Featured on Jul 01, 2011
Co-founder of Grouper. Journalism apps include Paperbuff and Qomments with Michael Waxman. Previously a foreign correspondent for Newsweek and the last Western journalist living in Tehran during the "Twitter Revolution," with the dubious honor of getting caught in a photo having a laugh with President Ahmadinejad. Achille's heel: being a ski bum.
How did you decide to make the switch from developing more journalism-related apps to creating an app like Grouper, which focuses more on social networking? How did you come up with the idea for Grouper?
Grouper is a social club for friends: we set up two groups of friends who don't know each other for a drink (and it's guys meet girls to make it a bit more interesting).
Michael and I just weren't convinced we had a solution to the news personalization problem that would be substantially better than apps out there like Zite and Flipboard. But in the social space, we thought the insight of you going out with your friends combined with us handling all the details in creating an awesome night (including finding another group to meet you) could be the recipe for something really fun.
We wanted to build a product people want, and there's no greater want than to have and nurture human connections. In college, I had an obsession with social psychology, and Michael intuitively picks up on subtle social dynamics, so for us, this was one big social experiment: would people trust us to match them? (We use data from your Facebook profile to do this.) As it turns out, when you create the right environment--having a curated/exclusive community of interesting people, managing expectations that these aren't "dates", keeping the matches blind to build anticipation, and frankly, doing all the work on our end in planning the night out--people love it!
How long did you live in Tehran for? How did you come about living there? What were the best and worst experiences you had while living there?
I flew to Amsterdam the day after graduation, blew what little I had in the bank, and spent the rest on a flight to Tehran where I was suppose to teach entrepreneurship at the University of Tehran. But because of the post-election violence (this was the summer of 2009), I lost my job and the university gave me an hour to vacate my dorm.
I ended up couchsurfing for the summer, working at a local hedge fund by day while running with the Iranian youth opposition by night. I started writing about my time with them, and in the process accidentally became the last Western journalist in Iran.
It turned out to be the best summer of my life, as I had the privilege to do some serious journalism but also found the time to hang out with some awesome people, including a house DJ, a fashion photographer, punk skateboarders, and student protest organizers (all of whom were driven underground because of the crackdown on what's seen as "Western culture").
The best/worst experience was getting arrested for mistakenly confused as an Afghan refugee, and then getting released when the police mistakenly thought I was a South Korean soap opera star.
On your days off, what do you do for fun around NYC?
I perversely enjoy moving every month, so I've been subletting a new apartment in a different neighborhood each month. Also just started doing a yoga crawl of the city. Goals for the summer: learn how to rollerblade, kitesurf to the Statue of Liberty, find the perfect fruit smoothie.