It was about 20 years ago when Baoli Ma was hiding in his bedroom and feeling helpless and lonely because he was a gay man in China.
Life has changed dramatically for Ma since then. This week, BlueCity, the gay dating and lifestyle platform he created, has filed a first public listing with Nasdaq.
"For me, this is the power of the Internet – it enables us to stand up and bring warmth to other people around the world who, because of their sexual orientation, live in loneliness, helplessness and fear," wrote Ma, managing director of the company in the prospectus .
The company intends to raise $ 50 million through the IPO, but has not set the offer price for each American custodian share (ADS). The proceeds from the public offering are used to invest in new technologies and expand into national and international markets, which currently account for around half of the monthly users.
Ma, a former locked police officer, founded the LGBTQ online forum Danlan.org in 2000. In 2011 he quit his job to launch Blued, the gay dating app under the parent company BlueCity.
Blued was widely recognized as an imitator of Grindr early on – A California startup that was bought by a Chinese company before it was forced to disconnect due to security concerns. Blued has since developed numerous features to make it stand out. The app is designed for chat and live broadcast users, and is mainly used by gay men, although it does include services for the wider LGBTQ population. To this end, a letter of intent was signed in June for a potential equity interest in the acquisition of a Chinese lesbian dating app.
In March, Blued had 6 million monthly active users and 49 million registered users. It has attracted a loyal following in overseas markets like India, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
Most of Blued's revenue comes from selling virtual items during live broadcasting, which accounted for 88.5% of total revenue of $ 107 million in 2019. Other streams of monetization were advertising and memberships, which gave users premium functions in the app.
The company has started researching health services for the LGBTQ community in recent years, offering everything from HIV counseling to contacting clients with surrogate mothers from overseas.
Some of the business risks identified by BlueCity were government policies and negative public sentiment towards the queer community in different regions. In early 2018, the Indonesian government asked the Google Play Store to block Blued along with dozens of other apps in the same category. It is also important to ensure user safety. In 2019, Blued was forced to freeze the registry shortly after being convicted of failing age verification and exposing underage users to sexual exploitation.
While China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997 and removed it from the list of mental illnesses in 2001, public discourse about the community remains tense. Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging service, sparked a huge outcry in the queer community and many Chinese citizens when it announced the ban on homosexuality-related content. The company later overturned the decision.