Chinese Company Takes 60% Stake in Gay L.A.’s Grindr

Grindr, the gay hookup app headquartered on Sunset and Highland, has sold a 60% stake to China’s Beijing Kunlun Tech Company, The New York Times reported today.

The Times said the purchase valued the company at $155 million. Grindr’s founder, Joel Simkhai, and its employees will retain the remaining 40% of the company.

Joel Simkhai (Photo from Grindr)
Joel Simkhai (Photo from Grindr)

“For nearly seven years, Grindr has self-funded its growth, and in doing so, we have built the largest network for gay men in the world,” Simkhai said in a statement on Grindr’s website. “We have taken this investment in our company to accelerate our growth, to allow us to expand our services for you, and to continue to ensure that we make Grindr the number one app and brand for our millions of users.”

Simkhai launched Grindr in March 2009 with co-founder Scott Lewallen, former senior vice president of product and design, who left Grindr in 2013. Simkhai, who had moved to Los Angeles from New York City five years earlier, told WEHOville that he saw the app as a way to help gay men break out of the glass and metal bubbles that were their cars and connect directly.

Simkhai, 39, launched Grindr with several thousand dollars of his own money and hasn’t taken any outside investment until the Beijing Kunlun Tech deal.

Grindr scored a “first mover” advantage and today has almost become the sort of generic term for “gay hookup app” that Coke is for a soft drink and Kleenex is for a tissue. Grindr claims two million regular users a day in 192 countries. A financial disclosure cited by The Times said Grindr’s revenue was $32 million in 2014, an increase of 29 percent from $25 million in 2013.

While Grindr long has been seen as the leading gay hookup app, others are gaining ground. Scruff, for example, has a much wider array of options than Grindr does, allowing someone in West Hollywood to connect with someone in London or even Silver Lake, with no geographical constraints. With Grindr one cannot search a specific area other than the one where one lives. And while Grindr finally developed 12 “tribes,” categories that gay men can choose to narrow their app searches, Scruff has a much more sophisticated sorting system that allows one to search for a match using criteria such as height, weight, body hair and 18 different descriptors such as “bears,” “leather,” “military” and “geeks.”

Grindr’s prominence in the gay world has also made it a target. Last fall the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) posted billboards that suggested there is a connection between the sort of casual sex promoted by gay hookup apps like Grindr and sexually transmitted diseases.

In a press release, AHF said an inspiration for the billboards campaign was a report by the Rhode Island Department of Health, which reported that cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV rose sharply between 2013 and 2014 and said that high-risk behaviors such as “using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters, having sex without a condom, having multiple sex partners, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol” have become more common in recent years. According to a study by Beymer et al. (2014), gay men who are meeting on location-based dating apps are at greater risk for gonorrhea and chlamydia than those who meet in-person or on the internet. Last May, the Utah Department of Health cited such hookup apps as one reason for a huge increase in STD rates between 2011 and 2014. Gonorrhea infections increased by 700% in that state during that three-year period.

Grindr has long been rumored to be negotiating a lease to move into the Pacific Design Center, a rumor that its publicist will not confirm.


16 Comments
  1. A cellphone free party promotion, that would be a bold move today. It’s unfortunate that it would be so bold, and it likely would not go over well. So strange that something so seemingly simple and liberating is too much to ask. And it’s strange that what is liberating in 2016 is freeing yourself from your phone in public. Even to have people over to your home and insist they all put their phones in a bowl and they can only have them back when they leave is pushing it for most people.

  2. so with a Chinese company buying Grindr, will guys still be allowed to have their profile say “no asians”?

  3. SE – A cell phone-free night would send a 20 something (or perhaps older) into a state of terminal anxiety not being able to see who just “friended” them on Facebook, or who sent them a text to inform them they were combing their hair, etc. The art of conversation is dying and technology is the culprit.

    Flores St. – I can take you back in time through my many experiences and my diary from 1975. Even to me, some of the entries are amazing.

  4. It’s really a further comment on the disconnect in society. People now are consumed with staring at their devices and phones hoping for a quick fix and answer. So yes now people are choosing less to interact. Frequently when I am walking my dog the people on the sidewalk are so busy texting or staring into their phone that they are almost bumping into me. So the old days of even walking down a street and seeing someone’s face and actually smiling or saying hi have changed. People today many times also do not even answer their cell phones as they would rather text and not even have the human interaction of a voice on the other end of the phone. So the disconnect continues to many people not wanting to even hear human emotions on a telephone call.

  5. Flores St. – until recently, I don’t think we realized what the experience meant until it disappeared. Imagine that every time you went into a gay bar or gay restaurant you knew 99% of the crowd was gay, almost everyone there was open to meeting someone new, and that when the lights came on, there were no other options to connect unless you wanted to risk cruising, drive to a bathhouse/sex club or hit the Probe or Spike for after-hours on the weekend. You would go to a bar/club and at some point see any guy from the gym you thought might be gay. And imagine what it was like that NO ONE had a cell phone and that all interaction was going on between people, not between person and device. Oh, and pretty much ALL the bartenders were gay, too!

    It sounds wistful and romantic, and in the age of technology it can feel that way, but it was also necessary. Many people were still very closeted or semi-closeted, and depended on the privacy of an all-gay meeting place to avoid possible discrimination. But the festive, party atmosphere of the gay bars/clubs/restaurants provided refuge from a scary world where sex could equal death and living in the moment was the best anyone could do. I don’t necessarily want to go back to that, but it would be nice to be back in that environment every now and then. Perhaps a savvy promotor will create a cell phone-free night at some point.

  6. Although I certainly do believe that social media has created an environment of antisocial people. People you get you to go out and socialize in bars to meet one another but as technology has changed it has created a new mentality and we can simply sit in our homes and get groceries now, movies now, shop and have it delivered in some cases in an hour and now we could also find someone to meet online within an hour.

    Social etiquette have changed and I think what we have to be most cautious is how we treat one another with these online experiences. I tried to use the same process and behaviour I would you use meeting someone face to face. I imagine if somebody walked by me on the street and said hello I would also say hello back and I think they should stand true online conversation. when we say hello to someone online if its a stranger a simple hello does not hurt back in taxes and that’s the whole idea behind social media meeting new people

    Unfortunately it has become too easy for people to be rude and sometimes just right out mean while carrying on their online lives. We know that people make false profiles to create a sense of happiness or reality for them. It is those that we have to be most cautious of. Perhaps Grindr and other apps like it might invest some of their money into finding a way to ensure that their users are safe that the profiles are real and the opportunities aren’t dangerous

    I do find it odd that the Chinese company would purchase a gay male sex oriented site, but then nothing surprises me anymore. What it does say is that they have recognized this is a great investment and the reach that they have. the company continues to maintain its presence in West Hollywood and employs people from the area which should continue to grow given the investments coming into the company search seems from what I can understand and read that a company born in West Hollywood, growing and West Hollywood, investing in West Hollywood, and hoping to continue its growth in West Hollywood has shown the strength and belief in West Hollywood by its residents and now the world from anl international investments company.

    This is not the first gay chat site to be owned by someone who is not gay or believe in the gay lifestyle let’s not forget that 1 of the manhunt owners was straight and donated to campaigns against gay rights, but the community striked back. I don’t get the impression hear that the original founder of Grindr will not continue to be operationally running the business I would this substantial partnership be able to grow it to be an even more international brand

  7. SE – Yes, that is what I meant. I guess I should have better articulated my point of view. And, Flores St., gay bars no longer exist in a way they did, catering to an exclusively male or female clientele. If you are too young to have experienced this scenario, you have no frame of reference. Compared to what I see now, I lament the passing of truly gay bars and restaurants (e.g. The Carriage Trade, The Garden District, etc.). It was like one big club of which we were the members.

  8. Flores St. – I think that was Disco Dan’s point. Bathhouses peaked long ago because of the AIDS crisis, replaced by an increase in the number of gay bars and later the internet (AOL chat rooms, anyone?). It used to be that gay bars/clubs served as the social/sexual center of our community, teeming with sexual energy, which has been sapped by the advent of apps at the same time the bars have become much more socially integrated. Here is a link to a great article about apps that address the culture:

    http://www.hivequal.org/hiv-equal-online/grindr-fatigue-and-the-dehumanization-of-gay-men

  9. Technology ended the gay bars and socialization. It started with the internet and probably gay.com was the main site about 20 years ago. Then technology advanced to phone/apps. I’m sure in the next few years something else will be developed and we wont even have to meet other gay men anymore. 🙂

  10. Disco Dan, Grindr did not replace gay bars. Grindr replaced bathhouses. Additionally, people do still go to the bars — they just go to hang out with their friends — not to turn tricks.

  11. Neither Grindr nor Scruff would be necessary if gay bars still existed and men would take the time to go to them and meet with other men. As well as speaking with them! But this is now a far different century where personal, face to face interaction is vastly minimized.

    But China? Don’t they own enough already?

    ARGH !!! 😠

  12. It is quite interesting how a Chinese company can own the largest gay-hookup brand in the world and still suppress gay rights. Grindr might just be a game-changer on the next frontier of global acceptance for the LGBT community.

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