Building A New Hookup App for Queer People: A Chat with the Founder of Thurst

by The Editor & Morgen Bromell on February 24th, 2015

We sat down with Morgen Bromell, founder of Thurst, to discuss the app, the exciting crowdfunding campaign for it, and the state of hookup apps in general.  

MVC: Tell us a bit about yourself and how Thurst came to be.

I’m a 22-year-old queer black woman maker of things, and I’m the CEO and founder of Thurst. I’ve been interested in the sciences and computers since I was very young. I remember my mom purchased a computer for our home when I was 13; I challenged myself to put everything together, and that was when my relationship to tech changed, when I realized software and hardware were malleable things that I could work on. I learned basic HTML, Java, and web design in high school, and built my first basic website at 14. In university, I was a marketing major but got a position at an MIT startup, learning about all aspects that go into building a tech product. Upon becoming politicized, I left business school for art school, where I learned more about design and front-end design.

Thurst originated out of a moment of frustration. In the past 3 years, I’ve found solace in the QTPOC community that exists not only in NYC but online, scattered between Facebook groups, tumblr posts, and interpersonal connections held together by chance encounters. But I found that most of the folks I knew were dissatisfied with the dating scene in general. The main issue with mainstream hookup apps is the lack of deep and critical consideration of the marginalized people they are now selectively including.

MVC: What are the goals of Thurst, and what features will it have?

Series of three mockups of Thurst:  the login page, 'create profile' page and profile front page, featuring a woman's photo and the text 'Leila, Harlem, NY, Queer Cis Woman' with logos to message or favorite.

Thurst aims to be truly inclusive and affirming for all aspects of a person’s identity that pertain to dating and meeting people offline. Thurst is going to include safety features that are comprehensive and easy to use, from changing your name or location, to blocking abusers and reporting trolls and community violators. It’s important to me that the app is good enough for trans women of color to use and feel completely safe and protected, while also not being judged, stigmatized, or hidden away.

Thurst is made with marginalized queer people in mind who want to use aliases for safety reasons. It will have designations for all gender identities, pronouns, sexualities, and expressions, with an option for users to input their own if they feel that other labels are inadequate. It will also include kink designations – that’s a real and valid aspect of sexuality largely ignored in mainstream apps. I think it’s time queer folk have a dating app that’s well-designed, easy to use, and truly encompassing of all the things that make us queer.

MVC: Most hookup apps now are founded and funded by cis white men. How has this affected the state of the internet as a tool for sex and sexuality?

When we leave it up to white men to create products, we’re naturally going to get tools and platforms that cater to white men’s needs and are inherently oppressive to anyone who isn’t a cis able-bodied white man. I wish I had a dollar for every white guy who has or is making a dating app with a new spin on some elitist aspect of our culture. As a queer black woman, I know that using any of these sites places me near the bottom of a scale based on desirability and pretty politics, because white supremacist hetero-patriarchial standards dictate that the further you are from the white center, the less you deserve to love or be loved. This is reflected in every single app that exists now.

Thurst won’t necessarily change our culture and how we see folks as desirable and worthy of love, sex, attention, etc., but it will spark a critical dialogue around who is expected to hookup, seek love and attention, and who is made to suffer in that process. The internet has replicated what predated it, but thankfully many tools and resources are open source so we can create alternatives.

MVC: What have you learned so far about crowdfunding?

Our crowdfunding campaign is super new and I’m grateful for the option of raising funds outside of traditional models (i.e. banks, loans, etc) that are inherently oppressive. Crowdfunding is a more democratic way of deciding what gets to exist and which products will be created, and many products deemed unnecessary by industry gatekeepers can now make it to market. That’s an extremely important shift in terms of who is allowed to create for our communities.

I knew I would need to raise money to get Thurst off of my desktop and onto the screens of many folks, and using Fundly seemed like the best choice to begin this process. Fundly’s team is majority people of color, which is extremely important to me, because it is reflected in the nuances of the platform in terms of how it is used and what can be crowdfunded. I believe tech made by people of color is inherently native to our communities and therefore more intuitive and accessible.

MVC: How can people support Thurst?

Thurst logo.

People can support Thurst in a variety of ways, particularly spreading the word about the campaign and showing your support on social media platforms. Our Fundly is the main way for others to gauge interest and support for this project. Outside of donating, we’d love to provide folks with materials, either digital or physical, to help get the word out!

If you know of someone who might be interested in supporting the development or funding process of Thurst, let us know! Thurst was born out of a desire to create a beautiful app for queer folk, especially marginalized queer people, and therefore we primarily rely on community members to help make this app a reality. Thurst, as a project, wouldn’t be where it is today without the overwhelming number of endorsements, donations, and messages of validation. If you think someone will love Thurst, share it with them!