It’s the mission of one New York-based start-up to “end loneliness.” Whether it’s young professionals looking to meet other singles or for a friendly night on the town, Grouper aims to disrupt the bar scene and traditional one-on-one dating.
Grouper, founded in 2011 by a guy getting over a breakup, offers users the opportunity to go on a blind date during which two groups of friends meet for the first time and spend an evening at a local bar or restaurant. One group usually is composed of three guys and the other of three girls. The company also arranges group dates for gay and lesbian singles.
The cost to attend an arranged meeting is $20 a person per outing. The cost covers the first round of drinks and some light snacks.
“The style Grouper provides is almost a ‘hang-out’ atmosphere versus one-on-one dating situations,” said Sian-Pierre Regis, founder of culture and lifestyle website Swagger New York. “For millennials, that aspect is sexy. It’s not creepy online dating, but rather a hangout session for new friends.”
Founder and CEO Michael Waxman told CNBC that he was inspired to start the site when, after moving to New York, he grew frustrated with larger social media sites and wanted a different way to meet people.
Grouper’s goal is to help you connect with strangers in the real world—the next evolution of social networking, according to Waxman. The company describes itself not as a dating site but as a social club.
“I think saying it’s a date makes things uncomfortable,” he said. “It really increases the pressure and people don’t act like themselves.”
Samantha Daniels, president of Samantha’s Table Matchmaking, said that millennials’ noncommittal nature has shaped the way they approach their offline social life, and Grouper is tapping into that shift.
Grouper said users also have made romantic connections through the more informal group gatherings.
“Most of the time, people want to meet people through friends—there’s a comfort level,” Daniels said. “The success rate may not be as high as a more traditional way of meeting someone. But like my grandmother says, ‘If you’re invited somewhere, you should always go.’ You never know what’s going to happen.”
The dollars and cents of social dating
Grouper has deals with venues that include revenue for restaurants and bars, and secures tables for the group dates. The up-front payment structure also reduces the risk of being stood up and removes the awkwardness of deciding who will pick up the check.
The company declined to share precise revenue or profit numbers but said its business is improving.
Similar to other dating start-ups such as Tinder, Zoosk and Lulu, Grouper asks users to connect to their service via Facebook, where certain information is collected to help make matches in a “part-human, part-machine” process. This dual process, the company says, helps to maximizes compatibility.
Grouper is active in more than 20 U.S. cities, as well as Toronto, and plans to expand to Europe in the next six months.