Imagine an app that completely changes the conversation amongst an entire demographic. An app that, in less than 3 years, captures a huge share of its potential market, forces closure of not only preceding websites, but physical establishments, and singlehandedly ushers in an evolution of sorts for folks to meet over the mobile platform. Well that app exists and its called Grindr. Taboo to some as it may be, Grindr has single handedly evolved gay male behavior in a way that surpasses pretty much any variant before it. However, the underpinning elephant in the room – that the app merely facilitates “hooking up” and is too narrow in its appeal– has dogged Grindr and ultimately prevented it from being as big as it could be. Enter Blendr.
Blendr fully realizes what Grindr could be, with a cleaner brand, a broader reach and the true potential to be disruptive. A real-time, location based tool that shows you others around you in a simple and easy to use interface, Blendr allows anyone – male or female, gay or straight – to find others near by. But where Blendr is really different is that it integrates Facebook data along with its own set of interests to truly personalize the app. Instead of assorted faces (or headless torsos), Blendr allows people to have a status, a set of interests, and broader information about themselves for people to see. You can also filter by interest, allowing you to zero in on the types of people you’d like to meet. Near the Met and want to find a partner to see a new exhibit? Blendr can help you. Want to find a new tennis partner? Blendr can do that too. Want to see if there are any alumni from your school at a conference? Blendr could potentially do that as well. As they start to scale and flesh out social network integration, Blendr could really go places. It offers such a seamless and intuitive platform – with a very deliberate and unassuming branding – that the app is definitely positioned to do extraordinarily well. And unlike some other apps, Blendr has the benefit of lessons learned from its older brother Grindr. Which, to be fair, really isn’t all about hooking up - users regularly get notices about LGBT issues, can use the app to get into bars and clubs (a genius idea that creates a real business model) and many simply use it to meet people. Consequently, usage analytics are still incredibly valuable, not to mention the ported code.
The question here is this: can social mobile apps evolve to the point where they’re the primary access point for people to socialize and meet each other? Grindr has proved that on a smaller scale within certain demographics that the answer is yes. The key for the Blendr team is to adjust for the underlying differences between the Grindr market and the masses and see if they can do the same on a broader scale. Frankly, I’m really excited to see if they can do it…and I think they can. It won’t come without challenges though and when I sat down with Blendr/Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai, he seemed to be fully aware of them. Here is a transcript of our chat:
Matt McDonald: What’s your take on location? (As in the location based mobile app space, broadly)
Joel Simkhai: Geo-social tools are quickly becoming the way people interact and manage many facets of their lives. With Blendr, we’ve pioneered a new category of interest-based networks using geo-location technology to help people make new social connections based on common interests. The app inspires users to search for new friends based on a number of different interests that includes languages, hobbies, music, sports, and even communities. Our goal with Blendr was to create an incredibly fun and engaging app for everybody to be able to discover a more social world around them.
MM: What are some of the challenges the space is facing?
JS: For any geo-social networking app, it’s all about building critical mass in your user-base across geographies. Any network needs critical mass, but a geo-social network has the extra challenge of getting critical mass locally. For example, the app is only useful in Sydney, Australia if there’s a size-able user base there. For us since launch, we’ve seen the strongest interest in US, UK and Australia. Our goal is to continue to build the Blendr community across key geographies.
MM: What about monetization? How does Blendr develop a viable business model?
JS: Blendr is a free ad-supported app and our goal is really to grow our user-base globally. We’re continuing looking at ways to enhance the user experience by adding new features. Some of these features might allow local advertisers to interact with our users in ways that are only possible with a location based social network.
MM: Does Grindr help or hurt Blendr?
JS: When we first created Grindr, I didn’t imagine the success that Grindr has now become, with 3 million users and growing. Certainly our success with Grindr has afforded us the opportunity, knowledge and resources to invest in developing and launching Blendr. We also gain the benefits of being able to leverage the technology platform and take what we’ve learned from launching our first app in applying this to Blendr.
So far in the three months since launch, we’ve demonstrated that we’ve created a compelling new app that’s attracting strong interest particularly in the US, UK and Australia as top regions. In fact, Blendr has been one of the most talked about new apps on iTunes and has been featured as “New and Noteworthy” and “Great Free App” in the app store. Plus, it was also a staff favorite.
MM: Blendr is relatively feature-rich, with multiple layers to it. Which one do you think makes it most distinctive? Where is the truly differentiated value-add?
JS: While interest categories are the main features of the app, when we first thought about launching an app for everybody and especially for female users, security and privacy was our top consideration. We believe our privacy features are distinctive and an important aspect to the Blendr experience. Users have total control of their privacy and security settings. They can choose to hide profile details, change the level of distance accuracy with low to high control settings, and block other users without letting them know, or narrow down or broaden “Who I See” and “Who Can See Me” based on gender, sexual orientation and age.
Another innovative feature of Blendr is that it allows users to see who’s around at nearby venues to keep up on local trendy spots or to discover which spots are hot through the app’s heat map. Users can check-in to these venues or see how many users are already there and chat with them to help decide if the spot is hot enough to go by.
Users can also directly update their other social networks within Blendr. For example, users can update their status on FB, Twitter and Foursquare so it’s easier for everyone to start chatting. Blendr is also on Facebook (http://www.blendr.com/FacebookApp) and the app boasts many of the same rich functionality and features, enabling Facebook users to connect with the full Blendr network. Both the iPhone app and Facebook app is free. MM
Blendr is just one of several apps looking to move social interaction to the mobile platform. Their advantage over others is that they have a head start on understanding just how to do it. While it remains to see whether Grindr’s success will transfer over to the masses, its nevertheless a worthwhile experiment.