Bumble Founder: World’s Youngest Female Self-Made Billionaire: Whitney Wolfe Herd | E195 | Transcription
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I'm legally really not meant to comment on the Tinder times. I don't even know if I've told this story. But... Whitney Wolf heard the CEO and founder of Bumble. Whitney became one of the few women who can add "billionaire" to her title. The dating app that puts women in charge of making the first move. Making the first move can change your life. But you have to do it. No one can do it for you. Which would then become Bumble's entire mantra. I've seen all the things that Bumble have done over the years and it always seems to be original in its nature. There's a lot of these tiny hacking concepts that made no sense. No one had ever done these things before. But if you understand what moves and motivates people then you have this opportunity to connect with them. And so that's been the superpower of ours over the years. At 31 years old, you're the youngest woman to take a company public. What's the personal toll on you in those moments? It's been pretty dark. It's been pretty heavy. Your departure from Tinder read to me like it was horrific and sexist. It was soul crushing. I was being described in all sorts of ways. I had reporters trying to go through my window and it was really violating. There's a whole persona that's been created about me out there in the world. How am I ever going to escape this? I was 24 years old. If I asked your teams, "What's Whitney like as a leader?" What would they say to me? I don't know. We did ask them. Oh. So... Whitney, what is the early context that I would have to understand about you and your life to understand you? I think probably broken gender dynamics. Growing up... I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. I don't know if you know much about Salt Lake City, Utah. I know from Mormonism. Yep. So it's a very... LDS is kind of the formal religious term or better known as Mormon place. And my dad is Jewish and my mother is Catholic. So I'm already a total anomaly in this place.
Early Life And Career Development
Early context (02:20)
And it's a very tough community to fit into when you don't look, act, behave like everybody else or have the exact same belief systems. And the Mormon faith and the LDS faith, not to generalize, but it's very much a community, or at least it was. I was born in 1989. So growing up back in the '90s, it was very much a man's world where the man is the breadwinner, the man is out, mom is at home in an apron, and everyone follows rules, lots of rules, very strict rules, in fact. And I think I always grew up with a conflicting set of values to my community, to this ecosystem I was placed in, or was raised in, rather. And then that started to come out in relationships. So my first real boyfriend that I ever had, it was quite toxic. And these were kind of these undertones of my entire life that would then set the stage for my entire career. Using that first relationship, that first sort of toxic relationship, as an example of how your belief system at that point was causing problems, could you give me some color to what you mean there? Yeah, it was a new experience for me. I was a young girl at the time, and I think there was this set of behaviors I was expected to adhere to, to be on his rules, what he believed was right, and it was quite demoralizing, frankly. And I don't think at the time I fully recognized what was taking place until later in life, but it set the stage for me about unhealthy relationships, and I recognized just how unequal women were when it came to their romantic relationships. So if you were to fast-forward, here I am running this business where women make the first move, which when I put that into the product in 2014 was squawked at, and eyes were rolled, and people couldn't understand why we would do such a thing because women aren't supposed to talk first. So if you look at that moment of a business being born, there's so much more than just a eureka thought. It's really pent up years and years of confusion, passion, purpose, brewing, to essentially be born into this moment of humble. Were you rebelling at all against that environment or that belief system? I think there was two sides of that coin. There was the side that wanted to fit in, desperate to be a part of my community, desperate to be a part of what was around me and to fit in and to fit the mold, because that's humans. Humans want to fit into their environments. They want to be accepted. No one wants to be the child sitting alone at the lunch table. This is what devastates humans to be left out, right? So there was a part of me that so desperately wanted validation and to fit, and then there was a part of me that said, "This is wrong. This doesn't feel right. This feels against my soul. This doesn't feel like how things should be." And I feel like that's been a theme of my life. There's been duality on this topic in every situation I've been in, and that's part of navigating it. How do we navigate that duality? Because we all experience those conflicting needs at the same time. Often one of them is like an external one colliding with an internal need that's going unmet, and it feels sometimes like we have to choose, as you said, the external comfort of fitting in or validation versus like, "This doesn't feel good to me inside." I think, for me at least, I have to live in a place of authenticity, and I've lived in chapters of my life that were not authentic, that I knew what I was participating in or what I was doing didn't feel authentic to what I really believed in or what I knew to be right. And genuinely authenticity wins.
How do we follow what we really want? (07:07)
That's my fundamental belief, and I think that when you follow and chase that authentic space, the world opens up for you. The world unlocks. Sometimes in the short term, especially if we've had a prolonged period of being inauthentic, what we've done accidentally and inadvertently is created an environment and a community and a job and an environment where that's built on that inauthenticity. So to make the change to one day be like, "Do you know what? Today I'm going to be authentic," requires it seems like quite a lot of short-term loss, disapproval, people going, "Stay. Stay in line. Stay who we thought you were. Be the person that we resonated with, even if that was your inauthentic self." So I see so many people kind of contend with that. They kind of might know who they are, that voice inside, but the apparent cost of pursuing it seems certain because mom and dad and my boyfriend and I have to leave the city and my job and my friendship. Of course. You have to leave the tribe. Yeah. That's terrifying. Terrifying. It's almost unimaginable for people, and I've been there. I felt that feeling before, and I think this is why so many people stay in whatever situation they're in. Stay in a marriage. Stay in a business. Stay in a church. Stay in a team. Stay in a you name it. This is what perpetuates the cycle of the quest to fit in versus just truly being who you really are. And so that age-old saying, "Be yourself," it's harder than it looks. It's really hard, and it comes with a lot of risk, and it's scary, and it's dangerous, and what if I fail, and what if no one likes me, and what if everyone judges me? These are real things. But at the end of the day, nothing can be worse than having a broken relationship with yourself, right? I personally think a broken relationship with yourself is more toxic than a pseudo phony good relationship with 100 other people. But it's hard to give ourselves that love and compassion. We're hard on ourselves. The things we say to ourselves is something we would never say to another, ever. I mean, think about that rhetoric, the internal self-talk. We would never say those things to other people, right? And the compliments we pay others, it's very hard to pay ourselves. So when you think about that narrative, how can we expect people to have the confidence and courage to be authentic to themselves if they're not even willing to accept themselves? So I think that's a big piece of it, right? And I've watched over the years women I grew up with in Salt Lake City just now in their 30s, they're coming out of their cage. They're quite literally coming alive, and they're taking to TikTok and to social media, and they're taking to all these platforms like a roaring lion saying, "I'm alive, and I've been hiding, and I've been living by standards, and I've been living by rules, and I've been living by X, Y, and Z, and it's not authentic." So at some point, it will burst open. You know, the truth is the truth does prevail. When you were 18, what was acceptance or success to you? If I asked you at 18 years old what you want to be post-uni when you grow up, what would the answer have been at that point? Well, the answer of what I really wanted to be was not what I would have said because I would have said something to fit in, right? That's standard. So I think the young women when I was in college all wanted to go work for a fashion brand or get a job at a bank or be successful, and they wanted to get married, and they wanted to find someone that they could marry, settle down with, have kids with eventually, maybe not next year, but that was part of the program, right? This dating game exists as college students, and this is where the undertones of Bumble started to really form because I remember being in college and being completely judged and made fun of by girlfriends of mine if I texted a guy first.
