OPW INTERVIEW -- Apr 22, 2007 -- Manhunt is racy and gay and growing fast. It's Americas leading casual gay dating site. (MyPartnerPerfect.com sits at the other end of the spectrum as the gay eHarmony, with Patrick Perrine). I talked to Jonathan Crutchley ManHunt's chairman of the board. - Mark Brooks
What’s the founding story of Manhunt.net?
I have a business partner, Larry Basile, who invited me to be his business partner in 1992 in a gay telephone chat service in Boston, Dial Information Services. I bought out his existing partner and we went into the telephone chat line business together, in Boston. He founded the business in 1987.
It’s a local business that made a reasonable amount of money but around 2000 we noticed that our youngest users, 18 to early 20’s, weren’t using our service as much as they had. Boston has 300,000 college students and a good part of our market was young people 18 – 22. Whenever they arrive for school in the fall we advertise in the gay magazines and newspapers locally to tell the newcomers about our chat line service and they weren’t responding. We figured it was because they were using the Internet.
We made a decision to get a website launched, persuade people to use it and then persuade people to pay to use it. At that time most people didn’t believe in paying.
By trial and error, mostly error, we got some people to design a website for us. Neither my business partner nor I knew anything about the Internet. Then we advertised locally. It took about 2 years to grow to 10,000 users for free services at www.manhunt.net. Then at one point in the year 2002, we sent all of our users an email and said, “We hope you’ve enjoyed using Manhunt these past 2 years but now we’re going to ask you to pay $10 a month for the service.” We held our breath, sat back and to our great surprise they paid. People told us that they appreciated the service so much it was worth paying for and that they understood.
After we found out that people were willing to pay for this, we realized the Internet goes everywhere not just Boston. So we decided to open up the website to users in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, coast to coast USA. We promoted it with advertisements in gay magazines and newspapers, held events at gay bars and nightclubs. I started traveling to various locations promoting our website and it caught on coast to coast in the USA. Now we have over 600,000 US members and 900,000+ members worldwide. We’ve translated Manhunt into German, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese, and Italian is in process. We’re in Europe and Asia and Australia and North and South America. So it’s really taken off.
I’m quite surprised at the massive popularity of Gaydar in the U.K. Hitwise ranks them as the top dating site in the U.K.
They were there first. If you noticed, they’re way behind us in the USA. I admire them. They offer an excellent service to their members, but eventually, just like Pepsi caught up with Coca-Cola, it took them 100 years, and I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to catch up with Gaydar but we’ll catch up to Gaydar sooner or later in the U.K.
To what do you attribute your successes so far with Manhunt.net?
What our members tell us is it’s easy to use. We have very prompt customer service. I’ve got 30 guys who work shifts 24 hours a day and speak all these different languages answering emails and calls on our 800 number. If guys have a problem, guys have a question, credit card billing issues, and things like that, they send us an email and in 10 minutes they get an answer. If you go on most other dating websites you’ll find they’ll say, “We’ll get back to you in the next 2 or 3 days to answer your question.”
We’ve invested in customer service because the gay community is a community and people are comfortable using our site because there’s somebody on the other end they can talk to and they have the confidence to use our site and subscribe to it.
How fast is the site growing at this stage?
Let’s just say that revenues are growing 50% a year now. Sooner or later that’s going to level off but we keep going to new countries and they think we’re the best thing since sliced bread.
Does the gay dating market tend towards being casual or does it tend towards being long term relationship oriented?
Obviously, this question is not being asked by a gay man. I have to explain this frequently to straight people who ask me this. It’s casual. When I compare our dating website with a boy meets girl dating website, what happens on a boy meets girl dating website is boy meets girl, boy dates girl, boy marries girl because many of these sites are inclined toward promoting marriage, which is fine.
The difference between that and my website is boy meets boy, boy dates boy, tomorrow night boy dates another boy, the next night boy dates another boy. Especially with the younger crowd from age 18 to 40 that’s the way young gay men live. They get out and about, they go out to bars and nightclubs and they see a lot of people. Whereas, with Match.com or True or eHarmony, once a couple has met and dated and married, that website has lost two customers. But once I get a customer, if they like us and they subscribe, they just put their credit card on automatic rebill and they renew and renew and renew and we grow.
The reason I asked was, Gayparship.co.uk launched recently and they did a survey (1,000 responses) and found that 47% of gay men were looking for a serious, long term relationship compared to just 16% that were looking for casual flings. That didn’t quite ring true. What are your thoughts on that?
They may be looking for Mr. Right but Mr. Right Now will do. I would say that most gay men are probably looking some day for a long term relationship. Sooner or later we all settle down for a while but then they still subscribe to my website and look at the pictures. But still in the meantime, gay men will casually date. Also, we estimate that as many as 30% of our users are married men.
Which of the mainstream sites is most popular amongst the gay audience? I heard that Yahoo Personals is popular amongst the gay audience.
I honestly can’t imagine that, I don’t understand why. Gay men are looking for their own community and I’ve gone and looked at, for instance, Match.com and Yahoo Personals and we do market research with these others, but a website operated by straight people just does not register with gay men. The questions, when you fill out their questionnaires the questions that a woman would ask a man when she’s looking for someone to marry, like how much money do you make, do you want children? These are ridiculous questions, a gay man could care less how much money you make, could care less about wanting children. They want to know your physical attributes, they want to see pictures, they want to know what you’re into.
My website is an adult website and men pose in adult photographs, they post naked pictures of themselves and some guys will subscribe just to look at the pictures rather then go to the newsstand and buy a magazine and see the pictures. So that’s what men are interested in and the people who run straight dating websites with a gay niche in it have no clue. I don’t think that they’re serious competition.
You’re ranked by Hitwise as the 10th most trafficked dating site in the U.S.A., and gay.com is 14th. How so?
Gay.com doesn’t consider themselves a competitor of ours. They’ve said they’re going in a different direction. They’re going into the magazine publishing business, they’re going for advertising revenues, they’re going into the travel industry, they chartered the Queen Mary. They’re looking for the Fortune 500 to advertise in their properties, their magazine or their website properties. That’s what they want to do.
We stick to our knitting and we’re just in the personals business and the personals business only. I have no cruises up and down the Danube or Atlantic crossings from New York to Southampton. I have none of that.
Do you believe in offline advertising or do you believe in purely online?
We’re an Internet business but actually we did promote and we do promote our website in gay magazines and newspapers, but the trouble with that is if you pick up the newspaper and you want to connect to our website you can’t push a button on the page to get there. The way you get traffic is on the Internet. It’s generally more effective for word-of-mouth to get people to come to your site and create links to your site, and things like that. If someone has no clue as where to find a date and enters gay dating on Google they’ll find us.
What are your goals for 2007 for Manhunt.net?
To grow the business, it’s a big, big world and I only have around a million members and there are billions of people in this world.
Are you going to the Shanghai conference in China?
Oh yes, definitely. I’ll be there. Actually I’ve made contacts already in China that tell me that Gay.com and Gaydar are already marketing there. We plan to offer our service in China. We plan to offer our service in India. We are international and I’ve got a lot of work to do in the next 20 years.