Susie Lee is sitting on a tall wooden stool inside the Cloud Room, the luxurious co-working space on Capitol Hill, her “support” dog Asa, a Shiba Inu, sleeping by her feet, a phalanx of cameras and lights encircling her.
She’s being interviewed by Gary Bredow, the host of the docuseries “Start Up,” which airs on PBS affiliates. The crew is in town this week, filming segments for its fourth season.
After an hour of exploring her radical transformation from pre-med student to teacher to artist to CEO of the dating app Siren, he wanted to know, what makes her lose sleep?
Nothing, she explained: “As an artist, you have be comfortable with uncertainty.”
Siren is one of three local businesses chosen by the Detroit-based production company Parliament Studios. The show will also feature chef Edouardo Jordan, 36, and his acclaimed restaurant, Salare, which opened in June of last year, and Nikki Closser, a social-worker-turned-photographer. The finished segments will air this fall.
Camera operator Alex Liapunov, left, captures an interview for the show Start Up, with host Gary Bredow and Siren CEO Susie Lee. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)
After watching more than 80 percent of the staff get laid off from the Clear Channel media company during the recession, Bredow was inspired to start his own business and make a show about other independent businesses. “I wasn’t part of the layoffs but I was disgusted with the system,” he said. He had been working as the director of Digital Media there.
He’d done a few documentaries before, including “High Tech Soul,” about Detroit techno, so he knew his way around a camera.
For “Start Up,” he went around Michigan to find out how small-business owners were creating companies. Since then, Bredow and the show’s producer Jenny Feterovich have covered everything from a store that sells zombie-related merchandise (opened just in time to capitalize on the success of “The Walking Dead”) to a guy who has created his own sport, “fowling,” a mashup of bowling and football (a player throws a football instead of a bowling ball at the pins.)
Bredow and Feterovich found the Seattle businesses a few different ways; Siren submitted an online application. Feterovich read about Salare and Nikki Closser on a blog. “We had over 100 businesses to take a look at in Seattle after everything is said and done,” she said.
“Start Up” host Gary Bredow interviews Siren CEO Susie Lee, during a taping for the show on Wednesday, May 25. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)
She chose Siren because of its unique profile: One of the few female-run dating apps, it relies less on visual “hot or not”–style swiping like Tinder. Instead users answer a question of the day to get to know each other. Women are allowed to choose whether their profile photos can be seen by suitors. “I don’t think the story from a female perspective of dating online has ever been told,” Feterovich said. “From my research they are the first company actually doing that.”
During filming, six of Siren’s users showed up to give testimonials for the show. They ranged in age — from 20-somethings to a 64-year-old man. Though most had not found success on the app, they appreciated its less superficial approach. One couple, Jared Bender, 28, and Rosalie Daggett, 32, met on the app when it was in its infancy in 2014 and are still dating.
They commended Lee for finding a niche. “She was turned off on how bad other dating sites were. She didn’t like that and opted to fix it,” Bender said.
On Thursday, “Start Up” filmed Closser’s photography business, which specializes in studio portraits and makeovers, as well as wedding photography. Over the course of several years, Closser was able to build up her business enough to be able to leave her job as a social worker. “There are people out there who are stuck in a career, wishing they could do something else,” she said. “Maybe I could inspire someone to take steps toward doing what they love.
”Saturday, the film crew will trail Jordan, the chef, as he shops at the market and cooks. At first he was hesitant to participate. “I’m not a TV personality kind of chef,” he said.
But after reconsidering, he thought, “I didn’t have the most guidance in the world. I could share my story with other folks and give a little bit of guidance of what it takes and what you need to do.”
Unlike other quasi-reality shows, Bredow hopes “Start Up” moves people to take action.
“Susie is full of life and energy,” he said of Lee. “She has a contagious positive spirit about her. Somebody is going to watch this and be inspired by her.”