We were curious to meet the man behind Grindr, so when one Friday night whilst, erm, “Researching” on Grindr, a message popped up telling us the man himself was visiting London for WorldPride. Unsure what to expect we meet the modest, easy on the eye and contemplative Joel Simkhai in a hotel, central London. Sounds like it could be Grindr working at its very best…
Welcome to the capital of Grindr, London being the #1 city for Grindr users, does that surprise you at all?
Thank you! It doesn’t surprise me, it’s obviously a large city and it’s obviously got a lot of gay men and Stephen Fry mentioned us on Top Gear about three years ago and it is a very popular show. It put us on the map here in the UK.
I think you’ve made the UK a lot less prudish, because with nearly every message comes a picture of someone’s pink bits! Did you expect that to happen when you created Grindr?
For me, when I look at Grindr I see all kinds of things, I think that’s part of it, but there are other parts to it also. Gay men have had to always look for other gay men, and we’re also men, so we’re hunters. I think it’s a big part of who we are. We’re looking to meet the other gay guy in the room and thats what Grindr does. It shows you the other gay guy in the room, the other gay guy on the block. For me when we launched this thing, there wasn’t much expectation or idea where it would go or what it would do, it was just a hope that I could find other gay guys. I’m glad that we’ve now been able to do that.
Grindr has very strict censorship on its front-page. Users can’t have nudity on their profile picture. Is there any reason for that?
Yes, a number of reasons, but the most important one is that we believe in having an environment that is not overtly sexualised. An environment that is consistent to real life as possible. In real life you don’t usually see someone naked when you first meet them. So when you do find someone that you want to be intimate with, there is an unveiling process and we believe in that. It’s human nature. Also, not everyone is looking for something like that, I been on sites where it’s a free for all, it’s like walking into a sex shop. I feel kind of icky, so my hope for Grindr is that people can feel very comfortable, very safe and don’t have to feel icky. The other thing is that Google and Apple they have their own guidelines that mandate that there not be any nudity so there’s a full spectrum of reasons why.
Are you a technology geek? Did you get down and dirty with the code?
I am a tech geek, but I’m not a developer, I’m not a coder… I love technology and I love gadgets and have an understanding of technology, so I can talk to our developers and architects on a certain level. I probably can’t talk with great detail and maybe they would say: “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about…” but I think I have sense of what I’m talking about. We have a team of 50 in Los Angeles and they work in-house and a good proportion of them are developers.
Do you have any technological icons or idols?
Certainly Steve Jobs, I think Steve Jobs stands out as someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for; and I’m very sadden by his loss. He’s changed almost how everyone lives. There are very few people out there who can take something so complicated and make it so easy and so beautiful. He made it fun. I think he’s ingrained a culture of innovation in his company; they’ve got a smart team, really smart people and one will never know what would have happened if he was still alive.
Can you ever take a holiday from Grindr?
Not really, but I’ve got a very great team. Certainly when I used to travel in the early days it was very difficult to actually get away from it, but it’s getting better. I’ll never be a guy who can turn off his phone and get off the grid, but nor do I want to be. I don’t have Joel’s time, I don’t want just Joel’s time. You know this is fun stuff, this is a great thing I’m doing for myself, I love it. There’ll be plenty of time at some point in my life where I probably won’t be doing this and I get anxious just thinking of those days – This is my baby, it’s hard. If you ask a parent to tell their kid that they’re not available they’d look at you pretty strange right?
Would you ever persuaded to sell ‘the kid’ at any point?
I don’t think about it too much, I get anxious when I give it too much thought. This notion that ‘Joel, ‘X days from now or X months from now that Grindr will not be part of your life but just be a part of my resume or a part of my history’ makes me very anxious, makes me very uncomfortable. It’s largely part of my identity, some people call me ‘Grindr Guy’ so it is very much a part of who I am.
So are you happy with that mantle – the Grindr guy?
If this was the last thing for you to be remembered by, would you be happy with that?
Absolutely, I mean, do I want to die tomorrow? Absolutely not… The one caveat to that is that I think I’ve got more in-store for me. One of them is that I certainly want to do more and I want to devote more of my time, possibly full time, to gay equality and doing more towards activism, particularly in the countries where it is illegal and it’s dangerous. We’ve started to do things with ‘Grindr for Equality’ but I’d love to devote some or all of my energies to that.
Ok, lets talk about Grindr for Equality, what is its purpose? What is it for?
It’s our effort to advance equality and leveraging our number one asset, our guys, our community, our engaged audience. That’s over a million guys every single day around the world. Pockets of concentrated gay men who have a voice, who have power and they have a lot of power united. So through Grindr for Equality what we’re trying to do is create a mass so that we can speak with a very loud voice – an influential voice. Grindr for Equality can be broken down into two things. One, our mission is to inform. To inform you of things going on around you, in your city, town, state or your country. Things that have relevance to you and then showing you how you can make a difference. Whether it’s to make a call, sign a petition or go to a rally. That’s what drives Grindr for Equality. Last year the New York senate was looking at marriage equality and there were five senators who were on the fence. They were undecided. So what we did was target their constituents and told them that their senator was on the fence. Please call them! And people could call them right from their phone. It was very effective, sometimes we go as local as possible, sometimes national, sometimes international. We can go as local as down to the mile. It can be very targeted.
What do your family think of the App? Are you open to your family?
My Dad sent me an email, he was at gay pride and he said: “Where’s the Grindr float?” and he sent me a picture. He was in a Grindr T-shirt running around and demanded that next year I have a float and that he be invited! A very supportive and excited family. My dad actually has Grindr and he’s added me as a ‘favourite’ he says: “I keep up on where in the world you are by looking to see how far away you are!” He can keep tabs on where I am!
Where did the name come from?
We looked for something that was masculine and tough and I think all our branding: our logo, our colouring almost everything about it falls into those categories. We were looking for something a bit aggressive and thought of this notion of the coffee grinder and the notion of mixing, but it’s not just the idea of mixing it’s about grinding, very powerful and so it’s a little rough, we wanted an edginess to it, we didn’t want a softness to it.