Non-traditional dating site Grouper launches in Denver today

Grouper, which launches in Denver today, is the latest social networking site that aims to connect people with similar interests in a possibly romantic way. But Grouper founder and CEO Michael Waxman insists it's not a traditional dating site; this "social club" tries to keep the Internet part of the scenario to a minimum, by eliminating tedious questionaires and focusing on bringing together groups of friends for a night out known as a "Grouper."

Waxman spoke with Westword about the site's launch in the Denver market, and why having your friends along for a first date can make all the difference when getting to know a potential new partner.

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Westword: When you sign on to Grouper, how does it work?

Michael Waxman: It's really simple: you sign up through Facebook, and we use pretty much just that information to match you. We look at your age, where you work, where you went to school, location, gender, sexual orientation, all of that stuff. Then we ask you a few simple questions that we have found matter to some, but not all, people -- but it takes thirty seconds to fill out.

Because we're not a dating site, we don't give you a questionaire to fill out for five hours. That's not what we're about. Our whole attitude is, we want to get you offline and actually hanging out with these people as quickly as possible. So we try to think of our website as kind of getting all of that out of your way so you can actually meet people.

We match you to a guy or girl and you pick a date and each grab two friends and everyone pays a small fee upfront, which covers the first round of drinks. That way, it ensures that people show up and if it's really not going well, because the first round is already paid for, you can politely excuse yourself and walk away. There's no awkward bill fumbling to deal with.

Then you meet the other group, and it's totally on you. We follow up the next morning with a quick note to ask how it went. We'll take your feedback into account for your next match and you can go on as many Groupers as you like.

Denver's Grouper launches today -- why did you choose to launch here?

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We've launched in quite a few cities -- there are seventeen cities in all. As recently as a year ago, it was only in New York. But we've been slowly going to other cities and, frankly, we're a little late to get to Denver because we get a lot of inbound requests of people asking about it.

I'm really excited about Denver. It's also been fun to see, as we started to expand outside of New York, the local character and flavor of our member base in each place. You know the stereotypes like, everyone who works in San Francisco works at a tech company and everyone in New York is in fashion and finance. So it's been fun and interesting to see how people really kind of represent where they're from. It changes the flavor of the Groupers they go on and the bars that are there.

What is it about this particular model that you think works or makes it different from other online dating sites?

The two big things for me are that it's not online, and it's not dating; we have an emphasis on getting people to meet in person. We think that's what life is all about, anyway -- not endlessly messaging back and forth or browsing photos. Even if you know the person, first dates one-on-one can be really awkward and uncomfortable. So our second big thing is, it's not a date, it's just you and your two friends and someone else and their two friends.

If there's no chemistry, you can still have a great time. If there's really hilariously no chemistry, you have a great story that you can share with your friends who you're already out with. But then, it also happens to be kind of the way most people end up meeting their boyfriends and girlfriends, anyway. So we like to think that, in that way, it's so much better than a dating site, in part because it's not -- if that makes sense.

Continue reading for more on Grouper -- and details on how to sign up early.

Sure. You bring the social aspect into it right away, versus an awkward first-date situation where you might be trying to bail to hang out with your friends if it's not going well. It's like having a wingman.

We like to think of it as, worst case, you're already out with your friends with a funny story you can share. Best case? Sky's the limit. I think about what helps people get to know each other -- things like letting your guard down, being honest about who you are, getting to meet each other's friends. Getting to see the context that someone lives in.

Frankly, traditional online dating sites are really bad at all of those things. Even with stupid things like, it's really easy to lie in an online dating profile. It's really easy to lie on a one-on-one date. It's really hard to lie when you're with your two friends who are going to call you out on your B.S.

Again, even if you want to think of it as a date, we don't like labels -- but what's the end goal? You just wanna be as comfortable as possible when meeting someone, and figure out if you get along. For us, it is about letting people be comfortable and letting them put their guard down. The best way to do that is with your friends.

No one ever says, you know what? I really want to go on an awkward first date with someone.

Right? It's kind of hilarious that in the twenty-first century, people still do that. It just seems like such an antiquated way and we should know better by now. I think of (Grouper) as skipping to, like, a fifth date or something. You go through the standard progression of, like, you might grab drinks and then you might go out to dinner and then you might meet some of their friends. And then you might feel comfortable enough to be the person you are.

So we thought, why not just start there and skip all of the other stuff? If you want to go back and take her out to dinner, that's totally fine, too. At least then you already know each other and you already know a lot about them. It just cuts down a lot of the awkwardness.

How did you start Grouper?

I dropped out of college to do my first start-up. It didn't work out, so I went back to school and graduated a few years ago. I'm a computer programmer and I was working on a few ideas after school and one of them was an idea for a social network -- one where people actually got to meet each other in real life, instead of just browsing each other's photos online. In the summer of 2011, I broke up with my then-girlfriend and moved to New York and found myself in a new city looking to make friends and meet new people.

So I built the original version of Grouper in about a week, just as an experiment. I grabbed two friends of mine who didn't know each other and asked them each to bring two friends and see if they wanted to meet. I asked them to pay me twenty bucks, and the twenty bucks part gave them a little pause, but everything else they were up for. The first Groupers went out in July of 2011 and I got great feedback immediately. They told their friends and it kind of just branched out from there.

Want to try out Grouper? The site has offered a jump ahead on the waiting list for the first fifty Westword readers who sign up. Head over to the website to grab a space.

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