Colin Hodge is the co-founder of Bang with Friends, which lets people find friends with benefits.
Users get to see photos of their friends on Facebook and anonymously select who they’d want to have sex with. If two people pick each other, it’s a match. I invited him here to talk about how he did it.
Colin Hodge, Bang with Friends
Colin Hodge is the CEO and founder of Bang with Friends, the controversial iPhone app that lets you hook-up with Facebook friends you’re interested in.
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Hey, there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. And today I’ve got the recently unmasked co-founder of BangWithFriends which lets people find friends with benefits. Users get to see photos of their friends from Facebook and, anonymously, they select who they want to have sex with. If two people pick each other, it’s a match. That’s the concept behind the site. Colin, welcome.
Colin: Thanks. It’s great to be here.
Andrew: Hey, here we go. Can you make any money with this?
Colin: That’s a good question. We’re not worried about that right now. Our goal is to really just enable our users to find more and more matches, and bridge the online and offline world. So monetization is down the line, for sure.
Andrew: But is there ad revenue in there?
Colin: No, we aren’t doing any ads. We’ll do strategic partnerships where it makes sense, but we definitely don’t want to just plaster it with ads. Our goal, again, is just provide the most value to our users.
Andrew: What’s the strategic partnership that you did that brought in some revenue?
Colin: I don’t have anything to announce yet, but I would stay tuned this week. I’ll say that much.
Andrew: Sometime this week. And this interview then is going to be posted after that whole announcement is made. When are you going to announce this thing? What day?
Colin: It’ll likely be announced today, actually. I’ll just say we’re working with a movie.
Colin: And we’re going to reward some of our most active users with an awesome prize.
Andrew: I see. Okay. So what kind of revenue can you get from this thing?
Colin: We’re projecting lots of different revenue sources. But it’s difficult to tell you exactly what level of revenue we’re looking at. And our goal again is not necessarily to monetize this right away. It’s to make sure that we make the experience even better. We set out to make dating a lot more honest and to the point, and just fit into our lives a bit more than all the others. And we’re not quite there yet, so we have a lot of work to do.
Andrew: Did I nail the description? You pick who you want to have sex with. If they pick you, you go.
Colin: Yeah, that’s pretty accurate. The key part there is it’s anonymous unless both of you choose each other. So we want to encourage you to kind of find an easy way to break the ice between two interested friends.
Andrew: I see.
Andrew: Did you raise a million dollars seed round?
Colin: I can’t comment on that yet.
Andrew: Really? And this has been out there in the news a long time ago.
Colin: There’s a lot of rumors about us. Some true, some not.
Andrew: So here’s the thing. It feels like it’s a really good gimmick that became, and is becoming a business because there’s so many people involved in it. How many people have used the site, or used the app?
Colin: Over 1.2 million users.
Andrew: Over 1.2 million. How many matches?
Colin: We’ve had over 200,000 pairs that were successfully matched.
Andrew: Okay. Alright. And we’re going to talk about how you got here, but the challenge that I keep thinking of every time I hear this story is, where’s the business here? It’s really hard with a name like BangWithFriends to get advertisers comfortable, to get Facebook comfortable. I mean, not Facebook, but Apple. So how do you build a business with this kind of challenge?
Colin: I would say we see ourselves as bridging the gap between the old way of dating, and the old way of discovering who you want to hook up with, with something that out generation can use. And whenever you have that sort of movement, that sort of cultural relevance, there’s going to be a way a monetize. We’ve had a lot of people come to us and try to advertise despite our name, maybe because of our name. I think it just cuts through the bull**** and allows people to really identify with a brand. Beyond the advertising, there are plenty of ways that other matching services have monetized in the past. We know there’s a clear path there. It’s a matter for us of choosing the best one that doesn’t harm the users and that doesn’t harm the overall health of our network because we really are focused on giving people the best too they have to match with each other.
Andrew: I see. And the site. What do I call it? Is it a site? It’s not a site. It’s not a Facebook app exactly.
Colin: It’s everything. We started as a site that had a Facebook login. We’ve since launched on iPhone and Android. So you can just call it an app if you want. That’s easiest.
Andrew: That is the best way to do it. You famously were pulled off of the iPhone app store.
Colin: Yes. Yes.
Andrew: For indecency. Even though the photo on the app aren’t indecent. It’s just the name and the intention behind it that we think Apple pulled it for, right?
Colin: Yeah. I think we had a lot of publicity when we launched on iPhone and Android. I kind of made them take notice and say, “Do we want something with that sort of name on here?” It was sort of a knee jerk reaction I think from them. But we’re working with them to get something that we can both agree to.
Andrew: When you say you’re working with them, what does that mean? Are they really talking with you and giving you feedback?
Colin: We’re going through the review processes at the moment. Trying to figure out exactly what is the level that we’re comfortable with and they’re comfortable with and meet each other. To still provide the value that we think we bring to our users. Trust me a lot of our users are clamoring for it to be on iPhone.