What did you want to be when you grew up? (11:28)
I remember I went on a date, which was so out of my character. I really, believe it or not, being so ingrained in the dating world. I think I've been on maybe three dates in my life, and that sounds weird, but I went on a date, and then I texted the guy afterwards, and they were like, "Oh, no, you have committed a sin, a sin. Like, you should be ashamed of yourself." It made me cry. I felt so embarrassed. I felt so ashamed, and I remember thinking, "This is wrong. What is wrong with you? Why can we not text? Who wrote these rules? What are these rules? These rules are ridiculous." So this desire to break the rules, change the rules, rewrite the rules was something I inherently felt deep down, but everybody's felt that. You've felt that. Everybody has felt that. It's just who chooses to go and actually act on it is the difference. I was thinking then when you talked about being 18 and having this sort of social expectation of what success would look like, and then having a family was the orientation of a lot of young women at that point, do you think there are any gender differences that are innate to us that have a bearing on the path or the way that we show up that are innate? I.e. not social constructs, but do you think there's anything in us as men and women that makes us want different things from birth innately? You know, it's a good question, and I have two little boys right now. And I think a lot of this is imposed on us as a society. I really do. I think the toys we buy our children and the clothes we put on our children and the shows we show our children, you have to really ask yourself, "Is this not truly forming what they're interested in and what they care about and what their ambitions are?" I do believe that there may be something, and I see this in men too, to folks that genuinely want to have a family and have children and be part of that type of a life and then folks that just genuinely don't. But I don't really see it with – I don't think it's a gender thing. I really think that these are just a personal soul level thing, but I think society comes in and puts bows on it or puts trucks on it and says, "Here's your path." So it's interesting now raising kids, seeing if I really believe this nature versus nurture thing. And I think there's components to it, but I think it's definitely more imposed upon us by others around. This morning, I was watching my son read a book at breakfast. I don't know where he found the book. I think it was something he found at the restaurant, but I opened it, and it was a picture of a pig family in a little house, and you could see everything in all the different rooms. And Daddy was upstairs in the bathroom combing his hair in a suit, and the pig mom was in the – it's like the pig family. The piggy mom was in the kitchen in a pink dress with an apron cooking eggs. And I was just thinking to myself, "Here is an almost three-year-old, and these are the books they're reading, and it says, 'Where's Daddy?' and 'Where's Mommy?'" So we have to imagine that we do some of this to the kids around us. Did you burn the book? I took a picture of it and raged about it at work for about three hours. We will not be reading the book again. What was your formal education, per se? What was your – in terms of university or anything like that, what did you study? Yeah, so I went to a college in Texas, and I really wanted to go into marketing, and I wanted to go into advertising and marketing, which is funny because now somehow I have ended up there a little bit. And I sat down for the test and completely failed it. I could not answer any of the questions. It was so confusing to me. It was all about, you know, return on investment and television views. And it was super – not to be disrespectful, but super boring. I was like, "Mm, this is probably not for me." But anyway, I did not get accepted. So I studied international studies, and that was just this huge mix of big people problems, you know, globalization, anthropology, women's studies, gender studies, international relations.
Your background education (15:58)
I mean, it was really fascinating, and that was the best marketing degree I could have ever gotten because it's the study of people. Why do people do what they do? And if you look at the business I'm in, I'm quite literally immersed all day long into why do people date who they date? Why do they want what they want? How do they behave? Why do they get aggressive? What causes aggression? What causes online abuse? Where is this stemming from? And this stuff is really interesting. So I'd say my education really did help me connect those dots. And as you leave that degree, that gap between the working world and leaving university, college, what was that gap? And what were you thinking in that moment? Where were you heading? What were you applying for? Where were you seeking the next chapter of your life? So I really wanted to be a travel photographer, like a photojournalist, and I had no training in that, obviously, but I was just obsessed with the idea. And it's actually funny, at the Bumble office right now, we have this photo of this incredible woman that I met in Burma, and she is holding a Bumble lighter. And it's my never made it to Nat Geo moment. But that was my dream. I wanted to be a Nat Geo photographer. And so I went traveling through Southeast Asia and took a lot of photos.
After university (17:30)
And I remember on my travels thinking, gosh, there's such a disconnect for someone trying to explore a new country place. It's only TripAdvisor. And if you follow TripAdvisor, you end up eating a hamburger in Laos at some version of a hard rock. Right. And this is not really the experience. I thought, why can't I get to know a local? I want to ride around on the back of a moped in Laos and I want to go understand what do they do here? Like, where do the 18 year olds go? What is their life like? What does their day look like? And I thought, why is there not an app that does this? Why is there not something on my phone that can put me in touch with these people? But then, of course, that idea fell by the wayside, went into the back of my brain somewhere. And by chance, one day would end up in this wild world of connecting people on the Internet. So some of these things were already brewing and already starting to bubble up in ways that wouldn't totally expose themselves yet. By chance, you ended up in this weird world of connecting people. What was that chance? So the chance was that I went to a dinner in Los Angeles one night with one of my very dear friends. And she had been friendly with a couple of these guys in LA and we all ended up at dinner because I didn't end up driving back to my mom's house that night. It got too dark and it was quite a long drive. So we all had dinner and I was staying at her house. And one of the guys at dinner was the general manager of this incubator and was telling me all about this incubator. And here I was, a 22-year-old, just barely 22, if that even, two-year-old woman that needed a job.
Moving into the working world (19:24)
I needed to make money. I needed to find my way in the world. And I had just been kind of adventuring and seeing the world and exploring and taking this very risky path of not going straight into a career and going to travel and going to see the world and find my passion. And he said, "Well, maybe you could take a marketing job." And I said, "Okay, I'll try. I mean, I'll call you tomorrow." And he's like, "Okay." Probably thought I'd never call and I did. Long story short, that incubator would be the incubator where we ended up launching Tinder. So it was by happenstance that that connection happened. But I think it was about taking advantage of an opportunity, right? Seeing an opportunity and it didn't feel perfect. And I think this is a good lesson for people is the way it was described to me at that dinner, people think, "Oh, well, she got so lucky. She met the so-and-so of so-and-so." That's not what it was like. That concept of Tinder was never mentioned. It was never called Tinder at the time. And it was a totally different opportunity. But it was putting my foot in the door of something that would then turn into something else and something else. And I think so many people wait around for the most perfect headline when it comes to an opportunity that they can't really see or read between the lines. And everybody has that potential. Everybody can do that. They just have to be willing to say, "Well, this is a stepping stone or this is a door that I could bust open." Right? And I think that's kind of how I've tried to approach most things in my career. It's so true. That moment there, there's so many other outcomes that could have happened from a dinner. Namely, one of them is you just don't call the person back. I mean, the amount of times in my life someone's given me their number and said, "Call me," and I just haven't called back most of the time. 99 percent. It's like all of us do that. Yeah. But there's a philosophy of leaning into stuff, especially when you're young, just leaning in regardless of certainties you've described. Take a chance. Yeah. And people have a—I see this in people. I'm sure you have as well, where people have a tendency to be like, "Lean in people," or kind of just, "Meh, lean out people." Even when the world is changing—crypto, Bitcoin, blockchain, all these things matter. Typically, people lean in or lean out. And I think people that lean in are the ones that end up creating opportunity which looks like luck in hindsight. Yeah. I agree with you. And being brave enough to just say, "Even if it doesn't work out, at least I explored it." Right?
