Online dating is broken. At least, that's what Sean Suhl, the general manager of Let's Date, a new contender in that fight, says. If you don't believe him, well, consider the fact that Suhl also was the co-creator of SuicideGirls, a softcore porn site that also functions as an online community that comments on its original editorial content (celebrity interviews, etc.) and, of course, has guys talking to girls. So, Suhl's a guy who knows what it takes to build an infrastructure where guys and gals meet to talk and bond. But don't be fooled: There's nothing sleazy whatsoever about Let's Date.
The app and service launched in San Francisco not long ago and is due to roll out here in Chicago before Valentine's Day, and Suhl says it was built as a reaction to how long it takes to get started mingling with other people on other online dating sites and how "artificial" he feels the interacting and searching for a partner is on other sites. "The way you search for people is kind of how you search for on Craigslist for an apartment." Let's Date is different in that it adapts to your behavior within it and actively blocks creeps.
Anyway, for more on it and how Let's Date will work in Chicago, I gave Suhl a call.
What makes you optimistic about rolling out in Chicago, and what have you learned in San Francisco that you're going to implement here?
Sean Suhl: There's so many things we learned. We got so much wrong, so much wrong. One of the things we learned is that women don't necessarily want to see the person who's the best match for them first. We were putting in the very first a card a woman would see after she'd been using the app for a while was the person we think she'd was most likely to like and who would like her back. But that didn't work. In fact, whatever card we put first, women said no to or skipped past. And then we would learn to put two or three cards that we didn't think the woman would have a good time on a date with in front of the person who we didn't think was good, and when we placed that card three back, the women would say they're more likely to go on a date with the man. Which is shocking to us because we're very engineering about it and thought best match goes first, second best match goes second, third best match goes third. But we learned that's not how the world works. People want to browse and look through people before they get to someone who's great for them.
What else under the hood is different for you guys?
Sean Suhl: Especially on the top, to the user, we want it to feel as much just like you walked into a bar and there's a ton of people there. You look at them and if there's someone you're attracted to, you'd say yes. And if there's not, then you'd say no. But on the behind-the-scenes part, even though it's just simple and you're presenting data cards on the front end, on the behind-the-scenes part we're taking every action you take, whether it's skipping, whether it's saying yes, whether it's saying no, we allow you to cross things out on a card you don't like.
It sounds like you're going for a much more user-friendly approach.
Sean Suhl: Well, that's another thing about our app. If a woman says she doesn't like you, you can't message her. With us, until she flirts with someone and says "let's date" to some guy, no one can message her and so her inbox then is only people she's expressed interest in.
What are things you're keeping an eye on as you're gearing up to launch here? What are you most curious to see in terms of audience use?
Sean Suhl: One of the things that's super-fascinating to us, although we haven't figured out how to use it, is that because we actually coordinate the date itself with our Yelp ATI, we allow the man to ask the woman out on a date at an actual Yelp location. We know the most popular date spots in each city. So one of the things we're interested of course when we open in Chicago is where those spots are.
One of the things we learned is that women in New York want to go out for drinks. Women in San Francisco want to go out for coffee. It's just interesting and we didn't realize that cultural difference between those two cities.
Has the launch of Crazy Blind Date affected your strategy at all, since it came out after you first started?
Sean Suhl: No. I think Crazy Blind Date is really IAC's answer to How About We, and that was out before us. I think that women want to know a certain amount about someone before they go meet them in public. One of the things that we're very adamant about is linking to our dater's Twitters and their Instagrams and their Facebooks. You can't even log in without Facebook on our app. And if you don't have 50 friends and you haven't been on Facebook for at least a year you can't even log into our app. If two women go on a date with you and they say that you're creepy, we knock you off the app and you can't rejoin without having waited a year. And so I think we're doing a whole lot to make it more comfortable for a woman to agree to meet you in public. I'm not sure that those apps are doing quite the same thing.
That's interesting because I think with most online dating sites, the companies and the users both act like online dating is a right and not a privilege.
Sean Suhl: That's correct. You're 100 percent correct. There's a man standing outside our app with a red rope and he's not letting you in.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.