Andrew: It kind of is on iPhone. People can still use it within Safari for iPhone. Let’s go back and see how you came up with the idea. How you built it up. How you got here. And I’m looking at my research and one of the first things that my researcher pulled out is that from 2000-2007 you are the CEO and founder of something called PA Compelp [sp]. What is that?
Colin: Oh my. You guys did your research. That’s awesome. So I started that in high school when I was 16. I just started doing random development projects. Putting out some freeware and traveling within Pennsylvania. That’s where the PA comes from. To fix people’s computers and do tech consulting. From a young age I knew I wanted to have my own business. That’s all that is.
Andrew: It kind of sounds like hell. I was talking to another founder who said that he did that in the past. He walked into someone’s house and he saw cans of opened tuna everywhere. The place just looked like a pig sty. He wanted to fix their computer for $50 which was a steal. They were trying to negotiate down to $20. It was just a nightmare. Did you have some like that?
Colin: I’ve seen some shit, man.
Andrew: Tell me. What did you see?
Colin: There are definitely some hoarders that have stacks of newspapers, old dishes all over like you mentioned. Places that just smell absolutely horrible. But generally they are good people and at the time they were trying to catch up with the dial-up age and just trying to be part of that revolution. I was happy to help. I just sometimes had to plug my nose.
Andrew: What kind of money were you able to make as a teenager doing that?
Colin: It helped me through college. I’ll tell you that much. I made maybe 20 grand over the lifetime of it. Not much, but as a high school student enough to start me in college.
Andrew: Okay. Did you walk around feeling rich and confident because of it?
Colin: It gave me an escape and it also allowed me not to work a retail job. That was pretty nice. Definitely paid off to start the coding that I did with that as well.
Andrew: And then you went on to something called Cloud 8 Studios. What’s that?
Colin: After my time at Microsoft, I launched just a mobile app studio. Basically a combination of my own mobile apps on iPhone, Windows phone, and Android, and then the web service behind it. Then I also did a few contract projects for other people. It was my way of wading out of the large corporate world and into the startup world again.
Andrew: You’re searching for something. That hit. And as you’re searching was there one failure, one setback that taught you something that led to Bang With Friends that led to success today?
Colin: Yeah, I would say just don’t say no to opportunities. I was working up in Seattle and I loved the city. Then I kind of got discovered by an incubator that was starting in the Bay area. It didn’t look like it was necessarily a sure hit. It wasn’t one of the biggest ones. It was brand new and I decided that now was the time to take the leap and truly go all the way into it and never would have guessed that I’d end up, basically, pausing my other start-up, my dating start-up and creating a new one. But that’s what happened, and that’s how we got the viral hit that we have now.
Andrew: I see. And so you’re saying it’s because you went to this incubator that things took off. And what you learned was, don’t say no to opportunities like that.
Colin: Yeah, I would say you never know what’s going to happen with something. So just put yourself in new and exciting opportunities instead of staying in the same old routine. That’s how these sort of ideas come about, and that’s how the connections come about.
Andrew: HeardAboutYou. That’s a site that you’re working on?
Colin: Yeah, that was the previous dating setup that I founded. Yeah.
Andrew: What was the big idea behind that?
Colin: It was actually somewhat similar. The idea was introducing you to friends of friends through Facebook login.
Colin: And the same two-way anonymous matching. But it definitely took a softer approach. And because of the friends of friends level, people weren’t exactly understanding the ideas quickly, and it wasn’t quite as viral. Just because it’s not as immediate as, I’ve had my eye on that friend, and I want to hook up with them. You know.
Andrew: What do you mean? So what didn’t people understand about finding a friend of a friend to ask to date?
Colin: I think it’s just a stronger emotion because you have a close connection with your friend. So you’ve always had your eye on them, or you’ve always wondered if they’re . . . [SS] . . .
Andrew: Oh, I see.
Colin: Versus a friend of a friend. Somebody you don’t know yet. There’s definitely some sort of additional explanation necessary for that. Versus find out which of your friends are into you.
Andrew: I see.
Andrew: And then it also didn’t have the viral loop?
Colin: Yeah, yeah. Definitely it was the early stages for that one. And that we had yet to build in something that really allowed it to be viral and stand out.
Andrew: Valleywag had this great paragraph about you. I’ve got to read it.
Colin: Okay. Go for it.
Andrew: Hodge, a 28-year-old who majored in computer science at Cornell is hardly the Tucker Max misogynist you might expect to invent something like this. Rather, he comes across like more like a friendly sex positive brogrammer in search of a viral loop.
Andrew: That last part, at least, was right, isn’t it?
Colin: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. She did really well on that article.
Andrew: That was such a fun paragraph. How are you looking for the viral loop? How do you find a viral loop? I feel like this whole city is packed with brogrammers in search of a viral loop.
Andrew: What did you do right?
Colin: Yeah, well, first I do want to say I don’t consider myself a brogrammer.
