“Welcome!” Lauren Kay and Emma Tessler yelled out to the crowd of 20- and 30-somethings.
A line of excited whispers cut through the work suits and LOFT dresses.
“I recognize her voice!”
“It’s like I know them!”
As Carthic, 32, phrased it to me later: “They’re voice-famous.”
Kay and Tessler owe their vocal fame to StartUp, the business podcast from Gimlet Media’s Alex Blumberg. The second season of the popular podcast followed the two 20-something entrepreneurs on their path to build Dating Ring, which aims to combine the best of online dating and old-fashioned matchmaking.
At Irish Whiskey Public House in Dupont on Wednesday night, Dating Ring held a Washington, D.C., launch party where the podcast might’ve upstaged the matching. Rather than “What do you do?” the question of the night was: “What do you listen to?”
Carthic had attended a matchmaking session with Dating Ring co-founder Tessler before the launch party. He said he felt way more comfortable chatting with her about his interests and dating goals because she felt familiar from his podcast listening.
Dating Ring puts its members into an online database and uses a matching algorithm, like most dating sites, but then a human such as Tessler makes and sends out the matches. Dating Ring’s matchmakers talk to singles about what they’re looking for in a partner, and then send along two to three matches. Daters can get a free one-time consultation and invites to Dating Ring events; a $40 or $80 monthly membership gives them access to more matches and matchmaker support. The company has been active in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston since 2014; before this week, their Washington presence was only in StartUp listeners’ earbuds.
“D.C. has always been in our plans,” Kay said. “It’s been the one from where we get the most e-mails. People saying, ‘We just need you here.’ … It’s a big gender imbalance, which makes it really hard, especially for women.”
But Wednesday’s launch party crowd was refreshingly balanced for a singles event — groups of men and women showed up promptly at 8 p.m., and a number of singles flew solo for the night, walking up to strangers to say hi and clink drinks.
“At 8:06 it’s usually like two people, but D.C. it seems they come early,” Kay said.
Early in the night, Kay has a line of eager singles behind her — about half want to tell her they love the podcast, and yeah, they’re interested in matchmaking, too.
Catherine, 26, has tried the usual online dating networks — OKCupid, Tinder, Hinge. She was intrigued by Dating Ring when she listened to StartUp, because Tessler and Kay sounded so approachable — and also because their app sounded like a simpler way to date.
“I don’t want to put the time and effort for online dating,” she said. “You have to make a profile, look at profiles, plan the date. So it’s like: ‘Sure, go ahead, comb through people’s profiles for me.’ ”
While most people were happy to mingle and introduce themselves to strangers, and a few whipped out phones to trade numbers, a lot of people left with the original friend groups they brought. Matchmakers in attendance means there’s less pressure to make a connection in person.
“You can go up to any of the matchmakers and you can say you saw someone who was cute but you were too nervous to say something, and we can set you up on our side,” Kay said. “A lot of times you’re too nervous, or they talked to someone for two minutes and then got whisked away and never saw them again. That’s happened to me, too, at parties.”
But singles parties don’t work for everyone, even with matchmakers, and even with a ready-made podcast pick-up line.
As a woman in line at the bathroom put it: “Tonight is basically what I expected.”
She and her friend said they were disappointed in the lack of gay singles — “I mean, I talked to the one gay guy here, so that was fun … I wish we had queer nametags or something.”
“It’s such a D.C. thing to be like: Let me go to this dating event because of a podcast,” her friend said. “One guy was like, ‘Let’s talk about podcasts. Do you listen to this one? What about this one?’ ” she said.
Apparently he listens to the LSAT logic puzzle podcast. That could be a deal-breaker.