Photo Credit: Joe Freeman
Last night noted Tech publication Geekwire presented Seattle-based dating app Siren their ‘App of the Year’ award. The App, a first of its kind, lets women take the lead in online dating. We recently spoke with Siren foundress Susie Lee about creating a fun, feminist space for those looking for love and finding the delicate balance between art and commerce.
What does your typical work day look like?
In my experience with the art and startup worlds, there isn’t a typical day. This doesn’t mean that that my days are haphazard or chaotic; it’s more that the efforts of one day builds upon another in a larger frame of time towards more complex goals. Less hamster wheel, more mountain climbing.
For example, when I’m working towards a museum exhibition, there is a phase of primarily of doubting and idea-generation, some phases more logistics and execution, others are focused on relationship-building and promotion, and still others that are crisis-averting / energy-diverting, and finally phases that are celebratory and rest.
For Siren, the phases have been even more complex, tying in fundraising, specific channels of communication, leadership, team dynamics, product development, philosophizing and evangelizing, branding, and a whole slew of skills never anticipated. But for someone whose experiences and paths tend to be highly ambulatory and meandering, the “not typical” day keeps me thriving (and out of trouble!)
How do you make time to balance both your tech obligations and your art?
Siren is absolutely an embodiment of my art practice. From its inception, I have applied everything I know how to do as an artist to Siren, and Siren has, in turn, refined, sharpened and expanded my skill sets.
But when we talk about “balance” in the context of art-making, it suggests that there are times when a person is”doing” art and times when not. This “clock-in, clock-out” mentality is too rigid, and the whole “I don’t like to think about work after work,” is simply not how I delineate time or energy. While there are certainly concentrated nodes of effort, I tend more towards the fluidity of being continuously open to anything influencing everything–that’s the space where unexpected connections emerge.
You’ve met some resistance from people who seem confused by your dual role and tech entrepreneur and artist. Why do you think some people have such a hard time wrapping their head around someone who does both?
We are coming out of an era of silo-ed identities (and correlates with vertical movements within a professional track.) You went to school for a degree towards a job that led to an advancement. As a parallel in the art world, an artist obtained a BFA, then an MFA, then found a gallery and hopefully sold enough work to become part of a larger gallery that sold more of the work, and so on.
Now, in nearly all realms of society, vertical moves within an organization or path are far less common than horizontal ones. There’s little going up or down a ladder anymore; it’s leaping from discipline to discipline. The divisions are collapsing, and media-allegiance seems antiquated. It’s de rigueur to self-identify (as examples) a blogger / entrepreneur / marathoner or an artist / community activist / social media junkie.
The people who have a hard time wrapping their heads around this are nostalgic for a past short-lived. They might also argue that one can’t be good at multiple things, but that’s nonsense. History has revealed brilliant individuals (women included–let’s keep that visual image in mind as we read the list) who are poets, scientists, philosophers, politicians, writers, and explorers because that’s where their curiosities led them and what the world asked of them.
Siren is currently IPhone only. When will the App be available for all phones?
We are in the middle of fundraising to develop a web app version so that Android and Windows can join Siren. We’ve been hoping and promising Android users for a number of months, but the development team just came together in the last two months. So NOW we can say: Yes, for sure. It’s coming down soon. Let’s say less than two months.
Is there something you’ve learned about yourself or relationships you didn’t know before you ran a dating app?
So….I never used any online dating platform. When a friend asked me to try one, I just about died of boredom trying to make an account, so I never finished. And when I started doing research for Siren, the juvenile layout and interactions were eye-rolling. But these have been the model, unchallenged, for the last ten years, so anyone “experienced” with online dating, I began to realize, has a fairly skewed idea of social discovery.
No site, no matchmaker, no Magic 8-Ball can promise chemistry. But that is the expectation, and I want to gently remind people that the best we can do is provide a safe platform for that initial conversation to start, but beyond that, you have to discover for yourself in real life.
I’m also totally fascinated by those who “tackle” online dating like it’s a no-nonsense recruiting job with very specific parameters. They are focused on their agenda. No judgment at all–if it works, then I’m cheering it on. It’s just different from my approach, which is more a figuring out if we can hang and make each other laugh. Like all the time.
What piece of advice would you give to women jumping on Siren for the first time?
We’re thrilled that there are men and women who have NEVER tried online dating before, but feel that Siren is a safe and respectful way to engage with new people.
For women jumping on Siren for the first time, if they’ve been on other sites, I’d say, we’ve got your back. Siren is never swipe-to-reject. It’s an opt-in platform. Controlling one’s photo visibility is like signaling to another person, “I want you to see me.”
For men, if they’ve been on other sites, I’d say: This is a different space than other dating sites. We are cheering men on to focus on what makes them unique and interesting, and not just swiping for “hot” photos. It takes a few days for your personality to unfold on Siren, so relax. Be charming, be patient, and women will connect with you. And when there’s a Siren connection, you know it’s real.
For anyone who’s never tried online dating, I’d say that we designed Siren to be a space to ease into. There is no shopping. If you don’t answer the Question of the Day, your profile doesn’t show up. You can get a sense of the dynamic and the community before answering any question.
And I’d also say gently to those who have had their heart just broken or grieving over a loss to WAIT. There is healing and there is trying something new. They are different kinds of vulnerabilities. There’s no rush. We’ll be here when you’re ready.