Lesson Learned: I Went On A Grouper Date/Was Part of a Dating Scam (allegedly)

I was in some small way part of a scandal – does that mean I have finally arrived?

I met Jerry Guo during Happy Hour at General Assembly.  We started a conversation, acommon practice for such networking opportunities, when he said I would be perfect to try out his start-up Grouper, which was/was not a dating site.  You signed up, allowed access to your Facebook profile, and get matched up with a member of the opposite sex.  Grouper arranged the place and time and both the guy and girl were supposed to bring two of their friends of their same gender. It was supposed to be a great way to meet new people in a swanky environment.  I thought why not and Jerry followed up with me a week later.

In order to go on a Grouper “date,” each person had to pay $20.  The reasoning behind it was that each of the places where the dates are held was a lounge and the cocktails were at least $14.  However, my friends and I go to dive bars for a reason – $3 PBR – so I asked for a discount, saying it was tough to find friends who were interested because of the cost.  I’m unashamedly outing myself and my friends as cheapskates, but as young professional women with entry-level jobs during a recession, we see $20 as two falafel sandwiches and two draft beers (which sounds more like a date to me, one where another person can go on it). 

I picked two of my close friends who do well in social situations.  We and the three guys met at Apotheke, a speakeasy in Chinatown you should all try once.  Though the cocktails were good, the conversation was very awkward and a struggle to find topics we could all speak on. We had better chemistry with the bartenders, which we were tipping.  We all said in agreement that there needed to be better matching, just so future Groupers could avoid awkwardness in the future.  I was recently asked if I wanted to go on another one, but it fell through.  In light of the recent scandal, I’m glad it did.

Last week Ryan Tate from Gawker wrote a post called Let An Infamous Liar Set You Up on a Group Blind Date about this guy who evidently scammed his way through an internship at Newsweek, an interview with a rival dating site Ignighter where he posed as a freelancer for the Atlantic Monthly, and now a bogus group dating site that takes the same thought and care in selecting dates as any bro three sheets to the wind does for girls on a Friday night.

While I was surprised to find that other people agreed Grouper seemed like a scam (as my friends and I thought initially), I was more shocked at the amount of people essentially ripping Jerry Guo apart, discrediting him and making it impossible for him to work in the start-up world again.  It’s almost outrageous how quickly people are now questioning his integrity and leading others to think that Guo got to where he is today by manipulation. While I don’t intend to tarnish his name further by only repeating what could be gossip, it has to be shared that Jerry did write an apology post on his Tumblr saying that some of the allegations were true and he would be stepping down as co-founder of Grouper.

This scandal might only be interesting to the start-up world, but it does seem that at least one of its member’s pride was a little hurt by their failed Grouper date/investigaton, such as Sam Biddle of Gizmodo.  There were also recurring articles on Betabeat that seem more like a “he said she said” argument with Grouper along with a Tawainese animated video “Grouper’s start-up founder Guo exposed as a huckster.”

While I’m neither reprimanding or condoning what Jerry Guo has done throughout his carer, I do think it’s a lesson on how important personal integrity is, especially when you are launching your own business and you are your own personal brand.  I’ve been told that trying to make it as a journalist has always been cutthroat and I would imagine that launching a start-up now would be very similar.  However, no one likes to feel manipulated, or made out to be an idiot, and if somehow you have done so to someone else, some backlash is expected.  In this era where one’s information is available for anyone online, if you make someone out to be a fool, they will get angry.  If they have a way with words and a network they can leverage, they will tell people about it.

In a a few words: if you are trying to get ahead, play nice.

And if someone asks you out for a drink (whether or not it’s with them or someone else), still take the opportunity, but bring friends.  If all else fails, talk to the bartender.

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