Anyone who has been on a Grouper in New York knows Challen — through texts and e-mails, at least. Challen Hodson is the director of membership experience for Grouper, an online social club that matches groups of three female friends with groups of three male friends. Members of Grouper receive reminder texts and confirmation emails from Challen and can text her back with questions or requests. But don't confuse her with Siri: Challen is the real deal, staying up late to read your texts and giving advice on how to move forward if your Grouper is going well.
We asked Challen to give us her tips on dating in New York, meeting new people and what it's like to be one of the most important influencers in the dating scene here.
Is it really you who answers all of these texts?
Yes, it's really me! We have a number of concierges around the country, so there's a large number of people speaking in different cities, but it's me in New York.
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What are your hours like?
That's something I definitely got used to back in the early days of Grouper. We're not 24/7 — we have to sleep — but we realize that the core of our services does take place at night. So we’ll be available then, that's part of the job. We might get a text from someone two-and-a-half hours into their Grouper because they're going to karaoke and they're asking us which first song they should sing. The hours can be a bit long on certain Grouper nights, but typically we come into the office a little bit later. We start later in the morning and roll through midnight on nights when it’s needed.
What’s the latest time at which you’ve responded to a text?
Probably like 3:30 in the morning. But that’s not very often.
What’s the craziest text you’ve gotten from someone during a Grouper?
There are a lot of crazy ones, but I’m not sure if they’e real or not. I did receive one where the group said, "Challen, throw some luck our way we’re going to Atlantic City." I said, "Are you serious?" And they said, "We're on the train." I think they ended up not going but you can never quite tell where a Grouper’s going to lead.
How often do you get hit on through text?
Our team did a tally and I’m forgetting what the final tally was but it’s a couple of hundred times a year. I think the vast majority are jokes but that's pretty funny nonetheless.
Have you ever gone on a date with someone for whom you originally arranged a Grouper?
I have not. I’ve never been on a date with someone from my Grouper, but I have ton of fun on my Groupers.
You go on them, too? How often do you go?
I can't go that often since I’m actually putting them on, but I go every month or two. I have to schedule my first one for 2014.
How many Karma Points do you have?
I have not reached nirvana, which means I need to go on more Groupers, but I’m in the 1,500 range so I’m pretty close.
Can you explain the Karma Points system?
We came up with the idea that when you do good you deserve good things. Groupers receive Karma Points for referring friends and for going on Groupers. You get them when you invite people to go on your Grouper, and you can get them when people think you’re a lot of fun. We can, as a concierge, give out points when we think someone’s being an exceptionally awesome member, and sometimes we’ll slip in a few extra Karma Points.
On the site, it says 2,000 points gets users the "Craziest Night Ever." What is that?
You get to the top level and we’ll set up a phone call, ask you a few questions, find out what you and your friends are really into and we’ll help plan a really epic night, whether it’s concert tickets or sporting events or dinner and drinks in a really awesome place in your city. It’s a pretty fun thing.
How many people have gotten them?
We’ve handed out a couple of dozen. We have a lot of really awesome members who climbed their way up the Karma ladder.
What are your favorite date spots in the city?
I have some personal favorites from Groupers I’ve been on. I think there are a lot of really fun places we work with and we’re always bringing people on board. I really like Ainsworth Park — everybody’s there after work and it has a really fun, convivial vibe. I also really like Entwine in the West Village — they have an awesome spicy margarita and that’s really good. The Stanton Social is also one of my favorites. I think it’s always really fun to go parts of town where there are lots of bars to go to afterward. After a couple of rounds you want to change up the vibe and that’s always really fun to do on a Grouper.
What’s your advice for people going on a first Grouper?
Relax and have fun. You’re there with two of your best friends and it’s really just a time to put away the phone – the whole point of meeting people is to talk to them and ask questions. Don’t even look at your phone. It’s a really good time to meet people across the table or next to you because hopefully you’ve staggered a bit. The whole point of it is to meet new people and make new friends.
What do people usually ask you when they need advice?
Sometimes they might ask me, "Hey, how can I ask someone if they want to hang out again and what do you suggest?" What I say is to get the whole gang back together and do something new. Kind of the whole point of it is to meet new people, introduce them to your friends, and some of the best stories are from people who went on a Grouper and they’re already all Facebook friends and going to housewarming or birthday parties the next weekend.
Do people ever recognize you from Grouper?
Not off the cuff, but I was at a party recently that was not in New York so I felt removed from Grouper and someone said, "Challen, you need to meet Jack and Matt — they’re Grouper members," and they were like, "Oh my God, that's awesome." It’s really fun when I get introduced to people I’ve really only interacted with through text or email, but I’m not getting spotted on the street or anything. A lot of people ask, "Are you a robot? How are you doing all of this?" so it’s refreshing for people to know OK, you’re real, so it’s kind of fun for everybody.
How are you doing all of this? Do you use a program to help you out?
I have a little hand from technology so it’s not all thumbs. It definitely helps speed up things for sure.
How do you deal with nasty texts?
From my perspective and working on the member experience side, it’s really something we understand. If someone isn’t having a good time then that’s a problem we also solve. It all depends and most of our members are the most awesome people ever, but for the occasional text that isn’t super nice it’s really just trying to put yourself in their position and see if there’s something you can text that can fix it. I try to send a really caring message and figure out what we can do to solve it. Sometimes it’s all a joke and they’ll say I’m just kidding and I'm like, don't do that to me! I just try to be as respectful as possible to that person and figure out how to get them on an awesome Grouper next time.
Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark