Grindr: The Original Location-Based Dating App

Grindr: De-stigmatizing gay sex, one [hookup/blocked profile/unsolicited pic/ignored message] at a time.

 Grindr connects gay men to the world that brings them happiness. The company aims to become the preeminent global gay lifestyle brand, bringing together gay men with the people, places and things they care about most.  – Grindr Company Fact Sheet, June 2015


Business Model

As the first location-based dating and social app, Grindr launched in 2009 in order to connect 18+ gay, bisexual and curious men with other local men. It offers both a free, ad-supported version and a monthly subscription version (no adds, ability to see more nearby users).

Men can look for other men to find friendship, to network, for dates, long-term relationships and one-time intimate encounters.

To date, Grindr has 2 million daily users who access the app an average of 9 times per day for an average of 54 minutes (versus 15 on Tinder (Source)). Users send over 70 million messages and 5 million pictures daily. (Grindr Company Fact Sheet, June 2015). On December 9, 2015 , Grindr was the #50 highest grossing Paid App on the app store, retaining a high spot even 6 years after its launch (Source)

While the company does not disclose financials, leaked documents suggest an expected 2015 annual revenue of $38 million (from $16 million in 2012) with expected growth up to $77 million by 2018. (Source). 25% of the revenue comes from advertising (which includes location-based pop-ups from nearby bars) and 75% comes from member subscription fees ($10-12 per month) (Source).

Operating Model

With a small team of 30 employees (Source), Grindr achieves its business goals by keeping its user interface simple and open ended, simulating a bar-like experience where you can asses all your options and only interact with those you are interested in interacting with.

  • Profiles: Grindr keeps a very simple profile that allows for one picture (no explicit images allowed), physical trait descriptors (height, weight, ethnicity, body type, among others) as well as extra space for more detailed personal information (such as a ‘Interested In?’ section as well as an open ended text field). It also allows users to link their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts to further leverage social media.
Typical User Profile View (Source: Grindr Press Kit)
  • Profile View: Unlike other apps such as Tinder and Hinge (which show only one profile at a time), Grindr presents its user with a scroll-able grid of nearby users, allowing one to select a profile for more detailed information. Once in a profile, users can easily switch between profiles with a simple swipe.
Grid Profile View (Source: Grindr Press Kit)
  • Connecting: Grindr allows users to communicate with a very simple messaging functionality. Users can text each other as well as send each other pictures. This is where Grindr’s competitive advantage lies. Grindr allows users to text other users and send pictures without the consent of the person receiving the message. If the person receiving a text or image is not interested, he simply ignores the communication or blocks the sender.
Typical User Inbox
Typical User Inbox (Source: Grindr Press Kit)

Some contend that this sort of unrestricted messaging is intrusive. In fact, one of the ways Tinder seeks to explicitly differentiate itself is by only allowing users who have anonymously expressed mutual interest in each other to connect and by making it impossible for users to send pictures to one another (in order to avoid unsolicited explicit images) (Source). However this interface lowers the barriers for communication and allows users who are interested in all types of interactions to easily communicate with one another (more an opt-out model than opt-in). In practice, most messages sent are the generic “Hey”, “How’s it going?”, “sup?” and “looking?”. Additionally, most Grindr messages sent go unanswered; ignoring has become the new way to signal to the sender that a user is not interested.

  • Privacy: Because Grindr also targets curious/questioning/closeted men, it allows users to simply sign up with an e-mail address (not shown to other users) and to choose a username of their choice. Additionally, it doesn’t require users to use their real name or even show their face in the profile picture. While Tinder’s use of Facebook accounts helps build trust among its users (in terms of authenticity), it would not allow those who wish to remain anonymous to use the app, thereby creating a gap between the operating and business models.
  • Advocacy: By de-stigmatizing gay networking and sexual encounters by creating a well-known mobile app, Grindr has created a social network that can reap countless benefits to the gay community overall. Partnering with World AIDS Day, the CDC, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Grindr regularly conducts surveys on sexual behavior, HIV status, PrEP usage (daily pill that has shown promise in preventing HIV infection), and general experiences with the medical profession (certain ethnicities having a hard time talking to doctors about the issues, etc.) (cite). Grindr also provides reminders to users to get tested as well as links to resources on getting HIV treatment and counseling (Source).

Conclusion: Grindr’s operating model efficiently works to deliver its value proposition to its users: a location based networking/dating/hookup app that allows users to set their own level of privacy and limits barriers for communication in order to maximize user interaction.


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Student comments on Grindr: The Original Location-Based Dating App

  1. Tulio, this is a really interesting post. One of the other features of Grindr that I know of is that you can actually change your location to be somewhere where you are not physically present, for example, you can be in New York and set your location to Paris. I think one downfall of this functionality is that users are no longer even looking at profiles or chatting with people who are in meet-able range. What is your take on this feature? What value does it bring users?

    1. Wow I didn’t know that Nina – that’s interesting because I feel like one of the big value adds of Grindr is its location-based feature… as Tulio pointed out. I feel like what you pointed out is kind of a double-edged sword because on the one hand, if people want to be able to change their location for them that’s fine, but how do you counter-filter for people who want to maintain that location-based aspect?

      1. Hi Charlotte, I agree with the downfall of this sort of practice. See below for clarification 🙂

    2. The only way you can change your location in Grindr is if you do a hack that tricks your phone into thinking it is somewhere else (so every app on your phone, including Maps, will be tricked). So while it is technically possible to change you location, it is not a feature offered by Grindr, but rather a hack on the phone that can be exploited. Tinder, on the other hand, explicitly lets you change locations, and I think it adds value to those who are traveling and want to see who’ll be in their destination (to be honest it also adds value to those who are bored and ran out of swipes in their current city).

  2. Very interesting post. Nice detail on the operating model!! Thank you.

  3. Tinder should learn from it.

    1. Tinder did learn from them; originally Tinder was designed with women in mind but the thought process was that they would not like a lot of the features Grindr has. So the features of no pictures being sent as well as no one being able to contact you unless you also swiped right on them were direct responses to Grindr.

      This even works in the gay community in an unexpected way. While a lot of heterosexual friends of mine joke that tinder is a mere hookup app and not always the most classy, in the gay community those on Tinder see it as a more serious alternative to Grindr. The heterosexual community doesn’t have a Grindr equivalent, so all types of users get on Tinder.

  4. Wow – I didn’t know Grindr had that kind of revenue. You quote the Grindr Company Fact Sheet where they say they want to become “the preeminent global gay lifestyle brand.” What do you think they need to do to go beyond “hookup app” and achieve that vision? Would the business model or product need to change?

    1. I’m not sure it needs to change much. It’s ads and survey features are targeted to a gay lifestyle. For example, if you are in Boston and log in during Boston Pride, you will get notifications of official pride events (parties, concerts, etc..).

      Ultimately I think it’s already a gay local lifestyle brand because millions of gay men worldwide use it for different reasons (some really do use it to find gay friends/community when moving to a new city). It doesn’t try and define what the gay lifestyle is, but rather lets its users define it by giving them a pretty unrestricted platform (compared to similar apps).

  5. LOL.

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