Some people believe lightning doesn’t strike twice in business. I’d tell them Whitney Wolfe Herd’s story to prove them wrong.
She not only co-founded America’s most popular dating app (Tinder) but several years later she founded the second most downloaded (Bumble) too. It’s difficult to argue any one person has had a greater influence on modern millennial dating than she has.
Whitney is about to go one step further by becoming the youngest woman to take a company to the Nasdaq. While many men may look in envy at Bumble’s $8 billion valuations, there is a lot of work to be done for gender parity. Out of 442 companies that went public in 2020, only 4 had female founders or CEOs. Her success is another strike against outdated attitudes but more needs to be done.
It hasn’t been an easy ride for Whitney and she continued after many people might have given up and faded from the public eye. Her career before Bumble is dramatic enough to be the subject of a Hollywood movie one day:
- 22 and unemployed believing her parents weren’t proud of her
- Cofounding Tinder and becoming the Vice President of Marketing
- Using her genius to establish Tinder as the #1 dating app in the USA
- Filing a sexual harassment lawsuit and leaving Tinder
- Being flooded with online abuse based on lies and misogyny
- 25 and wanting to die
The story doesn’t end there though. At 31, what she’s accomplished over the last six years since hitting rock bottom is remarkable. Investors are buzzing to get a piece of the empire she has built.
I’m not going to dive into the abuse Whitney faced as it’s despicable. She was simply a highly competent businesswoman, she never wanted to be famous or in the tabloids. We all have a part to play in stopping this, if we don’t click then those articles don’t get written.
Understandably, this took a huge effect on her mental health. She was a millionaire but it wasn’t enough for her. The terror she had experienced inspired her to want to do something about it for other people more vulnerable than her.
She never wanted to go into the dating app market ever again yet Tinder did not include a non-compete clause in their settlement. Her initial idea was a social network where only positive comments were allowed. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’ve experienced my own share of online abuse at a much smaller level but the idea feels difficult to scale.
Andrey Andreesen, the founder of Badoo, approached Whitney at this time as he wanted her as his Chief Marketing Officer. His dating app was massive outside of America and thought she could help it grow further. Whitney was adamant she would never work in dating again but they got along and he listened to her ideas over several days.
Then he gave her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Why not apply her passion for a fairer online environment to create a better dating app? He correctly predicted her battle-tested marketing genius from Tinder and his resources could get the company to take off.
The basic premise was an app where women had to initiate the conversation. This flipped the toxic norms of many other apps and women were empowered whilst men had the opportunity to be flattered.
Create mini CEOs
In her new company, Whitney wanted to create the culture right from the start. In her eyes, the first 10 employees are the most important as they are the ones who guide the next 100 to the shared values.
Early on this manifested in trying to ensure they had topics other than work to bond over. The employees would come to her house on a Saturday and chill out. It’s in these chats where they came to really understand Whitney as a person and became united under a common cause.
Whitney credits one of these employees with coming up with the name “Bumble”. She mentioned this in at least 3 different podcasts I listened to and her drive to praise others tells you a lot about her personality. It takes a great leader to have the confidence to consistently shine a light on others.
“I want them to feel like mini CEOs in their own way”
Her strategy was successful and she considers others within Bumble as leaders in their own right. Whitney is never worried about being out of the office because she trusts her staff. This is something many entrepreneurs could learn from and makes her company far more robust than relying on individual brilliance.
To call Bumble merely a dating app would be an understatement today. Whitney was one of the first in the industry to realize some people weren’t using the app for dating at all. Often it was people new to a city who didn’t know anyone and who were looking for new friends.
While they would use dating apps to try to find friends, it wasn’t the best experience as the people they matched with had different intentions. This led to the creation of Bumble BFFs and opened up a whole new segment of the market. I know friends who’ve used this and they’ve made close connections.
Yet again people started using Bumble BFFs in a way the company hadn’t anticipated. They were using it to find people to collaborate with or hire instead. Again Bumble reacted and created Bumble Bizz. It sounds so obvious but other platforms weren’t paying attention to their users.
In 2019, Blackstone bought out Andrey’s share of Bumble, and not long after they reorganized to give Whitney control of Badoo too. While Bumble had done well, Badoo had almost 5 times the user base in a far more international audience. She was the natural choice to take Andrey’s position but meant she was further from the trenches on growing Bumble’s mission.
Blackstone valued Bumble’s parent company at $3bn when they bought it and at IPO the value has almost doubled. Many financial commentators are advising investors to buy the stock in 2021. I’m sure Blackstone wish they could find more CEOs like Whitney.
“The most expensive currency in the world is experience”
Whitney has read books by all the big names in entrepreneurship. Yet the quote above is from her husband’s grandfather and is her favorite piece of advice.
Despite most people envisioning startup founders as kids, most successful startup founders are actually over 40 years old. Logically it makes sense because otherwise, the young billionaires wouldn’t be so newsworthy. Despite all her success with Tinder, Whitney maintained a beginner’s mind and aims to always listen to the opinions of others with experience.
This comes from a bizarre trait where she says she doesn’t “feel impressive ever”. Even though she is hugely successful, she has somehow kept her sense of awe at other people’s achievements. It’s a great reminder to people, including myself, to never let arrogance take over. You don’t have to become a monster to be a unicorn founder.
Surely now I hope she realizes she is impressive and an inspiration to many.