The league of honorable gentlemen and women
The dating app Bumble recently introduced Bumble Bizz, its service for networking. Instead of looking for a romantic or an activity partner, you can now scour the old human bran tub for people you might want to do business with.
Bumble Bizz throws up seemingly random people — students, interns, grizzled corporate lifers — all looking to take things to the next level. It's baffling and if there is an algorithm behind it, it defeats me.
I was curious then to learn of another app which seems to be going in the opposite direction, finally coming to Portland.
The League has hands-on elements and is location specific: it doesn't really want you dating outside of your city. It serves up three matches every day at 5 p.m. (which they call happy hour) and five for those who pay the $200 annual fee. (Paying punters also get invites to actual face-to-face group activities.)
From the beginning, in January 2015, The League has styled itself as the anti-Tinder. If the latter is the hook up app particularly beloved of travelers looking for one night stands, the League aims to be local, and not only that, classy. Artisanal. The product is hand-picked.
That's why it is going live in Portland with members: people who have downloaded the app but have not necessarily paid for extras. Up until now, they could browse people in other cities but not make contact.
I talked to Employee #2 at The League, Meredith Davis.
"We're similar to Tinder and Bumble in that you swipe, but this is meant to be a community of high-achieving men and women, people who are career-focused and ambitious," says, adding quickly "And it's not about money. We have tons of artists, teachers, people in non-profit and if it were only about only money, employees at the League which is very much a start-up, may not even make the cut."
So, to make sure its initial 500 have the right stuff, the app pulls data from LinkedIn and Facebook.
"They must be educated and professional, not necessarily Ivy League but did get a good education."
She adds that it's not about how attractive they are either. Although anyone who has ever used Bumble knows that the most physically attractive people are dealt from the top of the deck, with almost forensic precision.
The app went live in 10 cities this summer, and is going live 500 at a time on Nov. 6 in six cities at once: Portland, Detroit, Phoenix, Charlotte, Raleigh and Nashville. That relatively low number makes it easier to quickly fix any problems, like crashes or lagging.
"And if it were open too wide, it would reduce the value of the brand — like anyone can get in."
She claims no marketing spend, that promoting the League in new cities is all by word of mouth.
So where did a San Francisco-based firm go to find eligible Portland yuppies? Nike is one firm she recalls hitting up. Intel is another. And the third? Fisher Investments.
"Once Seattle went live, the Portland signups skyrocketed," she said. "Our team was researching migration patterns. I personally know three people who have moved to Portland from San Francisco recently. The price is right, they want to get more outdoors, there are good companies there and tons of engineers." Two of those three are in technology, the other just wanted to be further north and is prepared to drive for Uber until a job comes up.
Davis says the wait list that people are put on is "a good proxy to see if they are serious about dating." The wait can be two to three weeks.
Applicants are vetted by hand by staff at the League. And each medium sized city has two real live concierges, a man and a woman assigned to Leaguers, who can answer questions about the app, do tech support, give tips on places to go on dates, and even chime in with advice on a certain prospective match.
Concierges have data on the back end that consumers don't see. There's your popularity score, which is based on the number of times you're accepted versus rejected. And how flakey you are - how you are at responding or ghosting (dropping off communication). And your initiation rate: how often you initiate a conversation.
"We believe both sides should initiate. Women who initiate perform better, they have a higher popularity score and a higher conversion rate, and more numbers exchanged." The software knows when you offer on your phone number. "We determine success by numbers exchanged."
When I point out that the handsome concierge dude on the home page, whom it says works for Google, is a bit too good to be true, Davis said no, Conor is real, and Conor has since left Google for The League.
She would not reveal who the two lucky Portlanders are who get to be concierges.
"Now is the best time to be on The League," says Davis about these early days in Portland. "You know everyone is 100 percent single and is active." Portland has 2,500 people on the waitlist, with 500 being specially invited to go live on Monday Nov 6.
With deft use of exclamation marks, the League's website promises:
"We review applications and only draft in those we feel have the right intentions and subscribe to our values (see our mission). We screen out the tire-kickers, the one night stands, and the duds — so you don't have to!"
If someone joins and then it looks like they would not get three matches a day for more than 20 days, they would be refunded and asked to leave, because League deems it not worth their while. (It also means they don't bring enough to the network.)
Each week there is a Sunday draft, where new members are introduced. Again, this process is done by hand - Davis says there is no AI program yet that can do it.
"One day it'd be nice if we could automate them, but for now there will be a human."
Before The League, Davis did a lot of research on sexual health as the Sex Educator & Social Media Manager at Jimmyjane, a design-centric sex toy company.
She found that "dating apps are the middle ground between sexual health and technology."
They add filters as people request them. "Smoker" was a popular one: many people want to avoid smokers. "STI" has not been requested," she says, referring to Sexually Transmitted Infections, the rebranded name for STD's. "Generally, if you add too many filters you decrease the value of the network and people stop signing up."
In D.C., people wanted to know if someone worked on The Hill or not. In Los Angeles, they were wary of long distances, 20 miles being about the limit to drive for a date.
Another barrier to entry is making people authenticate themselves on both LinkedIn and Facebook. She reassures everyone that they are barred from dating their coworkers and first level LinkedIn contacts.
"People say their first date feels like their second date because they know so many important things about each other."
So, what type of guys does The League not want?
"Guys looking for one night stands, casual hook ups, still living with their mother, not career focused...There are many people who are picky on The League. People are looking for someone who is like-minded, an equal."
She reiterates it's not about income. "We want people who quit work for a startup to try to build an awesome tech product, or maybe they are an artist working on a great idea..."
This is the startup mindset for busy daters. The League uses Amazon Web Services for its hosting, because at launch time, their own servers have been "popping" with traffic. Amanda Bradford, the founder of The League studied Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon (impressive), then worked at Google and did a masters at Stanford. (Score!) The League was her class project. She wrote the original code, but the site recently had to be overhauled in Node JS language because it wasn't scaling well.
How will Portland fare? Will our 500 do the city proud? Tune in next month when I talk to Conor and his new BFFs on Portland. If he's real.
I got rid of my 1997 Volvo 850 wagon recently, in fittingly analog style. I telephoned a car donation place, who faxed a towing company, who took it to a pick and pull, who will send KBOO Radio a check for a princely three figure sum.
I took the long option because posting it on Craigslist only brought out the scammers with their cashier's checks and charming, if ill-written, human-interest stories. Craigs is another analog-digital interface that hasn't settled down yet.
The only problem was it was a nightmare. It took five days to get a response, then I had to read out my VIN on the phone a second time! Finally, the tow truck firm called wondering why I was in Gig Harbor. That was some weird kind of transcription error. They moved the tow date back a day then came for it anyway, twice.
I can't help thinking all this could have been avoided with autonomous trucks and in-app scheduling. I did however notice Eddy had two pink Lyft stickers on his cab's rear window.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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