The importance of leaning in (21:49)
I think people—what I've seen, and it's something that I'm guilty of as well in my life, is it's a risk. And we have to be willing to get excited about risk instead of being afraid of it. It's the uncertainty, though, isn't it? How good are you at dealing with uncertainty? How guaranteed do you need the outcome to be before you take a step? Right. And for me, not very guaranteed, personally, because it's like, what do you have to lose? Right? Are you creating risk for yourself? Not really. But I do think that it's scary to pick up the phone and make that first move, right, which would then become Bumble's entire mantra and tagline and product and everything. But making the first move and taking that first step can change your life. But you have to do it. No one can do it for you. And I learned that the hard way. I had very little support along the way in terms of advocates or community. I had a handful of people I could call upon, but candidly, even when I was starting Bumble, all of my confidants, with the exception of a couple, were like, "No, don't do this. Why? Why would you expose yourself to this? What's the point? That won't work. there's already dating apps. They're gonna eat you alive. And you can get bogged down in that, you know, it's really easy to drown in that noise. - In those early years of Tinder, I remember being told this story maybe ten years ago in San Francisco when I was working with a guy called Michael Birch, who was the old Bebo founder. You'll know Bebo. Bebo? The old social network? It didn't go to the US, it was just... - Not sure I remember that. - It was like Facebook here before Facebook. - Okay, cool. - And he, in his little sort of incubator that I was in when I was 20, they were telling me the Tinder story of how you went to a fraternity. For people that don't know what a fraternity is, what's a fraternity? - So I guess in the UK it would be like college clubs maybe? Do they have like members clubs or something like that? So basically, sororities and fraternities, and sororities are a house of women, and fraternities are a house of men, and there's different names. So they all have these Greek names, right? So for example, the one I joined was Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Early marketing tactics for tinder (24:08)
You could have Tri Delta. There's all sorts of them. And essentially, a lot of college students, they do something called rush, where they rush and they go house to house and they meet all the women or all the men, and then they basically pref. They put in the name of the one they would really love to be a part of, and then they see who accepted them back. It's been criticized up and down, and there's a lot of things that are not spectacular about it, but this is a way a lot of people find friendship and community. It's a community gathering for their college campus. So with Tinder, I essentially went back to my alma mater at SMU. I'd just graduated, so a lot of my best friends were still in school. So I got access to the campus, and I would start at the sororities and then go to the fraternity. So I'd essentially have all the young women download it and then run to the fraternity, and then they would download it and then everyone would start connecting. So, you know, is that good? Is that bad? How do you want to chop that up 10 years later? Who knows? But that's the reality and you know, can't escape the truth. But so you heard about this way back when. I heard about this 10 years ago, because we were building community centric apps, we were building something called Blab, which resembles what Clubhouse is now. And when we were talking about the marketing strategy, Tinder kept coming up and Sean Puri, who's now, the company got acquired by Amazon in the end, Twitch, who owned Amazon. Other way around, Amazon owned Twitch. But yeah, that was the thesis. It was like, should we go to fraternities and go get, you know, to try and build that sort of isolated tight community to try and get product market fit? Because network affects really, really, especially in the dating game. The most important. That's why there's only a handful of dating apps that have ever survived. I mean, at least during my time doing this, which is almost a decade now. But what's interesting is there's such a, not to say only I could do this or only somebody else could do this, but there was a superpower in the timing of it all because I had just graduated and I knew all of these people. So if some random startup founder knocks on a sorority door, the police are coming, you know, like you can't do that. So I felt like I had this insider hook, right? Because I was technically an extension of that by proxy because I had just been on the college campus and all my girlfriends were still there. So they were part of these sororities and all my guy friends were there. They were part of these fraternities. So I'll never forget. I took the photo of one of my guy friends back then who was, you know, all the young women had mega crush on him. And then I took the photo of my best friend, Danielle, who was very well liked on campus. And I went into Danny's journalism class because she was still a student and I basically snuck into her journalism class and used Photoshop. And I took the Tinder screens and I put the guy's face on one and her face on the other and I said, "Find out who likes you on campus." And then I saved it to a file because this is the olden days at this point. And I went to FedEx, which is like the office supply store across the street and I printed a thousand copies. And I quite literally handed different students on campus $20 to go distribute them under dorm doors and to put them on windshields and to put them, you know, in their different social clubs and to essentially distribute these flyers everywhere. So this entire campus, and now in hindsight, it's probably not great. It's littering. There's all sorts of bad things involved with it, but like I'm just telling you a story. So yeah, basically that was just one of the tactics I used to go and put it all over campus. And then I had a few t-shirts printed up that said, "Don't ask for my number. Find me on Tinder." And I had my girlfriends wear the t-shirts and we went to the bar. And so I gave them, you know, a couple hundred bucks and they would go around and buy drinks. And then when people would ask for their number, they'd essentially say, "You have to download Tinder." So it was a lot of these tiny hacking concepts that made no sense. No one had ever done these things before. I had no playbook. It wasn't like, you know, I was reading some manual to marketing. It was just what felt around me. It was just bringing the real life dating experience to life through an app, marketing. There's like so many important messages of marketing there. I mean, the first one that you said was that you were the customer. You were so close to the customer that you understood them. I mean, even you said about how if another startup had come and knocked on the sorority, well, they wouldn't have even known which door to knock on for a start. They would have knocked on the wrong door, got the wrong people. And they wouldn't have understood those people, their motivation. So like really you being the customer, I think is such a key thing. And then the second thing you said about like, if I'd read a marketing book and you were kind of just doing it based on intuition, I've seen over and over again from speaking to really successful CEOs and founders how important naivety was. Like not knowing the rules. Yeah. Because it's following your gut. Yeah. Because that's like first print, that's creating something from first principles as opposed to convention. That's real innovation. Right. Like, and it creates solutions that are more suited for today and for the challenge that you're solving, which no one has ever had the challenge of solving on that date. Right. Right. But naivety, you know, this is, this is sometimes where I think some of the best founders don't come from like business school or from marketing school. The best marketeers aren't marketing graduates because naivety is such a superpower. It's a superpower and following your instinct. And if you understand what moves people and what motivates people, then you have this opportunity to connect with them on a real level. I mean, we've done things that are ridiculous. So I remember we would make these signs that said they had the big X's like, no, you know, like you're not allowed to.
And they said, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Snapchat, no Bumble. This was like week three of Bumble or something, some ridiculous early, maybe first year. I can't remember at this point. And we would post those all over the universities. So there was this association where it was like, wait, I can't do the things I really want to do. I want to sit in class and Snapchat. I want to sit in class and Instagram. That was Bumble. And so we were essentially seeding this psychological curiosity. And then we were actually sending young women wearing Bumble shirts into classes 10 or 15 minutes late, interrupting a class of 300 people and saying, oh, sorry, wrong room. But everyone's looking at this young woman and or young man, whoever it was wearing a Bumble t-shirt. So we were seeding curiosity and this like, why is Bumble everywhere type of thing. And so, you know, a lot of people think, oh, well, I can just go start an app and I'll just buy some, you know, Instagram ads and I'll just be successful. But if people only knew the fraction of the insane everyday little hacks that, you know, I did and our team did to bring this to life, we were the first people, certainly the first tech brand to do humor accounts, to pay for the humor memes. Do you remember the humor memes? Well, we ran out of 100 million followers on meme accounts. Yeah. So you know all about this, but like we were way back years and years ago, I remember reaching out to, I can't remember what it was, one of these meme accounts and they're like, wait, you want to pay us to, I'm confused. How does that work? And we're like, okay, here's the deal, we'll give you a hundred bucks or whatever it was. We turn around a year later, that same account is charging a hundred thousand dollars a post. So there's also something about luck and timing being just right before something, you know? And if you look at Bumble, we were also beating the woman drum, this drum of we need to advocate for women, beating this drum of let's put women first, let's elevate women, women are not equal in their relationships, women are not being treated respectfully, women are being abused on the internet, women are not being treated right. We were saying this in 2014 and then Me Too would come a couple of years later. So I think we've been lucky as a business to basically be right before the wave and then we've been able to be a part of that wave versus chasing a wave. And so many people chase a wave, so many people chase a wave. They look around them like, well, what's cool? How do I chase that? And I feel like we've always had the good fortune or whatever you want to call it. Conviction. Sure. Inspiration. And so that's been maybe a superpower of ours over the years. Because you're making those decisions, it's so clear to me, you're making those decisions from original thought and from like what I think Elon calls like first principles as in what do we know is true and create a solution from that versus how has it done? How has it been done before? And that like, and even you being early to the meme account things, just for context, we were probably like probably, probably maybe one of the first companies in the world, I'd say to do the meme thing. That's really like how my business began. We had like 100 million followers on these meme accounts that became this big social media business, this big media company and it comes to e-comm and then it went public. But it started with meme accounts. It's amazing. And this is how I met, I think your original investors, how I met Badou. I remember speaking to having these long conversations with them in London about we'll make you trend number one on Twitter, we'll do a thunderclap, all the accounts say the same. But for you to have been one of the brands that was leaning into that. You know what their brands had? No, and to your point, yes, the meme accounts were there. You were pioneering all of that. But I don't know if you experienced this, brands did not see their place there. And the brands that did that I had seen had been like by my bracelet or by my fashion company. It was something very consumer centric, which made sense. But it wasn't the