Celebrated Elle advice columnist and former “Saturday Night Live” writer, E. Jean Carroll is kind of a riot. Or so Betabeat discovered when we called up the 69-year-old author and serial Internet entrepreneur last night to talk startups as she was “having my wine.” Maybe it’s the red hair or the emphatic voice modulation, but she sorta sounded like a sultrier Carol Burnett.
E. Jean’s first startup—2002’s GreatBoyfriends.com, which let women recommend a good catch they were willing to throw back—was purchased by The Knot in 2005. Then came the ill-fated Facebook spoof called Catch27.com that let you make online trading cards of yourself and trade your friends for hotter friends. Last year there was FLAAB, where users made a bet to see if they could lose weight and paid up if they failed.
A week ago, she launched a new dating venture called Tawkify that forgoes online profiles for a brief questionnaire, photo, and a chance to let E. Jean—personally!—set you up for a blind phone date. No surprise to members of the New York Tech Meetup list-serve who were recently treated to a lively back-and-forth when E. Jean requested help getting good men to sign up.
(In short, a dubious beta-user named Glen declared the site a failure for an automated call system called Mr. Brooks that set up the date… until he found out the girl on the other end was interested in him, at which point Glen invited E. Jean to dinner.)
We talked to Ms. Carroll about her latest venture, Kenneth Shaw (her better tech half), and why men are the new women.
What was the inspiration for Tawkify?
The inspiration, do you live in New York?
So you know what the situation is. There’s loads and tons and an overrun of beautiful, accomplished, sexy, incredible, incredibly skilled, affluent, athletic women. They love football! They love everything! And there are less men. So what has happened is in a Darwinian sense, women are now competing for the men, instead of [laughs] the two-and-a-half billion year plan where men compete for women. So the men have now become the women.
Tell me about your previous startups.
There was GreatBoyfriends, which Oprah called “the greatest idea she’d ever heard.” That was a site where women recommended their ex-boyfriends.
Yes! It was brilliant! Because why would you throw a guy away just because you don’t agree on religion or you didn’t like how he chewed his food? Then there was FLAAB where people made a bet if they could lose the weight and if they did, they got their money back.
What’s the status of that?
We closed it because, you know what, frankly Nitasha you know waaaaay more about this stuff than I do. Because you do this all day long and I’m a moron, I’m a total moron and I hadn’t quite figured out that you needed a huge infusion of cash on something like FLAAB. On Tawkify, the thing just zoomed, we launched seven days ago.
How’s it going?
We have so many beautiful, accomplished, unbelievable women that we are struggling just to keep our heads above water because we can’t see anything because of all the women.
Who is Kenneth? I saw him named on your website as someone who helps with the matches.
Oh Kenneth! Kenneth Shaw is a Stanford computer genius, who graduated a couple years ago. He was one of those brilliant kids who created one of the most popular Facebook apps in 2006 or 2007, which was called My Purity Test. I found him on Facebook, I just thought it was hilarious.
You worked together?
We did something called the Fuk [Ed note: pronounced fook] Book, which was the largest sex survey of college students in history.
Can you spell that?
F-u-k. It was a survey of sexual practices of college kids.
And what happened with that?
I have more data on the sexual habits of college kids than anybody on the planet is what happened! I was going to write a book, but I was so overwhelmed with the data. Sixty percent of college kids have tried anal sex. That threw me for such a loop, I couldn’t write.
Ha. You were expecting a lower percentage?
I don’t know what I expected, BUT MY GOD! Apparently, porn has had a huge influence, so everyone wants to try it, right? By everybody, I mean dudes.
So that’s how you met Kenneth?
He’s one of those Stanford kids that just doesn’t stop. I don’t know when he ever sleeps. He’s in San Francisco. He’s working for One Kings Lane, do you know Alison—
It’s so much fun talking to you! You’re not like my friends! You know what’s going on. Oh my god!
So how does Tawkify work?
First of all, the stunning thing is, the questions are so simple. Age, sex, where you live, what you’re interested in, what you want, what you do for a living. That’s it! I don’t want to know the five sexy things you keep by your bedside, I don’t want to know any of that! Because I can make a match just from what you’re interested in and what you do for a living and what you look like.
How many people have signed up so far?
Let’s say lots of women. And it’s not that we don’t have men signing up, we have not as outstanding… I can’t match these superlative women with these dudes.
It’s a problem.
What are we gonna do?!
Was anyone on the list-serv helpful about that?
Those guys are so hilarious, I don’t even. No, they weren’t.
They seemed to think you were just trying to promote the startup.
Well, I copped to it immediately, of course! But I just thought I’d put a little thing and it was vicious wrangling for 24 hours. But it was so much fun hearing from them. Actually two of them joined and I set them up.
Nitasha, this is hilarious. So what was his name? Glen. So Glen is set up and Mr. Brooks —you know we have a robot arranging everything —the robot calls Glen and says I have your match, it’ll be ready tonight at 10 o’clock. So Glen gets on the phone apparently and interviews the girl! After it’s over, he writes a report for the list-serv and says “This is the worst! This is abominable! This whole thing sucks!” I say, “Glen, shut the fuck up the girl liked you!” She liked him! Nitasha, she went for him. He ended up asking me to dinner [to talk about the startup]. She immediately wanted to talk to him again. Of course now he loves Tawkify.