“Ever since Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden after tasting the forbidden fruit, sex has always been the main source of humanity’s desires,” Sigmund Freud once said. “Everything we do, we do it for sex and vanity.” As the social scenes in human society evolve and transform, many so-called "hook-up" apps are developed and launched into the market accordingly. And of course, hook-up apps designed for gay people also flourish on the mobile platform.
At the end of 2014, social networking app Momo, which focuses on the networking between strangers, successfully listed its IPO on NASDAQ, becoming the dominating power in its area as a result. Interestingly, it was also in 2014 that venture capital companies suddenly became extremely interested in social networking products designed for gay men. Blued and Zank were the brightest stars among Chinese gay dating apps and they have been receiving the most attention in the gay community. In February, 2014, Blued received its Series A round investment of over 10 million dollars from Crystal Stream. Later in July, Zank got 20 million RMB as its Series A round investment. Four months later, Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook came out publicly. And the very next day, Blued received another US$30 million in funding from US venture capital company DCM Ventures.
It’s said that both apps’ user bases have hit over 10 million and now are marching to 20 million. Besides gay dating apps, social networking apps designed for lesbians such as LeDo, LesPark, and The L etc have also flooded the market.
A change of the product concept: From hook-up platforms to local service providers
Blued and Zank are the two most popular gay dating apps in China, generally used as hook-up platforms by their users. Obviously, their core function is decided by the user property.
At first, Zank had a slogan that went “It’s more than just hooking up!” Okay, then here comes the question: did Zank extend users’ needs based on the hook-up function? Zank’s founder, Ling Jueding was very honest about this matter: “If two people really liked each other, then they would surely hook up.”
“Straight people are different from gay men. They are generally more uptight, so before Momo was launched, most straight people didn’t know there’s a social app for hooking up,” Ling added, “ Gay people are quite the opposite. Sex always comes first before building a relationship. However, gay men are getting serious about their love life. They want something real and substantial, especially those living in big cities. They crave for genuine emotional attachments.”
When asked about his opinions on hooking up, Geng Le thought that sex wss a primitive impulse and desire of humanity. Simply put, he regarded it as a part of the human nature. However, he also mentioned that if a product’s core function was to help people get laid, then this product had some serious problems that need fixing.
Geng’s way of thinking explains why Blued now is undertaking major changes to attract new users and dominate the mobile platform. To achieve its ambitions, Blued needs to guide its users to form the habit of logging on and gradually lead them from merely just hooking up to content sharing and social networking based on interests. Additionally, Blued will have to provide more local services as well.
When talking about his future plans for Zank, Ling Jueding stated that he wanted Zank to be a temporary product and something new would come along. In his opinions, Chinese society has been making great progress in recent years in terms of the acceptance of homosexuality. From where he’s standing, gay people’s consuming needs would be integrated into different services and there wouldn’t be an independent app designed specially for them. Ling Jueding also announced that Zank would take initiatives to help push such tendency and build a better environment for the gay community in the next decade.
As a matter of fact, Zank and Blued have been fighting constantly for gay rights, making great contributions to the gay community. For instance, besides its main businesses, Zank also made a sit-com show named Rainbow Family, and a movie series, Nine Gays, and a video show called Me & Mr. X as well. Recently, Zank also teamed up with Alibaba and Beijing LGBT Center to help ten gay couples to get married in Los Angeles, creating a great stir within the LGBT community.
Not long ago, Ireland voted to allow gay marriage in a referendum, which signaled a major change in people's attitudes in a what was once a strongly Catholic and socially conservative society. This development also indicates that the gay community in Ireland had finished its fight for gay rights and now is accepted by the mass. But due to the different policies on such matter around the world, it’s still hard to eliminate discrimination against gay people everywhere. Legalizing gay marriage globally is a constant battle that might take forever to end, and therefore it needs everyone’s effort and support to put an end to it.
The user base in China is too small while expanding to overseas markets is incredibly hard
According to statistics, the proportion of gay people in the total population is relatively constant, which means it’s just a matter of time that gay dating apps would exhaust the targeted user group, and therefore they would have no choice but expand to overseas markets to attract new users and find business opportunities.
In November, 2014, Blued made official announcement that it had already amassed over 15 million users and Blued is moving forward to the global market. This year in February, Geng Le and his team launched the international version of Blued in Netherland and so far it has accumulated 5 million users overseas.
In comparison to Blued founded in 2012, Zank is considered as a newcomer in this particular area. But surprisingly, it only took Zank two years to accumulate a user base of over ten million after launching. Zank’s founder, Ling Jueding, also revealed the company’s plan to enter overseas markets and that Zank would soon have different language packs installed. “We aim to get a hundred million users, and overseas expansion is our best bet to achieve that,” Ling Jueding told TMTpost, “But still, we will focus on the markets in Asia first. ”
However, Geng and Ling actually have different reasons for marching to overseas markets. From Geng Le’s view, the rapid user growth period is over for Blued. At present, Blued needs to expand its user base by entering overseas markets. The small user base is holding back the function development of Blued, and only when Blued can accumulate an enough amount of users will it have the power to change the game. Geng also told TMTpost that going international would be the main task for Blued’s team and their fundamental goal is to get more users.
