There’s nothing quite as nerve-wracking as a blind date—so instead of rushing off to the bathroom to text or call your closest friends to give them a status update, why not bring them along?
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That’s the idea behind Grouper—the online dating site that sets up groups of friends for drinks, to see if there is a potential match within the crowd. The site was created by Michael Waxman, a 26-year-old Yale grad, out of his own frustrations with the online dating world.
Waxman says he was inspired to start the site after breaking up with his college girlfriend and moving to New York, finding himself disenchanted with the dating options on his horizon.
“It was my entry into adult life, and my friend time away from my college life,” he says. “I felt [meeting people] on Facebook, in bars or on online sites were all weird in one way or another.”
So he designed a matchmaking setup that he felt was less ‘weird’—a group date. The Grouper method sets up drinks between two groups of friends, and is always three-on-three. Each person pays $20 to secure a reservation with the bar as well as the first round of drinks.
From there, it’s anyone’s game, Waxman says. The company uses a proprietary algorithm to match people in similar locations with similar interests via their Facebook profiles and a questionnaire from the company. Then a Grouper in-house matchmaker will ensure the date looks to be a solid connection before sending them out to meet.
“It’s half-computer, half-human,” he says of the algorithm. “The data we have gathered does some of the work for us—location, age, and more—then a real human who is experienced in doing this finalizes and makes every match.”
Grouper is available in 25 cities across the U.S., and Waxman says the site has set up hundreds of thousands of dates. He declined to give specific numbers, but says Grouper has expanded by five-times its size in the past two years, and has received a small investment from Y Combinator’s startup capital fund.
The site aims to get people matched and introduced in person as quickly as possible, rather than relying on online chats, says Waxman.
“We focus on getting you into the real world meeting people as quickly as possible,” he says. “There’s no profiles, we pick the bar and do all of the logistics. We pick the other group and make sure everyone shows up. It’s not really online dating, that is a mischaracterization.”
And as far as Waxman is concerned, the method works. He met his current girlfriend on a Grouper date.
“That one is close to home,” he says. “We are in the midst of the pendulum of people wanting to do things in the real world. Social networks like Facebook are great, but what really matters is what people do in person.”