OPW INTERVIEW - Dec 9 - Joel has quite a story to tell. He started Grindr on a shoestring budget and has driven the service to become a rip-roaring success. Next, he’s launching a straight version. Here’s my interview with the founder of Grindr. - Mark Brooks
I heard you got Grindr started for $5,000 just 18 months ago and now you’re at over a million users. Tell us more. What is the founding story?
I’ve been using online dating sites and services since I was a teenager. I would go to gay chat rooms and talk to other guys. Early on I wasn’t meeting anyone in those chat rooms but they helped me come out as a gay man. It was a pivotal experience for me.
One of the problems with online dating was location. There was no real emphasis on the people around me. So I was hoping to solve that problem. And that’s what we did with Grindr. Grindr allows you to see who’s sitting right next to you, who’s in the same room, or who’s just down the block. So people can meet very quickly as opposed to spending a lot of time online or on the phone. The idea is go meet them and see what the chemistry is like in person. If there is no chemistry, it is unlikely that there is going to be any kind of long-term relationship.
The 2nd generation iPhone was a big technological advance that made Grindr possible. We found a developer who did it for us as a hobby and we put it on the iTunes App Store. From there word of mouth fueled us and helped us reach over a million users in 180 countries.
Beyond the million users, you have an incredible activity level. Out of those million users, 250,000 of them are active and log in on average 8 times a day and spend an average of 1.3 hours each day using the app. That’s amazing! But what is your ad budget? What kind of ad budget are you working with to generate so much activity?
Our advertising spend is $0. We’ve done some promotional events. But in terms of our acquisition cost for users, we’re fueled by word of mouth and the press we’ve generated which has been organic. Our users are finding Grindr simple, compelling, and fun, and that has resulted in much of our growth. We are live in over 180 out of 196 countries in the world. So we’re global and we haven’t done any translation and that is a testament to the simplicity of the app. You don’t even need to speak English to figure out how to use Grindr.
You mentioned respect of your users. I would like to learn more about how that translates. How does that feel for the users?
We respect our users’ privacy. We don’t ask for their email addresses or their phone numbers because we have the ability to message our users within the app. Also, in terms of the experience, it’s really straightforward. We don’t constantly remind our users to do things.
What is the revenue model? How well is Grindr doing?
The majority of our members use our ad-supported, free version, which is called Grindr. Then we have a paid subscription version with no ads and added features like push notifications and more guys viewable, for $2.99 a month – that’s Grindr Xtra.. We’ve also held over 200 Grindr parties around the world to date. The venues buy Grindr kits and we advertise those parties for them.
How would you say Grindr is different from the likes of Manhunt?
The key differentiator is that Grindr is a location-based, mobile service. You can be anywhere around the world and find guys who are right next to you and meet them immediately. There is no computer required. While you’re out and about living your life normally, you can simply launch Grindr to meet and chat with guys right around you. We are also a non-adult service and we’re firm believers in being able to meet people in a non-sexual environment. We are largely a free service to our users.
I heard you were planning on launching a straight version. When do you think that will go live?
We don’t have a launch date at this point but it is something that we’re hoping to do soon.
Would you launch under the same name or would you launch the straight version as a brand extension?
It will be a brand extension under a different name.
What are your goals for Grindr for 2011?
We’re hoping to continue to grow the community. To do that we will have to be on additional platforms. We have already announced the BlackBerry version of Grindr, which is in the final stages of beta testing and will be available to the public soon. We are also looking at additional mobile platforms, and possibly a desktop version.