Andrew: Okay. [laughs]
Colin: I think, from a reporter’s point of view, I’m a guy. I’m programming. You know.
Andrew: I see. Yeah.
Colin: It’s pretty easy to do that.
Andrew: She had a little bit of fun with that.
Colin: She did. And I also . . .
Andrew: But the viral loop search still holds.
Colin: Oh, definitely.
Andrew: A lot of people in the city are looking for that viral loop. How were you looking? How’d you find it?
Colin: You know I think the key part of being viral is knowing what drives somebody to actually invite other people, other friends or acquaintances. And, for us, the best way we could tell with that was asking people and seeing how excited they were. And they started asking us, hey, how can I share this with my friends. And once we hit that point with BangWithFriends, some of the guys in the incubator were, like, dude, help me get my friends on here. Then we knew, okay, we have something where people are begging us for some sort of viral invite system. And I think until you hit something where people are really excited about that, you’re just kind of hacking it together. And once you find that, the rest of it pretty much melts away. Now how do you get to that point? I think a lot of it is just tweaking the messaging around it.
Colin: Tweaking the copy and going, am I selling my idea in the best way possible? Is it the value proposition that we’re hitting. Like I said, this isn’t a very different idea from HeardAboutYou, but the way that we’re talking about it and some slight tweaks allowed it go viral. So I think it’s really important to constantly be looking at that and testing out new ways to communicate your idea. To both people within the tech industry, but also some people that are outside of that and definitely your target customers.
Andrew: I want to understand how you showed your different ideas to friends until you found that one design that made them say, get my friends on here. I want to bang them. Or I want them on here because it’s exciting. What were you showing them before that didn’t work? Do you have an awful example that helps illustrate this process?
Colin: You know, with BangWithFriends, we didn’t go through a whole lot of those. I will say, though, I considered the time with HeardAboutYou as one long period of experiments that didn’t . . .[SS] . . .
Andrew: What were you shown with that? Were you feeling like, you know what, no one cares enough about this to want their friends on here.
Colin: Yeah, yeah. I was showing them the interface on the web, and I was saying, here’s a sample of three friends of friends that you could meet up with. And it just, again, comes back to, do they completely understand the idea? Did we simplify it enough? And when you click on somebody, what does that mean? I think one of the key things we did was say, all right, enough of all of the sugar coating that’s in this industry.
Let’s completely cut through that bull****, and say exactly what you want. And I think once we got to that point where we made it down to bangbud, and it was as clear as could be, that’s when people started saying, that is hilarious. I love it. And it says exactly what I’m trying to convey. So I think that was the point where we got there. One of the big failures that I can tell you I tested out was a button that just said, I’m interested. And you can consider that basically a checkmark or a heart or something. Anything that vague really didn’t work for me.
I didn’t see people get excited about it, because they didn’t know what they were doing. They were saying, all right, I guess I am interested for something. I don’t know what. And then once you get a match, you’re like, what do I do with this? Like, I think we’re going to date, but I don’t know. For us, it was more about, hey, just say what you want, and then as soon as you get that match, you know what’s going to happen.
Andrew: I saw in that [??] article in my notes on your pre-interview with April that you’ve said over and over that alcohol was involved in the brainstorming sessions. I’m wondering, how much alcohol? It seems like a fun thing to say to an interviewer.
Andrew: But really you’re dead serious. You weren’t drinking your way to success? Right?
Colin: Yeah, I think that part of it is completely accurate. We were having some drinks when we came up with the idea and started talking about it. And I think that allowed us all to just put down our guard and speak honestly about what was wrong with HeardAboutYou, and how we would change it to make a dating site that would actually work. But there were definitely some drinks. We don’t drink our way to success. But whenever you need to kind of get out of a rut or think or things differently, I’m a big fan of taking a different approach. Sometimes that does involve having a few drinks and putting a few on.
Andrew: [laughs] I’ve heard that, and I’ve experienced, it. And actually we had a course where we talked about that. It was Deborah Kay who wrote, I forget the name of her book, who said, hey, you know what, a lot of creative people who she’s worked with will have a few drinks in order to come up with those really good ideas. And what you guys were looking for, you told April, was you wanted something with an edge. Something that stood out. That disrupted. What are some of the ideas that you tossed out there before you got this one?
Colin: We definitely looked at the proximity model of dating.
Colin: And went through all sorts of ideas. Does it just have to be banging? Maybe you specify exactly what sexual act you want. Some of the funnier ones, obviously, are you up for, let’s say, bondage play? Stuff like that. All sorts of wacky things that were obviously a product of us drinking and just clearly being who we are. The key thing, though, for us was when we were looking for the viral loop, we always kept in mind this is something that we always wanted and our friends would always want. And because the customer was ourselves and people we know, it is much easier than trying to apply that to somebody who is not represented well within our group.
Colin: So it was pretty easy to come to this point. I’ll say that much.
Andrew: So then what was the next step? Now you have a concept.
