From Satire To Singles: Former President Of The Onion Is Running A New Dating Site

Sean MillsSean Mills, CEO of The Nerve

Photo: The Nerve

Take men. Add women. Put a computer between them.What’s the perfect background to bring these three together? Eight years as president of one of the greatest satire sites of all time, The Onion.

That’s Sean Mills’ story. He is currently the CEO of Nerve and its new Nerve Dating site. But before that, he was president of the Onion.

Nerve is a blog that writes about love and sex. Years ago it sold technology to publishers that let them offer online dating services to their readers. The Onion had used it and that’s how Mills knew of the Nerve — and learned about the online dating business.

The problem was that Mills was also single at the time and felt like all online dating sites sucked. “I tried online dating but I was kind turned off by it. I felt like I was auctioning myself off on eBay. It didn’t seem to mirror how things worked offline.”

Under Mills’ leadership, Nerve Dating raised about $1 million from VCs Lerer Ventures, Firstmark Capital plus some angels, and started from scratch.

The new site lets people meet each other by starting conversations. For instance, one feature is called  “What Did You Do Last Night?” If you watched an episode of Modern Family, it will match you with others who watched it, too.

“It helps create context for conversations as opposed to cold calling someone,” Mills describes.

It seems to be working too. Nerve Dating launched in December in one city, New York, and is now available in a handful more, but it’s already attracted about 30,000 members and membership is doubling monthly. Participants are twice as likely to enter conversations than they are to send a cold-call kind of message, and when they use one of the conversation starting features, they are 30 per cent more likely to get a response, he says.

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