Illustration by Lucie Birant
Whitney Wolfe Herd started making connections long before she became a dating-app mogul. The 31-year-old founder and CEO of Bumble first made headlines back during her days as a student at Southern Methodist University, when Rachel Zoe and Nicole Richie started sporting tote bags from a line she’d started to benefit areas affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “That project showed me firsthand how powerful a product with true social impact could be,” she says.
Soon after graduating, she landed at a tech incubator in Los Angeles, where she became a cofounder and vice president of marketing at Tinder. (She came up with the app’s name.) Sadly, the fire burned out—after leaving in 2014, Wolfe Herd filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company—but she then came up with Bumble, a dating app on which women must be the ones to initiate contact.
The concept has been a hit: In 2020 alone, users sent more than 7 billion messages on the app, and Wolfe Herd has since applied the model to friend-finding (Bumble BFF, in 2016) and professional networking (Bumble Bizz, in 2017).
“With the addition of BFF and Bizz,” she says, “we completed our vision for Bumble to become the ultimate social network for people you don’t know yet, across every area of your life.”
On Bumble’s beginning: “Bumble came about in 2014, as I was working on developing a social network for young women where only positivity and compliments were allowed. My business partner at the time said I needed to apply that idea to dating, and I came up with the idea of women making the first move. We hit the ground running.”
On expanding internationally including into India—and navigating cultural differences: “I had the honor of visiting India with Priyanka [Chopra Jonas] when we launched, and I was able to hear directly from Indian women how much Bumble’s mission and values meant to them and how they were inspired to make the first move in all areas of their lives.
When we launch in new markets, one thing we always take into consideration is, how can we give people the tools they need to feel safe and comfortable when connecting with someone new? In India [which has a high rate of violence against women], that meant giving women the option to show only the first initial of their name in their dating profiles, until they feel ready to share their name with their match.”
On pandemic-influenced dating trends: “More than ever, people are feeling a strong desire to build trust online before taking their relationships offline. We launched our video chat feature in 2019, before the pandemic, but now we’re really seeing it take off. Bumble’s voice call and video chat feature saw a nearly 70-percent increase after [lockdowns started] in the U.S. in March.
People are also having more quality conversations online, with Bumble’s voice and video calls averaging close to 30 minutes. I think video chatting with someone before meeting up in person will become a new normal in dating in 2021.”
On how to make it in the tech startup business: “If you’re looking to start your own tech venture, find a gap. Technology is often developed to provide a more efficient way for individuals to go about their daily lives, so think about what would help you in your day-to-day.
The reason I started Bumble was because I wanted a solution to the experience I went through [at Tinder], and something that I could see many women facing every day in their lives. So we built a brand on foundations of empowerment and respect. If you can identify the problem and find a way that technology can enable the solution, you’re on to a winning formula.”