It's a Thursday night. I'm at a super trendy bar in downtown Manhattan waiting for my two single girl friends to arrive so we can have a drink with three single guys we've never met or seen before. This can totally blow up in my face, but I've asked my friends to just go with the flow for the sake of trying something new - something called Grouper.
It's a simple yet genius idea that you're going to wish you had thought of, but two Yale grads, Jerry Guo, 23, and Michael Waxman, 24, beat you to the punch. Launched in June 2011, Grouper is an online social club (currently only in New York City) whose goal is to get you offline as quick and easily as possible and onto a great night out on the town with people you may have never met before. You can use it to find your next date or just to expand your social circle - a Grouper is whatever you make it.
"We see this as a giant social experiment and we want to keep it fun," says co-founder Jerry Guo. "We started it with the motivation of bringing together people who we think should meet, and hopefully they will hit it off."
Here's how it works: First, you sign up for free at Grouper, which allows the matchmakers at the site to access your Facebook page (this is how they learn all about you, your preferences, where you like to hang out, etc.). Once you're accepted (Yes, there's a waitlist) and matched with a compatible person, Grouper will give you a date, time and a reserved table at a hot location in the city (usually a trendy speakeasy or lounge). You bring two friends, your match brings two friends, and for $20 a head, you get your first round of drinks on the house and a night full of endless possibilities.
Unlike other dating or social websites, there is no physical Grouper "site," you don't have a profile, and there's no way to check out your match and his friends before you meet them in person. So, how do Guo and his team match you up? "It's kind of our secret sauce," he explains. "It's the combination of a computer plus a human. We use filters such as similarities in age, educational background, and level of attractiveness, but at the end of the day, our community managers make the call."
Though I admit, when my girl friends and I first met our Grouper guys, we agreed we wouldn't have been interested in them if we had just seen them out at a bar. But halfway into our first round of drinks, we were amazed at how smart, funny, and interesting they turned out to be! It was an unexpectedly awesome night, and this was exactly Guo and Waxman's intention.
"We're not psychics, we're not matchmakers, we're not here to help you find your next girlfriend or boyfriend," says Guo. "At the end of the night, if you don't hit it off, you're still out with your friends, and we took care of the headache of planning everything."
This is probably why the club has been so wildly successful. Despite the company's infancy, dozens of Groupers are currently being organized in New York each week, and 93 percent of members who've been on one say they would do it again. The process itself is just so incredibly easy, it's hard to find an excuse not to go on one.
"It's the ultimate win-win-win," says Guo. "It's a win for us because we do make money, it's a win for people because their first drink is covered (which will cost almost $20 at these places anyways), and it's great for the venue because we match the customers to the place based on their Facebook profile."
If you happen to not live in NYC, are already coupled up, or would like to hang out with people of the same sex, don't tune out just yet: Guo and Waxman plan to expand Grouper to cities like San Francisco, Boston, L.A., and D.C. once they perfect their game here. They also regularly plan same-sex Groupers, and have recently launched "Supper Club By Grouper," where 6 couples or pairs of friends meet for an underground dinner party prepared by some of the best private chefs around. Genius, I know.
"Hopefully in a few years, we'll look back and think, 'In 2011, people thought social was a 'Like' button on Facebook,'" says Guo. "I think a more organic and real definition of social is going out with your friends for a couple of hours and meeting new people in real life. Making human connections is the most powerful motivation in life. It's a huge world out there and we just want to make it a little bit smaller."
Nicely put, Mr. Yale. Now if you'll excuse me, there is a potentially great guy and his two friends who are waiting to have a drink with me and my girls in the Lower East Side. You could say I've become quite the "Groupie."
What do you think about the concept of group dating? Would you go on one if they were available in your area?
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