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Siren founder Susie Lee (left) and designer Katrina Hess. Photo by Lance Mercer.

There is a plethora of online dating websites and apps in what has become a $2 billion market. Match.com. Tinder. Grouper. How About We. OKCupid. Coffee Meets Bagel. The list goes on and on.

But Seattle entrepreneur Susie Lee thinks there’s room for another one — a unique tool that lets women make the first move and takes inspiration from Lee’s experience as a respected contemporary digital artist.

Arriving in the App Store this week is Siren, a dating app that gives power to women and ditches the notion of “matching” that is the focus of today’s popular dating services.

“We’ve created the first mobile platform designed for unexpected and constructive flirting,” Lee tells GeekWire.

Lee, who has degrees in molecular biophysics, biochemistry, secondary science education, and ceramics from schools including Yale and Columbia, was inspired to build Siren after she pinpointed several inefficiencies in the online dating market — which she describes as “inane and infantile in its intrinsic design.”

“On all dating sites, there was immediate discomfort, like women were pinned insects under a spotlight,” explained Lee. “At the same time, the seemingly endless ‘choices’ felt like eating a giant box of cereal where you’re not sated, but you’ve gotten tired of eating. None of the sites incorporated the serendipity or peripheral discovery that had been central to meeting the past men in my life.”

siren321Here’s how Siren works. A user’s profile is generated over time through responses to daily questions and video challenges (generated by local cultural icons and businesses) designed to reveal qualities of each person. Lee calls them “conversation starters” that are fun to answer. Examples include “what’s a hidden gem in Seattle?” or, “what did you want to be when you were a child?”

“You are highlighting the best part of yourself with authenticity,” Lee said.

While both men and women compile their profiles in the same way, only females are allowed to make the first move if they are interested in another user. This gives a woman control of her visibility and maintains a certain level of safety because, as Lee puts it, “if women don’t feel safe, they’re not going to stick around in that space.”

Another unique aspect of Siren: Women can elicit a “Siren Call,” which puts out notifications to a select group of men who are up to meet in the moment.

With the way profiles are built organically, and how the power of matching is given to women, Siren focuses on two dominant themes: Fun and safety.

“We’ve created a space for our community to feel safe opening up to discover the spontaneous charm of others that makes us smile,” Lee said.

When Lee explains Siren’s philosophy, she uses a real-life party analogy to compare the app to her competition. Sites like Match.com, she says, are like parties that require a 10-page interview form to be completed before you even arrive.

siren332“And then the host would tell you that you’re only allowed to talk to six people, who would then give you another 3-page form to fill out,” Lee added.

Then there’s the new crop of “hot or not” apps like Tinder that let users approve potential matches by looking at a few pictures. Lee said these sites are like judging potential invitees of a party in your sweats, with little chance you’re going to get off the couch, change your clothes, and actually attend the event.

So what is Siren like, in comparison?

“Siren is the party where you’ve replied to an invitation that you’re looking forward to, and it’s in a beautiful space,” Lee said. “You enter and get a chance to survey the surroundings, then at some point, someone mentions that he just read a piece by Alice Munro, and you love Alice Munro, and then he quips that 22 seconds is about how much time he can focus on reading nowadays, which makes you laugh. And there’s a charge in the room filled with all this civilized flirting.”

Siren was built by five employees and the company has raised $410,000. Plans to reel in revenue include a sponsored “Question of the Day,” and in-app purchases, along with a membership program.

The app is free to download, but you’ll need an invite code that you can request from Lee [email protected] An Android version is set to debut in October, and plans are in the works for a version that will address the LGBTQ audience as well.

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