Hot or Not History
The Hot or Not website (originally called “Am I Hot or Not”) first launched in October 2000.
Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about the Hot or Not website/app/game: its creation, creators, how it evolved over time and eventually became what it is now.
How the Founders Became Inspired to Create HotorNot.com
Hot or Not was created by two twenty-somethings, James Hong and Jim Young. They originally became friends at the University of California, Berkeley, where they were roommates and studied electrical engineering.
By 1999, James had already cycled through a lot of ideas for “what he wanted to be when he grew up.” He originally wanted to be a doctor so he started college majoring in biology, then he switched his major to electrical engineering, then he switched his major to computer science, then he went to business school. After that, he started a company for construction industry software. More than anything else, James’ biggest problem was that he would lose interest in what he was doing and get depressed.
It was in 1999 that James got back in touch with Jim (his college roommate), and they started a couponing company together in Silicon Valley. They gave up on it, however, when the market crashed around 2000. James thought maybe a Ph.D would be his next best step, whereas Jim got a job as an engineer.
One time, while hanging out, Jim told James about a girl he saw who was “a perfect 10.” James didn’t see the girl but told him that he’d probably disagree, since the two had very different tastes in women. This was when they had the idea for a website that could settle the matter for them.
How Long It Took to Build Hot or Not
The original Hot or Not website was built over the course of a week.
How Hot or Not Became Crazy-Popular, Crazy-Fast in 2001
James says he knew the website would be a hit when his father walked in while he was testing it. Upon showing his dad the website-in-progress, the 60-year-old Asian man immediately became fascinated and entertained with rating women 1-10.
Once the site was launched in October 2000, James and Jim emailed the link to 42 friends, who told their friends. By the end of the day, they had 40,000 visitors.
In those first days, James says he would go rollerblading in a nearby company parking lot. Every day, he would skate up to at least one random person and tell them about Hot or Not. After doing this several times, word of Hot or Not spread among employees who worked there.
A week after its launch, the Hot or Not website was getting two million page views per day.
Within a few months, the site was one of the most popular websites online at the time.
Early Problems with the Hot or Not Website
Early on, Hot or Not’s bandwidth costs were growing huge quickly. It looked as if they might be paying $100,000 per month to host the website. However, they were broke, so they had to get creative.
As a work-around, James and Jim decided to upload all of the pictures on Hot or Not to Geocities (owned by Yahoo). Then they instructed future users to upload their pictures to websites like Geocities and give Hot or Not the link only. That way, they didn’t have to host pictures anymore, eliminating the bulk of their costs.
Later, they cut a deal with Ophoto to use instead of Geocities. This was an affiliate relationship wherein they were paid for every user they sent their way. Ultimately, though, the team ended up making a deal with web host, Rack Space, who offered to pay Hot or Not’s hosting costs for free in exchange for publicity.
While it was ideal to monetize the website with ads, an obstacle was that they were not moderating content at the time. To fix this, James first hired his retired parents to weed out pornography and other inappropriate images as they were coming in on the website. After only a few days of this, however, James decided he didn’t like his parents looking at pornography all day. So, instead, they built a way for users to sign up to be volunteer moderators. The volunteers, then, would see all uploaded pictures before they went live on the site to everyone else. 8-10 people would have to see each picture and not flag it before it became public.
How Hot or Not Became a Dating Site
In addition to ads, one of the first ways that the Hot or Not founders monetized the website was with “Meet Me on Hot or Not” — essentially making Hot or Not a dating site.
In order to connect with someone through Hot or Not, you had to pay a fee. (They actually tried making this free once, but spam went through the roof.) They also added the ability to buy and send virtual flowers.
Hot or Not Founder Disagreements
Recalling the many emotional highs and lows of running Hot or Not, James Hong has described entrepreneurship as “volunteering to be bipolar.”
In 2007, a tipster told journalists that James and Jim could no longer agree on what direction to take the company. Rumors had it that James wanted to turn Hot or Not into a full-blown social network, but Jim wanted to keep the scope of the website as-is.
How Much Money Did the Founders Make Off of Hot or Not?
By 2017, the website was generating something like $5-6 million a year, with $2 million in profit. That came from 5 million monthly unique visitors and 200 million page views.
James has said that Hot or Not worked “a bit like a laundromat in that they let the site run and then collected quarters from the machine.” The team only spent about 10 hours per week working on the site for many years. And even then, they only worked on it from home.
They had collected 4 million in revenue (3.X million in earnings) before they even hired any employees.
How Hot or Not Became the “Hot or Not The Game” Tinder Clone and Dating App It Is Today
In 2008, James and Jim decided to let the company go and sold it off for $20 million. Of the sale, James was quoted as saying, “We’ve been working on HotOrNot for seven years now. It’s time to break up with this girlfriend.”
The buyer, Avid Life Media, owned Ashley Madison. They created a spinoff company, Hot or Not Limited, from which to run Hot or Not.
In June 2014, an investor bought Hot or Not for an undisclosed amount in order to relaunch it as something of a Tinder clone.
Tinder had launched two years prior and was now “the hot thing.”
The investors proposed one major difference between Tinder and the relaunched Hot or Not mobile app. That was, comparatively, the Hot or Not dating app was meant to be more of a game. You could “play” it even if you weren’t looking to date anyone.
Sadly, this version of Hot or Not never became as popular as the Hot or Not website in its heyday.
Hot or Not Creators: Where Are They Now?
After selling Hot or Not, James Hong went on to become a husband, dad, and angel investor. He also purports to stay in his pajamas and watch a lot of MTV.
In 2014 and at age 41, James launched an iPhone app called Cakey as a way for parents to create and find playlists of kid-safe videos. He actually coded the app himself. It was his first return to programming after 15 years.
Jim Young is also married and has two daughters. He said that he and James are still friends. The two are not as close, however, since Jim moved to Philadelphia. James remains in San Francisco.
Hot or Not Successors
Hot or Not was technically not even the first — let alone the last — rating site. RateMyFace was actually registered a year previous to Hot or Not. AmIHot was registered at about the same time. It just so happens that Hot or Not became the most popular.
According to a 2006 edition of Time magazine, the founders of YouTube said that their original intention was to build a version of Hot or Not with video.
Additionally, Silicon Valley heavyweight Mark Zuckerberg once built a Hot or Not spin-off website called FaceMash before launching Facebook.
With the rise of Tinder in the 2010s, users began to notice that *photo choice* went a long way in determining whether they looked “hot or not” on their profiles. Because of this, OkCupid launched MyBestFace to help users choose their most attractive pictures., but it was discontinued in 2015 due to cost of upkeep.
Photo rating services continued to pop up in conjunction with dating sites/apps, though most failed to gain significant traction.
Today, the most popular photo rating service is Photofeeler, known for being a user-friendly, scientifically-sound way to test profile pictures on a lot of metrics, including attractiveness. It’s used to test both dating and business pictures.