Grindr Pronouns, Peter Sloterdyk

Interview: Grindr’s Peter Sloterdyk on Pronouns, Egypt and INTO Magazine

Grindr Pronouns, Peter Sloterdyk

Late 2017 saw a number of high profile changes at Grindr. The dating app introduced new gender pronouns (many of which applied to women) in November, and it continued to draw attention to its digital lifestyle magazine INTO (which will now host podcasts).

In a recent announcement, the app stated that users in countries hostile to homosexuality will be able to change the Grindr icon on their devices. The move came amid a clampdown on ‘abnormal’ sexual relations in Egypt.

To find out more about the updates, GDI spoke to Vice President of Marketing Peter Stoterdyk.

Sloterdyk “oversees the multi-tiered operation responsible for user acquisition, digital and traditional marketing, brand health management, social media, CRM, analytics, customer operations, and content development & distribution” at Grindr. He is also responsible for the development and launch of the INTO magazine.

Read the full interview here:

Before getting into anything specific, how has 2017 been at Grindr? Did you have a good year? What have been the high points?

PS: Absolutely! 2017 has been a banner year for us in a lot of ways. I can speak to the marketing organisation specifically – when I joined a year ago, back in November of 2016, the team had about five or six people on it. We’re now just inching over 30 people on the marketing team, and I think that’s really a reflection of our investment in our global presence.

We’re making sure that we do everything we can to connect with our users around the world, ensure their safety, and make sure that we’re providing everything we can to help them connect and discover the world around them.

I can certainly dive in more and talk a little bit about the key wins for the year. We crossed the 3 million daily active user mark, I’m really thrilled about that, it’s continued to grow year over year and that’s something we’re really proud of here.

I think it’s a reflection of the stability of our product and how well the Grindr app works for so many people. It’s a reflection of the global community finding new ways to connect with one another.

It’s [also] the introduction of [mobile] data helping the product become cheaper and more accessible. That’s the story with the entire continent of Africa – we’re seeing growth all around the world.

I think the other big key point for the year is that we launched INTO at intomore.com. It is our editorial platform for the entirety of the LGBTQ community, and I have been thrilled with the success we’ve enjoyed there in the first few months.

We launched in August, and we’re already over 3.5 million monthly unique visitors on the website. We’re really enjoying the success that the editorial team is having, which sits under marketing as well.”

Brilliant, it all seems like it’s going very very well & it sounds like a very exciting time! On to the specifics – you’ve added these new options for gender and, notably, you’ve added a number of ways for women to express themselves on the app. What prompted that change?

PS: It’s a great question! So, the kicker for us regarding the gender pronouns and the ability to customise gender pronouns was really a response to the Trans community that was already using the app.

What we heard from our trans users around the world was that they didn’t have all of the tools at their disposal to feel like they could connect openly and be themselves entirely on the app.

We wanted to provide resources, we added new gender fields, and we’ve had really fantastic feedback so far from the community – they say it’s really helped a great deal. The social conversation has been great about it, people are really using the resources to understand how to engage with people.

The information that’s available has really changed the way that people are connecting to one another, so we’re really proud of that factor.

To get to your question more specifically about the introduction of women: it’s not that we’re changing our core mission to serve the GBTQ community on the app. The core reason that Grindr exists still remains that we’re here to make sure that the GBTQ community has a safe and fun way to connect with one another.

I think that some of the items of the gender pronoun update have been taken out of context – just in terms of ‘oh we’re open to women now’. It’s important to note that we remain committed to our core mission of serving the GBTQ community, and Grindr as a whole is very committed to making sure that we’re serving the whole of the LGBTQ community with other products like INTO.”

So you’re still looking to keep the male focus at the core of the app, but you’re making sure that the platform is inclusive of anyone else who may want to join?

PS: Absolutely. I’m just going to do a little correction, it’s not that we are male focused – we use GBTQ because it’s less about gender for us, and more about those who identify with the GBTQ community.

Lesbians, or those who identify as cisgender female, may find that there are other apps that better serve their community. Something like ‘Her’ is a great option for that community.”

Sure. So what are the ways in which the app does serve lesbians and the wider LGBTQ community?

PS: The best way for the spectrum of our community and their allies to connect with the brand, and to connect with one another, is through our platform INTO. As the company continues to grow, and as our mission continues to expand, we’ll have additional updates.

