Just a few weeks ago the world learned that gay dating app GROWLr was sold for $11.8 million. The app that targets the gay bear market was acquired by The Meet Group which owns MeetMe, Skout, Tagged, and LOVOO. GROWLr is the company’s first acquisition of a gay dating app. The app departs from its founder Coley Cummiskey.
While it is incredible news to hear that GROWLr has received so much attention from this sale that will possibly benefit its 10 million+ users around the world, it is important to acknowledge that The Meet Group is non-gay owned company. While their experience is in creating online communities, we wanted to know how their knowledge of the gay community would continue to help the app thrive. Just this week we spoke with SCRUFF CEO, Eric Silverberg, who reminded us that they are the last gay-owned dating app company that focuses on community building in a variety of facets, not just hookups.
At Instinct, it’s important for our community of readers to be informed on all means of communication available so we are not partial to a particular app. We are also made up of a variety of people that use just about every app out there. We like to share information that contributes to the LGBTQ+ experience. With that in mind, we got a hold of The Meet Group’s CEO, Geoff Cook, who helped clarify what incited the acquisition of GROWLr and how the company plans to continue meeting the needs of the gay bear social network.
NOTE: This interview has been edited for length.
INSTINCT: Why did The Meet Group decide to purchase GROWLr?
We are all about building the best place to meet new people through live video. We spent about $200 million acquiring 3 meeting/dating communities prior to GROWLr.
In each case, we added live video and the feature quickly became one of the most engaging features on the apps. GROWLr is similar in some regards to other communities we acquired. It has a very committed set of users who send many chats. We’ve been talking to companies in the gay dating space for more than a year, and we saw GROWLr as a fantastic community that we wanted to support and ultimately integrate with live video.
The decision to purchase GROWLr comes with a responsibility to be true to the community and to be committed to stewarding a product that was built over many years. I believe live video is an important part of the future of meeting and dating, and I hope to work with the leadership of the GROWLr community to foster meaningful connections.
INSTINCT: Any big changes planned for the app? What features might users start seeing? What things might be taken away?
We don’t have any big changes planned for the app, other than adding a live video feature by the end of the year. We believe live video provides for richer, more meaningful connections than text-based chats, and that eventually most meeting/dating apps will be video enabled.
We’ve been working on our suite of video products for about 3 years now, and we see video becoming only more popular with time. In the first few months of adding video, we might expect only 15% of the daily audience to use live video, but over the first couple years, that might grow to 30% and as new features evolve, I would not be surprised to see the rate of video use exceed 50% in the long run.
With the acquisition, GROWLr’s programming team grows considerably from one person to a team of people, and we believe that will enable us to support the existing community and continually improve the product.
INSTINCT: How will your company deal with the stigmas surrounding ‘dating apps’ that are considered more as ‘hookup apps’? Does this matter?
We see less and less stigma being attached to dating apps in general. Attaching a label to a particular app is difficult, because it can’t possibly capture the multitude of ways that the community uses the app.
In some of our other apps, there’s always a healthy mix of people looking to meet, to hang out, to date, to hook up, or to find something more serious.
Marriages and long-term relationships are often the result of apps that some might deride as “hookup” apps. The reality is all these apps deal in human connection.
INSTINCT: What is your understanding of the gay bear community? Does your own identity give you a unique perspective to propel the app forward?
We are learning more every day from the GROWLr team and the GROWLr community. The founder, Coley, is and has been working closely with our product and tech teams as we integrate the app into our portfolio and add features to the product. Our mission is to meet the universal need for connection which is inclusive of every community. In addition to having Coley on the team, we are actively looking to hire a product manager from within the community.
INSTINCT: What direction do you see the company going? Does GROWLr plan to tap into other realms such as media?
We imagine empowering a social entertainment channel by making it easy for GROWLr users to create their own livestreaming shows. We’ve now added livestreaming into dating communities four separate times, and in each case, it has become the fastest growing product in that app’s history.
We hope for the same to be true with GROWLr. We think livestreaming, with its focus on live interactions, helps provide feelings of connection, and we look forward to new and interesting video formats, from broadcast video, to one-on-one, to group.
INSTINCT: Will the app continue to be free?
GROWLr operates on a subscription and freemium model today, allowing users to download the app and use basic features for free, with the option of making in-app purchases and subscribing for premium membership.
We have no plans to change from the freemium model. The video features we plan on adding will also be free to use, with an opportunity to gift.
INSTINCT: Will GROWLr create a space for women or other identities to join?
GROWLr has called itself “the complete social networking app for gay bears” for some time, and we don’t see any change to that. That being said, we may build or buy new apps serving other diverse communities.
People are diverse and not only that, they also like to meet in diverse ways. It’s important for us to strengthen our portfolio by building or buying apps that solve the problem of meeting and connecting for varied communities.
INSTINCT: How does GROWLr plan to stay competitive with other gay dating apps?
We’ve spent the last 3 years building out significant expertise around live video and meeting/dating. We’ve seen many apps try to do the same and not succeed. We feel we have some proprietary knowledge of how to video-enable the right way.
We also are accustomed to competing in a hypercompetitive environment. We’ve grown to about 4.5 million daily users and 15 million monthly users while competing all along with much bigger competitors. Our focus and level of investment in live video are significant advantages.
INSTINCT: How do you plan to deal with strict app store rules such as censorship?
We have a long history of abiding by ever-evolving store rules, and we care deeply about promoting a safe and secure environment for all of our users. That being said, there is a debate today about who is making the standards, and what they may be imposing on communities based on their own viewpoints on what is proper and what is not.
There is often more grey than black and white. We watch Scruff, Grindr, and others, and ultimately, we apply moderation to ensure that our products both serve our communities and also are available on the largest app stores.
INSTINCT: What will the company do to continue ensuring privacy?
We take our users privacy very seriously. We applaud initiatives like GDPR for helping to create best practices around privacy, and we expect this to continue to evolve.
INSTINCT: Do you know about the controversy surrounding your competitors and their previous statements regarding marriage equality? What does this mean to you?
I support gay marriage, and so does the company. Now that we operate GROWLr, it is important for us that the GROWLr leadership continues to reflect the community, as it has for so long under Coley’s leadership.
So Instincters …
Is GROWLr for you? Have it? Had it? Hate it?
Do you agree that there is a lessening of stigma in regard to people using hookup apps?
What other options should GROWLr add that you find helpful on other hookup sites?
Where does GROWLr rate on the list of hookup apps out there?