If Coly Cummiskey has his way, bears will no longer be an endangered species. The Columbus-based programmer/entrepreneur has discovered a new habitat for gay bears of all types to network socially, provided the bear has an iPhone and can type with those big bear claws.
“I’ve always been an avid iPhone user, and started developing my own apps as soon as I got one,” explains Coly, the creator and founder of GROWLr, a free iPhone app that provides access to the most complete social network for gay bears. GROWLr lets member bears view the profiles of other bears who roam from Columbus to all the way around the world, sending messages, pictures or voice memos to other bears with their noses in the wind. It also features a comprehensive and frequently-updated bear-run and bear bars updates. The app is sleek and easy to use, as the users and their online reviews can attest.
As a self-described “very out” bear, Coly initially found that the iPhone app communities lacked a suitable ursine social application, a social network devoted to them. “A lot of the apps I found seemed more twink-based, there were none aimed solely at the Bear community,” he explains. “I think a lot of the bigger guys didn’t feel comfortable developing an app for this specific market.”
But being the veteran programmer he is, Coly exploited the opportunity and created the GROWLr application. His experience in developing and using other iPhone apps gave him a focused perspective on the market, and he specifically made the app fun, friendly, easy and useful.
An ex-New York transplant, Coly lives in Columbus and works for the Grange Insurance Company, having stayed with company for over 16 years. “I’m a second-generation Granger because my father worked there, too,” he offers with pride. He and his boyfriend enjoy the lifestyle that a large city like Columbus can provide and you can often find them in local bear dens, such as Exile.
Initially, Coly took care of all the business related to GROWLr, but the app’s rapid growth is bringing the stature of the task to light. “GROWLr is a full time job in itself,” Coly exclaims, “I’m trying to expand the business by bringing in more salespeople, in fact I’m interviewing people right now!” His next big development is to provide the GROWLr app on the Android network, which he says will happen very soon.
Coly is just as excited about the city of Columbus as he is about GROWLr. “I love Columbus,” he says, “it’s the 15th largest city in the US, but not so large that it’s intimidating. And for its size, Columbus has a phenomenal community for gay men. Everyone is so friendly and down to earth.” Columbus also provides Coly with a tech-savvy and receptive local community that serves as a perfect test bed for the app, because Coly can essentially monitor the results in real time.
“Columbus people are great for the feedback, and I always listen,” he explains. “It’s great to be approached about GROWLr, because it lets me hear what we’re doing right and what we need to update in future versions.”
After launching GROWLr at the end of 2010, Coly’s been watching the iPhone community suddenly become a bear market. And showing no signs of heading for hibernation, the app currently boasts over 50,000 growling members and has been ranking high on “What’s Hot” lists in 19 countries, GROWLr is one of the most downloaded apps currently available. It’s been featured in Bear Magazine, bear podcasts and now bears everywhere from New Jersey to the Arctic ice flows are growling at each other all the time.
If you’re wondering how such a slick app is offered for free, Coly soon found that marketing the free app was not as difficult as you might think. “The app is supported by banner ads, and once people understand the specific target market, it’s not hard to secure advertisers,” he explains. There’s lots of marketing for the app; bear runs, bear parties, GROWLr parties… and not just in the USA, either. I recently signed with a promoter in Italy to do some bear parties there!”
The international market provides some interesting statistics about the appeal of the app. “It’s wonderful to see it all happen so quickly,” says Coly, who laughs as he explains “GROWLr is especially popular in Asian markets, which is sort of curious for bears, don’t you think?” Perhaps pandas are not the only bears in the East anymore!
The GROWLr app is updated regularly, with the latest version including the ability to save frequently-used phrases, update-able Custom Growls (pickup lines), and those little green indicator dots to let you know when your favorite bears are on the prowl. All of these features make it easy for the tech-savvy bear to keep up with their friends and prey alike.
Speaking of friends and prey, Coly is headed to the TBRU, or Texas Bear Round Up, for a little R n’ R in the Longhorn State. A little bit of marketing? Well, sure, but it’s mainly a time for this busy bear to enjoy some time to relax.
“It really is a labor of love, trying to balance all of the things, but I love it,” says Coly of his life in Columbus and GROWLr. “I’m committed to the bear community, and it’s really satisfying to provide a service that’s fun and useful for them.”
Anyone (if you’re at least 17, because the content can be mature) can download GROWLr at the Apple APP Store online at www.applestore.com. You can also visit www.growlrapp.com for more information about this amazing app, too.