It began, as most things do, with a conversation.
Shanelle Grimes was talking with a male friend about her love life when she realized she didn't have much of one. Neither did some of her friends.
"I was like, 'I'm getting older, I feel like everyone else is getting older with me, and I'm not getting married,'" she said. "What's going on?"
Her desire turned into an idea - a speed-dating event - but it fell by the wayside. She brought up the idea again, this time to some female coworkers.
From there, Grimes and fellow flight attendants Angie Larson and Katherine Backus created Outside the Box Dating, a Charlotte-based speed-dating service website that, at its simplest, aims to bring people together who wouldn't otherwise meet. Unlike other dating services online, users don't actually meet each other virtually or create profiles. Participants use the website to register for events, which include speed-dating and mixers hosted by Grimes, Larson and Backus. After an event, the ladies determine matches by gathering feedback from scorecards that use a system anyone who went through elementary school would recognize: "yes," "no" and "maybe." "Yeses" and "maybes" get each others' email addresses. Hopefully "nos" at least had a good time.
"It's funny, some people will circle 'no' a bunch and put hearts around 'yes,'" Larson said.
Another factor that separates Outside the Box from other dating services is that its events are geared toward specific groups of people. Their first and only event, held this month, was for African-American women and non-African American men. Twenty-seven people - 12 men, 15 women - showed up. Their next event, in March, is for lesbians only.
When Grimes went through that soul-searching of sorts to conceive the company, she realized that because she was limiting her dating choices to her race - black - she was hurting her chances of finding the right man.
"My family doesn't care, my friends don't care," Grimes, also Outside's CEO, said. "Why am I limiting myself to certain men?" The company's owners even reflect its mission. Like Grimes, Backus is African American. Larson is white.
"There are so many cultures here, but we're not dating each other," Larson said.
They mostly advertise through word of mouth and handing out flyers to different businesses and organizations in town. As they roamed the streets advertising their first event, an African-American male followed them out of his store, curious about the qualifications he saw on the flyer.
"He was confused by the 'non-African American men' part," Grimes said. "I just looked at him and said, 'Yup, you read it right!"
Stereotypes and stigmas hardly concern the women. None of them have ever run a business, and they admit they learn as they go. How to advertise is their biggest issue - and also their most time-consuming. They've spent weeks in different neighborhoods handing out flyers to restaurants, bars, churches, even fire and police departments ("They love us," Backus said). They haven't turned a profit yet - which answers one of their questions, How much do we pay ourselves? - but with time they hope to give up their day jobs and expand their services to different cities across the nation. Backus is from Arkansas, Larson from Utah, and Grimes from Delaware, and each has received encouragement, through family and friends back home, that there is need beyond Charlotte for Outside the Box.
Even the owners could benefit from their business. All three are available.