Website seeks to streamline gay men's social plans
by Matt Baume
It was during one of his many trips between work in Germany and his boyfriend in New York that Jason Goldberg envisioned a better way to go out for dancing, dinner, or a drink.
The entrepreneur with dot-com successes like Jobster and Socialmedian under his belt sensed an opportunity to answer the most pressing questions of our time. As he put it: "Where to go? What to do? Who to meet?"
He christened the new venture "Fabulis," and quickly assembled a team to build a brand new online social planner for gay men.
When Goldberg and his boyfriend Christian Schoenherr traveled, Fabulis creative director Bradford Shellhammer explained, "they realized there was a problem. We've all experienced it. 'What do I do tonight, what restaurant should I go to, where can I meet cool locals?'"
Existing sites didn't help, since they were all limited to either families or hookups.
"People told us that they've gone on Manhunt to find out where they should eat when they were in Rome," said Shellhammer.
The Fabulis mission is simple: help gay men discover new events and meet new friends. To that end, the site scans Facebook events, analyzes attendance, and showcases trends – something Goldberg calls "the velocity of fabulousness."
About $625,000 has been raised for the project so far.
"It was the easiest fundraising I've ever done in my career," said Goldberg. "It took 72 hours to raise the finances for Fabulis."
Among the investors: the Washington Post , along with Allen Morgan, Lars Hinrichs, and Don Baer – all investors in Goldberg's prior company, Socialmedian.
There's also an advisory board of heavy-hitters: British Queer Eye host Julian Bennett, co-producer of The Office Halsted Sullivan, former GLAAD president Neil Giuliano, Grey Gardens producer/director Michael Sucsy, and former Clinton LGBT adviser Richard Socarides, whom Goldberg met while working as a White House aide in the 1990s.
Socarides, in fact, is the first person Goldberg ever came out to – "over the White House e-mail system," he laughed.
During a limited sneak-peak in April, the site came under fire for a feature that numerically ranked users by perceived popularity. That won't last, said Goldberg.
"We're going to move very quickly away from the focus of the site being a kind of a popularity contest. ... the homepage is no longer a ranking of members. It's plans."
Concerns about the site's cliquishness may be reignited by a messaging system. Contacting certain users will require "bits," credits that users earn by recruiting new users, interacting with the site, or laying down cash.
"People will have to spend some bits in order to message people they're not following," said Goldberg. "And you're able to set the price in order to message you."
Although the site only recently introduced its event-tracking features, the site boasted 14,000 registered users at launch. At a Fabulis-sponsored party this spring at Blackbird in the Castro, the site's brand new users were enthusiastic.
"The Internet has totally taken the place of sending out a flier," said event planner J. Aleczander. "It's very green!"
Jack Shamama, editor of the Gay Porn Blog, was a fan of the social ranking feature. "It's fun and silly," he said, "but it makes you feel cute."
"I have no idea what it is," said Adrian Albino, "but it's definitely going to be something."
With so many initial users, advertising and sales opportunities abound.
"We believe that we can have a decent percent of our users paying us," said Goldberg, "in addition to having a premium sponsorships with advertisers and promoters who want to reach this audience."
The Fabulis team is in it for the long haul, and doesn't rule out an initial public offering.
"Our plan is to build a hundred million dollar-plus business, targeting the gay market," said Goldberg, "And if we do that, we can definitely be a public company in the future."
Goldberg and Shellhammer have been pleased so far with interaction on the site and its Facebook fan page.
"People are asking questions, interacting with one another, posting photos," said Shellhammer. "It proves this theory that there are gay men all over the world who are hungry for interaction with other gay men. In a different way."