Andrew: Did you guys launch with a launchrock webpage, a landing page?
Colin: No, we actually launched directly with the first version of the app and started seeding it just to the guys within the incubator. Like I said, they were asking how to invite all their friends. And from there, we tried to hold it pretty quiet, to be honest. Because we saw how excited they were, and we weren’t ready to launch it publicly. And when that got out, we pretty much couldn’t hold it back. And we decided, let’s not put in extra work to restrict people. Let’s just let it grow on its own.
Andrew: What do you mean? What kind of work would you have to put in to restrict people?
Colin: You know, use . . . [SS] . . .
Andrew: Oh, to keep people out until you’re ready for them.
Colin: Yeah, invite codes, or whatever. We just said, all right, let it grow. Even though we had other companies, and that’s why we were trying not to allow it to distract us too much.
Andrew: Do you remember when you launched? Do you remember what that number was that made you realize this thing is taking off. It’s just shooting. Was there one number that told you that?
Colin: I believe it was 10,000 hits in the first day.
Colin: Not even 24 hours, the first work day. The excitement in the office was just tangible. I was talking to one of my mentors, and didn’t want to, necessarily, tell him about it, because I was like, is he going to feel differently about my other startup? Is he going to think less? All that stuff, he was like, ‘dude. Everybody’s talking in the office. What is going on?’ and I showed him, and it was the longest 30 seconds of my life. He paused, and you could see the wheels turning, and then he started laughing out loud, the loudest laughter, and he’s like, ‘This is hilarious. I love it. It’s going to work. You need to run with this.’ I knew from the 10,000 and from his saying that, and then also, we got out first match within our group. One of our friends at the incubator got a match on the second day, so that was the point where we said, ‘this stuff works,’ you know?
Andrew: And that person actually made the match in person? Did they end up meeting up? They did.
Colin: Oh, yeah.
Andrew: Oh, I see what you mean, wow.
Andrew: So what about the concern about the word ‘bang’ being in your product and the direction that it’s going to take you in. Wasn’t that an issue?
Colin: It’s definitely an issue for older generations, but I think for ours, it’s just, kind of, a cheeky, forward, way of saying what we’re all into anyway. We like to stand out. We like to say exactly what we think, and all the marketing copy on our site is exactly a product of who we are, so we don’t want to hold that back. You know, if I’m working on a company, I’ve decided I need to have fun with it, and I need to have it very much be a product of myself. That’s why you see ‘bang’. That why you see the ‘how to’ page, which is a pretty fun one as well.
Andrew: You said you wanted to be a product of yourself, and still, you guys decided not to use your names, not to tell the world who you were.
Colin: Yeah, yeah. Like I said, we were working on other startups, and we didn’t want to compromise fundraising for them. Obviously, it’s going to be a questionable thing if you say, ‘Hey, please give me your money, but also I’m working on this big thing that just blew up, and don’t worry about it, because it won’t distract me at all, so once I decided that I was going to work on this full time, I started to think about how I wanted to reveal it and when is the right time, and the right decision for us as a company was don’t let those personal things distract us. Don’t allow all the press coverage to go towards us. Let them focus on the product, and let us focus on building a product.
Andrew: So it had nothing to do with the fact that the company was called BangWithFriends, that kept you from putting you name on it?
Colin: No. Past the first few days, when I had a chance to talk to my close friends and family, it wasn’t a problem at all, no.
Andrew: OK. And, so, all three co-founders now are public, because this is a generation who are comfortable with ‘Band with Friends’ type names?
Colin: Two of us are public. One is still anonymous and that’s mostly because he’s still in school, and it’s a choice that helps him with his family as he graduates.
Andrew: You told April that you guys got everything done in the scrappiest way possible. What did you have to cut back in order to launch scrappily?
Colin: Oh, man.
Andrew: Is scrappily even a word? Let’s assume it is.
Colin: We’ll go with it. Everything from the initial website, the design, that sort of stuff, little bugs here and there. The initial page loaded all of your friends at one time, so you can imagine that’s pretty slow performance, and we changed that to doing ajax calls, which allowed us to load on the fly, stuff like that. We didn’t even have emails set up for us, initially, so stuff that you normally do in a start-up before you even see the pubic, we didn’t necessarily have done, and even on the database side, the initial version was pretty simple, and just allowed us to start recording who clicked who and start setting up the matches. One more thing is our first emails were just ugly as hell to be honest.
Andrew: The first emails you sent out to members?
Colin: Yeah, so when you got a match. It was plain texts, completely ugly, no design, pretty crude, but, you know, it was fun to do and just allowed us to say, “Hey, you got a match.” It got the job done.
Andrew: I’m always worried, obviously not too worried, but I’m always worried about design that misrepresents me. I guess not worried enough, maybe I should say. [laughs]
Andrew: But it’s still a concern. How do you get past that? Is it because your name isn’t associated? I shouldn’t feed you answers. I should let you answer.
