Ma Baoli quit his job as deputy director of a division of the Qinhuangdao police force in March 2012 so that he could work on running his own website for the gay community to share experiences among one another. Ma, 37, who goes by the online pseudonym Geng Le, created Danlan.org in November 2000, but said that he didn’t start making any money from it until 2007.
His choice, nonetheless, was a lucrative one. The website recently spawned a Chinese-language dating app for men called Blued that has brought in over 15 million users, 3 million of them outside China, in two years.
Last month, his company received a 30 million USD investment from a Silicon Valley venture capitalist company, and Ma is now trying to expand abroad and maybe even prepare for an IPO, Associated Press reports.
In a country where the government considers any activism dangerous and where homosexuality has traditionally been taboo, Ma has managed to build his business partly by reaching out to government agencies and showing them he can provide a public service in spreading safe-sex messages.
[…] The app allows users to look for people by location or the last time they logged on. It also enables group settings so people can organize activities such as hiking or assembling a basketball team, as well as providing information from health authorities on locations for HIV testing and treatment.
Ma was asked to meet with Premier Li Keqiang for his company’s contributions to HIV/AIDs prevention.
“None of our public awareness websites can receive such attention,” Wu Zunyou, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s AIDS and sexually transmitted disease center said of the app. “This is a very important channel to be able to spread information about AIDS prevention among the LGBT community.”
Ma said that five years ago, Danlan.org would often get shut down due to censors. The fact that this doesn’t happen anymore shows a growing acceptance for the gay community as well as a change in policies, which will ultimately open discussion on issues that need to be further tackled.
“I now feel more and more comfortable saying, ‘Yes, I’m gay and yes, what I do is run a gay-themed website,'” he said in the report. “[…] if my users go from 15 million to many more in the future, if we can go public, I can tell the government: See, we can go public being a ‘gay company’ and we haven’t caused you any trouble.”
Ma’s next step is to create an app reaching out to lesbians in China, according to a TechinAsia report. While there is no launch date set yet, Ma did say that it won’t be similar to the men’s app.
By Lucy Liu
[Image via Danlan.org]