Just over half a year after Grindr‘s debut, leadership of the dating and hook-up platform focused on LGBTQ+ men is settling into life as a public company and charting a roadmap for the future.
The stock initially surged after it went public through a merger with blank-check company Tiga in November, an event industry insiders said was a milestone for inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in finance. Shares, which now trade under the ticker GRND, are far from their first close at $36.50. For most of 2023, the stock has traded around $6 per share.
Since its Nov. 18 debut, Grindr has begun courting investors and making the necessary adjustments to be a public company, all the while making innovative plans for the future of the product. That journey has taken place amid a changing market with stocks rebounding off of 2022’s broad selloff.
It’s also taking place at a unique intersection between LGBTQ+ inclusion and the business world. Public companies such as Disney, Target and Bud Light parent Anheuser-Busch Inbev have been criticized by a largely conservative base unhappy with actions aimed at inclusion of the community. This has also affected the performance of those stocks.
Seven months in the public market
In the seven months since Grindr representatives rang the opening bell, CEO George Arison has shifted his focus to matters relevant to a public company, such as hiring specialists versus generalists and raising liquidity.
He and company leaders have been attending bank conferences, boosting the company’s profile among the Wall Street set. Last month, Grindr leadership was at an event hosted by JPMorgan in Boston. Arison has been surprised by the amount of interest from investors when attending these conferences, noting one in March that had back-to-back meetings from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
To be sure, not all investors who meet with management wind up buying in. Arison noted that some banks have not been welcoming at conventions; he declined to share names. However, he thinks more are now accepting of a stock like Grindr — which unapologetically focuses on the LGBTQ+ community and embraces sex culture — than if the company went public even just a few years prior.
“I don’t think even 10 years ago, that would have been the case,” he said. “I think if you ask people, they would tell you, ‘Oh, nothing would have been different.’ But I think it would have been very different.”
Grindr’s stock has followed the typical technology story line but to a greater extreme. Shares are up about 24% in 2023. The stock dropped 54% in 2022. By comparison, Bumble and Match Group ended 2022 lower. In 2023, Match shares are about flat, while Bumble is down about 18%.
Grindr does not yet have any coverage from Wall Street firms, with its last earnings call consisting of questions from retail investors inquiring into topics such as if any board members use the app or if web-based competitors are a concern. The stock has attracted the attention of the Wall Street Bets Reddit page, which rose to fame in the investing world as it became a primary discussion forum for meme-stock action. A new competitor has also joined the field: Match launched its Archer dating app on June 1, focusing on gay, bisexual and queer men.
Some see an improving environment for dating apps as a whole, though Grindr leadership is quick to note the platform offers more than just that. Online dating penetration is still growing despite concerns the market was oversaturated, according to a Morgan Stanley report released earlier this month. The firm noted that demand is rising, with 65% of online daters planning to increase usage over the next year.
Arison said he’s confident the stock will perform well as long as the company stays on its path of innovation.
“The reality is that what I can control, and what my team can control, is, execute to a plan and exceed people’s expectations,” he said. “If we deliver that quarter after quarter after quarter, the stock’s gonna take care of itself.”
Who’s standing behind the stock?
Slightly more than 6% of shares are available for public investors to buy and sell, according to FactSet. That means that most shares are held by institutions and major individual investors
The biggest institutional investor is 12 West Capital Management, which holds about 2.7% of total shares of the stock, a position worth $28 million. Prescott Investors, the next biggest institutional holder, recently shaved its position down to nearly a half of what it was and now holds a roughly $14 million stake, or 1.3% of the total.
Big names such as Vanguard, BlackRock and Charles Schwab also have small holdings, with each accounting for less than 0.2% of total shares. These institutional holders all either did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comment or declined an interview, with many noting they do not discuss individual holdings as a matter of company policy.
G. Raymond Zage, a Grindr board member who also leads Tiga, is the biggest single investor, with more than 45% of all shares. Board chair James Fu Bin Lu had the second largest position equating to around 22% of the total available.
A ‘gay super-app’
Grindr is also busy planning the future of the app. Arison called the product a “total open book” and said there’s the potential to be a “super-app” for the community it serves.
Arison has been pleased with the extensive free functionality to make it a social network and a community space. Grindr has about 13 million monthly active users, with representation worldwide, company data shows. The average user spends 58 minutes per day on the platform, as of the end of 2022.
“When people see the engagement levels on Grindr, which are out of this world, they are like ‘Wow, there’s no way you can be used as purely a dating product,’ because nobody … comes even close to this level of engagement,” he said.
But he also sees an opportunity to further monetize, with the amount of paying customers lower than peers. There were about 866,000 paying users in the first quarter, representing less than 7% of the total monthly users.
Arison said Grindr has an opportunity to grow in international markets: As other countries become more welcoming of LGBTQ+ people, this can encourage members of the community to feel safer on the app.
An advertisement-free offering is one idea for getting more paid users, though the company also sees the potential to get more focused advertising for companies that specifically want to reach LGBTQ+ people.
Another idea is to add a function that will allow users to “move” their profile to other locations and be found in different areas, which can appeal to regular travelers. Grindr also recently launched a web offering, which may offer more features at an additional cost in the future.
The company is also also interested in building out a part of the platform to focus more on dating, with the potential for artificial intelligence to play a role down the road.
But Arison noted that doesn’t mean the company will lean away from other uses of the app, such as for hook-ups or for information related to the community. He pointed to Grindr’s role in spreading information and resources around mpox last year as an example of how users go to the platform for other purposes aside from simply meeting other community members. This summer, the app is teaming up with the Pan American Health Organization to educate LGBTQ+ communities on mpox.
“We don’t hide that sex is at the core of the product. If you’re going to be an investor in Grindr, you need to realize that sex is a really big part of gay culture, and sex is a really big part of Grindr,” Arison said. “But there’s a lot more that’s going on in the app. I don’t think anything on that has changed, that’s just the reality for us.”
“We want to be the gay super-app,” he said.