For the time being, the best way for the entire community to connect with us is through INTO.”

Great. Turning to Egypt, and some of the more challenging parts of the world in which the app operates – you’ve bought in some fantastic new features that help users in those markets (…) [but] what are the challenges of running in those countries more generally?

PS: Jack is our director and writer for equality, and he finds the majority of his time focused on human safety for our community. He and I have had long conversations about, ‘what is the core challenge operating in those spaces?’

The theme that keeps coming out is the challenge between two opposite needs: between wanting to provide the GBTQ community in those areas a way to connect with one another, because they don’t have physical spaces, they can’t be open and out – they don’t have gay bars etc. – we want to build a community.

But. We want to ensure that our platform is not providing a way for those who would prosecute or persecute those individuals to find them. Those two things are sometimes at odds.

The introduction of features like the changeable app icon and the passcode are small, but they are impactful ways that we can provide an additional layer of safety for folks in those regions.”

Have you seen changes in attitudes towards the app go one way or the other on  a global scale? Are there regions where it’s becoming more open and others where it’s becoming more closed? What does that change look like from the point of view of a company serving GBTQ communities?

PS: That’s a big question, almost a philosophical question, but I certainly have thoughts on it.

I think India is a really great example of somewhere where the tide is changing. What I mean by that is that we just got back from a week of research in Mumbai and New Delhi – me, a member from my team, and two members of the product team went to India to talk to the community one-on-one.

We did round tables, we dove into ‘what it’s like to be gay in India’. It’s a country where it’s technically illegal to be gay, it’s enforceable by law, and that presents some serious challenges.

That law is enacted very differently in India, however, than in somewhere like Egypt. The reason I draw a juxtaposition between the two is that Egypt is an area where everyone that identifies as LGBTQ is in danger.

The burden is somewhat lighter in India, mostly because they’re further along in the equality movement. That being said, they’re not ‘done’ with the equality movement in India.

You asked a question about where do I see it becoming a bit easier, and where do I see it becoming a bit harder. I see it becoming a bit easier to activate, be present and help folks connect in India, and I see it continuing to be difficult in Northern Africa and the Middle East where we might be banned as an app.

Folks might have to use a VPN to access our product, and the government or police or authority is much more active in persuing action against the LGBTQ community.”

Do you worry at all that you might alienate part of your audience by introducing new genders and gender pronouns? I ask because the pronoun debate is obviously still quite a vitriolic debate in places like American college campuses, for example.

PS: “That’s an interesting question. I don’t worry about alienating certain members of our base or of our community, because I think Grindr has an opportunity to lead, and we’re doing that by introducing what we believe is one way to make all of our users feel safe on the app and welcome on the app.

Obviously that is something that everyone in the dating industry is battling or figuring out how to address. Like I say, we believe this is one of the ways we can address that and make sure that there is an inclusive intention behind everything that we do.”

I think it’s an interesting question to watch from the position of the dating industry. We have just written a piece about OKCupid introducing over 20 gender identities and a whole host of pronouns. Grindr have introduced ‘they’ as an option, and then given users the ability to enter custom pronouns. Everyone seems to be striking that balance in a different way – obviously some apps haven’t gone down that route at all. It’s good to hear everyone’s take on it, because it’s certainly a lively issue at the moment – let’s put it that way!

PS: Indeed it is!”

What are the plans for INTO? We covered that it recently started hosting podcasts – what else is there to look forward to on that platform?

PS: I think you can expect a number of new content partnerships similar to the Food 4 Thot podcast. We’re interested in making sure every piece of content we engage with is at the service of our community, as well as making sure it’s relevant and interesting and all of those editorial intentions.

You can also expect out of INTO a continued expansion. It’s something that we believe in and that we’re really excited about as a company. You can expect more content and more global partnerships like the podcast that will give us a unique offering in the space.”

And what about 2018 more generally? What else has Grindr got planned?

PS: We are excited about introducing new features for our global users to connect, discover, and navigate the world around them through the app. We look forward to new ways our app audience can engage with INTO content and to continuing our global community expansion.

Additionally, Grindr for Equality will play an even bigger role going into 2018 with additional resources and even more health, safety, and human sexuality work throughout the regions in the world where it is needed most.”