Grindr founder discusses LGBT rights, business strategy
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2012 08:10
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai (LA ’98) spoke yesterday to a crowd of about 45 students and staff about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) equality, the origins of Grindr and entrepreneurship.
In 2009, Simkhai created Grindr, a social networking application, in an effort to connect members of the gay community, he said.
Simkhai, who attended Tufts from 1994 to 1998, said that he was closeted during his college years and regrets not experiencing gay life at Tufts.
He moved to New York City after graduation and held various jobs in media and finance, but when the iPhone 3G was released in 2008, Simkhai knew he wanted to develop an app like Grindr.
“I immediately said, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for. This made my idea possible,” he said.
Grindr uses GPS or Wi-Fi to determine a user’s location and displays the profiles of other users in their proximity.
Grindr users total 4.5 million people from 192 countries, with approximately 10 thousand people downloading the app every day, according to its website. Anyone can download the app for free on an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Android and Blackberry.
This year, Grindr launched Grindr for Equality, an initiative to educate its users about political candidates’ views on LGBT equality.
Non-heterosexual individuals do not receive equal rights across the country, Simkhai said.
“We can get fired in a lot of states, we don’t have marriage benefits, we don’t have tax benefits
across the board, we don’t have the same benefits as others out there,” he said.
Equality should be the top priority of gay people while voting, Simkhai said, adding that he hopes the initiative will help bring more political awareness to the Grindr community.
“One of my goals is to remind us that the movement is not over and we’re not done. We’ve got a lot more work to do,” he said.
Katie Hegarty, a senior, asked Simkhai how Grindr helps its users remain sexually safe while using the app.
Grindr has created guidelines for its users to recommend safe practices but does not want to go too far in moderating them, Simkhai said.
“You don’t want to be too paternalist or too judgmental,” he said.
Grindr will moderate profiles that state interest in unsafe sex, although it cannot moderate what users say in private messages, he said.
The company has supported initiatives for HIV/AIDS awareness and will soon release a public service announcement encouraging Grindr users to get tested for the disease, he said.
Grindr plans to launch a new version that will allow users to provide more details about themselves, such as physical build or HIV status, Simkhai noted.
Simkhai also spoke about the financial challenges of founding a company, noting that Grindr does not have any investors and was developed with the help of volunteers. Money from advertisers as well as subscribers to Grindr’s extended version, Grindr Xtra, funds the company, he said.
Simkhai advised entrepreneurs to create an early business model and start charging customers as soon as possible to avoid economic pitfalls.
He then discussed the importance of finding role models for gay men in the business community.