download my app. And that was such a different way of promoting something. Even for the app world, it was so out of bounds for the app space because the app space used traditional app space acquisition strategies. You're right. And the reason why we managed to get so many followers is because people didn't value those accounts. So I remember buying Befit Motivation, which had about 10 million, I'll say followers. Love Food, which had about 7 million followers. And Befit Motivation on Twitter, which had 2 million followers on Twitter. Just that 20 million followers cost me about 10 grand. Oh, God. Can you imagine? It's like really good real estate. It's like buying a house in some crazy part of London a thousand years ago. And then all the other accounts were free. Because I offered the people jobs that ran them. It said, you have a proper job, you get paid loads. I know your mom doesn't think it's a job. I think it's a job. I see you. I validate you. People are like, oh, you're exploiting. Well, nobody valued it back then. And then they eventually did value those social media accounts. And what you're talking about, the whole, you know, it was attention. It was attention. It was eyeballs. And from a first principles perspective, you go, well, we want attention and eyeballs. They are here. I don't care if it's safe, cool or the done thing. That's where we're going to go. I saw Bumble doing that. And I've seen all the things that Bumble have done over the years. And it's always seems to be original in its nature. It feels that way. It feels like someone has had an original thought today about how to solve a problem and not just, they're not just focused on showing what Bumble is. They're communicating how you should feel about Bumble. That was always the goal. And I think there was a lot of people that thought it was ridiculous early on. They're like, why are you doing a campaign that has nothing to do with dating? You know, we did this huge campaign where our team put together this, you know, huge push on be the CEO your parents always wanted you to marry. And then in parentheses, it said, and then find someone you actually like or want to date. And I remember a lot of people being like, we're not going to do this. There's no ROI here. What's the ROI? There's no call to action. There's no download in the app store. And what was fascinating was it built this wild following of our brand. So people that would never have downloaded a dating app are now wearing our hat. Now, their mother is carrying around a Bumble tote because they're proud of the brand. And they are, you know, it created this untangible feeling, right, this magic. And there was a sentiment that was more powerful than any, you know, ROI thing you could do on any other channel. And so I feel like, for me, I always wanted Bumble to be more than just an app in your pocket. I wanted it to be something that gave you a feeling and a good feeling, not a bad one. Because so many of these products give us bad feelings. And they make us feel uninspired. And they make us feel lonely. They make us feel broken. They make us feel exhausted. And I wanted us to do something different. And our team wanted us to do something different. We had such a passionate team. We still have an incredibly passionate team. But that early community of our team is really what made this company so magical, right? It was that genuine purpose and buy-in and, candidly, naivete. Our team was young. Our team was separated from a lot of our infrastructure, meaning like a lot of the more technical stuff was isolated from the marketing stuff. And I've been criticized over the years by the, you know, the tech publications and the tech this and the tech that and whatever. I don't really care. The point is, it's been like, "Well, this isn't how Silicon Valley does it. Where are the engineers? And why are this? And why aren't you sitting with the engineers? And why are you da da da da da da?" And there was a method to the madness. It was, "Let's let this team go out and paint the town yellow and do it with no interruption, no distraction. And then let's let our fantastic infrastructure team really solve big problems through tech while these two heart and brain can operate together." Right? And it had never really been done before in this like traditional Silicon Valley world. My first startup experience is not like my second startup experience. You learn all the lessons you learn. Well, hopefully you learn the lessons. I think I've learned, hopefully learned some of them. But your first startup experience at Tinder, this is when, you know, because especially when it's moving at the speed of light. Light. You know, I mean, my startup didn't move at the speed of light quite like Tinder did, but still absolutely the speed of light Tinder moved at. And there's that culture out in San Francisco about, you know, move fast and break things, which is I think Facebook popularized. I think that was their slogan, but everyone kind of has adopted that mindset of just go fucking lightning fast and figure it out later. Fix it while it's fix it while we're falling kind of thing. Talk to me about that. Talk to me about the cost of that, what it taught you and really give me a picture of what it was like in those early rocket ship days. Well, you know, I think it was so new to everyone involved. No one, no one really understood what the next day held.
What was Tinder like in the early days? (39:56)
This was such a different time also, you know, Instagram had just had its big sale now in retrospect, not such a big sale, but at the time, remarkable, right? Still remarkable regardless. And it was just such a new environment. Tech was still relatively niche. Mobile was very niche, right? It was not super mainstream apps were kind of hitting the scene, but not like where we are today. There's an app for this or that. And we were this tight tribe of people that really probably had not much to do with each other outside of this, but it became this 24/7 unit and we were just fighting every day to keep it going. I mean, our blood, sweat and tears went into this business, right? So when I left, it was completely devastating because I wasn't just leaving this rocket ship of a business. That's one thing, but I've just been essentially, you know, one day in a 24/7 environment with the same people for more than two years to the next day, never seeing any of them ever again. And in the middle of that, ending up on the front page of all sorts of magazines and newspapers because of the narrative of the ending, right? And it was extremely traumatic, extremely. I think I was stuck in fight or flight mode for years because that was all I knew for years and it had been such a zero to a hundred experience, as you know, when you're in these startups, they're almost their own. I'm definitely not accusing the company of being this, but they become their own little cults. And it's really hard to go from that one day to not that the next day, and then to go end up launching a woman version to some degree within six months of leaving. So if you can just try to imagine what every day looked like to both mourn and grieve my exit from Tinder and deal with all the logistical pieces of it and the media pieces of it, which were coming at me. I had reporters trying to go through my window at my little apartment in Beverly Hills from some rag magazine. I mean, this is just crazy for me. I was a nobody. I mean, I'm still technically a nobody, but it's not like I was on some reality show and I became popular overnight. This was traumatizing to me. And it's funny, the land of everyone trying to be famous, I was probably maybe one of the only people not at that point, right? So it was very crazy to just all of a sudden, in a very scandalous way, by the way I was described in the media, I was literally painted as this like scandalous gone girl of the tech world. And it was soul crushing because it's not who I was. It's not who I am. So I was watching this narrative unfold about me and I was in these Twitter discussions with all the most important people in the tech world. And it was just crazy. I was just watching this narrative unfold about this person that wasn't me. And then I'm turning around in the same breath, meeting up with Andre. And then I'm, even before that, trying to start Merci, this compliments oriented kinder social network, which then I meet up with Andre and one thing leads to another and now Bumble is my new path. And now we're starting Bumble and this is all going on. It was a whirlwind. A whirlwind. What is the context you're able to share about why they were writing those headlines about you and why you are ostracized from your, as you've described it, something that felt a little bit like a cult, which is actually a good description of how all my companies have pretty much started. It feels like a 24/7 indoctrinated. Doesn't it feel that way? Come on, we're going to take over the world. It's that kind of... I mean, it's crazy. I mean, like the way people speak about what you're going to do. I mean, they're such big ideas and they're such like passionate ideas. And then you go from real world, which is so mundane, right? It's quite boring out there in the real world to this like super high energy. There's going to be a disaster if we don't do this in the next five minutes. This is crashing, that's crashing. This metrics up, this metrics off. One day you're booming, the next day you're... I mean, the adrenaline, you know what I'm talking about? The ups and the downs and the hard work that goes into it and the skipping meals and the no sleep and... Everything feels potentially fatal as well at that point, doesn't it? Fatal. And the other thing that is interesting is you can't connect with everybody else the way you used to because they're, they can't quote unquote get it. They don't get it. You know? So it's like trying to like have a Sunday afternoon meal with your family or your friends during that. You're like, I can't like we don't even speak the same language. I'll just avoid them. That's a waste of time. You have no idea what's going on. So which in hindsight, I think I lived in that mindset for years between Tinder and Bumble. I mean, kind of coming up for air now and having time to breathe and think like that's a... I'm sure a lot of people that have built companies feel this way though. I'm sure you feel this way where you're like, Whoa, I isolated myself from a lot of important relationships that there's regret to that at some point. Do you ever feel that way? 100%. I was incredibly lonely. I didn't speak to my family. Didn't really see them for many, many years. And I thought that I thought that something mattered much more. And you eventually, even if I used to think I was immune, but eventually your body will remind you that you are a human too, and you have needs and your needs are being unmet and the signal will come in many ways. I hear the signal sometimes come for people that have panic attacks, they'll feel a growing sense of loneliness. Their health will give out. I've had set examples where the body has just shut down. Yeah, I've gone through that. 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It's a subscription which provides you with access to a wide network of charging stations across the entirety of the UK. The app shows you the precise location and current availability and price at the selected charging station of your choice and this enables businesses to effectively plan their route ahead of their journey. You can search Mercedes Benz fleet today to discover how the Mercedes EQ car range can help your business get ahead and if you already drive a Mercedes EQ let me know how you find it. I read that your departure from Tinder was ominous to say the least. In fact that's actually the word that's written in my notes in 2014 and in the early days of the foundation, the founding of Tinder you'd had a relationship with somebody that relationship had ended. You were then treated in a pretty horrendous way from everything that I read online. Threatened multiple times, people saying that they would fire you for things that they didn't have a justification to fire you for. Sort of patronising condescending behaviour to the fact that you were a young female co-founder and how they would take that co-founder title from you. It's actually really hard for me to read actually just from it kind of makes me a bit feel a sense of injustice in my core. You were called annoying and dramatic at certain times when you raised certain concerns and as a result you ended up leaving the company. You were fired, I read, you were fired from the company which is even worse when you raised certain concerns.
