StartUp Podcast: Profiled (Season 2, #6)
June 5, 2015 9:17 AM - Subscribe

In online dating, love is not blind. How do deal with customers who make their dating choices based on race, and why the blind date business model didn't work.

A semi-crossover with Reply all, which also was about race and online dating this week.
posted by skewed (10 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have ... conflicted, but not opposing, opinions on this season.

On the one hand, I don't feel like the central story is interesting and they've used a lot of contrivances to give more twists than there really are. That Dating Ring started off as anonymous group dates is kind of important but we don't find that out until it's a "plot point." I don't like that. Those points shouldn't be "reveals" they should be used to foreshadow future problems.


Poorly-executed narrative aside, I think they've done a great job covering the social talking points. Women in technology/business, biases in dating, race and dating, etc are important things to talk about. I appreciate the way this episode, specifically, they got around to the point that calling out racism is really hard because it's ambiguous and often wrapped more in JUST your preconceptions about race. Still racism, but not the kind we usually talk about.

Good stuff, still, just ... different.
posted by Tevin at 9:56 AM on June 5, 2015

I agree that there doesn't seem to be much narrative flow from episode to episode, especially not after episode two seemed to finish up with the introductory material. I think they may have decided not to be too hard on the business they're focusing on, in order not to scare off potential subjects for further seasons.

I think it would be really easy to make the first few episodes about be about the ambition and failure of the company: how they wanted to do blind dates with no photos so that their app really would be different, but then they abandoned that as unworkable, so they switched to a model that is mostly the same as other dating sights except that match by humans rather than an algorithm. That would be an interesting story to me, and we sort of get it, but only around the margins.

But most of the episodes have been pretty good, and I think educational, rather than retreading a lot of ground covered in season one.
posted by skewed at 10:10 AM on June 5, 2015

I think they may have decided not to be too hard on the business they're focusing on

I think also, based on the last two episodes, that they may just have realized that the story of the users of the service is a lot more interesting than the story of the creators of the service. Which is, after all, just the typical tech startup story we've heard a billion times (even on this same show last season!)
posted by selfnoise at 10:28 AM on June 5, 2015

Tevin, I'm not sure when you started listening to this season of Podcasts, but they have mentioned in several prior episodes that Dating Ring had started as a group dating service and had to switch due to customer demand and the difficulties they were having in putting together large enough groups with their small user base.

Therefore I didn't find the "reveal" about the group dating to be unfair at all. I think the Podcast is not supposed to be a completely contained story, but a chapter in an ongoing work.

Particularly in light of this week's "Reply All" I found the Asian women saying they weren't attracted to asian guys sexually attractive.
posted by bswinburn at 11:37 AM on June 5, 2015

Ah, yeah - I didn't mean in THIS episode. I meant when they revealed it in the beginning of the season it was when they were saying "Ahhh what can we do" and then they were like "Oh, maybe we could make this NOT group dates?" and I BELIEVE that was the first time they addressed the group dates.

It was early, but I'm 99% sure it wasn't in the first episode, like it should have been. And if I missed that because I wasn't paying attention, well, that's my fault. But I don't think I did because I listened to that first episode three times.
posted by Tevin at 11:51 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree that the narrative about the business plan and pivots has not been well-executed. I think we all had a "WTF?" moment when the "we used to do group dates" bomb was dropped a few episodes ago. I'm still confused about how they plan to scale.

I did enjoy this (and the fact that it related to Reply All's story this week). I definitely felt for the founders - they want to do what they think is best, but they also have to make money. Tough spot to be in.
posted by radioamy at 4:19 PM on June 5, 2015

I am glad they looked head-on at the elephant in the room of race-discrimination in dating; I think the development of how to deal with thorny topics is actually paced reasonably, since it was a few episodes ago that they admitted they assign people a "hotness" score, and that came on the heels of the ethical quandary of being groped by an investor.

The "reveals" of the business model are somewhat more bizarre. But I don't think it was the "we used to do group dates" bit that was so vexing for me, it was that they waited until about episode 4 to explain that their pitch for a while was literally on-demand dating--trying to corral people individually, an hour or so before the scheduled meet-up, which is seriously a riduculous startup-busness idea.
posted by psoas at 2:41 PM on June 8, 2015

psoas, yes! I had forgotten THAT particular reveal but yes.

Although, in retrospect, that's kind of what an "Uber for dating" really offers if you take it to its logical conclusion. I had, however, thought that was just a euphemism for disruption but oh no, they meant that quite literally.
posted by Tevin at 2:53 PM on June 8, 2015

I actually think the core concept is cool: on-demand blind date where a dating service sets you up based on their estimate of your compatibility, then goes the next step and makes reservations at a restaurant. It just seems like it would only work if they had a huge pool of customers, and it would be hard to do cheaply.
posted by skewed at 7:03 PM on June 8, 2015

I really liked this episode, and Reply-All's, which I listened to back to back, just hammering home the quandry that online dating sites suffer: that the parts of the service we demand -- being able to judge potential dates in a giant meat market before getting to know them -- is completely at odds with what actually works as far as setting up dates.

We got a sense of that before but this episode, and the interview with the dude from okcupid helped cement this, really drove home the fundamental problems with the business model.

We already know that they need to bring in new users at a high rate, since if they are successful with what they are pitching then users will leave (as they have fallen in luuurrvvve). Then there is the added wrinkle that users won't use a site that doesn't pander to their worst impulses (thus making them much more difficult to match). And finally dating ring has added layers of their own difficulty -- by matching people up for on-demand dates thus having to wrangle with individuals prior commitments and just general flakiness. And yeah it just gelled for me that this is going to be hard.

When commenting on earlier episodes I was pretty dismissive of doing so much by hand, as opposed to with some hand-waving algorithm, but this whole business area is such a mess that I can see why they are going more for the throw people at it solution for now.
posted by selenized at 12:52 PM on June 9, 2015

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