New Yorkers sick of the uncertainties of the urban dating scene can now turn to a new app designed to reduce the complexities of dating to dollars and cents.
Ohlala, a controversial on-demand escort dating app popular in Germany, is launching its services today in its first American market, New York City.
It was no sooner than Ohlala’s CEO and co-founder Pia Poppenreiter had begun describing her app as one that “connects people to go on instant, paid dates, ” that she began listing a cavalcade of caveats. “But what happens on the date is actually a private matter, ” Poppenreiter said. “And you have to wait to use the app until you’re 21.”
Of course we both knew what we were talking about, but my going through the process of an interview filled with raised eyebrows and eye rolls is probably fairly representative of the marketing that the Berlin-founded Ohlala will be undergoing as it begins selling the gospel of romance-by-the-hour in NYC.
The app, which launched in Germany this past August, has already facilitated over 25, 000 paid connections for hot-to-trot users. In addition to today’s NYC launch, the app is also adding three new cities (Stuttgart, Cologne and Dusseldorf) to its German market, which already includes Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich and Hamburg. The company also announced a $1.7 million seed round raise today with investment from Max Finger, Ben Kubota and Markus Ertler.
Before creating Ohlala, Poppenreiter had worked on building Peppr, an app that more explicitly sought to connect clients to sex workers providing “erotic entertainment.” Where the app struggled was in the logistics of facilitating these connections quickly. Clients sent requests directly to sex workers and the interface led to a significant number of canceled requests.
Ohlala approaches the connection for “paid dates” in a manner that allows for more instant liaising. Once a male user puts in a request, which includes such subtle romanticisms as hours needed and desired price, the inquiry has just 21 minutes to be accepted by a female user in the area before it disappears into the erogenous ether.
If a request is accepted by a female user, the pair then have the opportunity to negotiate a bit on pricing and time before settling to meet offline.
After hearing this explanation, I admit I somehow accidentally referred to Ohlala as an escort service at which point Poppenreiter reminded me that her company has never referred to itself as such and, moreover, that she would more accurately classify it as a dating app with a payment mechanism built into it.Though Ohlala appears to have gotten its legal ducks in a row by willful ignorance (IANAL), it’s probably worth noting that there are some pretty significant differences between prostitution laws in Germany and the state of New York.
Germany has what many would call a booming sex work industry, where regulations are more generally aimed at protecting the sex workers’ well-being and safety. Though prostitution is technically legal throughout Germany, due to local prostitution-free zoning practices, sex work is only fully legal in about 2 percent of the country geographically speaking. New York is a bit different. State laws classify prostitution as a class B Misdemeanor and the act of patronizing a prostitute as a class A Misdemeanor, where fines would be a maximum of $1000 or less than a year in jail.
All in all, Ohlala doesn’t quite sound like a dating service New Yorkers should use if they’re looking to find the loves of their lives, unless they have rather deep pockets that is. Poppenreiter told me that average pricing for the “paid dates” in Germany runs anywhere between 100 to 200 euros per hour.