Gay Pick-Up App Hornet Sees 22% of Users in Mainland China

Steven Millward
9:30 pm on Nov 9, 2012

In the busy and very social world of flirtatious chat apps, it’s difficult to stand out. Hong Kong-based Hornet is doing so by not only being a gay app, but also by campaigning vocally on gay issues. Another distinctive aspect of the app is that it’s focusing on mainland China, despite Chinese culture’s still largely intolerant attitude towards homosexuality. Nonetheless, with Hornet supporting the Chinese language in the app, the startup’s CMO, Sean Howell, tells us that “22 percent of our global users are based in mainland China.” So that’s not including the more open Hong Kong or Taiwan.

That’s a much greater ratio than I would have imagined for mainland China. Even Sean seems surprised by it:

We consider this a big number already – and we expect global growth, as well as massive users in China, both based on changing demographics and smartphone growth.

Sean reckons that Hornet’s success in China is partly societal, as “gay culture is understated and a private affair” in mainland China, and so an app – and meeting folks online – is a convenient way to keep things under wraps.

Hornet passed 150,000 users back in July of this year, when it also raised $500,000 through AngelList to help it take on Grindr and other such gay pick-up apps. It also has one new local challenger in the form of the similar location-based chat app Blued.

To support its growth in China, the startup has ensured that the Android version of Hornet app is available via third-party app stores like AppChina. Of course, there’s an iOS app too.

Hornet has other mainland Chinese connections, with some of its developers, we’re told, living in Beijing and Chengdu.

There are some things the app is avoiding, Sean explains, such as integrating with Sina Weibo – or indeed with any social network. He explains:

We do not support syncing with any other social networks, in part because we surveyed users and they actually find even seeing buttons for this makes them nervous. They don’t want work colleagues or grandmothers being synced – [that] is their primary concern.

Get the app for iOS and Android from the Hornet homepage.

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

  • Anon

    sorry im curious. aren’t gays banned in china? why aren’t these app blocked? i don’t think the biz is defensible in china because it is so controversial that it may get locked down soon. thoughts?

  • Sean

    Gays are not banned in China, nor Hong Kong. Homosexuality has been legal in the mainland PRC since 1997; The Ministry of Health’s has considered it normal to be gay since 2001.

    Gay members of society have been some the biggest contributors in human history. Their need for rights is the same as everybody else. In terms of business, much like products that focus on men, or athletes, or people who care about the environment, gays have specific needs and interest. It is smart business to cater from this market, and with the shortage of find good skilled employees many companies have special recruiting campaigns to look for Lesbian and Gay (LGBT) people to hire.

    In terms of business look to many big brands in China already with a focus on Gay, Youku for example. This is not a small demographic, in China there are 130,000,000 Gay and Lesbians. That’s about half the population of the United States. Other relevant information is that LGBT around the world tend to have higher incomes as well as more disposal incomes, partly because of the higher income and often many do not have children, though this is a slightly changing trend.

    Gays in China have a important part of history that is worth noting. 香火兄弟 , 龍陽癖, 断袖之癖 are terms while no longer popular are worth considering their origins.

    Hornet runs a many health campaigns, like Know Your Status, and others. It is interesting to note the positive impact that business can have on a community and perhaps something the straight community can even model. In addition, when you reach out to a demographic like LGBT with special promotions they respond well and is good business.

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