Your departure from Tinder (49:34)
You then filed a lawsuit which went on and there were certain actions taken and there was a reported settlement reached at one point but overall your treatment while you were at Tinder, specifically from men, read to me like it was allegedly horrific and unfair and sexist. And then upon leaving Tinder there's this huge wave of press who are mischaracterising you, what happened and you fall into this situation where you've been in this cult, we'll call it a cult because that's how it often feels to both of us, for so long. You come out of that and you're greeted with this wall of like mischaracterisation, attacks from all sides and you're kind of out on your own then. That's the moment where you're ostracised from the tribe and you're dealing with this wave of negativity. Yeah, so you know I'm legally really not meant to comment on the Tinder times but what I will say is I was literally broken during that chapter where I was waking up to headlines about myself. Like you said, I was being described in all sorts of ways and people were calling my uncle and my ex-boyfriend. I mean it was this digging weird investigation into my life and all I wanted was to just do my job, right? And so it was a very dark toxic moment and I felt so alone and I felt so unsupported because this was before #MeToo, this is before #TimesUp. Any woman that said anything out of line was called names and this was still during a chapter even in modern land that was not really pro-women. And so no matter what I said or did, I wasn't going to be able to get through. There was judgment. I had friends from college didn't want to talk to me anymore. They're like, "Oh, this feels icky. I don't, this isn't that cool." You know, like all the, I was ostracised. I was just, I had a scarlet letter and that was such a devastating feeling because let's just remember, I was just a young professional. I was 24 years old and I'd been working my tail off for two plus years. I had obviously teamwork makes the dream work. I still fundamentally believe that but I had played my role and an important one, right, to get the company to where it was. So to be called all of these names and to be basically just written off by Twitter and the random media and the random everyone. And I had big respect for media and I'm not criticizing them. I'm just saying this was the narrative at the time. So it was really hard. I was super depressed. I was paranoid. I was, I actually don't think I left the house for like three weeks at one point. I'll never forget actually, I don't even know if I've told this story, maybe I have, but when I was launching Bumble again, because you have to remember Bumble launched within six months of my departure. So not the departure itself, but six months from kind of when the legal pieces were put to bed that was August. I want to say August 3rd, December 1st, Bumble is live in the app and you know how much work goes into launching something. It's a 24 hour job. I had another 24 hour job of grieving and being in fight or flight defense mode of whatever Twitter was coming after me with. And it was really hard. So I think there was a chapter where I didn't leave the house for several weeks. And when I was launching Bumble, I think it was Business Insider, I can't remember who, they were doing a piece on Bumble and they needed a picture of me. And I was like, well, I'm not taking any pictures. There's no way. I'm in sweatpants and Uggs. I'm not leaving this house. So I went outside in my front yard in sweatpants and Uggs with a sweater on and did like a half fake smile and had someone take a picture on some camera I had at home that I had used way back when I wanted to be a travel journalist and use that. And I just had to peel myself back up. I just had to peel myself off the ground. And I was lucky to have a couple really strong people in my life that had my back, like my now husband, like Andre. There were a couple people that were like, I don't care what people say about you. I don't care. We believe in you. We know that you're capable. We know you're smart. We know that you can do this again. So you need to go chase your dreams. You're not done. And very soon after leaving Tinder, in this moment of despair and drinking too much, not like socially, like at home, like very depressed, trying to numb myself in any way I could. I had this moment where I was like, I have to solve this. Part of my psyche is find a problem and solve it. It could be anything, micro, anything. It's just part of the way my brain works. And the being attacked on the internet felt like such a big problem to me. And I felt like this was something so many people were going through, so many young girls in particular were going through, being bullied. And I thought to myself, I'm an adult. Like I can get in a car and I can drive to a grocery store and I can do all these things. These young women are trapped at home after school, often in bad circumstances at home, and they're being abused by people they actually know. How horrible would that be? I'm getting attacked by strangers. They're getting attacked by friends at school and strangers not really in the sense of stranger to us, like proxy strangers, right? Friends of friends. And I was like, I have to fix this. I have to fix this. It's my duty on earth to fix this. So I started quite literally with a pencil and a pen. I still have the early drawings, sketching out a new social network. It was called Merci and the only currency and the only way to communicate was compliments. So instead of saying, you know, you're stupid or you don't look good or you're this or body shaming or that or even, hey, you're so skinny, something that is negative, even though it feels positive. I wanted it just to be compliments. And so it was essentially supposed to be the girls dressing room, the girls bathroom. When young women go out to nightclubs, there's this saying that young women are so nice to each other in the bathroom at a nightclub. And I wanted to bring that to life. So I started sketching that out to basically rebuild myself. And long story short, eventually Bumble would become what it was. You know, I met Andre and then I had known him, but reconnect with Andre. One thing led to the next and Bumble was born. So I think what people don't realise, I've had a lot of people that maybe I went to college with, they're like, oh my God, you've had such a good career. You're so lucky. You're so successful. I'm like, it's been pretty dark. It's been pretty heavy. Dark. Is there a, because I reflect on my darkest times and I can typically remember a worse day, a day when, you know, I just couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. What was your darkest day throughout that period? I have several that are pretty visceral and memorable, but one that I think maybe is something people can actually tangibly like put themselves into this moment. I mean, you can imagine there's lots of tough moments along the way, but one was we had worked so hard to build Bumble in stealth mode starting from about August through call it November. So head down four or five months of just like 24 hours a day back into the, you know, the grind.
