiries a month come from online search traffic, and about a third from referrals. To make the cut, Kelleher-Andrews and her team probe a potential client’s finances, education, marital status, dating history, family background and career trajectory, and conduct interviews to gauge commitment and charm.

Fewer than 5% are accepted; today, there are about 600 clients around the world under one- to three-year contracts, a nearly even split of affluent men and women. Higher-priced membership levels mean a wider pool of matches, access to relationship and life coaching, an outside search for people not already in the company’s database and individual attention from Kelleher-Andrews.

Matchmakers are full-time employees and incentivized with bonuses for relationship milestones; an engagement is worth $2,500. Kelleher-Andrews says the company has been responsible for thousands of marriages, with 87% of her clients “finding love.”

Benson Riseman, co-founder of financial technology firm Green Dot Corp., is one of the happily ever afters. Ahead of the company’s 2010 IPO, he says, he began contemplating the next stage of his life and figured hiring a matchmaker might help him find the right woman.

“The whole idea was foreign to me of finding someone else to represent me, but I figured, well, gee, let’s prime the pump a little bit, let’s see some folks and meet a lot of people,” Riseman, now 65 and a philanthropist, says. “I worked hard to get where I am, and where else am I going to use my money?”

He signed with Kelleher International in 2011, dating frequently for the first few years.

“I jumped in with both feet and every time the phone rang and they said, ‘We know this lady…’ I said, ‘OK, let’s go,'” he recalls. “It was entertaining and for the most part it was more fun than sitting at home eating Frosted Flakes in bed.”

In 2014, he was matched with a woman who worked in luxury real estate, chatting on the phone twice before meeting in Las Vegas for dinner. They were both divorced and each had an older son and a younger daughter, a commonality that helped forge a bond from the start; they married three years later. “It was a good fit in every way,” Riseman says.

Another former client, a 55-year-old Emmy-award-winning actress and producer from Encino, joined after going through a divorce.

“I was always…

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