I joined Blendr shortly after moving to New York City in early 2012, partly out of professional necessity (I was covering the tech startup world at the time) but also out of personal intrigue.
The dating app industry was still a nascent phenomenon but Grindr, the company behind Blendr, had already established itself as a gay hookup app with genuine staying power. Now they were trying to get into the “straight space” (startup lingo) with Blendr. The prospect of no-frills sex with scores women was enough to pique my interest. But to my disappointment, the only people I ever communicated with on the app were gay guys who liked to blow straight dudes, and the one guy who offered me $100 for a smelly pair of old gym shoes.
I deleted my account within 24 hours.
Blendr’s existence was almost equally short-lived. Within a couple of years, Grindr quietly ditched Blendr to focus on its namesake, citing a lack of users. It would prove to be a good decision: Grindr would go on to become a staple of gay culture and a thriving business that sold to a Chinese gaming company in 2016.
One can only imagine how much larger Grindr’s business would have been, though, had it somehow managed to crack the straight market.
With Facebook announcing this week that it, too, is getting into the online dating industry, we here at MEL thought that now was as good a time as any to eat a handful of ’member berries and chart the not-so-quick rise and precipitous fall of Blendr.
1) Blendr first appeared in the App Store on September 8, 2011, and Grindr first tried to claim the app was about “networking” in a general sense and not helping straight people get their fuck on. People were supposed to use the app to find like-minded human beings in their immediate vicinity. “Grindr is all about one interest, and that’s being gay,” Grindr CEO Joe Simkhai said at the time. “That’s just one specific interest. [For Blendr] we’ve brought in hundreds of interests. … This is a friendship app, this is a meeting app. This is for that 60-year-old guy who wants to play poker and wants to find guys or girls of any age group who also want to play poker around him.” (Or the 60-year-old guy who wants to hork off while sniffing my foul-smelling pair of New Balance.)
“We’ve built Blendr to be the ultimate social compass for everyone to strike conversations with new people nearby and check out what’s happening at surrounding venues in the moment,” he added in a press release.
That obviously hollow claim was despite the fact that Grindr, the unabashed gay hookup app, had attracted 2 million registered users in just two years of existence — largely on the promise of dick pics and casual fucking.
2) Grindr’s internal code name for Blendr before its public reveal was Project Amicus. Which, Jesus Christ, if you ever needed a better example of Silicon Valley’s delusional self-importance, its the grandiose code names companies use for new projects that aren’t even innovative.
3) Grindr also released a Facebook version of the Blendr app. Remember Facebook apps? They were apps that existed within the Facebook experience, and they were ubiquitous on Facebook. The most famous of the Facebook apps was probably FarmVille and the host of other Zynga games that spammed your timeline during that Facebook era. Developers eventually moved away from Facebook apps, and began asking players to use their Facebook accounts to sign into standalone, third-party apps. But, man, once upon a time, Facebook apps were the next big thing — so much so that Grindr bragged about its Blendr Facebook app in its press release. By the way, if you having loving memories of the Facebook App Store (like me), it’s a telltale sign you’ve been online far too long.
4) Also by the way, all those old Facebook apps shamelessly mined your data.
5) Location-based social apps were a hot startup idea in the early ’10s, too. The biggest was Foursquare, a company that was once so trendy it was mentioned in the same breath as Facebook and Twitter. But the app never caught on with mainstream audiences, and Foursquare has spent the last few years scrambling to stay relevant. Startups Sonar and Highlight also failed to establish location-based social networks. And people forget that Instagram started as a Foursquare-clone called Burbn before it pivoted to photos. Even social network powerhouses Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat have all dabbled with location-based features to varying success. So Blendr’s failure can largely be seen as an example of startup groupthink gone wrong.
6) Blendr wasn’t initially available on Android phones, however. Sorry, green text nerds.
7) Almost immediately, people cast doubt on Blendr’s potential for success. “The straight version [of Grindr] is an electronic knitting circle you can keep in your pocket?” Adrian Chen wrote at Gawker. “How wholesome! How boring. It seems the straight hook-up technological revolution might be doomed to end with the introduction of attractive-friend-of-a-friend Facebook stalking.”
