The last time I met up with “C”, the CEO of Bang with Friends, it was for a boozy night of bar-hopping that ended up on a Brooklyn rooftop. He refused to tell me his last name. That changed last week when the Webutante Ball inadvertently outed Colin Hodge and his cofounder Omri Mor by listing their names in the ballot for “king” of the ball.
The founders intended to reveal their identities on a high-profile nighttime talk show that had expressed some interest, but sometimes Internet Week has other plans for you.
Hodge, a 28-year-old who majored in computer science at Cornell, is hardly the Tucker Max misogynist you might have expected to invent something like this. Rather, he comes across more like a friendly, sex positive brogrammer in search of a viral loop.
As the name suggests, Bang with Friends brings the startup world’s obsession with “frictionless” service to the world of casual sex. The app serves up images of your Facebook friends and lets users click a button below each profile pic to indicate whether you would like to bone. Using the revolutionary new “double blind” formula (also employed by the dating app Tinder), users are only notified if the same friend also selected you as a potential indoor sports partner.
According to Hodge, the service has more than 1 million users who log in about 70,000 times a day. He said that it racked up more than 19 million “down to bang” clicks since January—19 per user on average—and more than 200,000 “couples.”
Hodge had been working on another dating site called HeardAboutYou (tagline: “IT'S LIKE LINKEDIN...FOR LOVIN”), when they got the idea for Bang with Friends. Mor was working on Ziibra, a startup that helps people rake in recurring revenue by selling subscription packages to top customers. The pair, along with a third cofounder—who is still anonymous because he's in college and his parents don’t know—met at an incubator in San Mateo called Boost. (The program is run by the same venture capital firm behind the Boost Bitcoin Fund because this is our world now).
HeardAboutYou and its competitors had “a very sugarcoated approach,” to people’s motivations for online dating, Hodge told Valleywag. “You still had to deal with a lot of bullshit and false intentions.”
In the year and a half he spent in the industry, said Hodge, women complained in customer interviews that there was no place they could find short-term sex partners “without looking like a total, you know, tramp.” Craigslist or Adult FriendFinder seemed too extreme—and if they checked the “casual sex” box on sites like OkCupid, they were immediately overwhelmed with messages. On the flip side, dating site regulars said they would meet people who claimed to be “looking for a relationship” only because they were worried about being filtered out otherwise.
“After a few drinks [at Boost], the whole conversation turned to let’s just simplify this,” he said. “We decided, hey everybody has at least one friend that they’ve had an eye on.” Thus they narrowed the pool of potential mates to just Facebook friends. “From there we came up with the racy logo and decided to just go full speed ahead with making it as funny and as objectionable as possible.”
Objectionable? “Well let me change that word,” Hodge said, backtracking, “as funny and straightforward as possible.”
In a way, he’s right. At some point almost everyone has wanted to sleep with someone in their friend circle. I believe it’s the plot of a romcom or twenty. But if you haven't mustered the courage to ask, are you really going to outsource that secret desire to a startup? Besides, it’s not so much doing the deed, as the aftershocks to one’s relationship that hold people back.
The numbers, however, convinced them they were onto something. “For us, it stopped being a joke site in the first day we launched and saw the huge pick up,” he said. “I could tell immediately compared to my other dating startup. People just grokked to the idea so much faster. There was no explanation really necessary, and that’s a key point to making something viral. They’re not making this huge commitment or having to create these long profiles.”
As of this past month, Bang with Friends has the most users in Brazil, followed by the U.S. in second and Germany in close third. College campuses are also seeing a lot of natural growth, despite the presumption that the dorm room petri dish of alcohol and lack of parental supervision would render the app unnecessary. Veteran ad exec Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn, previously told me Oxford University students raved about it.
The reception in the tech world hasn’t been as glowing.
Hodge says he has a good relationship with Facebook, which desperately needs its user base of 18-to-25-year-olds, especially “now that you’re hearing a decent amount of stories of people signing off.” But Apple banned Bang With Friends from the App Store after a week, citing guideline 16.1, which rejects “excessively objectionable or crude content.”
Apple allows other hookup apps like Grindr; the only photos Bang With Friends shows are Facebook profile pictures. “Go figure,” said Hodge, who emphasized that he’s confident he can get it back in the App Store.
Then there was the glitch, unearthed by the Daily Dot, which showed which Facebook users had registered for Bang With Friends, depending on their privacy settings. But Hodge insisted it didn’t affect sign-ups. “I think as much as a lot of the press sensationalized the headlines, Gawker included, the truth is that the vast majority of people are just not showing up on the searches,” he said, pointing out that “the most important anonymous factor” (whom you want to bang) stayed anonymous.
“We really see it as the future of how our generation can meet other people. But yeah, a lot of them are just hesitant to touch sex,” he said. “The tech industry in general, has this kind of code that let’s take the easy path, let’s take something that won’t bring a lot of controversy. We personally don’t agree with that.” The standard line seems to be, “Hey, I’m supporting you from the sidelines,” he said, with the caveat that the pitch won’t get past certain partners in a firm.
Meanwhile, the cofounders are plugging away improving the service. I can’t check out the current version of the iPhone app, for obvious reasons. But log into the web-based version and you’ll see an infinite scroll of all your Facebook friends, sortable by gender. The first few times I tried it, some notable VCs (ehem) and happily married individuals appeared on screen.
“We don’t want to just show you actual users because that would out everyone who is actually using it,” Hodge explained. But Bang With Friends intends to get better at displaying people who might be of interest, including incorporating its “Bangability” quotient, which factors in the number of times people have elected to “bang” someone, as well as the number of Facebook friends they have and how many of their friends use the service.
As for how being the CEO of Bang With Friends affects his own bangability, Hodge said he’s “definitely had mixed reactions from women. Most of them can’t get over it. The whole night they’ll be like, ‘I can’t believe a Bang with friends founder blah blah blah.’ It definitely doesn’t help my game, so to speak. It’s only hurt it a few times, I guess, so it’s kind of a mixed bag.”