Colin: [laughs] No, feed on. That’s fine. I’m not worried about how this represents me. Is that what you’re asking?
Andrew: The design. Yeah, it’s a really big issue that if, for some reason, the design doesn’t look right, you feel like people are going to judge you. Maybe even more than if the code has bugs. Because it’s acceptable for code to have bugs.
Andrew: But if the design doesn’t look right, you worry that people are going to judge you and many entrepreneurs just don’t launch. Didn’t hold you back, did it?
Colin: No, I’m personally a big fan of shipping and then iterating on it. I will ship minimum viable product and see what catches on. One of my co- founders is definitely pulling me the other way. He’s more of a design perfectionist. And so I find that that sort of duality balances us out and allows us to come to a product that is pleasing to the eyes. A good representation, but we make the compromises where we need to so we can actually get something in front of people and provide that value right away. I love beautiful design, but I’m not going to hold a product back until it’s perfect.
Andrew: I’m looking at the design of the place that you’re in. This is your office?
Colin: This is our office. There’s our BangWithFriends sign.
Andrew: I see that.
Andrew: I think I see pants over it.
Colin: Yeah, don’t worry about that. [laughs]
Andrew: [laughs] Yeah, the office is really well done. How many people are you in there? I keep seeing people walk in and out with their lunch.
Colin: We have five of us in here today.
Andrew: Okay. How many people in the company?
Colin: We have three of us co-founders. And then a few others, contractors and a designer in-house and an intern, as well, that joined us this summer.
Andrew: So you launch it and people just start to talk about it. What did you do to get all that media attention? The Daily Beast . . .
Andrew: . . . Mashable, Huffington Post. In fact, those are some of the blogs. There have been bigger and bigger publications that have talked about you. What did you guys do to get that going?
Colin: Yeah, the first article was on brobible.com, and they’re great guys. We got connected to them when one of their friends saw the idea, and we were just spreading purely word of mouth. They said, we need to do an article. We’ll write about whatever you want. We’ll keep you anonymous. And from there, I guess it just got picked up by Daily Beast, by Mashable. You know, for us, one of the key things was we want to keep the interviews entertaining. We’re going to say as much as we can and very much not do PR speak.
So a lot of those early interviews, especially Daily Beast, it struck Dana over there as something that was different. Because our company line was actually pretty honest, and that’s not something she was used to. So from there, people got the article. They’re like, wow, these are real people. It just kind of happened, and they’re running with it. And I think that’s a different story than a lot of package stories they get.
Andrew: Are they willing to keep your identity secret if you ask them? Are they committed to doing that?
Colin: Yeah, in fact, that was a condition of all the interviews we did.
Andrew: You told April that you guys were still trying other apps at the time.
Andrew: How did you know that this was the one to go for? What made you decide, forget the others. This is the one we’re going to go all the way with?
Colin: I think for me personally, seeing that early growth and seeing how excited it got others was really important. I knew that we’d hit on a nerve. Obviously, I knew there was a lot of dissatisfaction with dating, and online dating in specific. But one of the key things for me, though, once I saw that, realizing that it didn’t have to be confined to just banging. The nerve we hit was about just being yourself and being honest about it, and speaking to your users like that and allowing them to be honest with each other and their intentions.
And so I saw that it could accomplish the long-term goals that I had already set out to solve which is bringing people closer together, taking them from online to offline more, and allowing them to find more real connections with each other.
Andrew: Was there anything about the conversations that you were having with more experienced entrepreneurs or investors that made you say, this is legit. This is something that could be big and big business, too.
Colin: Yeah, yeah. Definitely my mentor, like I mentioned, that first day when we were blowing up, his advice there was run with this. This is a huge, huge thing. And I see the viral potential of this. He had a lot of experience in that area.
Andrew: Who’s that mentor?
Colin: Tim Draper.
Andrew: Oh, get out. Really?
Andrew: All right.
Colin: Great guy. Great advice . . .
Andrew: How’d you get Tim Draper as a mentor?
Colin: So our incubator is run by the son, founded by his son, Adam Draper.
Andrew: I see. Alright. So if Tim Draper is excited about it. Forget it. This is significant. And he is the one who’s rumored to have put in a million dollars, no?
Colin: Yeah, I can’t comment on . . .[SS] . . .
Andrew: You’re not saying that he did or he didn’t. I guess I could even say yes, he’s the one who’s rumored to have put in the money.
Colin: Go on.
Andrew: All right. There must be some seed money in the business because look at the office space that you guys are in. What is it, two floors?
Colin: Yeah, well, this is my apartment as well.
Andrew: I see. Okay.
Colin: But we definitely are trying to grow this and work with that.
Andrew: You know what. We asked you in the pre-interview what resources and sites or books do you like and recommend, and you said, Make Love, Not Porn.
Colin: Yup. [laughs] Sure.
Andrew: So you told April in the pre-interview that one of your favorite sites is Make Love, Not Porn. Why?
