The email alert arrived, and it sounded kinda dirty.
John just ensed you!
What is an ense? Is it pronounced like a French word or a house music beat? Should I care that John listened to some of my enses four to 10 times before responding?
I didn’t think that I would, but now I do. These weren’t gotcha questions, John.
Bachelor Nation contestants rarely do interviews about their season when the season is still airing. So when a PR representative for Ense asked if I would like to speak to John Graham, a contestant on Becca Kufrin’s season of “The Bachelorette,” I jumped at the chance to get behind-the-scenes details. Even if it meant I had to download an app I would never use again.
Going on a dating reality show is all about trusting the process, I reasoned, so I would play along with Graham’s process.
Ense, created by Venmo co-founder Iqram Magdon-Ismail, allows you to send audio snippets, like a voice memo you might deliver via text, but contained in a separate app. Graham used to work for Venmo, so maybe he’s trying to use his 15 minutes of fame to help out his buddy, Magdon-Ismail. Or maybe this is how a software engineer becomes a social media influencer: by hawking an app.
After a contestant with a big following appears on “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette,” they frequently pick up Instagram sponsorships, shilling for meal delivery services, makeup subscription boxes or weighted blankets. Ashley Iaconetti, who’s been on several “Bachelor” shows, swears by the Blanquil. Former Bachelor Nick Viall has done sponsored posts for Smirnoff vodka and Smart Sweets, a stevia-sweetened gummy bear.
But if you’re on “The Bachelorette” for just a few episodes, you have a paltry 18,000 Instagram followers (both Iaconetti and Viall have over 1 million) and you’re a computer science nerd, this is what you do instead.
Ense is a chat app for overthinkers — for those who want to record and rerecord what they say and how they say it. Here are snippets of my conversation with Venmo John (as he has become known on social media), edited for clarity and length.
Why did you go on the show?
I wasn’t having much luck dating in San Francisco. My friends were talking about “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” and they encouraged me to apply. I went to Los Angeles a couple times for interviews and a week later I flew to L.A. for the actual filming. It happened really quickly.
How would you describe the dating experience on “The Bachelorette” versus real life?
Normally when you go on dates in the real world, you spend a few hours — you get a drink or you get a meal — and you just get to know them on a sort of surface level. What’s your favorite Netflix show? What do you like to do on Saturdays? What do you do after work? How to do you like to spend your free time? It’s just fun and playful, and it flows very easily. But then a few weeks later, you really start to get to know somebody. You learn about their values, their morals, what they think about family issues and where they see themselves in several years. Then you start to ask yourself: Is this person going to line up with my future and my goals? And are they going to be the type of person who helps me grow into myself and improve over time?
On “The Bachelorette,” it’s in reverse. You sit down with Becca and those longer-term questions come up first. It feels a little unnatural, but in a weird way it kind of works, because you can filter out who might not be a good fit for you early on if their values and their goals don’t line up with yours right from the get-go. So if you’re able to do that effectively — and Becca responds really well to that — you can build a relationship incredibly fast.
You’re about to be a contestant on “Bachelor in Paradise.” What are your expectations and what would you like to do differently?
When I arrived for “The Bachelorette,” it seemed like everyone was a former NFL player or something. I was so intimidated. I didn’t say much; I felt like I couldn’t be myself around everybody because there were cameras. It’s a very stressful environment. It took me a few weeks to settle into my groove, and by the time I did feel comfortable around Becca and comfortable around the cameras, it was a little too late. My relationship with Becca was far behind the other guys’ relationships.
In “Paradise,” I want to hit the ground running. On “Paradise,” it seems a little more natural, where you can sit with somebody and spend a whole day or just five minutes. I really want to put myself out there and give a chance with all of the women there before I settle down on any one person.
What kind of relationship are you looking for?
That’s the golden question, isn’t it? First and foremost, I love it when someone doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Can they laugh at themselves? Can they laugh at me? Can they live in the moment and not be too addicted to distractions or to other things in the world and just really enjoy hanging out with me for the little things? Another thing that I really like is someone who can be present and be intellectually available and intellectually stimulating. So there’s two sides of a relationship that I want — one is that goofy, fun, playful, silly side and the other is that more serious emotional, mental and intellectual side. Also I want someone that is ambitious and driven.
Tell me about the dynamic in the mansion with the other guys.
I thought I was going to not like most of the cast members. I came in thinking I was very different — from an athletic level and from a diversity level. I was so surprised at how awesome the other cast members were (all but a couple). I understand we’re supposed to be competitors and we’re all supposed to be chasing this one woman, but I found myself much closer with the guys than I did with Becca. I wanted to compete with them and have more time with Becca, but I was also good friends with everybody at this point so I also weirdly wanted them to do well, too. So when we’re hanging out at the mansion, or when we’re traveling, you’re just kind of bro-ing out.
You really excelled on the lumberjack group date, climbing that log the fastest. Is that kind of sport something you have experience with?
The lumberjack group date, baby! That was a good moment for me. I actually did a bit of rock-climbing in New York, when I lived there. I knew the other guys were super-athletic and I was competing against Blake, who’s just a phenomenal athlete. I just kept telling my team: “I got this.” And everyone was like: “All right, John. We trust you. Let’s do it.” I put on this persona of: I’m going to crush it. And even though I was super-nervous, I hyped myself up so much with the other guys that they totally believed in me and that almost just carried me up the pole in itself. As someone who was kind of picked on and didn’t have the most friends when I was younger, it was really cool to just have all my buddies and Becca watching me and cheering me on.
Tell me one thing that viewers of “The Bachelorette” would be surprised to know about you?
I know I’m Venmo John from reading some tweets and stuff, but I’m not that nerdy. Yeah, I’m a programmer. And yeah, I like to talk about optimizing my algorithms on a near-daily basis for work. But outside of work, I like to turn it off and unplug. I try to really have a balanced lifestyle. When I’m not at work, I’m out with friends; I’m going on long runs to the Golden Gate Bridge. I really enjoy cooking.
Whom do you think Becca will pick?
I’m not going to name names. But I will say: Watch Becca and see who she proactively initiates affection for. Watch the guys that she goes to kiss or that she proactively hugs or makes goo-goo eyes for. Those are the people she’s building a genuine connection with.