Nor did anyone buy Grindr’s “networking” pitch and instead wondered whether straight women would use an app made for random hookups. “What Blendr needs to figure out is this: How does it attract women, and, if it cannot, can the app survive without them?” Jason Gilbert wrote at the Huffington Post. “Simkhai has installed a robust set of privacy controls to protect women’s safety from predators and creeps, but what it is really battling is some combination of social stigma and relationship preferences (for both sexes). Grindr has proven with its success that a sufficient percentage of gay men enjoy coming together via real-time smartphone chat; Blendr, if it is to live up to its cousin, will need to win over a similar percentage of heterosexuals to smartphone-flirt.”
8) The main concern was women’s safety. Blendr asked women to not only advertise their general location to a bunch of strange men, but also under the pretense of casual sex. “None of the females I know who have used this app would, in their right mind, invite a random into their home without meeting them in a public place first,” Cat Lynch wrote at The Sydney Morning Herald.
9) Women were also turned off by the potential for false advertising. Whereas Grindr was notorious for men being unabashed with each other, going so far as to send each other unsolicited, close-up dick pics, Blendr was almost too buttoned-up. “Blendr doesn’t even come close to the upfront nature of Grindr,” Lynch continued. “First and foremost, everyone seems to be showing their face as opposed to their bare chest. On Grindr, it is merely an assumption that you have a face, which is considered an advantage because it means you breathe through it and probably have a pulse. Because if you don’t (have a pulse), then you have just wasted the time and built up loin-fire of some horny, impatient beast who has just walked 1.4 kilometres around New Farm Park to get to your apartment only to find you are just a useless pulseless false advertisement.”
10) For others, though, Blendr’s essential flaw was that it was overly broad. Grindr was explicitly about gay sex. Blendr, meanwhile, said it was a networking app for ostensibly anyone, but the only people who used it were straight bros trying to get laid. (The app quickly attracted a bunch of men in their mid-to-late 20s, and not much else.) “[Blendr is] meant to be for everyone looking for everything, so it’s not working for anyone. One of the primary benefits of Grindr is its clarity. Users know it’s for sex,” Ann Friedman wrote for GOOD in January 2012.
11) All of the bad press, however, didn’t stop Grindr from spewing bullshit about how Blendr was really catching on. In a June 2012 interview with startup industry rag TechCrunch, Simkhai said 60 percent of women and 40 percent of men on Blendr had found someone through the platform. Yeah, sure, Joel. (Grindr proper continued to blossom, though. By June 2012, it had doubled its number of users to 4 million.)
12) That September, straight dating app Tinder hit people’s smartphones and revolutionized the online dating industry as we know it with its signature swiping feature for choosing people’s profiles. While the app was billed as a conduit to relationships of all kinds, it became known as the straight hookup app that Blendr always aspired to be, and setting off a 21st century sex panic.
13) In October 2012, Grindr partnered with Badoo, another straight dating app, to help grow Blendr internationally. Simkhai at first denied that Grindr had sold off the failing Blendr to Badoo, but that’s indeed what ended up happening. Badoo is based in London, and Blendr (which still exists!) markets itself as a U.K.-centric social networking app.
14) The following year, publications were writing that Blendr was riddled with fake profiles and not worth anyone’s time. But that didn’t stop Complex from saying in 2014 that Blendr was one of “11 Apps That Will Actually Get You Laid.”
15) By mid-2014, any lingering interest in Blendr had all but disappeared, and Tinder had cemented itself as the predominant straight dating app. And there would be a handful of other dating apps to follow in Tinder’s wake, each with a different niche focus or unique feature set meant to appeal to people across an array of dating proclivities.
16) Now, even Facebook wants to get into the dating game. The company announced earlier this week at its annual F8 developer conference it was working on its own online dating service. Unlike Blendr, this is a brand pivot people are betting on — Wall Street most of all: After the announcement shares of IAC, the digital media conglomerate that owns Match, Tinder and OkCupid, fell off a fucking cliff.
17) I never sold my socks to the pervy dude who offered to buy them for $100 on Blendr. I still regret it. To date, it’s been my only legitimate chance at sex work.