You can add Whitney Wolfe Herd, CEO of Bumble to the list of successful entrepreneurs with popular social platforms. However, unlike most of the startup founders in Silicon Valley, Herd is a woman.
People often associate tech startups with the male gender. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Joel Simkhai (Grindr), and Sean Rad (Tinder) launched some of the most popular social networks and dating apps.
Whitney Wolfe Herd is giving these men a run for their money. Bumble’s initial public offering (IPO) was valued at more than $8 billion just last year. Wolfe Herd launched Bumble in December of 2014 with two former Tinder employees. Just eight years later, it’s the second-most popular dating app in the United States.
Over 42 million people actively use Bumble each month to make connections, date, or find new friends. So, what led to the success of Bumble? How is it different from the social apps that came before it?
To find the answers, we need to dig in a little deeper into the history of Bumble and its founder.
Who Is Whitney Wolfe Herd?
Whitney Wolfe was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1989 and attended Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas. During her time at SMU, Whitney Wolfe developed a taste for entrepreneurship and marketing. However, instead of money, her goal was to make a difference.
She launched a business selling tote bags made from bamboo to help support areas affected by the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill. She managed to partner with a celebrity stylist and bring national attention to her cause.
Celebrities, including Nicole Richie and Rachel Zoe, were photographed wearing Whitney’s bags.
Whitney then launched a second business to raise awareness of another social issue. She started a clothing line to bring attention to human trafficking and fair trade.
Entering the World of Tech Startups
After graduating, Whitney Wolfe traveled to Southeast Asia to work with orphanages. Upon her return to the US, she soon landed a job as a field sales rep contractor for Cardify. Cardify was a credit card loyalty app led by Dinesh Moorjani, who also operated the startup incubator Hatch Labs.
In 2012, Hatch Labs brought in Sean Rad to build a prototype for a dating app called “MatchBox.” The team behind MatchBox worked out of the offices of Justin Mateen, Rad’s childhood friend. Around this time, Mateen arranged interviews at Cardify for his sister and her friend.
The sister’s friend was Whitney Wolfe. Mateen soon became the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for MatchBox, which was renamed “Tinder.” Within a few months, Whitney Wolfe became the VP of marketing.
Whitney soon started dating Justin Mateen. They dated on and off over the next two years as Tinder took off and became one of the most recognizable dating apps.
Leaving a Toxic Relationship and Workplace
In 2014, Whitney Wolfe left Tinder and severed her relationship with Justin Mateen. She claims that the relationship was toxic, stating that Justin was verbally abusive and controlling. Tensions grew at Tinder until Whitney left. The details of her departure are not clear as each side offers conflicting stories. However, she was not quite done with the company.
After leaving Tinder, Whitney Wolfe filed a lawsuit against Tinder alleging sexual harassment and discrimination. Tinder and Wolfe eventually settled for more than $1 million and stock in the company.
The settlement did not include a non-compete clause, which opened the doors for the next chapter in Whitney’s story.
Departing One Dating Platform to Create Another
After the settlement, Whitney had no intention of returning to dating apps. She originally wanted to build a social networking website to compete against Instagram. Andrey Andreev, the CEO and founder of Badoo, one of the largest dating apps, helped steer Whitney in a different direction.
Andreev had met Wolfe back in 2013 while she was still working at Tinder. He claims that he instantly recognized her passion and energy, which left a lasting impression. He reached out in support during the settlement and asked to meet. The two discussed ideas and eventually came up with the concept for Bumble.
Andreev would invest $10 million in the project for 79% ownership of the company. Whitney Wolfe would receive a 20% stake in the company and act as CEO. The two enlisted the help of fellow ex-Tinder employees Sarah Mick and Chris Gulczynski. Bumble launched just three months later in December 2014.
How Did Bumble Compete Against Tinder?
