It’s been a very interesting year for gay dating apps! We must remember that last year, websites like Craigslist were forced to remove their Personals and Casual Encounters features due to Congress Bill H.R. 1865, a combination of Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). leaving the underground hookup community shattered. Since Craigslist’s founding in 1995, the popularity of Craigslist Personals has been overshadowed by the dark risk associated with posting or answering ads for NSA, spontaneous, or anonymous sexual encounters. This has undoubtedly pushed reformed Craigslist connoisseurs to dip their toes into the variety of dating apps that can serve as a partial replacement for some “extracurricular” activities.
But for those who frequent said ‘apps’ it may be difficult to get past the stigmas associated with them being purely for hookups. For most, yes that’s fine, but for other users, navigating the apps might mean they are looking for something else—friendship, relationships, a support system. To that end, users might feel like it’s tricky finding the app they feel they can be a ‘part of’ since so many faceless, torso-only profile pictures will inevitably perpetuate the rejection we feel in our non-app realities.
We recently had the opportunity to get personal with one of the teams that provide us with one such app, SCRUFF. CEO Eric Silverberg and the team at SCRUFF are proud of the work they have done for their 15 million+ users and their ability to connect to guys all over the world for fun or friends.
For SCRUFF, the idea of a ‘gay app’ is more than just hook ups. It’s a core part, yes, but being tuned into their community of users means giving them app features that are a bonus and that can serve a variety of users across the board.
Instinct spoke with Silverberg on the latest developments of the app and the importance of user privacy, and being the last gay-owned dating app. He wanted to highlight that SCRUFF is built on the mission of creating smarter, safer experiences (both online and off) that allow the GBTQ+ to create better connections and express themselves. SCRUFF is especially excited about its new in-app game show that is LIVE and that has been connecting thousands of users for a fun game show where they could win $500! The game is called HOSTING and is bringing guys together in a new way—also, they know it can be hard to find a reliable host.
INSTINCT: What are some new changes for SCRUFF?
HOSTING is a new way for people to view SCRUFF—and a new way to think about gay apps over all. It is officially broadly available all over North America and very soon globally. Hosting is the very first live game show that’s ever been done. We really started development on it over a year ago and we really got excited about this concept of “LIVE” and what that would mean for our community. SCRUFF is more valuable to people and more fun the more people we can get to sign on at one time. We really spent time developing the technology and so Hosting is a game show and our members are invited to answer questions on gay/queer history, entertainment, culture and we’ve gotten great feedback in the prior months of testing. People really just like being able to connect with each other in this way. They really enjoy the history that we are actually able to share with them. People are learning while playing this game. We are working with a really talented host and comedian, Gabe Gonzalez, and of course a game show wouldn’t be complete without a drag queen, Pixie Aventura. We’re seeing anywhere from 5K-10K people playing at a time and I think for us, it really aligns with our mission of connecting guys with each other—with the global community. Obviously the core of that is social experiences, hookups, chats, but with Hosting, we are getting people to think about SCRUFF in a new light. Maybe some people don’t want to use SCRUFF because they think it is only for one thing, but we’re showing people that SCRUFF is a community—it really is a gay social app. Hookups are certainly a PART of that, but they are just one part so we are excited to show everyone what SCRUFF stands for.
INSTINCT: Now there seems to be an APP for everything, that being said, how does SCRUFF plan to stay competitive with other gay dating apps?
When you think about other apps, they really don’t have a clear idea of THEIR community. For SCRUFF, we have really always built a unique community of people and encouraged a better conduct among our community. I think that’s why there’s an APP for everything, but there’s not a community for everything. With Hosting, you can play this game and be entertained and win $500, but you can also meet guys. Before the game start, we show you NEW members as they sign in and you have an opportunity to look at them and connect as they join the game. You can end up with dozens of WOOFs all in a short period of time. This isn’t something just any other app could do. This is an opportunity for SCRUFF to continue to differentiate who we are and what we stand for.
INSTINCT: With all the great stuff going on with SCRUFF, what are you continuing to do to ensure user privacy?
