While working in New York, USC alumnus Johnny Skandros noticed a new scene arising among gay men in the city in the way they groomed and dressed.
“I was at a bar and touching this guy’s face, and I thought, ‘Wow, this guy’s face is really scruffy,’” Skandros said.
What was originally just a playful gesture soon turned into an invaluable idea for a new app.
“The inspiration for the app was there were other gay dating apps out at the time but they weren’t really for everyone,” Skandros said. “I kind of had a lightbulb [go off] that night, where I thought that would be a really cool idea for an app.”
Skandros is the founder of Scruff, a social network for gay men that stretches across the globe. The app, available on iOS, Android and Windows, has six million members and counting, from the United States, Australia and even Brazil.
Before founding the app, Skandros was a USC student studying film production but took several business classes on the side, including accounting, marketing and entrepreneurship.
“At the time, I didn’t know if I wanted to do film or business, but I ended up choosing film,” Skandros said.
One class in particular, a course on gay and lesbian cinema, had a strong impact on what Skandros wanted to eventually do.
“It was probably the most valuable class I ever took at USC, and it really opened my eyes to the craft of film and how gender, sexuality, and ethnicity is represented … that is why I wanted to start Scruff,” Skandros said.
After being in the film industry for about three years, Skandros teamed up with Eric Silverberg and started Scruff, but not without making some sacrifices first. To save money for their bootstrapped project, both Skandros and Silverberg lived at home to work on the marketing and technical aspects of the app, respectively.
This patience began to pay off a couple of months into the project. Though progress was slow, eventually the Scruff team was gaining enough traction that it was able to move back to New York and expand their group, which now has 30 people.
Despite the entry of other apps such as Tinder and Grindr within this similar space, Skandros has never been intimidated by them.
“The gay space has many apps out there, there’s no one supreme app,” Skandros said. “Scruff is about connecting guys to one another and the global gay community … and generally, the guys who use Scruff are friendlier.”
In addition to being able to find other gay men in the vicinity, Scruff is also very diverse — it was the first app to have a transgender community — and offers other features including filters based on interest and an event tab where you can discover any upcoming events in the area. What makes Scruff stand out from other apps is the way users interact with it.
“We’ll have a lot of members [use the app] when they’re traveling and ask members where to go, which restaurants to eat at, or what gay bars to go to in the evening,” Skandros said.
Skandros believes that because he puts himself out there as the face of Scruff, he’s been able to reach more people as he communicates and listens to all of his users.
“It’s really important to me to personalize the brand of the app that way,” Skandros said. “I think people respond to that very well, and I’ve built up a very large fan base.”
Skandros also holds events in multiple cities and always has people telling him about their Scruff stories and experiences. One of the more common success stories that Skandros hears about is marriage, which he says happens all the time.
“Those mean the most to me, that’s what I work so hard for — that connection,” Skandros said. “I know it sounds cheesy, but when you hear that two people were able to connect and find love … because of this dating service, that’s incredible.”
When looking back on his USC experience, Skandros found that the community was especially accepting, and continues to look back on the film class that influenced Scruff.
“That class … really opened up my mind about gay history and about how the LGBT community is represented in media and society,” Skandros said. “Scruff would not be around today if it wasn’t for [that class].”
As for the future of the app, Skandros is considering building a website version of Scruff. In the meantime, the company is doing more with media, including appearances on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Scruff is also looking to hold more events for its European crowd this time around, and hopes to keep the momentum going for.
“We did several [events] last year, but we want to step it up this year … we just want to keep on going and there’s no slowing down,” Skandros said.