Colin: Cindy Gallup founded Make Love, Not Porn. She has a wonderful team over there. She’s really fighting a great crusade to make sex more positive and realistic, and a lot of people do express themselves exactly how they do in their private life.
Colin: I think she’s been a great mentor to us, and she’s been a great partner as well. I love their mission, and I love what she’s trying to do in the tech industry especially. There is probably more taboo in the tech industry with investors and certain people than is in the mainstream population, especially in our age.
Andrew: What do you mean by taboos?
Colin: Anything having to do with sex is really difficult, especially for them, I know, to find a bank that will accept payments, find funding and all that stuff. And it’s something that she feels really strongly about. That there’s money to be made there, and there’s lots of social good that can come from it. But the tech industry needs to step up to the plate and take a chance on some of those, and be the force behind force behind it. A force for change instead of being a follower. And she’s starting to get some traction on that, and we wish her the best. That’s the main reason why I’m a big fan of what they’re doing.
Andrew: Well, one of the things that Make Love, Not Porn talks about is, there’s a section of the site that says, here’s what they show you in porn and here’s what it’s like in real life. And she just does it over and over again, and it’s really interesting. You read the tech blogs. You read the business blogs. What are they telling us in the business blogs that’s not true in real life?
Andrew: Now that you’ve run this business, what are you noticing?
Colin: Yeah, I need to consider what I can publicly say on the program, per se.
Andrew: Why? Don’t hold back. Remember what you said about the Daily Beast interview.
Colin: Yeah, that’s true.
Andrew: Go on. Let it go.
Colin: So what do they tell us on the business and the tech blogs that they don’t. What they don’t tell us is that a lot of it is just thrown together, reporting things that they can’t fully research. For instance, we had a supposed privacy issue. And they, like a lot of news even outside of the tech world, they’ll go with the sensationalist headline that attracts clicks. And a lot of the headlines were, want to see who’s on BangWithFriends? Now you can. And it just wasn’t accurate. The people that showed up there were such a small percentage of our users.
And the only reason they showed up was because an early glitch with the Facebook graph search which wasn’t launched when we launched. I think getting that corrected. And we still have issues educating users who think that when they sign up it’s going to be public to everybody, and you can do a graph search and find out who’s using it.
I think what a lot of the tech sites are not being honest about is that a lot of them are just as guilty as the mainstream news sites to doing these headlines that are just trying to grab views and clicks and they’re not doing the full research and doing their job necessarily all the time to educate their readers. I think being more honest about that will allow more transparency in startups and allow founders to really look at it and say, you know, “Here’s what really happened and here’s what to avoid with that company.”
Andrew: Here’s what I notice. One of many things. We project publicly this image of success and knowing everything and being on top of everything and inside we are freaking out. As entrepreneurs we’re freaking out, as people in the tech space we’re freaking out because we don’t know what the hell we’re doing a large amount of time. Would you agree? Have you noticed that, having seen a lot of entrepreneurs?
Colin: Yeah. I think that’s a very good observation, definitely true of us. You know, it’s been an absolute roller coaster for us. One day we could have the best day user-wise or PR-wise or whatever but the next minute it could all come crashing down and feel like this is not going to work. So there’s definitely a lot more struggle and a lot more issues to deal with than most people realize. Especially . . .
Andrew: For example?
Colin: For example, we hit all sorts of server issues and hit issues with an initial problem with Facebook. They wanted us to change our listing on their site and we got a little worried. We were like, “Oh no. Are we going to get our access cut off?” and it turned out fine. We also had a few potential legal hurdles that we had to jump over. I can’t go into those but I will just say most of the time your job as a startup is just to persevere and get through it and get through to sunnier days because as long as you keep doing that nobody can shut you down. There’s a way around most of your problems.
Andrew: And even when you’re having these problems you can get to that point? How? To that place of confidence that you know you’re going to find a way around it, how do you do that?
Colin: What was key for me, and I think I lost sight of this personally when I did have those downtimes, I needed friends and I needed trusted advisors and all of them to just have a chat with me. Whether they knew I needed it or not, they reminded me, “What you guys are doing is amazing. This sort of growth doesn’t happen very often. Don’t lose sight of that because you don’t want to get copied but at the same time you need to remember that even when it feels like nothing’s going to work and the world is crashing down and you’re not making progress, to the outside world you’ve already done a lot and you have a lot more potential.”
So, that’s something I try to keep in mind, that we have a great opportunity here and it’s a much better lot than I had six months ago with my other company. That’s a key part is surrounding yourself with people who have that perspective and can kind of be your cheerleaders when you need it.
Andrew: I see. Let me see, the other thing that you say that you’re really big on is lean methodology, but you’re not necessarily doing it deliberately.
Colin: Yeah. I think just the general ethos of do what you can as quickly as possible and see what works and then iterate on it and then measure it obviously is very key to us. I’m not an expert in any way but I definitely subscribe to that point of view.
Andrew: What kind of metrics are you guys keeping an eye on?