That’s a great question and I will tell you—we take privacy VERY VERY seriously here at SCRUFF. You can see that by the actions we have already taken. Last year we became the first dating app, gay or straight, to completely cut ties with Facebook and other social outlets. We removed all third party ad networks—the banners you see at the bottom—because we did not feel that their privacy practices were compliant with GDPR, which went into effect last year. We provide our members globally the ability to download and delete their data as per the new directive from GDPR. Ultimately, privacy and security are not features that you can simply add at the very end—it’s not like adding a spell checker to a word processor. Privacy and security really are a series of interlocking decisions that connect hand in hand leading to a system that is private and secure. It comes down to the values of the people that run the businesses and the apps and the services that we use. Privacy is about people. If the platform you are using does not take privacy seriously and if the leaders and the CEO does not take it seriously then it will never be private and it will never be secure. We are a gay-owned business and we are building an app that we ourselves use. We understand the very serious consequences if privacy is breached. We have been able to make the decisions and announcements you’ve seen and we stand behind the product that we’ve built. We can confidently say that we do not share our members’ data with third party ad networks. We certainly would NEVER disclose HIV status to advertisers. In fact, we have advertisers WEEKLY that send me emails asking to buy data from us. Advertisers willing to write us large checks only to run ads and we say no. We say, “Absolutely not!” It may cost us revenue, but it’s the right thing to do. In the long run we believe it makes our app better, it makes our community more loyal, and that we will be rewarded for this stance—and that’s an easy decision to make because we are a gay-owned business. That is not a decision that our competitors can make because of their investments or because they are publicly traded or because they take every last dollar out of their subscribers.
Another great feature to SCRUFF is Venture, which is connecting app users globally whether they are traveling for business or pleasure. Venture has been available on SCRUFF for almost two years and it is used by more than 10% of their users weekly. It’s is a great way to ensure you are getting the most out of your travels and you can even be a city ambassador and help make SCRUFF community members feel right at home in your own neighborhood.
INSTINCT: Tell me more about SCRUFF Venture?
SCRUFF Venture is a collection of features that we integrated into our app a few years ago to make it easier for guys to connect with one another when they travel. This is something that was really popular with our SCRUFF users. They’d include very detailed itineraries of their travel in their profiles so we wanted to make it easier for them to connect with locals or fellow travels when they arrive and also make it easy for guys to share their expertise in acting as city ambassadors to ensure that gay destinations and gay neighborhoods continue to thrive. There are plenty of sites that offer guides to certain destinations, but the core of SCRUFF is our community so we want our community to connect with each other–to find guys and travel partners. Something that is completely overlooked in straight dating apps is that gay dating apps are fantastic tools are a traveler. Queer people are predisposed at connecting with each other–there is certainly the element of sexual possibility where you might find yourself in a new city and want to hook up with someone new—or maybe not! Maybe you’ll make a new friend and go see some sites, go to some bars, go to some parties. We really made this a first-class use case. We’ve seen millions of trips created since we launched SCRUFF Venture and we made it really easy so that when you land in a Venture city we automatically create a trip for you and change your profile so people know you’re traveling. It’s a really fun and popular feature. It’s just another way that SCRUFF demonstrates the full value and possibility of gay apps.
SCRUFF Events is also another feature that works hand-in-hand with Venture and has become so popular that SCRUFF has decided to launch a web version.
SCRUFF Events is the largest global gay events calendar on the web. We have a team that coordinates queer events all over the world and you can see these events in the app when you are traveling. We show you popular events that a lot of SCRUFF members are RSVPing to and you can even connect with members before you get there.
INSTINCT: What do you think about the recent purchases of your competitor apps?
There’s obviously a lot of interest in the dating space. Historically, the gay app space has been overlooked and we’re gratified to see that there is new recognition of the importance of this space. Though I do think that it’s worth pointing out that SCRUFF today is the only gay-owned business that is actually shipping a gay app. Certainly with the acquisition of Grindr from a Chinese gaming company and the acquisition of GROWLr by a publicly traded straight dating company, I think that makes SCRUFF the last gay-owned app—which is an interesting fact. We’ll see what that means in the long term. Community is core to our business and our values and we have an intuitive understanding about what matters to our community. We are able to make decisions that are more difficult to businesses that aren’t owned by queer people. Ultimately, SCRUFF is in a very good position. I’m proud that we remain a very strong privately held, gay business.
Last year, Silverberg also released a statement in favor of marriage equality after Grindr CEO made some questionable public statements saying that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
With 15 million users, it is very tempting to download the app and join the other men looking for friends, dates, hookups, events, travel advice, etc.
So Instincters …
Is SCRUFF for you? Have it? Had it? Hate it?
Does this new HOSTING seem like a good new edition?
What other options should SCRUFF add that you find helpful on other hookup sites?
Where does SCRUFF rate on the list of hookup apps out there?