By KJ Philp, March 2017 Web Exclusive.

SCRUFF, the "dating, travel and social networking app of choice for a community of more than 11 million gay, bi and curious guys worldwide" has more than 50,000 profiles in Phoenix and more than 75,000 profiles throughout Arizona. Additionally, more than 300,000 woofs have been sent in Phoenix in the past 30 days and more than 25,000 venture trips created to Phoenix in the past year.

So, when you receive a heads up that the app's creator is heading to the Valley and would like to chat, you drop what you're doing and start coordinating.

As a result, Echo caught up with Johnny Skandros (who goes by Johnny Scruff on the app), ahead of The SCRUFF Beer Bust: Phoenix Arizona Edition, which will take place Feb. 26 from 4 to 8 p.m., and here's what he had to say.

Johnny Skandros. Courtesy photo.

EchoTo what do we owe the pleasure of your company at Charlie's Feb 26? What's the special occasion?

Skandros: The pleasure is all mine! I’m so excited to be heading to Phoenix with an amazing group of people: Zar Zanganeh, Vanessa Brennan, Officer Mike Thiele (LVPD), Michael Elving, Travis Kelso-Turner and Bryson Turner. We are renting an RV and road tripping it from Las Vegas on the Friday before the event. This will be a new travel experience for all of us, as we are staying in an RV park on Friday night. We are so pumped to meet the community and host a great event for you guys. Also, three other SCRUFF team members will be in attendance: Frank Terry (Ariz.), Julio Cesar (Ariz.) and David Haguen (NYC). We’ll be handing out SCRUFF swag ... I’m really excited to meet our Arizona members, so don’t be shy to come up and give me a big bear hug! Woof!

EchoHaving grown up in Las Vegas, have you spent much time in Arizona?

Skandros: This will be my first time in Phoenix, so I’m really excited to get to know the city. We have all day and night Saturday to explore. I’ve been chatting with a few local guys on SCRUFF, and I hear there is plenty to do. Specifically, I’ve been told to check out the botanical gardens. Any other suggestions? Maybe a trip to the Grand Canyon?

Echo: Are you still living in NYC?

Skandros: I moved to NYC fresh out of college from USC in 2006 with a backpack and a mountain of student debt. In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Living in New York City taught me so much about myself and the local gay community there inspired SCRUFF. I noticed a scruffier look emerging in the gay bars, and that’s how I came up with the name. After several years working in the advertising industry and eventually pursuing SCRUFF, I decided last year that it was time for a change. I recently purchased a home in my hometown of Las Vegas. I have amazing friends and family there, and I enjoy the peace and quiet of the area I live in. So, I’m back to being a west coast boy for now!

EchoI have to ask: Are you single? Dating? Meeting guys via the app?

Skandros: I love using my own app! I am proud to say that I utilize SCRUFF to meet guys for dates, hookups, chat and to find out where to go and what to do. I’m happily single, but I’m not opposed to finding a partner. I’d also like to be a dad one day – the parent kind.

Echo: What our readers might not know is that SCRUFF is more than a dating/hookup app. Can you share some of the ways in which SCRUFF has made a difference in the gay community?

Skandros: Giving back is important to us at SCRUFF, and that’s why we created BenevolAds. With BenevolAds, we offer free geo-targeted advertising to selected nonprofit organizations that work with the gay community. To date we have served over 17 billion impressions to BenevolAds, which amounts to over several million dollars in free advertising. Over 600 organizations in 22 countries around the world are running BenevolAds. A few notable organizations include: Human Rights Campaign, The Trevor Project, National Minority AIDS Council and the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Another way we are making a difference in the gay community is through our Gay Travel Advisories alert feature. A few years ago a member in Saudi Arabia reported that the police in Riyadh had been using social networks to entrap gay guys. Since we strive to keep our members safe, this prompted us to take action. We struck a partnership with ILGA - International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association – the world federation of national and local organizations dedicated to achieving equal rights for LGBTI people. They publish a comprehensive website dedicated to documenting laws that criminalize same-sex acts worldwide.

We implemented this list as a new Travel Alert feature for members who visit countries where same-sex acts are criminalized. SCRUFF members who travel to one of the 100 countries listed will be alerted via an in-app notification of the consequences of conviction under these laws. By increasing the awareness of these laws, we hope to keep our members vigilant and raise the global pressure for reform. We have also set up a website (SCRUFF.com/gaytravel/advisories) that lists all countries included by Gay Travel Advisories.

EchoYou're a pretty vocal anti-bullying advocate, due in large part to your experiences growing up. Has SCRUFF been involved in any anti-bullying campaigns/causes?

