Phil Hendricks, the mind behind Manhunt.net and now Gaydar.net, says online dating can be about more than just hook-ups
MIKEY ROX | Contributing Writer
We all have our Stuart Smalley moment: That nadir of self-esteem where we feel unloved and wonder if anyone will ever ask us out again. And we also can feel invincible, as if the world is full of men seeking out someone just like us. Or maybe it’s just about getting a date for Valentine’s Day.
Whatever your mood — especially this time of year — it’s wrong to think online gay social sites are all about hookups … though there certainly is that, too.
Phil Henricks, the marketing guru currently with Gaydar.net and previously a creative mind with Manhunt.net and M4M World, is a pioneer in online dating. And he doesn’t think it’s fair to say all sites are created the same — just like gay bars, there’s something for everyone.
Henricks talks about Gaydar.net’s humble beginnings (it started so the founders’ friend could land a man), whether online dating among gays is more about Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, which political circle has been caught quietly cruising for men and why its new mobile app is more than just another Grindr.
Dallas Voice: You have quite a history as the man behind the curtain of the world’s most popular dating sites — Manhunt, M4M World, and now you’re head of North American marketing at Gaydar. Is it true that that site was started because the founder’s friend wanted a boyfriend? Did he find one? Phil Hendricks: Yup. Necessity was the father of this invention. Gaydar began in June 1999 because the founders, Henry Badenhorst and Gary Frisch, had a friend who was desperate to find a boyfriend but didn’t have the time or interest in trawling gay bars. They recommended [the search engine] Excite, which had a personals page where one could post a profile, but it took the poor guy two weeks to get a response. Henry thought he could do better and created a personal site just for the gay market. Five months later, Gaydar launched and their friend got his boyfriend.
Great story, but be honest: Is Gaydar geared toward relationships, or are the people who are using it really just looking for hookups? I like to think of Gaydar as an online version of a typical gay bar, whereas I think of other sites as closer to being online versions of a bathhouse. At Gaydar you have people who are looking for a date, looking for love, looking for a quickie, looking to flirt or just watching the boys go by, just as you would at a gay bar. Cliché as it sounds, Gaydar is what you make it. There’s something for everyone.
It seems like there are no lesbian dating sites — or at least not as many as there are gay dating sites. Why do you think that is? There are very few lesbian dating websites. It’s a smaller market, but also I think girls prefer to meet under more traditional circumstances, such as being introduced through friends, girl bars, parties, events, cruising Home Depot. That said, Gaydar does indeed have — ta-dah — a lesbian dating site. It’s called GaydarGirls.com. It’s comparably smaller than the men’s site and not as heavily marketed, but busy nonetheless.
What’s the most popular time of day for users to log on? Can you pinpoint it? Like, for example, the third Wednesday of the month at 3:53 p.m. I have been in industry for 10 years and it is the same at every site. Believe it or not, Monday nights are hot. They’re almost always the busiest of the week. Sundays from 5 to 11 p.m. is second, followed by Tuesdays.
What your main demographic? Old, young, top, bottom? Gaydar is a very welcoming site — a friendly gay bar, if you will. There are all types, ages and sizes of guys. That said, we’re really welcoming to guys age 24 and younger, who get totally free, full-access membership. We figure younger and college guys could use a break and we could use the eye candy. As for demographics, as of six months ago, 20 percent of our members are total tops, 15 percent are total bottoms, and 65 percent are versatile.
Anybody famous have a profile on the site? You don’t have to say their name out loud, but a clever little blind item wouldn’t hurt. And then whisper the name in my ear. Apparently, Gaydar is big with British Members of Parliament, the discovery of which has been catnip to the press. They found photos of one in an act too disgusting to describe in a family newspaper.” But it’s Boy George who got Gaydar into the gossip columns after his arrest for [falsely imprisoning] a rent boy he met on Gaydar. Google it.
Who’s the person who approves them and their requisitely racy photos. I’m sure he’s seen it all. Can I shadow him for a day? Nuns. Seriously, it’s a room full of people. All kinds — gay, straight, men, women, out of work MPs — who go at it, 18 hours a day. With over 6 million members posting in nine languages, including photos and video, it’s a daunting task — but Gaydar soldiers on.
What does it take to get disapproved? I’m sure you’ve got a story. Gaydar prides itself on its relaxed stance when it comes to profile text, so we prefer not to censor. Members can pretty much say whatever they want. When it comes to photos, of course, they have to be of the member [as in, the person in the profile] and images of children, penetration, ejaculation and sex with animals or office supplies are forbidden. We have had very few issues with member photos. We have a sexy, frisky, but well-behaved crowd.
Office supplies? I don’t even wanna know. Are you required by law to save the chat logs and e-mail between members? I bet some of those are a doozy. Logs are kept, but only for the protection of the site and our customers. Only in the case of a major harassment complaint are the logs opened, and even then they can only be accessed by the customer service director. We are exceedingly strict about guarding our members’ privacy. True, it’d be the ultimate fly-on-the-wall moment, but it’ll never happen. Your secrets — and lies — are safe with us.
Where is the future of the Gaydar site headed? A couple years ago Manhunt.net launched OnTheHunt.com, which facilitates real members hooking up on film, and the sudden popularity of Grindr sort of revolutionized the way gays connect on and offline. What’s next? Gaydar and porn? Uh, no. We’ve no interest in whoring out our members for profit. Works for some, but it’s just not what the Gaydar brand is about. Gaydar is about fun, meeting, dating, as well as gay culture. We have GaydarNation.com, which is our huge gay entertainment site, plus there’s GaydarRadio.com, with half a million listeners. Mobile technology also gets us hot. We just launched the Gaydar app for the iPhone, which was an immediate hit since we were the first major gay dating site to offer a fully integrated app, allowing app and web users the exact same access to its profiles and options. The Android Gaydar app should be ready shortly after Valentine’s Day! Beyond the app, we’re giving the website an extreme makeover, which will be really fun. Look for that in early summer.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.