With 2.3 million users in almost every country in the world, Grindr is by far the most popular networking app for gay men. Joel Simkhai, CEO of Grindr, says it has revolutionized the way guys meet and encourages them to “get out of the house.”
Can we call you the gay Mark Zuckerburg?
[laughs] I wouldn’t call myself that. I do think we’ve got a similar desire to help people connect in a new way, and we’ve got similar goals. He’s a little more interested in helping you connect with people you already know and are already in your existing network. I’m more interested in helping people create new relationships, meeting new people.
Where did you get the idea for Grindr?
I’ve always wanted an easier way to meet guys. You see someone walk by and you don’t do anything about it. I’ve looked for an easier way to meet and connect, and I was always frustrated that location wasn’t a key factor. I’m a big believer that it’s all about location. That’s always been something that’s been really important to me. Finally the second-generation iPhone came out and really provided the technology, for the first time, to make this possible. I jumped on the opportunity, contacted a friend of mine and a developer, and we worked on putting this together.
How fast did Grindr start growing, and was it the result of marketing or did it take off on its own?
We never did any paid marketing or anything like that. It has been mostly word of mouth, organic. We’ve had press: The New York Times mentioned us, the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, press in the UK. We’ve had mentions on different TV shows. But the key has been people telling each other, “Have you seen this new app? Look at the guy I met last night. What do you think of him?”
Did you expect Grindr to be as successful as it has been?
I was hopeful. I hoped it would do well in the States. I hoped maybe some guys in Los Angeles would use it, maybe New York. I never expected it to be so international. We are in 192 countries, almost every country in the world. Some of our top cities are London and Paris. Japan is a great country for us. That’s been amazing, but also the usage of the app too. On average our users spend an hour and a half each day on the app. We have more than 500,000 guys online a day spending an hour and a half on the app. It’s certainly taken on a life of its own, and that’s really exciting.
Some say services such as Grindr make people less social in bars and clubs – browsing their phones rather than socializing. Do you disagree?
I do. I actually think it makes people more social. I think we’ve made it a lot easier to meet people. You now can go anywhere and find people who are around you and talk to them and meet them. You are incentivized to get out of the house. If you stay at home on Grindr all the time, you’re going to see the same people. If you go out, especially in New York, you go five blocks in Manhattan and see a whole new set of guys. This is less of an issue in New York, but if you’re in the suburbs, you might see 40 guys within 200 feet of you, which you’re not going to see at home. We’re encouraging people to go out and not stay at home, encouraging them to go where there are a lot of gay guys. That has been a reversing of the trend of the websites, the online dating sites. It really forces you to make a decision. Do you want to be online at home, or out and about? With Grindr you can go anywhere, in a taxi or a checkout line at the supermarket, and go on Grindr. You couldn’t do that with a dating website. It is mobile. It is location based. It is with you whenever you want it. The interaction changes, and that’s really what Grindr is all about. That makes it different than any other service.
Do you have plans to roll out any new features soon? What features are people asking for?
We never really talk about upcoming features, partially because you never know what’s going to happen. Certain features don’t quite work out and we don’t implement them, so we’re of the belief that we should talk about what’s actually out there and not just what we’re thinking about. We’re always looking for ways to enhance the experience of meeting people, finding people, more fun and faster and easier, making the app more stable and making it a better experience.
There is a “Looking For” section on user profiles, but looking for “sex” is not one of the options. For an app many people use for that purpose, why is that option missing?
We don’t see ourselves as an adult service. We see it as a way to meet people, and we want to make it comfortable for people to find other people for things like friendships and networking and chat. We did a survey of our users, asking what are the top things you’re looking to do on Grindr. The #1 thing was friends. People are looking for friends. We asked who made friends and how many, and 84% said they made at least one friend on Grindr. Friendships, chat, those are the key aspects of Grindr for most of our users. Certainly others might be looking for other things. We also have Apple to keep in mind. They’ve got some rules about profanity and pornography, so we’re also mindful of how this service is packaged.
Has Grindr been profitable for you?
We don’t talk about our financials. What we do talk about is that we have never raised any outside money or capital. The two revenue streams we have to sustain our business and our team of 60 people working on Grindr and keep our servers running are advertising on the free version and the $2.99 monthly fee on the paid version, which offers extra features. Half our revenue comes from the paid version, and the other half from the ad-supported version.
You have a new app coming out. Tell us more about Project Amicus?
We launched Grindr on the grounds that there is a need among gay men to find out who is around them, to meet. But we have also found that there are straight men and lesbians and straight women all saying they want something similar. More importantly, they were saying they have a hard time meeting new people. And they were saying they want to meet new people not just romantically but also platonically. So we have a new app, and the code name is Project Amicus. We will announce the official name at the launch in the next few weeks to a month. This app will allow users to go in and meet people around them. Amicus is the Latin word for “friend,” so the idea is to help people make new friends and meet people around them, and kind of figure out who is around them and who they want to spend time with. This will be a completely separate app from Grindr, a separate download, and it will allow everyone to use it. They can say I’m straight, I’m a gay man, I’m a gay woman…it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s welcome.
Grindr is available in the Apple App Store; in the BlackBerry App World; and in the Android Market. Free (ad-supported) or $2.99 a month (no advertising, extra features).