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Lulu app lets women read reviews of guys before dating


Staff member
Can you imagine if a guy had started a site to review women before dating? The complaints of sexism and misogyny would have been loud... But maybe the time is ripe for some dude to start Guylu, where guys can judge women and sum up their entire personalities with a one word description and a hashtag! Or maybe these two women will when they have secured venture capital funding after sleeping with some bankers.

What’s He Really Like? Check the Lulu App

Elizabeth Lippman for The New York Times

Not long ago, after Alexandra Amin, an assistant at Warner Brothers, broke up with an agent she had been dating for a year, her friend told her about a new, free, female-friendly social networking app that lets women anonymously review men who are their Facebook friends.

“She was like, ‘He’s so crazy, you should rate him on Lulu,’ ” said Ms. Amin, 29, who lives in Los Angeles. Ms. Amin gave the ex hashtags including #NeverSleepsOver and #FriendZone. He scored a 6.9 out of 10, which, she admitted, was “lower than he actually deserves.”

On Lulu, women can rate men in categories — ex-boyfriend, crush, together, hooked-up, friend or relative — with a multiple-choice quiz. Women, their gender verified by their Facebook logins, add pink hashtags to a man’s profile ranging from the good (#KinkyInTheRightWays) to the bad (#NeverSleepsOver) to the ugly (#PornEducated). The hashtags are used to calculate a score generated by Lulu, ranging from 1 to 10, that appears under the man’s profile picture. (The company’s spokeswoman declined to explain the ratings algorithm.) Men can add hashtags, which appear in blue, but these are not factored into their overall score.

Since it was started last year by Alexandra Chong, who has a law degree from the London School of Economics, the service has provided a sort of “Take Back the Internet” moment for young women who have come of age in an era of revenge porn and anonymous, possibly ominous suitors. “The thing that drew me to Lulu was that dating without a reference is the scariest thing you can do,” said Erin Foster, 31, an actress and writer. “Meeting someone out in the world when you’re not in school or don’t work with each other or have mutual friends — you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

Ms. Chong, 32, a former member of the Jamaica Fed Cup tennis team, is now relocating Lulu from London to New York, where she said the audience for her app had grown 600 percent in the last six months, according to the analytics provider Mixpanel. “The trendsetting capital for women is New York and that’s where we need to be,” she said recently.

Sewell Robinson, 24, who lives in the East Village and works for an advertising agency, estimated that 70 percent of her female friends use Lulu; she has reviewed 10 men on the app, some generously. “I have written a few reviews to promote guy friends,” Ms. Robinson said. “If a random girl meets them in a bar and is somewhat interested, I want them to have a good rep on Lulu.”

But she has also panned men, in a sisterly spirit. “I think sometimes girls feel like they don’t have that much power in the hookup world,” Ms. Robinson said, “but this gives them something to bond over, and you can give advice to a girl you’ve never met before.” Appropriately enough, the app was introduced in sororities, which representatives of the company continue to visit. “Sororities are an established network of girls who are talking about relationships, and word spreads very quickly,” Ms. Chong said. “We changed the product a lot with their help.” (She said that a quarter of all college women now use Lulu, according to Mixpanel.)

Ms. Chong herself never belonged to a sorority; she attended Florida International University on a tennis scholarship and after law school worked for Upstream, a large mobile marketing firm. She credited her entrepreneurialism in part to her Canadian mother, whose family helped start the Calgary Stampede, the summer rodeo, and her Chinese-Jamaican father, who she said was born poor but won a lottery and used the windfall to start a tourism company.

She got the idea for Lulu during a boozy brunch with female friends the day after an awkward Valentine’s Day setup. “We were all sharing stories about guys, relationships and sex,” Ms. Chong said. “There were tears and laughter.” She concluded that women needed a focused search engine for dating — a “Guygle.”

“When you Google a guy, you don’t want to know if he voted Republican or what he wrote a paper about in college,” Ms. Chong said. “You want to know if mothers like him. Does he have good manners? Is he sweet?”

