Hot or Not, the once massively popular, cruel, and addictive site for rating strangers', er, aesthetic accomplishments, is relaunching in the U.S. after getting a mobile makeover.
A new version of the rating game that helped spawn everything from Facebook to Tinder will be available today in the iTunes and Android app stores. The centerpiece of the latest iteration is a new "Hot Lists" feature that calculates a person's hotness based on user votes and then updates in real-time to show the prettiest people near you. So, imagine walking through a music festival or college campus, two places Hot or Not's mostly 17-22 year old users are likely to be found, and having a list rank the most attractive people as you move from the back of the venue to the front or through the campus quad. The radius the real-time Hot Lists span depends on the number of users active in a given area: more users shrink the radius to keep it localized.
As part of its relaunch, Hot or Not, which is owned by UK-based online dating company Badoo, plans to roll out customized Hot Lists based on how users vote on profiles created in-house of celebrities, politicians, authors and other recognizable people.
The move to relaunch Hot or Not comes amid a flurry of activity around the business of online dating. In April, Tinder, which is more or less the old Hot or Not made flesh, reportedly received a $55 million investment from Barry Diller's IAC that valued the revenue-less app at $500 million. Late last year, Diller's IAC also announced that it would create a new business unit for some of its properties, among them online dating sites Match.com and OKCupid, called the Match Group. The move is viewed on Wall Street as a prelude to an eventual spin-off of those businesses into a separate company. Hinge, a startup alternately described as Match.com for mobile or Tinder for relationships, has raised several million dollars in venture capital funding and is now in 9 U.S. cities with plans to expand to more.
Online dating has even attracted the interest of activist investors. Spark Networks, which owns JDate.com, ChristianMingle.com, and BlackSingles.com, is embroiled in a battle with hedge fund Osmium Partners, which wants to take control of the board and force a sale of the company.
Against that backdrop, Russian entrepreneur Andrey Andreev plans to use the Hot or Not relaunch as a way to penetrate the U.S. market. While Badoo is one of the largest international dating sites around, with roughly 200 million users in 180 countries and a big presence in Europe and Latin America, Andreev's attempts to bring it to the U.S. have failed to gain traction. He bought Hot or Not in 2012 believing that its brand recognition and pioneer status could finally give him the U.S. presence his operation currently lacks. (The founders of Hot or Not sold the site in 2008 for a reported $20 million.)
"The U.S. is the most tasty market," Andreev said in a interview with BuzzFeed, meaning that it represents the biggest and most lucrative opportunity for his company. "Imagine you have a cake with chocolate and roses on top, this is what the U.S. market is."
Andreev claims that Hot or Not has quietly amassed 10 million users for its mobile app, though that couldn't be independently verified. According to the Google Play store, the app has been installed on Android devices between one million and five million times, but that does not reflect actual usage. As of Monday afternoon, Hot or Not ranked 321st overall and 21st in lifestyle in the iTunes App Store. For comparison, Tinder has between 10 million and 50 million installs on Google Play and ranked 55th overall and 1st in lifestyle in the iTunes App store.
According to data provided by ComScore, the sites that comprise Plenty of Fish raked in the most smartphone unique visitors in April with 2.74 million, followed by Tinder (2.7 million), Skout.com (1.67 million), and Match.com sites (1.47 million).
A Moscow native, Andreev has financial backing from Russian investment firm Finam, which bought Russian online dating site Mamba, a precursor to Badoo, from Andreev in 2006. Andreev said Finam seeded him with $30 million for a 10% stake in his company.
To help with the marketing and promotion of Hot or Not's relaunch, Andreev has hired Justine Sacco, the former communications director for Diller's IAC who was fired in December after posting a controversial tweet about race, AIDS, and Africa that received worldwide attention and spawned the "Has Justine Landed Yet" meme. Sacco quickly apologized for the tweet and lived in Ethiopia for the month of March doing volunteer consulting for a non-government organization before being hired by Andreev, she said. Prior to being fired from IAC, she worked closely with Match.com chairman Greg Blatt and CEO Sam Yagan on strategy and communications.
Clarification: This post has been changed to reflect that profiles of recognizable people are created in-house by Hot or Not.