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Grindr and bear it

Andrew Johnston sits down with the founder and guru of the iPhone’s most important application

07.18.2012

 
Chances are, at the very least, Joel Simkhai is directly responsible for one of your "relationships" over the past four years, and at the very most, every single interaction you’ve ever had with another gay man. Since the iPhone application Grindr launched in 2009, it’s amassed more than four million users worldwide, provided a bustling underground railroad for erotic self-portraiture and, on the whole, it's revolutionized how gay men communicate with each other.
 
I caught up with Simkhai at the tail end of Toronto Pride, looking considerably better for wear than some people (read: pretty sure I was still coughing up glitter). Fresh-faced and compact, he moves with the point-A-to-point-B intention of a classic entrepreneur, and his smile easily takes up 25 percent of his body. Born in Tel Aviv, raised in New York and educated at Tufts in Boston, Simkhai settled in Manhattan, spending the better part of a decade toiling in finance and online marketing – not to mention online chat rooms back in the internet’s Stone Age.
 
“I came out online. I was able to type ‘I’m gay’ before I was able to say it. So the internet has always been so important to me in that sense” he says. Regarding some of the more primitive chat services of the time, he adds, “They were text-based, not location-based . . .  in the early days of CompuServe, there was one New York room – hundreds of thousands of guys in one room, and it wasn’t a very visual experience.” Cut to June 2008 and the release of the iPhone 3G. “I don’t want to say it was an ‘aha’ moment as much as it was a ‘finally’ moment. Then it was just a matter of execution.”
 
Simkhai worked with a Danish software developer and a graphic designer named Scott Lewallen, and Grindr was born. But where did the name and that ominous logo come from? “The name was different and masculine, with nothing intrinsically gay about it, and the mask is inspired by Polynesian tribal art. We were trying to break down the essence of Grindr and what we were trying to do. We’re helping you meet, find people, build community and, of course, hunt – which is what we as humans have been trying to do since the beginning.”
 
Asked if he can identify Grindr’s tipping point, he has an idea. “We always did a lot of events to promote it, went to a lot of Prides, other guerrilla marketing . . .  but I’d say our watershed moment was late June 2009, three months after we launched; [British actor] Stephen Fry mentioned Grindr on the BBC show Top Gear. Overnight we had a huge presence in the United Kingdom.” Since then, it’s infiltrated many corners of pop culture, whether as the focus of the viral hit “Fellabone” by Toronto’s own Cheeto Girls, or incurring the wrath of millionaire matchmaker/lizard-woman Patti Stanger.
 
Officially tipped, Grindr offices are now a hub of about 50 full-time employees, including a team of 10, who, at any given moment, are approving or denying your very own duck-faced torso shot! “It’s amazing for me to go into the admin panel and see [our users’] faces and think, ‘That’s a real guy. He’s got his own story.’ Sitting there day-to-day, it’s a nice reminder that we’re part of the real lives of real people, because I don’t get to meet all our users.”
 
With a growth rate of 10,000 users a day, physically meeting all of Grindr would be impossible, and it’s only getting bigger and better. Debuting any second now, new Grindr will feature completely rewritten software, making it faster, speedier and better connected. “Community selection” will allow users to browse through and self-appoint themselves into various "scenes" – twink, jock, bear, etc – and there are filters on almost any aspect of profile information. Just when you thought this couldn’t get any easier!
 
Finally, I thought I’d wrap things up by asking Simkhai one of the most Frequently Asked Questions on Grindr: What R U Looking 4? “I’m open. Whatever comes my way. I’ve found love on Grindr, I’ve found friends on Grindr, I’ve found old friends on Grindr, I’ve found old boyfriends on Grindr . . . ”
 
— Andrew Johnston

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    • Hassan
      8/8/2012 12:29:26 AM
      JoelJust to clarify, my rnsopese was to the following: I am not big on anything going in or out of the anal cavity, and I feel genuinely sorry for gays who develop horrible hemmoroidal or venereal problems there as many do. To cite fact: regular anal sex does not incite haemorrhoids or any other venereal disease. In order to catch an STI (or VD for the Americans) one must have unprotected sex with an infected person. And haemorrhoids are most commonly caused by a low fibre/high fat diet. Over half of all Americans have them in some form. In cases where anal sex causes the patient to notice the haemorrhoid, the same effect would have happened from a large-ish bowel movement. I understand that you remember your doctor from the 70s teach you the facts that you cite, but research and medicine has come a long way since then. So has the understanding for the need for contraception as I'm sure you're aware. I'm sure anal sex spread much venereal disease in the 70s. Protected sex was hardly a big topic then. Also, many people died from sex 40 years ago. AIDS may not have been as prevalent but it has been assisting in the deaths of humans since the Late 19th Century. (Leading theories are that it was transfered from West African apes). The disease was just not IDENTIFIED until the 80s. Since people die from AIDS related illnesses rather than the syndrome itself, the deaths of people prior to this date were just attributed solely to the disease they contracted with under the immuno-deficient state they were in. I agree with you however, that health and sex do not have to be mutually exclusive BUT I also think that health and ANAL sex do not have to be mutually exclusive. The above is my reasoning. I did not intend to flame but argue and debate reasonably. I saw issue with your comment/argument and wanted to respond. As for Davey splintering the already splintered minority', it hardly seems the actions of someone who blogs consistently about tolerance, acceptance and love.
    • Eny
      8/7/2012 10:24:04 PM
      BanieI used an gay internet dintag website when I first came out as I didn't know any gay guys in my area. Through it I met guys, who introduced me to other guys, who took me to parties for gays, etc. and from that I chose which guys to become my friends and later met my fiancee. Davey's advise about leaving the house is very, very true. You can't just keep on chatting with guys on the net, you need to meet them face to face to find out how they really are.The sad thing is that off all the guys I met directly on the net (and trust me, there were many), there is only one left that I have regular contact with. But some of the people I met through the rest have become some of my best friends. Good guys who I like spending time with and who makes positive contributions to my life. Build your connections on the same, its well worth it.
    • sylvia
      7/20/2012 6:37:11 AM
      you fucking queer
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