When was your darkest day? (58:02)
And it was really important to me not to attach my name to it. I was so scared of putting my name on it. I didn't want to muddy it. I was like, you know, I'm in the media is this like scandalous person right now. And I don't, I don't want to be known for, I don't want, I don't want this to be about me. I want this to be about what the product is and what the mission is. I want women to go first in their relationships. I want women to be empowered. And I remember we'd worked so hard to keep my name out of it. I had like a pseudo email that I was using to reach out to certain people that I thought could, you know, maybe leak that this was happening. And we were going to launch in mid December. They'd gone on this investigative adventure of sorts of following all my early employees and ambassadors. And they were going through all the images and piecing together the story about this new product that was launching. And the headline said something along the lines, maybe not verbatim, but it was really hurtful. It was like, basically I'm summarizing how I internalized it. Surprise, surprise, like the scorned woman from Tinder launches her own dating app, but women go first. And, oh, I hear she really likes bees. She's called a bumble. Like it was so hurtful. And I just sobbed and I sobbed because there had been so much work that went into coming back, rising from the ashes and pulling myself back up and to keep it in this kind of stealth position away from me and not make it about that, not make it about that. You know, women have, and everyone, every gender, we all have an opportunity and I believe a human right to start over. We all have the right to start over. None of us should be held hostage to a certain chapter in our lives or a certain thing in our lives. Like we should all be able to get back up, right? If we're still breathing, you have that right. And that felt like my right to starting over on my own terms was taken from me and it was really violating. So in my typical fashion, I cried about it for a while and then I pivoted. So I called my early team. I said, we have a problem. Whoever it was has basically leaked this information, which is their job. I don't hold them again. It's not their fault, but they basically have told everybody that we're doing this app and that it's coming out and that I'm behind it. But they're kind of missing the point of what the product really is. I think they're misunderstanding why we're starting this. I think for them, it read more of like in a revenge novel, right? Which was not the case. It was about Merci then evolving into a positive dating space. So I said, okay, you're all jumping out of an airplane tomorrow. And they're like, what do you mean you're jumping out of an airplane tomorrow? And I said, you have to explain that it's just not that scary to talk first on a nap as a woman. If women can jump out of an airplane, they can certainly send the first message. And so we just pivoted and we went and filmed this little launch video of literally my first three employees jumping out of an airplane. And the whole tagline was it was something along the lines of like, if we can jump out of an airplane, you can send the first text. And that was kind of how we reframed the discussion and took control of the narrative. That point about your right to kind of reinvent yourself and not be defined by a previous chapter I think is so important. It's also why, I've got to be honest, I don't love talking about it like the Tinder stuff because it's a step in your journey. It's an important contextual step. It's inspired you in many ways in terms of your mission and your vision and all of those things. But I'm glad we could fill that context. When I asked the question about your hardest moment in the darkest times, I was reflecting on some of the quotes I'd read about when you were in that moment feeling like maybe life wasn't worth living anymore and that kind of thing. And it's hard to, I think for a lot of people, I hope it's hard for them to understand that mindset, like getting to that place. I hope it's hard for them to understand. I hope they've never had to experience it. But for someone that has, what is that like? Are those words real? That prospect of like maybe life would be better without me in it? I most certainly felt that way at times for sure. When I was going through that chapter, I most certainly had moments where I thought, well, this is it. I mean, what now? There's a whole persona that's been created about me out there in the world. How am I ever going to escape this? I'm going to be suffocated by a definition a group of strangers have assigned to me and my tribe is gone. I'm gone. Everything I can identify with, this startup world can feel like a cult at times. And so that all felt gone. And I told you earlier, you disassociate from a lot of the life you once had, friends, family, you lose connection with them when you're trying to build something. And so when you leave that thing you're building, it's not like, okay, let me just go home to grandma's house. That doesn't feel like an option. You don't feel like you can relate to anyone anymore. And I just did not understand what the point was anymore. But it was right in that moment, literally. I want to say that was the same piece of the same storm of feeling such a deep pain in such a deep problem, which the problem to me was toxic internet and how toxic it could be and how detrimental it could be for your mental health that a solution came. And so I really channeled that dark, dark, dark loathing and pain. And instead of drowning in it, I kind of started swimming as fast as I could for air. And my air was go rebuild yourself. And so I think that's ultimately the way I was able to reframe that. And I think the internet can make you feel very alone and very isolated and very lonely. And we start believing it as our reality. What the internet says is not really what's in the park across the street. And I think that's important for people to hear is that whatever you're feeling based on what people are saying on the internet or whatever you've read, turn off the phone for a little bit and go outside. Because I didn't do that in that moment. And I think we have to realize that it's not always our reality. Very powerful. This leads to Bumble, which was a game changer in its industry. It was the first of its kind. It was the first of its kind in many respects, including just the look and feel and messaging. That's really, you know, as a marketeer, that's the thing I always respected. I mean, I really respected the point of women getting to go first because I'd never seen that before. I'd never seen that done in the way that it's done on Bumble. But from a marketing marketeer's mindset, I really respected how bold, how clear, how much Bumble were willing to position themselves as the antithesis, the opposite of everything else that existed. It was really willing to take, to bring a new concept and a new idea to the market. When you look back at the earliest days of Bumble, like the first year, two years of Bumble, now with the hindsight of knowing how things all, how the dots connected, why did you win? I'm not sure. Did we win? I still feel like we're so, so...
Leadership And Success At Bumble
Bumbles current success (01:06:12)
Listen, how many customers did you have over the years? We have a lot. A lot. We have a lot. And that's an interesting point that it doesn't feel like you've won. Oh no. Okay, so this is crazy. I, in my head, still feel like we're tiny. Genuinely. I'm not even just saying that to you. Like the concept of going public and all of these things, in my mind, I go to the office every day and I'm like, okay, how are we going to get off the ground? Literally, I don't think you understand. I'm genuinely locked in a place of, we have so much more to do and we have so much more growth to be had that I feel like it's a reset every day. So I will say... How is it possible to be happy when you're never there? But it's not that I'm never there in a personal sense. It's not like I'm like, oh, I don't feel like validate. It's not that anymore. It's that there are still billions of people around the world that have never heard about Bumble. And there are still millions and millions and millions of women around the world right now in bad relationships, toxic relationships, where they don't understand that they should, can, and eventually will go first in their life. They can leave a bad relationship. They can go into a good relationship. There are women as we speak, you know very well, we're all watching this unfold. It's absolutely heartbreaking just advocating to be able to have simple freedoms, just wanting to have the freedom to exist in their society as an equal. So when I go to the office every day and saying, okay, how are we going to launch? We're 132 years away from gender parity, maybe 136. Okay. Either way, it's not great. And so that's where I feel like I don't have enough time in this lifetime to achieve what I want to achieve. Forget the personal accolades. I don't care about that stuff. I am personally on a personal level now, thank God. It's required a lot of self-care, therapy, wonderful husband, beautiful to healthy children. Thank you, God. I am happy now, but I'm not happy about where women are globally. And that I feel unfulfilled because until we really look around us and say women are not in these toxic, terrible relationships and living in an unequal playing field, I have got to go to work. I got to like get back to the office. And that's how I feel. Pursuing that goal comes somewhat at the expense of yourself in some degree, right? Whether that's your, you know, cause life could be easier if you just decided not to pursue that goal. It could be easier. Yeah, I could probably be drinking pina coladas on a beach somewhere. So I always, I always think about this, you know, the, the pursuit of this, of a goal versus like, you know, self-preservation and, and taking care of yourself. And you seem like someone that is somewhat willing to sacrifice themselves to a degree, sacrifice something to fulfill a goal that might even hurt yourself in your own life in a sense of like psychological harm or balance or, you know, it's definitely sleep. Yeah. No, this is, this is probably the biggest, uh, this is the, this is the balancing act we all talk about, right?
