After being founded in 2010 by Coley Cummiskey and becoming a “by bears, for bears” social media app, Growlr will now have new owners. In a $11.8 million deal comprised of $4.8 million in cash and $7 million from a line of credit, the company becomes the first same-sex dating app within its umbrella company, The Meet Group. But its new owners already have big plans for the platform, namely introducing livestreaming capabilities by the end of the year.
“You don’t see too many bootstrap success stories like this but it was just [Cummiskey] and one other person who built, developed, and marketed the whole app,” Geoff Cook, chief executive officer of The Meet Group, which also owns dating platforms like Lovoo, Skout, and Tagged, tells Out. “We thought that’s a relatively easy integration and since it’s such a relatively small team, we can, in fact, accelerate the development.” The deal could also see the former owners of the app paid out an additional $2 million over the span of the next two years if it meets certain, preset goals.
“I’m excited at what this means for the Growlr community,” Cummiskey told Out in a written statement. “The Meet Group dramatically expands our access to development and marketing resources, shares our commitment to the bear community, and allows to dramatically expand our own live video products given TMG is a leader in applying live video to dating communities.”
The acquisition comes a year after talks between the two businesses began. Cook points to the company’s daily active users number, which they peg at over 200,000, and its resonance within the bear community as contributing factors to the decision.
“There was actually no fixed marketing budget,” Cook says. Though the app had in the past done projects with various events, he says those had a small dollar value. “It was all word of mouth.” So, the new company plans to invest in marketing and grow the team (it had before just been Cummiskey and his husband Frank Rollins) — it has already posted a job listing on LinkedIn for a product manager which Cook says he would like to fill with someone of the bear community. In addition though, users will soon be able to livestream.
“We tend to get the livestreaming out within six to nine months within acquisition,” Cook says. Growlr is the fourth purchase in three years. The streaming is meant to be an entertainment component with the idea being that when users aren’t getting a lot of messages, there are livestreams put on by others that can provide entertainment, essentially keeping you in-app for longer. So far, the average user has been watching those livestreams in other apps for about 25 minutes a day according to Cook.
“It’s important to realize that the livestreaming that is going on here is not just to meet the streamer for a date,” Cook clarified in an interview with Cheddar. This will differ from the video chat Growlr currently offers. “A lot of it is for entertainment. Some of these streamers have hundreds of people watching them, some of them are hosting mini dating games of their own where they’re essentially hosting their own dating show using the platform we provide.” Throughout this, those watching the stream can also buy in-app gifts for those livestreaming. Since October 2017, the company has made $82 million related to their streaming tactics with about 20%of their users engaging. The hope is to bring this to Growlr in what is believed to be a first for the same-sex market.
“Because the livestriving aspect that we roll out is public, we kind of think of them as we would profile photos as for the level of content that is permitted,” Cook says. “Growlr, as do many apps in the dating space, has relatively strict regulations around profile photos.” Those guidelines currently ban “bare skin one inch above the pubic area,” nudity, “images of sexual acts, either real, illustrated, or simulated”, as “well as photos that contain sex props or toys,” amongst other things.
The Meet Group will moderate the streams with their own machine-learning algorithm as well as a team of over 100 human monitors who will be watching streams.
So, instead of seeing your favorite fan-site performer taking it back to the days of cam modeling, it seems we’re going to be seeing a lot more of projects like what Scruff is doing with their live game show “Hosting” hosted by Gabe Gonzalez, or what Robert Kawan does live on Facebook with his game “Smash. Pass. Roast.”
Also in the gay dating app space, in 2017, the Chinese gaming company Kunlun Group began to buy Grindr. By January 2018, the group had purchased the entire company and the founder and ceo Joel Simkhai exited. In August 2017, Grindr launched Into, its online magazine. After multiple exits from the company’s executive team, the company ceased publishing on that site in a pivot to video content.
Cummiskey and his husband will stay on with Growlr for at least a year, as per their contracts according to Cook.