Colin: We watch very closely how many matches we create, how active people are on the site both in terms of logins and how we can get them to actually feel comfortable clicking more of their friends that they’re interested in. Our daily growth and our active users are pretty important, too.
Andrew: What kind of PR help are you guys getting now? Or PR advice?
Colin: So, we do all of our PR in-house. Any of the marketing you see is usually my words or my teammates.
Andrew: But the direction and the way that you should be presenting your business isn’t amateurish.
Colin: Yeah. We’ve been influenced . . . All of us have a pretty good perspective from I guess our upbringings and our friends and our acquaintances, business partners, that sort of thing on how best to put the company forward. I think connecting with Cindy Gallop was a great card for us because we knew we wanted this to be sex positive. She’s given us a lot of lessons on what does that mean when you message it, and how do you properly sell your vision for that? It’s not easy to communicate something that a lot of people see as objectionable or taboo. Beyond that, the PR help we’re getting is just advice on random events.
Somebody mentioned a while ago that South by Southwest was coming up back in February. A week beforehand, that’s when they mentioned it. We were like, “All right, let’s just roll with it. What do we have to lose?” We ended up just ending up there and connecting with so many people. We were pretty happy with that.
Andrew: Was your campaign in South by Southwest?
Colin: We had a street team do a campaign, both in the convention center and all around the city bars and stuff. Our old logo, the one that you saw on my Skype name, is a couple having sex. It’s the wheelbarrow position. We were like, “All right, we’re going to make posters that are different positions and more fun.” A mix of both straight and gay couples as well. Just post them around and have fun with them.
What happened was the posters got tweeted and made it into articles. We also handed out over 12,000 condoms that had our logo on them there, to keep everybody safe. The final thing, which I’m really happy about, is that we’re able to roll out a special event Web site, so you can hook up with other attendees. It’s not just limited to your friends. You can mark which people at South by Southwest you wanted to bang.
That was pretty awesome, to be honest. We saw hundreds of couples come out of that and a lot of excitement about that.
Andrew: Did you meet anyone, and bang anyone, that you met on BangWithFriends?
Colin: I’ve had some success.
Andrew: You have?
Andrew: What’s it like when you first meet someone who you only met . . . I guess, it’s people who you know, in some way, right? You guys aren’t introducing your users to strangers. What’s it like when it’s someone who you know, who you go, “Wait a minute. This person just said yes to me. Doesn’t even know that I run this site. She just is into me.”
Colin: Yeah. Some of the matches are from our events, so you don’t necessarily know that person yet.
Andrew: I see. OK.
Colin: For the main use case, where the people are you friends . . . a lot of people actually say it’s a relief. Since you both know that you’re interested, the next step is just “Oh, wow. Now we have this option. When are we going to meet up?” It’s pretty simple, versus do I have to get to know this person, what do I need to ask to make sure they’re safe? You already know that, and you already know generally what they’re like and if you enjoy their company.
Andrew: Walk me through this process. So, you see a list of women. You click . . . what is it, I think it’s like “Down to Bang,” is the button name, right?
Andrew: You click that button. They then get a message saying someone might be interested in you, come check out this app in order to see who it might be, or something like that? I don’t know what the message is. Right?
Colin: The site is still pretty simple, to be honest. You’ll see the gender that is appropriate to you, and you can change that with the filter in the upper right. It is friendly, in case you want to mark that we happened to get the genders wrong for you.
You mark all of the people you’re interested in. It stays completely secret, unless they mark you as well. In that case, we let you know via e- mail and on our site as well. You can do private messaging on BangWithFriends to set up your date or whatever it is.
You can anonymously invite somebody via e-mail. That way, they don’t know it was you that invited them, but they still receive that invitation and come to the site. At that point, they go through the same process of looking at all their friends and choosing which ones they want to bang.
Andrew: And then once you find a match . . . I saw on Tinder. A lot of my friends use Tinder, where they start texting each other and they have all of these text messages going at once, and then they meet up. What’s the process for going from a match to a date?
Colin: For us, right now, it is private messaging within our app. You can take that to whatever platform you want, whether it’s text messaging or Facebook, or keep it within our app. We see the majority of people who get a match do start messaging within our app. I think they enjoy that it’s convenient, but it also feels a bit more private than going back to Facebook.
Andrew: The first time that you went out on a date with someone that you met through BangWithFriends, what was that like?
Colin: You know, it was fun. We grabbed some drinks and we went to a party, and with mutual friends, and then we ended up coming back and having some fun.
Andrew: But there’s no question then at that point. A little question that things are going to end up in bed.
Colin: It’s more of a sure bet but I think more than anything you know that the interest is there. So that part of the nervousness, that part of the worry about do I want to risk this friendship by saying that I’m interested in not having it be requited, that’s something that you don’t have to worry about. So you can just concentrate on being yourself and enjoying the time instead of playing that game and not knowing what you’re getting into.
Andrew: I love the PR that you guys did. The creative promotion that you guys did at South by Southwest. What else did you do?
