Ma Baoli once thought that being gay meant he was mentally ill, and he remembers experiencing intense depression as a young, married police officer in the closet.
It was the late 1990s, and the internet was a new phenomenon. Ma entered a gay chat room to find only one other user present, who immediately logged off and did not return.
The loneliness he felt following this encounter led Ma to found the gay dating app Blued in Beijing in 2012, South China Morning Post reported. The app now has 25 million monthly users.
Although Ma has been financially successful through the venture, he maintains that his primary goal was to provide a forum for social interaction, which he said was lacking in the gay community.
The 41-year-old entrepreneur told South China Morning Post that without his app, "it would be difficult for gays to find friends, let alone be able to feel close to being part of the mainstream of society."
Ma started out running an underground forum called Danlan.com under the pen name Geng Le, which he still uses in business interactions. He was outed in 2012, leading to his wife filing for divorce, the end to his career in the police force, and his parents deeply upset. He moved to Beijing and began a new life.
While Blued began as a dating site, it has since expanded to include health related content and advice on surrogacy for gay parents-to-be. The company is looking to establish itself throughout Southeast Asia in coming years.