But you can't do it all every single day. Why not go to the beach? You know, why not go and have a pina colada? You want to go have a pina colada on the beach? Let me ask you the same thing, okay? There's gotta be like a group therapy for like, why, why, why won't you go have a pina colada on the beach? I don't know. I just, I feel very passionate about what I'm doing. And when I stop feeling passionate, I'll go have a pina colada and then I'll go do something different. But this is, it feels like my life's work and I try to be a good mom and I try to be a good wife and I try to be a good to myself and take those times. And I think anyone that sits around tells you like, oh, it's all about balance. And I mean, maybe they're right. Maybe they've got some secret that I don't know about, but my God, I don't, I don't, I don't think any day is fully balanced, right? I don't think any of us go to sleep every night feeling like, wow, I just got a 10 out of 10 on every single category today. I think you just do your best. And for me, I get joy out of pushing this brand forward. I get joy out of the women that come up to me and tell me that they were in an abusive marriage for 20 years and read a story about Bumble and left their spouse and got on Bumble and are happy in healthy relationships. Like that's what this is all about for me. It looked like that question made you a bit emotional. Yeah, I am emotional about it because I'm kind of doing this for my 17 year old self also, right? I don't want another generation of me at 17. I don't want another generation of that. I don't want another generation of young women that felt unworthy and felt lesser than and felt like they needed a man to tell them what to do. And I just don't, I don't want to see that as this next wave of 17 year olds. So I also don't want to see all these women suffering from domestic and emotional abuse across the world. So, you know, there's lots of ways and a lot of people around the world that are doing a lot to fix this, but I don't have those skill sets. I don't have, you know, maybe I don't know how to do what they know how to do and I know how to do this. So I feel like I better just lean in while I can. And plus I'm definitely old for the Gen Z people out there, but I'm 33. So I feel like, you know, I might have a little bit more in me somewhere. If you're old, I'm old. So I thought we're- How old are you? I just turned 30. Wait, you're three years younger than me. That's like- Yeah, I just turned 30. It's like five decades younger than me. No, it's not. We're in the same, we're in the same school. Well, happy birthday whenever it was. Yeah, it was about a couple of weeks ago. Well, happy birthday. Do you want a tissue? No, I'm okay. You sure? Yeah. That for me, that answer really answers a lot of questions because it shows where the drive is coming from. And that's the reason why the Pina Coladas seem like a lower priority than the mission. Going back to the question, which I kind of took us off on a tangent away from about why you think Bumble won or was successful, was able to break through into that very small category of dating apps or dating sites where there's really only like a handful of real players. Why? Why? Because I know, you know, I have to say something. I know that the other dating apps, because I was sometimes in the room, tried to launch dating apps of themselves. So they took their existing network, they tried to launch a new dating app into it and it didn't work. I've seen it happen over and over again. I know Michelle from Pina. She's one of the people I used to work with when we were doing the marketing at Purdue. Oh really? Yeah. Yeah. I think what she's done is awesome. Yeah. I love peanut. It's great. But I know it's not easy and I know it's not chance.
Why did bumble win? (01:13:49)
I know it's not luck because I've seen, I can't tell you at social chain how many times we had dating apps come to us and say, can you do our marketing? Maybe 200 times. There's 5,000 dating apps in the app store? It's impossible. It's impossible. It's almost impossible to start a new one because of the network effects and all of those things. It's impossible. It's not impossible. So why you? How you? How? Every other dating product until Bumble had been solving for the wrong side of the coin. They've been thinking about men. That's all. They woke up in the morning and thought about how to make a dating app good for guys. And they had it backwards. Why are you solving for men when this is all about what women need and what women want? No one was asking women. You think women want to get abused on the internet? Think again, like find me a woman that enjoys being harassed on a dating app, not one. But for some reason, that problem didn't strike anyone as a problem. So it's not that hard to say, wait a second. This is a double-sided marketplace. This product can't survive without women. Yet we're exploring and degrading women on a lot of these products, not naming any names. What? And so for me, it was all about taking that original concept of mercy, a kind space for women, a safe space for women. And to Andre's push, got to give him some credit for being so interested in dating. I was so turned off of dating. I wanted nothing to do with dating. When Andre was like, "Oh, let's do a dating. Come be my CMO." First of all, I'm not for hire. I'm starting my own company. I must be founder and CEO of whatever I do next. I cannot work for someone. I have to be my own boss. And I got to give him a lot of credit because he trusted that. And he said, "Okay, do whatever you want to do." But my one stipulation is it has to be in dating because I know dating and I want to get behind a dating product. So when I was sitting there, we had kind of agreed to, "Okay, we're going to do this dating app. What's going to be... What about mercy? I want it to be mercy. I want it to be about women and I want to be women only. I want safety and kindness and accountability. There's no internet spaces for women. Nothing's been built for women. We have to do this for women." And then it kind of just all clicked. And I sat there and within literally minutes, it all just wrote itself. I said, "Wait a second. I know the problem. Women don't go first. Men do. Men message as many women as they can. Women are getting inundated. They never respond. The lack of response is causing a rejection and the rejection is triggering an aggression. And that aggression is now translating into harassment. And this is why women are being abused on the dating apps because if only they would go first, the man wouldn't feel rejected. They'd feel empowered. It would totally calibrate this whole experience." And I said, "Okay, great. I know what we're going to do. Women have to talk first on this product and they only have 24 hours to do it." I knew nobody else could conceptualize the way I would explain it. So I was like, "Thanks Cinderella, the pumpkin and the carriage." And men can send one extend on time of day to capture their attention if they want to. Now we have to also call out something. This was back in 2014 in a very heterosexual oriented dating app experience. The landscape has evolved. We have to be inclusive to all. And so of course we are. And of course we are currently, as we speak, spending countless time and putting all of our heart and soul into how to make the experience better for non-binary, for the trans community, for anybody that identifies as a woman as well. And so that's a big portion of the future. But that was really how I would say we became successful because of two things. Women making sure that we were solving for women's real problems on the internet, marketing to women. So when I went back to those sororities and fraternities, instead of going in with whatever we had gone in at Tinder, I went in with things for women. I went in with items women wanted, cute yellow cookies. Like I understood that we are going to build a cute brand, not a sexy brand. And that's what set us apart. I wanted it to feel warm and cozy and inviting and soft and feminine and safe. And that's the beginning and still the current through line of Bumble. What are you like as a leader? Because leadership has evolved over the last 10, 20 years from the Steve Jobs days where you've got this kind of tire and that, from what I've heard, so hard to deal with that they put him in his own building and only people could work in that building if they were really resilient. I had all these stories. I spoke to Woz. Woz didn't tell me that, but Woz is the closest I've ever got to Steve Jobs. But leadership and the concept of what a leader looks like and how they behave and how they treat people in a post-internet world where we have the ability to speak up because we can tweet and glass door and all of these things. Leadership has changed. Our perceptions of it, how they behave in a post-pandemic world, leaders are much more vulnerable because I think a lot of them had to be really vulnerable during the pandemic to guide their teams through. If I asked your teams, if I said, you know, what's Whitney like as a leader, what would they say to me?
I feel like I try. I try. And so, you know, I'm sure I could be told otherwise. I try to be empathetic and I try to think about everyone around me, probably to my detriment, honestly. I think it's probably done me more harm than good over the years because I'm trying to solve for every single person in the room that maybe it doesn't solve anything sometimes. But I really I try to just be the brand we are externally, internally. It's hard. You know, there's so many conflicting needs as a business. You have a marketing and brand team that want to do one thing. You have a technical team that needs to do another. You have IPO teams that have to do another. And so, you end up being this conductor of a very loud orchestra. And I try to create harmony with people. But I don't know. I guess I wouldn't say I follow any. I don't read leadership books. I don't take leadership courses. Maybe that's something I should do. I don't know. But I just lead with my gut. I just do what feels right. I try to do the right thing. I try to listen and hear what people are saying. And I try to listen to other people too. So, if one person calls me and says, "X, Y, or Z," I try to call the other person and say, "What's your version of this?" Before I jump to a conclusion, I really try to have compassion for where everybody's coming from. But it's tough. And then I also have to put my head down and say, "Okay. No. Sometimes this is just how it's going to go, right?" Because I feel like I can see certain things that maybe aren't present to everyone in the dating space. Because I've been in this thing for a decade now. And I feel like I understand the nuances of it very well. So, I don't know. I don't know what they would say. You talked about creating harmony amongst the orchestra, which I feel like is the perfect example of the role of a CEO. But the role of the CEO of a public company becomes even more difficult because then you have even more conflicting expectations. When you're that person that's trying to create a harmony in all of this orchestra, keep everybody happy, meet all the needs, how do you create harmony within yourself? So, I personally have beliefs that, you know, there's something bigger than what we're dealing with every day, right? Like I try to zoom out. Zoom out into something that we can't even see, right? There's obviously influences of the universe that none of us know about. You and I cannot sit here and say that we know every corner of why we exist and what's going to happen tomorrow.