Geng Le’s right. Statistically speaking, there are 70 million homosexuals in Chinese mainland, among which gay men take up 40 million. The current obstacle for gay dating apps is the slowing down of user growth after rapid expanding. If they could gather another 30 million Chinese users in the future, it would be a great victory.
I myself have tried to use some mainstream gay dating apps such as Blued, Zank, and Gaypark etc to have a deeper understanding of such products, but I found they’re all so similar. Most apps have similar features such as finding people nearby, buzz, groups and circles. Besides the overlap of features, I also found some obvious drawbacks on these apps, such as obscene contents and irritating small ads.
It seems that these LBS products tend to share similar features and user experience, which leads to the overlap of users. After observation, it also occurred to me that users could be amazingly picky when choosing a particular product. Usually they would install two apps, tops. But ultimately they would only use one app very often.
Given these circumstances, Geng Le believed that one particular app would dominate the vertical social networking sector in the future. “This is especially true in the gay dating apps sector. As the pioneer of such products, Blued enjoys many local advantages and has better community foundation, which makes it almost impossible for its rivals to compete with Blued, let alone surpass it.” Additionally, the gay community is rather special in a way for the fact that it has higher sense of loyalty, meaning it’s not easy to lose users from this particular group. All in all, the outcome of this war is quite obvious.
That is why Zank’s making great efforts to enter overseas markets. To rise from a crowd of similar products, the best move is to explore overseas markets to accumulate more users. It’s apparent that under the pressure of commercialization and the shrinking user base, overseas expansion is their only way out.
But the reality is that problems still exist and there are many obstacles. Recently, US-based gay dating app, Grinder, has been eager to find a buyer to make acquisition. It’s said that Grinder’s having trouble making profits since users were becoming serious about having a relationship and therefore they would no longer pay for Grinder’s service. Blued and Zank’s very first challenge on entering the American and European markets is that the markets there are already mature, and it’s unknown whether they would accept a foreign Chinese product. Secondly, it’s hard to predict whether users would switch to use instant messaging apps such as QQ or WeChat etc after successfully finding someone they are interested in on Blued and Zank’s platforms. Apart from that, cultural differences, historical factors, and social environment differences could also be the game-changers and should be taken into consideration when entering a brand new overseas market. In short, it will be an uphill battle for them to expand to overseas markets.
However, Geng Le’s pretty positive about Blued’s expansion. From his perspective, even though overseas products such as Grindr and Jack’d have already been thriving in the market long before the launching of Chinese gay dating apps, they haven’t changed much fundamentally and lack innovations and improvements. Their profit models are based on membership system and advertising. “They feel comfortable as long as they are making money. Grindr has been in the market for 6 years and it has only 5 million users from 192 countries. As for us, we grasp every opportunity to make progress and improvements. We will never be satisfied,” Geng Le told TMTpost. “Besides that, statistics have shown social networking products geared towards gay people grow faster than those for straight people when entering the international market.”
Possible business models
When the platform is built and user base is formed, then it’s time to make profits. It’s usually hard for gay dating apps to make money since there’s no clear profit model for them. Zank is almost extreme when exploring such matter. Besides teaming up with non-gay-community-related commercial brands such as Lefeng.com, Zanadu.cn, and Mybestway.com, Zank also launched businesses such as e-commerce, tourism service, and house renting service. Currently, Zank is developing its own games that will be released in the second half of this year.
Geng Le’s commercialization strategy for Blued is simple: “Growth comes before profits. In the future, Blued will try to make money by launching e-commerce service, games, selling stickers, and providing O2O services.” In fact, what such products should do right now is guide its users into certain habits and improve the user experience. It’s not really that late to try to make profits after building a mature platform that has an enormous user base.
During the interview with TMTpost, Geng Le also responded to some common misunderstandings and doubts on homosexuality: “Gay people are no different from straight people. Homosexuality is something you are born with. You see, human beings are really complicated. At one point a person might fall in love with somebody, that could be a man or a woman. But if a straight person had sex with someone of the same sex, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with his or her sexual orientation. Some people also think that some men would turn gay after experiencing a traumatizing heterosexual relationship, well, that’s totally crazy talk.”
As a matter of fact, being a minority group in some way makes the gay community rather mentally stronger. Gay people possess the fire of men and the subtlety of women. They are generally insecure and they long for acceptance. They don’t sit around and wait for success. In order to beat discrimination and protect themselves, they are usually more positive and passionate than straight people when it comes to fighting for their own rights. And it’s known to all that there’re countless accomplished gay people in history that had made invaluable contributions to our society in different areas.
But of course, just like straight people but a bit more extreme, the gay community is divided into two groups. Some gay people are very positive and confident while others have low self-esteem and make no attempts to become better. But still, gay people in general know how to enjoy life, which makes their consuming ability higher than that of straight people.
Additionally, if you want to know a country’s stage of development, studying the gay community there would be a great approach. After all, accepting diversity and showing respect to those that are different from the majority are the signs of major social progress in the modern society.
(The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Song Changle, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.)
Translated by Garrett Lee(Senior translator at Echo), working for TMTpost.