let's date

Suicide Girls Founder Sean Suhl Wants to Help You Date (And Maybe Make a Baby)

"The most satisfying part of Suicide Girls," has been "knowing that these people met on a corner of the Internet that you created."

let's dateDepending on how you used the Internet at the height of the MySpace era, you might remember Suicide Girls for: 1. its bevy of soft-core porn featuring tatted-up beauties, 2. the controversies surrounding its founder (Google Mr. Suhl and the first result is a blog post on “the ugly side of alternative porn”) or 3. a thriving alternative community built around the appreciation for the aesthetic of the site’s heavily pierced pin-up girls.

Drawing wisdom gleaned from his experience with the site, Mr. Suhl is launching a mobile dating app, called Let’s Date, which is getting a widespread roll-out in time for Valentine’s Day.

According to Mr. Suhl, sites like OkCupid and Match.com don’t translate well to mobile, meanwhile the Grindr approach doesn’t work as well for XX crowd. “We felt like the people doing mobile first were hyper-focused on proximity. I just didn’t believe that people—women, especially—want to choose sex partners based on that.”

And so Mr. Suhl founded Let’s Date, a mobile-first dating app designed to make meeting potential partners easy. The service launched in San Francisco last fall, and let’s users can sign-up via Facebook to keep form-filling to a minimum. The app sends profiles of potential matches to users’ phones; When users don’t like a profile, they’re encouraged to give input on what they didn’t like about it—by simply drawing a line through portions of the profile that didn’t appeal.

If the main idea is to let the app learn users’ preferences as it goes, it’s also an appeal to voyeuristic natures. “Some people just want to look at pictures of cute girls, so why make them fill out all this stuff, just let them look at the app,” Mr. Suhl told us. “Have a good time and look at the photos: If you wind up going on a lot of dates and getting serious with someone, so much the better.”

According to Mr. Suhl, Let’s Date traces its roots to directly to Suicide Girls. “It sounds cheesy, but we get emails all the time like, ‘This is a photo of my kid, and this kid was born because I met my husband or wife on your website,'” Mr. Suhl said. “Something about that has been the most satisfying part of Suicide Girls—knowing that these people met on a corner of the Internet that you created.”

Mr. Suhl said Suicide Girls taught him to get users off their phones and into a date setting as quickly as possible. “The story we heard is that [Suicide Girls] community members who met each other in person at regional groups fell in love in spite of not falling into each others’ perfect categories,” he said. “You don’t go to a party and tell the host, ‘I want to meet all the women here who are 18-24, college educated, vegetarian and curvy.’ Someone catches your eye and you talk to them and you decide to meet again later.”

To prompt users to take things offline, when users deem each other a potential match, Let’s Date proposes a meeting time, taps into the Yelp API to suggest a place, and specifies that the man will pay. (Would that last bit lead to a fresh round of “Sean Suhl is a misogynist stories?” we asked. “I hope not,” he laughed. “If we were doing the project for the Suicide Girls community, we wouldn’t have designed it that way. … In testing, suggesting that the man pay had the most success in driving dates.”)

As for just who Let’s Date is designed for, Mr. Suhl hesitated to name a demographic. Still, the app does seem to lean in the direction of his old constituency. The profile photo (shown above) on the the site’s landing page today would be at home at Suicide Girls; and the company’s Twitter feed is peppered with tweets like “Your date has removed their gauges and now their earlobes look like wizard’s sleeves.”

Perhaps, the demographic is people is simply people who like to browse photos of the opposite sex.

“Before there was the Internet, there was sitting around the mall and looking at people,” he said. “It has to do with us as animals, something deep throughout all time, you see people in Charles Dickens stories talking about watching the opposite sex. It’s fun, right? It’s part of the appeal of Let’s Date: Here’s our presentation of people in your area of the opposite sex. It’s our version of the ideal dating profile. This is what seems like the best kind of presentation to us.”

Follow Patrick Clark on Twitter or via RSS. pclark@observer.com