Hooking up with the father of Manhunt
One on one with Jonathan Crutchley
Published Thursday, 18-Jun-2009 in issue 1121
What began in 1989 as a telephone dating service called The Tool Line, is today the leading Web site for men looking to meet other men. With more than four million profiles, and more than 40,000 men joining each week Manhunt is the place to “Get On and Get Off.”
Palm Springs resident Jonathan Crutchley co-founded Manhunt, along with business partner Larry Basile. Together they managed, despite the Web site’s phenomenal success, to remain under the media radar until March of last year when the Huffington Post published an item on Crutchley’s donation to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, at which time a fire storm erupted in the gay press. Crutchley, however, remained quiet, allowing time for the political dust to settle.
As co-founder and chair of Manhunt, Crutchley is the man behind the blue and orange curtain. The Gay & Lesbian Times sat down with him to discuss how he and Basile first came up with the idea for an online gay dating site and how, in 10 short years, Manhunt has changed the way gay men meet other gay men.
Gay & Lesbian Times: How did you become the ultimate gay matchmaker?
Jonathan Crutchley: Oh my God, you really mean this? You’ve got me blushing down to my toenails.
GLT: Have you always had a knack for matching men?
JC: The truth is that I have always been a shy and introverted person, especially when I came out as a gay man, which didn’t happen until I was 30. Back in the ’70s when I was coming out, gay bars and discos were the places to go to meet gay men. If you were a good dancer with a gym body and perfect hair, you made friends. But I was the guy watching all the others from a dark corner of the room.
GLT: How did you meet men in the ’70s?
JC: It wasn’t until the introduction of telephone chat lines, like the ones founded by my business partner Larry Basile in 1987, that I was able to meet more guys and make friends. On the telephone lines you were just a voice – the rest was unseen, and, until you met someone in person, they were just a fantasy. Fantasy is powerful, and it helped me emerge from my shell. Later, when I partnered with Larry Basile in the telephone chat lines and, after that, the Internet personals business, we perfected the use of fantasy to help men meet each other.
GLT: Are people surprised to meet the man behind the Manhunt curtain?
JC: Yes, the real me is not what people imagine. For 25 years I sold real estate and wore sport jackets from Brooks Brothers. You wouldn’t find me marching in a Pride parade with my shirt off, but I’d be watching the parade from the sidelines.
GLT: What is the secret to Manhunt’s success? How did it become the #1 dating Web site for gay men?
JC: Larry and I knew that Manhunt’s customers are more than just those who live in gay neighborhoods in big cities and who follow the latest trends and fashions. Our market is much larger than that, including bears, leather guys, even married and bi-guys – whom we guess could be as many as 30 percent of Manhunt users. We always knew that gay men were everywhere, and with Manhunt, guys from Nashville, Tenn., to North Dakota can find each other. There is much more to gay life than Chelsea in New York City or the Castro or West Hollywood. We developed a site that was easy for the average guy to use and we emphasized our 24-hour-a-day customer service to help guys use the site and be comfortable with it and with themselves.
GLT: How has gay dating changed since the site began 10 years ago? What were men looking for then? What are men looking for now?
JC: Guys have always been looking for the same things. The Internet makes it much easier to find exactly what you want.
GLT: Facebook toppled MySpace in 2009. With new competition entering the gay online dating industry every week, what is Manhunt doing to remain on top?
JC: In the age of the Internet, things change at Internet speed. We always have to look over our shoulder to see who else is coming out with a different service that might catch on. Our biggest bet for continued growth is international expansion. There are more Manhunt subscribers outside the United States than within it. We are growing very rapidly in Brazil and all of Latin America, and we have expansion plans in Asia.
GLT: Do you pay attention to the competition?
JC: Social networking sites like Bebo, MySpace and Facebook have caught on very quickly, starting with teenagers and young people and then becoming popular with an older demographic. Now you find grandmothers on Facebook. Manhunt serves all ages, but we have to keep up with what 18 to early 20-somethings want in order to draw them into the group. I wouldn’t rule out a partnership with a social networking site that appeals mainly to an under-30 demographic.
GLT: How does Manhunt feel about eHarmony and Match.com targeting the gay community?
JC: Straight dating sites just don’t get it as far was what gay men are looking for. Have you ever filled out one of their questionnaires that ask “Do you want children” or “What is your income?” These are questions that women want to know about men as possible marriage partners. Gay men want to know what other men look like and how big it is.
GLT: Since the latest Craigslist murder in Boston, many have questioned the safety of meeting people on the Internet. How safe is Manhunt?
JC: I’m not supposed to say this, but meeting a stranger on Manhunt can be just as dangerous as meeting a stranger on Craigslist or in a bar or in a dark alley. We tell guys to be careful and meet first in a public place, but men will do what they want. The Internet can be dangerous.
GLT: Is it Manhunt’s responsibility to protect its members from online predators?
JC: We urge Manhunt members to take responsible precautions about meeting any stranger, but it is difficult if not impossible to prevent bad things from happening. If a criminal action does take place, such as a robbery or assault, local police can obtain information through a court-ordered subpoena or search warrant for information that may be in our database that may help them prosecute.
GLT: Manhunt will be introducing its new version later this year. How will the new Manhunt be different than classic Manhunt?
JC: Manhunt’s new version is being rolled out as we speak in Australia and South America. Our current version is at capacity, so, when too many guys are online at once, the site will crash. The new version accommodates many more users, but it will look different and take getting used to. Our Australian and Latin American users didn’t like the new version at first because of the differences, but when they got used to it, and when we got all the bugs out of the system, everyone now seems fairly happy.
GLT: Is mobile the next big wave for meeting men?
JC: Depends on what country you’re in. In Japan cell phones outnumber computers, so you have to have a cell phone application and most people will use it. Mobile applications are taking longer to get adopted in the U. S., but they are catching on with young people first. Yes, the future is mobile. Manhunt has a mobile application and we’re updating it.
GLT: How will men meet other men in 2020?
JC: I’ll send you a text message from Heaven and let you know.