Siren co-founder Susie Lee speaks at TEDxRainier. • Courtesy Photo

If you are a woman, imagine a place where you are able to meet people online and feel that you are not subjected to overwhelming, unwanted male gaze. This is a world that Susie Lee has created with her team, and it is an online dating app called Siren.

Siren seeks to turn the current online dating culture upside down: your profile is not static, you add to it by answering the Question of the Day (QOTD) which shows your personality; women are allowed to blur their photos; you do not “match” with anybody, you make a “connection.” The overarching idea is to make online dating feel less like “shopping for humans,” as Lee put it.

Long before Lee co-founded and became CEO of Siren and before she moved to Seattle in the mid ’90s, she was a die-hard East Coast fan and a high school chemistry teacher in New York City. She then transitioned her career into digital art, though her original entry into art was through ceramic and clay. In a way, this is what made creating Siren possible.

“If you work in clay you really do believe you can change the world, because you have this lump of thing that you’re suddenly molding into something you want,” Lee said. “But I moved into digital art because I like the idea of things changing … and mutating and being a cutting-edge thing. I’m very used to willing something into existence.”

In 2013, Lee bought her first smartphones where she discovered apps through observing her friends’ interaction with their devices.

“I was like, ‘What are those squares? Those squares seem like websites,’” she said. “Then I was like, ‘Oh I get it! I said, these squares are important to people. I’m gonna make one of those squares.’”

This, coupled with hearing and experiencing first-hand how awful online dating could be, especially for women, inspired Lee to create Siren with her co-founder, Katrina Hess. Lee also said that working initially in digital art put her in a crossroad where collaboration and communication with people with skills in coding and others she does not have are central to the success of her projects, including Siren.

Siren’s most unique feature is its QOTD, which functions as a “home” page. Siren approaches the local creative types—writers, actors, musicians, and others—and has them ask a question for users to answer. The questions range from “How many cats is too many cats?” to ones about racism and privilege. Here, the goal is to get users talking and meeting people who are interesting. It’s akin to a classroom discussion facilitated by an instructor.

“For me it’s very difficult, for example, to show someone’s humor on a static profile. It’s very difficult to ask someone a question on racism, but we did. And … texting someone, ‘How do you feel about white privilege?’ is a very hard thing to ask. But if the host asked that question to everybody, it’s a very different dynamic,” Lee said.

Siren sees itself as a “a relaxed, conversation community that sets the tone for discovery, safety, and respect.” In light of the murder of Ingrid Lyne, having an online dating space that is safe for women becomes more urgent. Through her research of popular dating apps such as Tinder before launching Siren, she noticed the flaws of their model. Notably, many online dating apps and websites are created by men.

“If you think about it, the idea that you’re shopping for humans the way you shop for shoes, it’s not surprising to think that this is how people are treating each other,” Lee said. “It’s not that meeting people should be work. It should be fun, it should be exciting and intriguing. But like anything that’s meaningful, you put a little effort into it.”

CAPE Project is a forum connecting and engaging innovative entrepreneurs by sharing stories of their entrepreneurial journey. It’s a growing community of diverse entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors with connections to the Asia Pacific Rim community. CAPE Project is an initiative launched by Hing Hay Coworks, a program of the Seattle Chinatown-ID Preservation and Development Authority. For more information, visit capeproject.org.

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