Co-founders Jerry Guo and Michael Waxman like to joke that Grouper is a Y Combinator-funded startup. That’s because they didn’t come up with the idea for Grouper–a social service that sets you and two friends up with three strangers based on your Facebook profile–until they got rejected from YC. “We took our $400 travel reimbursement check from YC and used that as seed capital for Grouper,” Mr. Guo told Betabeat via gChat.
Does that mean Grouper is a pivot?? “Lol,” he wrote, “It’s a completely new concept. We applied to YC with paperbuff.com. In the 36 hours before our interview, we ditched paperbuff and built qomments.com, were rejected, then decided to build a product people would actually want (*measured by charging for it).”
Indeed, Grouper, which just launched out of beta in New York today, was profitable after just 60 days.
Here’s how it works: Rather than having to fill in a questionnaire about your interests, you sign up for Grouper via your Facebook account. The Grouper algorithm mines your friend graph, “taking into account age / education / personalities / interests / attractiveness,” said Mr. Guo, and then sets you up with someone of the opposite sex whom you’re not Facebook friends with based on the results. There are no profiles on the site, and the Grouper algorithm does the matchmaking. You invite two friends of the same sex, they invite two friends of the same sex, and you all meet up at a place of Grouper’s choosing. “The concept is two groups of friends who don’t know each other, but that we think should,” explained Mr. Guo.
Although this sounds like a giant Crazy Blind Date to Betabeat, Mr. Guo disagrees. “No not at all. It’s not a date. (For instance, you don’t have to be single.) We think the most organic social context is one that’s not confined to a bucket/label, whether it’s dating / making friends / networking.” He did, however, concede one inadvertent matchmaking success. “Anecdotally I know of at least one long-term relationship, but we don’t track that since we’re not in the dating space. We do ask if people see each other again, and that’s been about 1/3 of the groups.”
Grouper makes money by charging $20 for the service, which covers the cost, including tax and tip, of the first drink at the venue. To find cool spots in the city, Mr. Guo and Mr. Waxman switch up their homebase to a different neighborhood every thirty days. “For instance last month on the Upper East Side, we found a speakeasy on 89th and 1st that no one knows about called Auction House,” he told Betabeat. Previous locations included Apotheke in Chinatown and Bathtub Gin in Chelsea. (Speakeasies appear to be something of a theme.)
Mr. Guo is a former travel writer for Newsweek who uses his experience covering food and nightlife to find venues for Grouper. Mr. Waxman is a serial entrepreneur whose former employee at Batiq, Nathan Blecharczyk, went on to found Airbnb. The two met as freshmen at Yale. Mr. Waxman dropped out a year later to move to San Francisco and found his startup. (Peter Thiel would be so proud!)
Grouper has already put together hundreds of events, with 93 percent of participants reporting with that want to go on another one. Currently, the service is about twice as popular with women. One of the first events they put together included a rather bold-faced name as a seventh wheel: Gilt Groupe’s Kevin Ryan. As Courtney Boyd Meyers at The Next Web notes, Mr. Ryan didn’t want respond to an initial request, “But when they told him six other recent Yale entrepreneurs wanted to meet him, he said yes within 20 minutes. They ended up having a 3-hour dinner.”
“Gilt started off as a high-end members-only club, so we wanted to learn how they did it,” explained Mr. Guo, who ended up picking up a trick of the trade. “[Mr. Ryan] had an anecdote about when they launched Gilt. They didn’t have the refund feature built, but that was okay because they figured it would take a couple days before people would start asking for refunds. So we’ve taken on that same sort of ‘move quickly and break things attitude.'”
Did Grouper end up hitting up Mr. Ryan for funding? “Ah, no, we didn’t put in any seed capital aside from the $400 YC check and we’re actually not seeking outside funding,” said Mr. Guo. Huh, one more startup and that makes a no-VC trend!