Skandros: Growing up was tough, but what I endured in school only made me stronger. We have promoted Ben Cohen’s “Stand Up Foundation,” and we have over 600 nonprofit organizations running ads on SCRUFF. I’m definitely interested in finding more opportunities to combat bullying and fighting for equal rights. Travis Kelso-Turner, who will be hosting the event with me, is the director of Executive Pride, which is the LGBTQ workplace equality organization. Check it out at executivepride.org.

EchoHelp us debunk this rumor: Is SCRUFF just for scruffier men and their admirers? Or have you seen an increase in diversity among users over the years?

Skandros: SCRUFF’s mission is to connect gay men to one another and to the global gay community. We have definitely become more diverse over the years, and you certainly don’t have to be scruffy in physical appearance to be on SCRUFF. In fact, you can even use our body hair search feature to find “smooth guys.” We have added as many features as possible to help connect people with similar likes and interests. With the release of SCRUFF 5 for iOS and Android, which our development team was hard at work at for over two years, we became the most feature rich app on the market, giving you features that include: new profile detail fields (sexual preferences and safer-sex practices) and new communities (Chub, Queer, Guy Next Door, Drag); a redesigned search and filter experience; powerful grid sorting; seamless grid scrolling; improved video upload and playback capabilities; improved private album management; network-adaptive photo quality; helpful UI animations; dramatically increased limits on the number guys in Pro members' grids; and an in-app support system.

Echo: Similarly, I read that SCRUFF is the first app with a transgender community. How would you describe that space to our interested readers?

Skandros: I’m very proud to tell you that we were the first app to add a transgender community option and search feature. This mostly includes people who identify as trans, trans man, questioning and gender nonconforming. As I mentioned, all are welcome on SCRUFF. Several members of the trans community have messaged me personally, thanking our team for adding a trans community option and search filter allowed them to feel connected globally more than ever before.

Echo: SCRUFF has a reputation of being a friendlier app, congrats on that! I know that you don't tolerate harassment or bullying, but how do you achieve and maintain this level of etiquette or manners in this space?

Skandros: We’ve worked very hard to foster a friendly and inclusive community on SCRUFF. We take the safety of our members very seriously as well as their experience both on and off the app. If any form of harassment or bullying is reported, it will be investigated by a SCRUFF support staff member within 48 hours, which I am proud to say has never been missed in the almost seven years we have been available. Frankly, you can not find the level and promptness of support that we offer on SCRUFF in any other social network! Also, we have strict profile guidelines that our members must follow (scruff.com/guidelines).

EchoWith all the digital innovations we've seen just in the time since SCRUFF was founded, what is your prediction for the future of digital spaces/communities?

Skandros: I think the future of gay dating and networking will continue to be mobile. I don’t think gay bars will be going away because gay men are social creatures at heart. Check out our in-app event listings, and you’ll see that hundreds of people RSVP to events. We offer our event section to business owners and event producers to use for absolutely free! Also, our beer busts usually attract record breaking crowds, so this tells me that people still want to go out and have a great time.

EchoWhat is one thing you would say to someone who is still resistant to the downloading a hookup/dating app?

Skandros: I’d probably pull up the “most woof’d” grid and get them all excited! Honestly, I think that SCRUFF has so many features that can be useful for anyone whether they are in a relationship, single, event hunting or looking for travel advice. Usually when someone tells me that they don’t need to use a dating app because they are married or in a relationship, I show them SCRUFF Venture and they are sold.

SCRUFF Venture is one of our biggest social features. We've known for some time that our members use SCRUFF to get advice on where to go and what to do while traveling. SCRUFF Venture reinvents gay travel by making it easier than ever to connect with locals and fellow travelers in destinations around the world. In addition to viewing who is local to and who is (or will be) visiting a given city, you are able to see what events are happening (and who'll be there), as well as Airbnb, Misterbnb, and VRBO room listings by other SCRUFF members. Currently, we’ve expanded to over 500 cities.

Further, if you love offering advice to guys visiting your city, you can volunteer to become a SCRUFF Ambassador, which will put you in a special grid that makes it easy for travelers to find you and strike up a conversation and seek out a more personally guided city experience. So, these are all ways which have made it easier to connect gay guys to one another and to the global LGBTQ community, which is our mission at SCRUFF.

EchoWhat would you say to someone who has had a negative experience on a dating/hookup app?

Skandros: I would tell them to not let a single incident ruin their experience on the app. There are plenty of good people out there who are kind, respectful and are on the app to make a connection, [be it] dating, hooking up or event travel recommendations. With any site, people need to be safe and vigilant when meeting people.

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