How do you staying harmony with yourself (01:22:35)
And so, I try to just trust the process. I try to laugh. Andre was always really good at that. He would just laugh in really stressful situations. And I learned that from him. It's just like, "Have a laugh. You'll be fine." And also to realize that we are just a blip on the radar. Like this is going to be, if we're lucky, like Bumble will be like a half page in a book one day, hundreds of years from now. Like it's just not that big of a deal, the daily dramas and the nuances of everything. And so, I try to just zoom out. Like, is this really going to still matter, this one moment in interpersonal dynamics or this one moment in a failed launch or whatever it might be? Is this really going to matter in five years? Is this going to matter in five months? And I really try to do that exercise of like, how big of a deal is this before I allow it to disrupt my harmony. Does that make sense? I don't know if that made any sense at all. It does make sense. It does make sense. I was reading things about your sort of sleep work routine and you sounded a lot like me. I'm the type of person that has an an a fairly unhealthy relationship with my phone throughout the early hours of the morning, especially when I was running the company, especially when I was at Social Chain still. I'd wake up in the middle of the night. I was worried too often when we couldn't make payroll and I knew it was payday in a week. I'd be riddled with little sort of slithers of anxiety. When we spoke to, I think it's Robbie. Oh yeah, he's great. Robbie and your team. Robbie said she makes no pretense of being always strong and is openly vulnerable with the team. Well, you might walk into the office one day and let them know that you've been struggling with something. You might be anxious or struggling with anxiety that day and encourage your other team members if they're feeling the same way to take the time that they need. That's really nice of him. But yeah, I mean, vulnerability is, it has to be authentic. I've watched so many people the last few years ride this vulnerability trend. I'm like, that's not real vulnerable. Vulnerability can't be a scapegoat or an exit or a crutch. For me, I don't know. I just, I just tell the truth. If I'm having postpartum depression back when after my first baby, I would just say that to my all hands because that was the truth.
The importance of being vulnerable as a leader (01:24:58)
And why would I be anything other than truthful? If I want to lead a company that tells the truth and I want to run a business that instills behaviors that are truthful and healthy and better, like why would I want to operate in any way that's disingenuous to that? So I just get up and just try to tell the truth. Convention would say, well, leaders are strong and then they don't have any problems and they're always tough. And this is honestly what I used to worry about. I used to think, if I'm truly honest, that things affect me too. My team are going to think I'm weak and then I can't lead them. And that's the kind of narrative that ran out in my head. Yeah. But, and I get that, but the reality is everyone's, everyone's feeling something and I'm in a connection business. How can I run a connection company if I can't connect? And the only way you can connect is through vulnerability. It's the only way to connect with anyone. I'm being very vulnerable with you right now because we're sitting here connecting. So I might as well, you know, I could sit here and be like, well, some business book I read, you know, there's this theory of like, you know, this many hours a day do this. And like, that's just not my vibe. We sit here in 10 years time and we say that that was a really successful 10 years for Bumble. What would have happened in those 10 years? We would have built world-class features that were industry changing for safety and trust on the internet. We would have become the safest platform for women, not only to date, but to find any trusted contact that they need. A mentor, a mentee, a babysitter, a friend, somebody that has the same illness as them, as rare as it might be. Somebody who is struggling with any type of mental health crisis, the platform to find anyone on a trusted, safe wavelength. And we would have also gone and created a suite of laws to actually build real legislature around the gaps that exist for physical and digital accountability as it pertains to women's wellbeing. And we would have scaled globally to every corner of the earth where women need us the most.
Future Goals For Bumble
What does a successful 10 years look like for bumble? (01:27:12)
And we would be a trusted product for them to find their innate strength to quite literally make the first move out of something bad and into something good. And we would have built a brand that showed everybody that you can have mission and profit live under the same roof and you can be a kinder, connected company irrespective of how everybody else has done it before. So that's what I would hope for. Thank you. Understanding you and understanding what's driving you, I would certainly bet on that becoming a reality. And I think that's the most, that's really, you know, of all the business success, the marketing brilliance and all of the things that you've done and the resilience and the getting back up and all of those things that in and of themselves, you kind of, we described them in a couple of minutes, but any human that struggled and been rejected and had been mischaracterized knows that those aren't small things. So for many people, even one of those things is entirely fatal, but there's clearly this unbelievable resilience in you because you said, well, where does that, you know, I think, I think you said it where, I think you said it on a podcast one time where you said, it doesn't matter if you lose your confidence, you still have your drive. And I really pondered that when you said that, I thought, is that true? Cause I was thinking, lose your confidence you still have your, well you do, you still have the drive, whether you have the, the, the belief that comes from confidence that you can have it, but you still have that drive and that's exactly what I've, I've learned from you today, which is that unshakable, bigger than myself, a mission bigger than me drive, which is driving you and your company. And that's why I think you're an unbelievable inspiration, but Bumble is an unbelievable bet on the future, a future which I think is inevitable and a future that is necessary. So thank you for your time today. It's a huge, honestly, when I say it's a huge honor, I mean, it's a huge honor. I feel the same way about you. So thank you for having me today. We have a closing tradition on the podcast where the last guest asks a question for the next guest. They don't know who they're leaving it for. So they just leave it in the diary. I open it and I get to read it now. The question they left for you, not knowing it was you, was what is the last belief you would relinquish? It's an interesting question. Like what would I let go of? What belief do I have? Like what, is there a belief I have that I would let go of? Yeah. So he means, I shouldn't give away who it is. He means like, what's the, it's basically what's the most important belief to you. What's the last belief that you would give up? Oh, the last belief that I would give up is that people are inherently good somewhere deep down. That rejection and insecurity and lack of communication drive cruelty and that I'm not going to give up on a world where we can actually connect good people together because I think there's a lot of, lot of good people out there that just need a kinder way to connect.
The last guest question (01:30:04)
Amen. Thank you, Whitney. Thank you. Quick one. Some of you may know we've got a brand new sponsor for this podcast. It's American Express and this partnership still blows my mind as I'm an avid user of American Express. So with that being said, let me tell you about their new business Platinum Card benefits. Firstly, new card members will receive a 200 pound annual travel credit to be spent when you spend at American Express travel online on flights, hotels, and car rentals. Secondly, if you need help with your expenses, then American Express business cards offer Amex expense, which is simply a brand new and free expenses management service for its business Platinum Card holders, where you just need to upload your receipts and invoices as you go. This streamlined system can be integrated with your accounting software. You will also be able to monitor and generate expense reports straight through Amex expense platform, a total game changer, and it saved me so much time. And lastly, as an American Express business Platinum Card member, you have access to a wide variety of American Express offers, including digital subscription to the times, the Sunday times worth 300 pounds. So if you'd like to find out how you can get your hands on your new American Express business card, then search American Express business Platinum Card to find out more. Quick one from our longest standing sponsor here. I can't tell you over the last, I'd say over the last, really it's been about two and a half years, it was really post pandemic, how much my health has become such a huge priority in my life. And I have this laser laser focused on what I'm putting into my body. It's funny because as you get older, you can start to feel the things you're putting into your body more and more and more. And if I put something into my body, especially things like gluten, if I put those things in my body, I feel them tremendously the next day, my energy levels, my sleep and everything in between. Huel has been probably the most important partner in my health journey because I've been in the boardrooms, I've been to their offices tens and tens and tens and tens of times. I've seen how they make their decisions on nutrition and I trust it. Most of my team that are in this room with me consume it and get the benefits of it too. So if you haven't already tried Huel, do so.