Disclaimer: this post is long, but if you are interested in the future of how people meet each other, then you gotta read the whole thing.
At a recent online dating summit, I saw a really interesting chart. On one side was “implicit dating” and the other limit was “explicit dating.” The speaker placed logos from well-known online services across the frontier, with Adult Friend Finder on the far side of explicit, and Grubwithus on the other extreme of implicit. This was interesting. When I first heard about Grubwithus, I knew they were playing in an interesting space of meeting new people, but I had absolutely no clue that it was intended for dating. I safely assumed it was for people relocating in new cities who wanted to get to make some friends. I started pondering, and thought to myself- this is the future: sites like How About We and Grubwithus taking dating to the next level by shifting focus away from profiles and towards activities (proposed dates on HAW) and interests (GWU is for “foodies”).
I must’ve gotten 50 emails from Grubwithus
before I actually went on one. The truth was, I had no incentive to really join these tables if I couldn’t control the ratio of guys to girls in my favor. I eventually settled for a meal with the founders when they were in town for YCNYC
. I showed up to the meal super excited. I didn’t know who I was going to meet, but for some reason I thought the people would be interesting and that we’d go around the table and have the most interesting conversation of our lives. Turns out, I was wrong.
The founders were nice guys who seemed interested in everyone, but they were way too shy. None of them gave a toast at the table, gave a “rundown” of how this thing was supposed to work, or provided any context for the meal. Six dudes and two chicks just sat down and ate, thinking of whatever mundane topic to converse with our immediate neighbors. I wasn’t really digging any of these “grubbers,” so I switched into full crack analyst mode. When I asked Eddy, one of the founders, about the notion of his service being for dating he flat out rejected it. I then began to ask him why anyone could join a meal– why no algorithm or some sort of process to place people at tables they will probably have a good experience at? No. They leave it up to serendipity. They just make the meals happen, what happens at the table is up to everyone. Some of the stories of what groups do after seemed fairly routine: like “one time a group of grubbers went bowling afterward” or “one time a group got drinks!”
So at this point I’m really frustrated. Here’s a site that has so much potential to mash people together using rich online data, and merely serves as a Groupon for lonely people without any context whatsoever. The only answer I was getting from the founder was that they would open up a whitelabel service for online dating sites to arrange specific offline interactions. I thought to myself, OK, then you’re just a logistics company that hires sales people. Online dating is a $1.3 billion market, imagine the market size for online dating that guarantees an offline interaction. That is powerful.
Around this same time, I had heard of another site called Grouper
. The idea is simple: pair three guys and three girls up at a trendy speakeasy in NYC based on their Facebook profiles. $20 covers your first drink. Sign me up. I finally got an email weeks later providing two dates for “Groupers” I could attend. I signed up, paid my money and then received another email asking me to invite two friends so my card wouldn’t be charged for all three spots. Kind of an annoying task, but at the end of the day I’m glad I went with people I knew.
I arrived at the Chinatown speakeasy “Apotheke
” about 10 minutes early. I anxiously pace back and forth on my cell phone outside, waiting for my friends to show up. One of them was unconvinced, even after committing. “I payed. I bet the girls are going to be horrible and this whole thing is going to be a disaster. I hate it already,” he dreaded to me over SMS prior. Eventually, I walk up to the nondescript door of the bar and drop the secret name for the reservation to the bouncer- “Table for 6, Alexandra.” He looks at my ID, nods, and I proceed. I wondered if he knew what was in store. I head to the hostess, who seats me at the table and tells me that I’m the first to arrive. In my mind I’m thinking “who could these other three be, can we just get this over with already?” After seeing that I wasn’t some beastly creature from Where the Wild Things Are, the girls instantly came to the table and introduced themselves. They were pretty normal and cute, which was a relief. They also happened to be roommates. Finally, my second friend joins the table. We’re one short because my third skeptical friend is standing outside texting me: “How are the girls?” to which I replied “HOTTTT.”
The interaction we had was much more fluid and natural than what had occurred the week before at the Grubwithus meal. While at first awkward- “how did you hear about this Grouper thing?”- our conversations evolved into more fun ones surrounding the relationship between online and offline identity. “Don’t tell her my last name,” I urged my friends. “For all we know, she could be writing about this whole thing for Gawker!” (half-kidding). We laughed, we drank, we exchanged contact information, and we parted ways. Amazingly, there was a minimal amount of fighting over which girl each of us could follow up with.
There was one other table with three Korean men and three white women directly adjacent to us. Unlike our table, this group did not seem to be into each other. The girls sat far away from the guys, and constantly checked their phone. After our Grouper was over, I curiously headed to the other table where I was instantly approached by one girl who asked me “were you also on a Grouper?” We chatted for a bit, and agreed that I had the better table. I told her I’m working on an online dating startup, and she mentioned that the other korean guy at her table was too. We exchanged numbers to discuss the whole experience the next day.
What happened the next day was very unusual. I received a call from this girl on my way back to my apartment. We started chatting about Grouper and its promise: “Is it about pairing together people based on interests or looks or what? Is this just supposed to be casual?” I walked into my building, and heard an echo. Wait, no, it couldn’t be. Yes, this girl lived in my building. We chatted for a while about her experience vs. mine. I think we both agreed that no matter how strong Grouper’s algorithm ever got, there’d still be a chance that you could have as awkward an experience as she. We debated on what the promise should be. However nebulous it did seem fared nowhere in comparison to Grubwithus’ tagline: “Eat With Awesome People!”
Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday of atonement, arrives at last. I’m out of commission to go out, as I was fasting. Unbeknownst to me, the same skeptical friend had asked his girl out, who in turn brought her roommate who was supposed to be for me. As it turns out, his little brother from NYU ended up hooking up with her.
All in all, the ripple effect that was left from the Grouper was much stronger than that of the Grubwithus. Two hookups, a bunch of text messages, and one awkward encounter thanks to Grouper, and one empty stomach left from Grubwithus.
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