When Jack Rogers and Ollie Locke conceived of their gay dating app Chappy, they knew exactly what they wanted it to be. It was a simple concept: An app where gay men could come out from the shadows and have conversations that went beyond “top or bottom.”
Today, with over 1 million users in the U.K. and a growing U.S. market, Chappy is poised on the verge of world domination. As for Rogers and Locke, their vision for the app hasn’t changed. They still want to change the world. And they want to do it by changing the way we date.
With its minimalist, black and white interface and sliding scale between “Mr. Right” (for relationships) “Mr. Right Now” (for fun and hookups,) and “Mr. Who Knows” (for everything in between). Chappy is designed for the gay dater who knows what he wants, and isn’t afraid of flat-out asking for it.
“Nine years ago when Grindr started,” said Locke, “it did the most fundamentally amazing thing, it brought the community together. But when marriage equality came in, and the idea of babies and happily ever after, Grindr never developed to speak to that. That isn’t a bad thing – but we realized it was something that needed to change.”
The change is palpable in Chappy, where the approach to dating is a gentlemanly affair.
“What a lovely job we have,” said Locke, “that helps potentially match people that could fall in love and have families and have a happily ever after?”
When I met Rogers and Locke last week, they were on the verge of introducing L.A. to their new app by way of a one-night takeover of 1 Oak in West Hollywood. “L.A.’s such a key market for us,” said Rogers. “It’s good to finally get a launch. We also wanted to come and physically be there and see it through properly, rather than just launch everywhere and not have any idea what you’re doing.”
“It’s very easy to throw an awful lot of money at something and put billboards all over West Hollywood,” added Locke, “but you have no idea who’s going to download the product. Chappy is about wanting a change from what the current space is.”
That space has been dominated by Grindr for nine years, as most gays know all too well. Locke and Rogers have sensed the desire for change in a community that doesn’t want to feel shame and secrecy about dating anymore.
“Going on Grindr feels like putting on a mask,” said Rogers. “It feels like you’re going into a dungeon. It doesn’t feel like it’s about being proud or being out.”
This was the aspect of gay dating that made Locke apprehensive about downloading the app after he first came out in his early 20s. As the first person to come out on British television, via his reality show “Made in Chelsea,” Locke carried a lot of the weight of that world-shifting action on his shoulders.
“I didn’t want a 75-year-old sending me a picture of his dick. I was terrified. So I never downloaded it. I didn’t know where to meet men. I was struggling. I would call up Jack and say, ‘I don’t know what to about this, you know about dating apps. There has to be something!’”
“We’re trying to empower gay guys a bit.”
That something was Chappy, an app with a clear philosophy. Each user has to connect their account with a Facebook profile. They have to upload photos with their actual faces in them. And they have to be clear about what they’re looking for – something forever, something for now, or something in between.
“Because of the anonymity of certain apps,” said Rogers, “I think a lot of people show a terrible side of themselves. They go on there and they start being really aggressive, sending dick pics, saying things in their profile like ‘no blacks, no Mexicans.’ All that stuff. For us, it’s about accountability. If you’re going to be racist on Chappy, everyone will see it’s you.”
“It’s like any troll hiding behind a keyboard,” said Locke. “With Chappy, you’ve got your real name, your real age, you have to have your face in every photo.”
The accountability aspect aligns Chappy with feminist dating app Bumble, whose mission has always been at the forefront. It’s no surprise that Bumble is Chappy’s sister company, and Locke and Rogers were able to get the attention of Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe by pitching their app in the same vein. Rogers and Locke met Wolfe by chance on a London rooftop and pitched their idea of Chappy then and there.
“We recognized her instantly,” said Rogers. “And we went over and told her what we were doing.”
“I think the thing we said was, ‘we want to do what you’ve done for feminism for the gay community.’” Said Locke. “And two days later we signed a lifetime partnership.”
The social accountability aspect that Chappy is taking on could be the thing to launch them into another stratum of socially-conscious apps. Locke and Rogers have already met with the Los Angeles AIDS charity APLA to discuss a partnership. They’re planning on building community events and forums into and through the app. “We want to make platforms in the future where kids can come out and discuss stuff.” Said Locke. “We need to have that fundamental sense of community behind it. We want it to be seen as a safe, responsible place for dating. We want your Grandmother to sit there and be like ‘oh you’re using Chappy, that’s great.’”
This vision of the future—where the stigma behind dating apps has all but disappeared—opens up new and exciting possibilities for the queer community in general. Chappy’s mission seems like not only the logical step, but the radical step in new technology.
“We’re trying to empower gay guys a bit.” Said Rogers. “Give them at least the ability to date in a more controlled way, give them more choice, and just feel a bit more 2017.”
“The fact is,” Locke agreed, “it’s time.”