Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai on universal acceptance and the app's perception as a hook-up tool


Féliks Cheang talks to founder and CEO of Grindr, Joel Simkhai, about universal acceptance, the pink dollar and the app's perception as a hook up tool.

We’ve all heard of Grindr. Regardless of your sexuality, Grindr has managed to infiltrate mainstream pop culture and has become the most popular gay social app – or more accurately, a hook-up app. Mentioning the app often elicits snickers and giggles and it’s often the butt of jokes. Launched in Los Angeles, Grindr has become a location-based hub that brings together a global community of more than two million active daily users. “You meet someone and different things can happen,” says Joel Simkhai, the founder and CEO of Grindr. Though it’s often used, it’s also often derided within the community. It’s a love hate relationship with Grindr – we speak to Mr Simkhai to find out exactly why that is.

What motivated you to start Grindr?

I started this app seven year ago, about the time when I found out how difficult it was to date online. So the iPhone came out and I thought there would be an easier way to seek out guys around me. Now, anywhere you go you can use Grindr and we have two million users who are using this app every single day.

Are the users in Hong Kong different to Grindr users in, say, LA or London? Do you notice any nuances?

I just started the app here not too long ago, so I don’t have too much information on that, but it seems like their profiles are quite similar and there’s a good combination of people around. It’s fortunate to have Asia as another place where Grindr is more and more popular.

What do you think is the fundamental difference between a gay man that uses Grindr and one that doesn’t?

I think most gay men use Grindr at some points – maybe not all the time. But you know, a lot of people have a boyfriend and they may not use Grindr, and we understand that. As far as I know, however, a lot of people in relationships use Grindr as well when they’re travelling. A lot of users go to Grindr to find out from locals what’s best in the city.

How do you think people perceive Grindr now? Often it’s seen as simply a gay hookup app. Do you think your intent for Grindr coincides with the current perception?

Different people can have different viewpoints. At the end of the day, Grindr is an app that shows the guys around you and you can meet them. We make it very easy to meet people nearby. Some of them do hook up, yet some of them become friends, boyfriends and even roommates – and that’s just the natural way of life. You meet someone and many different things can happen. It’s about all kind of experiences and I’m very comfortable with it. I use this app myself as well, and I know millions of guys who use it whichever way is useful to them. So we’re very proud of it.

Homosexuality is still a taboo in Hong Kong and many Asian countries. In what ways can Grindr facilitate progress and change in the region?
It’s hard to change a culture, but there are a couple of things we can do – we can make it easier for guys to meet. So whether you’re gay, bisexual, or transgender and you’re having a hard time meeting someone else, that’s when Grindr becomes powerful. It’s a difficult time when you’re coming out and don’t know anyone else that’s gay. Gay men are men. In every culture, every society needs to accept their people. It should be consistent in every culture.

Do you think the pink dollar is strong in Asia? Does it have influence?

There’re millions of gay men here in Asia and they spend money. Companies should be very aware that they need to make us feel included and should launch products that have us in mind.

Many people think apps like Grindr and Jack’d have been having a negative impact on gay bars – they believe it drives away their business. What would be your response to that?
I don’t agree with that. Even before Grindr, I think, sometimes you wouldn’t go out. But today if you go to any gay bar or club, you’ll see many people are using Grindr. I think our users are still socialising in bars and clubs very well. And even if you’re in these places and too shy to come up to someone, at the bar you can still use Grindr. On the other hand, a lot of our advertisers and companies that we work with are bars and clubs. The feedback we get is that Grindr is a very effective tool to drive traffic.

What can we expect to see on Grindr in the near future, following the successful JW Anderson fashion show live streaming?

I would expect more surprises and we like to solve problems. Actually, we’re working on a lot of different exciting things and we’ll see some of them hopefully very shortly.

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