HomoTech :: The Interview with the Founder and CEO of Grindr, Uncut
This month, Grindr celebrates its two-year anniversary, and the app has recently gone through the biggest changes since its debut - a major redesign and the release of the highly-anticipated Android app. I spoke directly with the founder and CEO, Joel Simkhai, and got to ask him the ultimate question of the Grindr generation...
Oscar: Are you cut?
Joel: Am I what?
You know, cut/uncut.
Like am I circumcised?
I’m just joking with you. You don’t have to answer that.
Well, I was born Jewish...
Are you a Grindr tease?
I don’t think so. Some people are looking to meet, some people aren’t. I’d hope that users are honest and indicate what their interests are. If you ask someone to meet and they consistently make up excuses, move on.
You just mentioned being honest on the app, how do you guys deal with people using fake photos in their profile?
We don’t have anything in place; it’s a hard thing to prevent. But if we’re notified of someone using a fake photo, we’ll verify that and remove it.
So those guys "looking for friends," isn’t Grindr primarily a hook-up app?
Grindr is for whatever you want.
But, primarily, people use it to hook up, right?
I don’t know.
You don’t know how guys use your app?
I don’t think there’s one thing that everybody’s doing. Grindr shows you the guys around you and let’s you talk to them. That’s what we do as a company. Some people use it for different things, and that’s their prerogative. We don’t get involved in that.
But you do get involved in throwing parties.
They’re just a great way to help guys meet. If you go to a venue, like Wet and Wild or Club Dragon in San Francisco, and there’s 50 guys within 500 feet, that reinforces the experience and what we’re after. We’re all about helping guys meet.
What is something that you know now that you wish you had known two years ago, right before the app launched?
When I started this, I always had my frustrations in meeting people. I was always looking for an easier way to do it. And what I know now it’s a similar experience for everyone, gay men, straight men, straight women. We’re all looking for an easier way to meet each other.
Is Grindr coming out with a straight version?
Yes we are! We are working on a version that would work for straight folk and lesbian folk.
I’m assuming it’d be a different name, a different brand.
That’s right, it would be a different app. One of the things we’ve heard from the guys is that the Grindr app is their app. They don’t want others to be a part of it, that this is our community. And I agree with them. [Since the interview, Grindr announced a forthcoming version "for everyone" called Project Amicus].
Is the straight version in development? When will it come out?
In the next couple of months. We don’t have an exact launch date, but hopefully the first part of this year. We’re actually going through somewhat of a complicated process because Grindr was built for men. Gay or straight men, I think, could use Grindr - the technology and the way it’s set up. But women are a little bit different in the way they socialize and what they look for. [Project Amicus is in beta testing now and available invite-only].
And when will we see Grindr for the Android?
Android is now one of the most popular operating systems, so we’re very eager to release it, but we’ll only release an app if we love it, if the user experience is perfect and if it meets our standards. [Grindr released an Android version on March 5, 2011].
Out of all people, you must understand the value of coming first. Grindr was the first of its kind, and everything that’s come out since has been an imitation. When Manhunt and Adam4Adam tried to do it, it was modeled after Grindr.
Obviously, we’ve identified a huge market opportunity, and a lot of people are eager to have a piece of that. I recognize that. I also recognize that technology constantly shifts, Android is now growing at a higher rate than the iPhone, and we’re trying our best to stay on top of things. My first and foremost responsibility is to our existing community, that’s who I answer to. We came in partially because our competitors were not evolving.
How is Grindr going to evolve?
We generally don’t talk about what’s coming out in terms of specific features. We are getting ready to release a fairly major update to the app. But there are some things you’ll never see on Grindr. For us it’s about the simplicity, the ease of use. It’s always a balance between adding new features, expanding the experience, but also keeping it simple, straightforward and fun. If you start getting a lot of pokes and a lot of winks, it just becomes a burden. So I’m always reluctant to tinker with that.
I heard that you have a gay brother.
I have two brothers who are gay.
Two gay brothers who are gay? So there are three gay brothers in your family.
That’s right. I have an older brother, he is three years older than me. He lives in Tel Aviv. And I have a younger brother, he’s 9 years younger than me and lives in New York.
Do they use Grindr?
You’d have to ask them.
Can I? I’d love to hear about their experiences in Tel Aviv and New York.
Well I was in Tel Aviv not too long ago, and it’s really similar to what happens here. We look at the profile photos of the users around the world, and most of the time, you wouldn’t be able to tell if that was a Japanese guy in Tokyo or in London.
So what you’re saying is that they all take shirtless photos of themselves through a bathroom mirror? That look is now global?
Of course, the culture is different, and it depends if you’re in a repressed country or a place where there are a lot of options. But we have users in Singapore; we have users in Saudi Arabia. We have 1.5 million users in 180 countries, and some of those places aren’t very gay-friendly.
In homophobic countries, how do you introduce this app that’s so open about being gay and wanting to meet other gay men around you?
I’m not quite sure, to be honest. I hope that this is a liberating and useful tool. I love the thought that we’re helping those guys come to terms with being themselves and meet others who are in a similar situation. Because feeling alone, feeling like you’re the only one is awful.
What would you say to people that think Grindr makes gay men seem slutty?
We provided a tool. We just show you the guys around you. What you do with that, I have no control over. There’s no way I can say, "listen, you gotta go on three dates before you can kiss."
So Grindr is a dating app?
It’s a meeting app.
What about the people who say that instead of creating community, Grindr is actually creating a bunch of lonely people sitting in the dark staring at a screen?
That’s exactly what we’re not doing. With Grindr, there’s a real-life component and an incentive to be mobile. You no longer have to choose: do I stay online or do I go out?
What was the first site you ever logged on to meet other guys?
Compuserve, a predecessor to AOL. They had 16 chat rooms, and one of them was gay. One gay chat room for the whole country.
How many guys were on that?
Not many. Maybe 100 at a peak moment.
That’s how many are in like a 500 feet radius of me right now.
[Laughs] Yeah, back then I wasn’t looking to meet. I just wanted to connect with other guys all over the country. Which goes back to your original question about Grindr teases, some guys just want to chat. I hope they’re straightforward about that.
They’re not straightforward at all, that’s why they’re teases! Any last things you’d like to share? I don’t want you guys to make some big announcement in two weeks and not tell me about it.
[Laughs] That could always happen.
[And it did. Three weeks after the interview, Grindr released a major redesign in version 1.5 along with the highly-anticipated Android version. Turns out Joel is a Grindr tease after all].
He blogs here.
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