Just one month after launching Bumble, the app had over 100,000 downloads. About 60% of the matches on the app resulted in conversations. At the time, Tinder was still the most popular dating app in the United States. Luckily, Wolfe had inside knowledge. She was VP of marketing and used many of the same strategies she used at Tinder, including targeting college campuses.
As with Tinder, Bumble is a location-based dating app. It helps find matches in your area. The main difference between the two apps is that women have all the power. Users can swipe left or right on potential matches, just as when using the rival app. However, for heterosexual matches, only the woman can initiate contact.
The woman needs to make the first move. This small difference had a big impact on women who were tired of endless Tinder messages. For every female Tinder user, there are two male users. The skewed ratio can be frustrating for women.
According to a report in 2016, about 46.2% of Bumble’s users are female. Bumble empowers women and levels the playing field, which is what Whitney Wolfe set out to do with her app.
Getting Married and Turning Down a Billion Dollars
2017 was a banner year for Whitney. She got married and turned down two multi-million-dollar deals. Whitney met Michael Herd on a skiing trip in Aspen four years earlier. They married in 2017 and had their first child two years later.
In 2017, Bumble was still growing. The company earned over $100 million in sales, just a year after Bumble started monetizing in-app purchases. Other dating platforms were taking notice, including the Match Group. They offered a buyout worth $450 million, which Wolfe Herd turned down.
Match supposedly came back with a $1 billion offer. Again, she turned the offer down. At this point, Bumble had more than 22 million users and there was still plenty of room for growth. Wolfe Herd also had major plans for Bumble.
In 2016, the company launched Bumble BFF. In 2017, they launched Bumble Bizz. The company was expanding into new markets & Wolfe Herd was not ready to give up the reins.
It’s worth noting that the Match Group is also the owner of Tinder, the company that Wolfe Herd co-founded. The company also owns Match.com, PlentyOfFish, OkCupid, and dozens of niche dating apps and websites.
It seems that Bumble is one of the few dating apps not owned by the Match Group. MagicLab is the parent company of Bumble. Andrey Andreev established MagicLab as an umbrella company for Bumble, Badoo, Lumen, and Chappy. However, Andreev left the company in late 2019.
Forbes Uncovers Drug-Fueled Parties at Badoo
In 2019, Forbes released an investigative report on Badoo, the dating-focused social network established by Andrey Andreev. The Forbes report detailed an environment of misogyny and drug-fueled parties. The report described a workplace that completely contradicts the core values of Bumble.
Perhaps to create distance between Andreev’s company and Bumble, Andreev sold his share of MagicLab. The buyer was the Blackstone Group, the largest investment firm in the world. Blackstone Group became the majority owner of MagicLab.
As part of the deal, Blackstone Group valued the companies owned by MagicLab, including Bumble, Badoo, and Chappy. Bumble and its sister sites were valued at more than $3 billion.
Bumble Reaches a New Milestone
By July 2020, Bumble had reached 100 million users. The news of this milestone coincided with the announcement that MagicLab was being renamed Bumble. Bumble and Badoo are now part of the “Bumble” group with Whitney Wolfe Herd as the CEO of the whole company.
Blackstone Group rebranded MagicLab to spur more growth from Bumble and Badoo. After restructuring the businesses, Wolfe Herd oversees 750 employees across the globe.
Bumble Continues to Stand Out Among Dating Apps
Some of the most successful business stories start when a free thinker notices a missed opportunity. In this case, Whitney Wolfe Herd noticed.
Bumble is now one of the most refreshing social platforms available, especially for women who are tired of the old dynamics of dating and meeting people. The app has become an encouraging and empowering source for dating or just friendships, which has helped it stand out among the competition.
Whitney entered the world of dating apps in 2012 when she joined Tinder. Less than a decade later, she is the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company.
So, what’s next for Whitney Wolfe Herd and Bumble? An initial public offering (IPO). The company is expected to go public sometime in 2021 with an estimated value between $6 billion and $8 billion.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.