Colin: Internet week for New York we did, we threw our first party. That was pretty epic. We did the same sort of idea where you can see other attendees. We also had a giveaway and stuff like that. Beyond that the mobile launch was a big push for us as well. Other than that we haven’t done a whole lot of PR pushes. We haven’t really bought any users or anything like that. That way it’s all been viral. So for us it’s about continuing to build the product and tweaking things here and there to help our invite system and stuff like that.
Andrew: What’s the biggest, most effective tweak that you did to get people to come back to the site or to get people to invite others to the app?
Colin: The biggest payoff so far was definitely the Facebook invites. Even though you’re not anonymous if you invite somebody through Facebook. We did a message that basically said, “Hey, this site is hilarious. Check it out.” It allowed you to send it to as many friends as you want. That way if somebody received it, they won’t necessarily assume that you’re into them. Or you’ll have a way out so that your still somewhat anonymous.
We also did the anonymous emails which let somebody know that you’re interested in them but not who it is. That’s been pretty huge for us. Even though email are kind of out dated, they still have a very good value and they’re a smart thing to do. Plus they make it easier for us to do the anonymous angle.
Andrew: I’m probably going to put a NSFW label on this interview. Partially because that gets more viewers. Which is not what it’s supposed to do but it definitely gets more viewers. So as long as I’m doing that, what’s the craziest, most interesting story that you’ve heard of people meeting up?
Colin: Well, if it’s not safe for work I suppose I should be in my birthday suit, but…
Andrew: Do it.
Andrew: Then I’ll do it in mine. Go ahead.
Colin: Okay, when you do. I think…
Andrew: I’m too much of a chicken. Seriously though, what have you got? What happened?
Colin: Sorry, what’s the exact question?
Andrew: Crazy, fun story of two people meeting up because of the app.
Colin: Oh man.
Andrew: Without getting too explicit, of course.
Colin: Crazy, fun story.
Andrew: Yeah, what happens?
Colin: I have two for you. The first one, I think I mentioned, one of our friends in the incubator. There was this French girl who was in the U. S. for about three months I believe. He had known her for a month and thought that she was just completely disinterested and just misread it. Then invited her via Facebook. Like I said, they ended up meeting that week and that was pretty epic for us. He came to the office. Biggest smile on his face. High fiving everybody. Spent the whole weekend with her. Just had a great time and was really sad unfortunately when she had to go back to France.
We did hear from a user who this girl was friends with a guy. Best friends with him for about four years and always wondered if there could be more, but didn’t want to freak him out or risk that friendship. She said, “After four years we both used your site. Clicked on each other and now we’re dating. We’re committed and it’s the best relationship I’ve ever been in because he’s my best friend.” Hearing that was like wow. This has the ability to cut through some of these social barriers that we put up and allow people to connect on a deeper level.
Andrew: Those are great stories. Alright, here’s a final question. I’m a member, but I’ve got to remove myself. I’m a married man who’s not looking to bang with friends. What do I do?
Colin: As with any Facebook app, you can remove it within Facebook. Just remove the permissions. Obviously we’re sad to see you go but if you don’t want to use it, that’s fine.
Andrew: I don’t want to mislead anyone. Imagine, they see me on there. They think they can bang me. That sets up all these expectations as a celebrity from the internet on video.
Then I have to say no, I can’t, I’m in a relationship. It would be very painful.
Colin: You’re right, when you joined, it actually crashed our servers.
Andrew: I don’t want to do that anymore.
Andrew: So where do people go? This might seem like a jerky thing to ask you on camera but I feel like if we say to the audience, how they can remove themselves that they might be more comfortable experimenting by going in and joining.
Colin: Yeah. I will say though that you’re going to show up in your list of friends unless you completely block the app because it’s anonymous and if we only showed you friends who are on it, it would obviously not be anonymous.
So, that’s not really an issue you have to worry about, you know, sending the wrong signal to anybody. The only way you’d send the wrong signal is if you click on people, they click on you, you have a match and then you’re like, “Oh, wait, I’m married, I probably shouldn’t do this”.
But you can remove the app in Facebook and Facebook has further steps to do that. If you send us a request we remove everybody’s data. We wipe everything out if you specifically request it.
Andrew: All right. I just Googled it, there’s an answer for it. It’s pretty straight forward.
Andrew: All right. The website is www.BangWithFriends.com. How did I do before we finish. I want to keep this business seed but I can’t ignore the fact that the company’s called BangwithFriends so do you feel like I went a little too far in one direction? Did I go just for the dirty stories? Did I get too anal and go too much for the business angle?
Colin: No, I think it was good. It was definitely different than the pre- interview so that’s an interesting thing. I didn’t know what to expect. I think it was good, and you covered the business more than most interviews do. So, that was good.
Andrew: I like to hear that.
Andrew: All right and thank you for doing this interview and the pre- interview, and thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, guys.
Colin: See you, guys.
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