Ms. Chong founded Lulu with a friend, Alison Schwartz, a former assistant to the literary agent Amanda Urban, known as Binky. Last February, they secured $2.5 million in financing from people including Yuri Milner, an early investor in Facebook, and Hosain Rahman, a founder of Jawbone.

Ms. Schwartz, 35, is Lulu’s editorial director. She said she drew from Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazines to come up with the app’s supportive voice. “Our goal was always to sound like how young women talk to their own friends,” she said.

They currently employ about 30 people and have signed an eight-year lease for a 5,500-square-foot raw space in Chelsea, where they plan to move the company early next year.

Ms. Chong no longer has need to be an active Lulu user; she is shopping for apartments downtown with her boyfriend, Jack Brockway, 33, a photographer who is the nephew of Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin Group founder, and the brother of Ned Rocknroll, Kate Winslet’s new husband.

Ms. Chong and Mr. Brockway met last spring on Maui at a kite-surfing and networking event where she was giving a lecture and he was shooting a promotional video. They had a brief make-out session and went their separate ways.

A week later, they met again, this time at Mr. Branson’s Necker Island in the Caribbean, and had another night of passion. The next day, Mr. Brockway sat in on another of Ms. Chong’s Lulu lectures, unaware of her plan to demonstrate her app by reviewing him in front of his friends and family members.

“People thought she was teasing,” Mr. Brockway said, flashing his #EpicSmile and rubbing his #ThreeDayStubble during a recent dinner party in SoHo attended by friends including Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, a founder of Gilt Groupe, and Princess Eugenie of York.

Mr. Brockway has since gotten several more reviews (#DudeCanCook), none quite as glowing as the one written by his girlfriend, but he nonetheless has an exceptionally high 9.8 ranking. “There’s nothing I can do about it except be the best person I can be,” he said, adding: “It inspires guys to be good and treat girls the way they should be treated. Like angels.”

Not all men are so magnanimous about their presence on Lulu, of course. Last summer, Neel Shah, a comedy writer, was at a bar in Los Angeles on a date with a woman who pulled up his profile. “She started reading me these negative hashtags and I was like, ‘Uh, this is awkward,’ ” said Mr. Shah, 30, whose profile has been viewed 448 times and “favorite” eight times for an average score of 6.7. His hashtags include #TallDarkAndHandsome and #CleansUpGood, along with the less flattering #TemperTantrums and #WanderingEye.

“One of the comments was, ‘laughing at his jokes may take some effort,’ which I certainly thought was subjective,” Mr. Shah said. “I feel like if you’re using an app like Lulu, you’re probably not interested in nuanced analysis.”

Still, Lulu has received over 500,000 requests from men to be put up for feedback. Apparently many believe it’s better to have been badly reviewed than never to have been reviewed. Some guys have even taken to Twitter to brag about their score or campaign for better reviews. Receiving a score of 6.5, one Mike Isaac tweeted gamely: “I can only assume this is on a scale of 1 to 5.”

Eric Morgan, a real estate broker who lives in Brooklyn, was relieved to find out from a female friend that he has a 7.6 score with three reviews and hashtags referring to his one-track mind and “amazing” smell.

“I would say that at a particular time I may have had a one-track mind and at a particular moment I may have smelled really good, but they just caught me in that moment,” said Mr. Morgan, 36. “Someone else could say the exact opposite, but I’m not complaining.”

Men who do find reason for complaint can pile on the blue hashtags, or have their profile removed by request to the company. But Ms. Chong has the grand hope that Lulu will accomplish what generations of women have not been able to do: change the opposite sex.

“There’s an element of behavior modification that we’re hearing and seeing,” she said. “When we do sessions at colleges, we ask guys, ‘Have any of you changed since Lulu launched?’ Hands go up.”

For Ms. Amin of Los Angeles, though, the satisfaction is more immediate. Since her initial experience with Lulu she has rated three other guys on Lulu, including one who proposed to her on their first date. (#WantsBebes, #ObsessedWithHisMom).

“It’s just this gratifying thing that you know you can do,” she said. “You have no control of whether a guy is great or a jerk and at the end of the experience, even if no one reads it, you feel like you have gotten back at the guy. You have taken a bit of control.”

Alex D. from TRIBE on Utility Room