Legend has it that the name for Tinder was Whitney Wolfe Herd’s idea.
She was in her early 20s, just starting out at the then-fledgling dating app. She had met other co-founders of the company, Sean Rad, Chris Gulczynski and Justin Mateen, while she was part of an ecommerce startup Cardify.
Cardify didn’t pan out as hoped, but there was strong chemistry between Wolfe Herd, Rad, Gulczynski and Mateen. They started to work together on building a dating app, which would become known as Tinder.
All appeared to go well for a couple of years. The app’s feature of “swiping right” on possible matches to approve of them, and “swiping left” to reject them, embedded itself into modern dating culture. Wolfe Herd became the vice president of marketing.
But then in 2014, she left the company abruptly — and then filed a lawsuit accusing Mateen of sexual harassment, and subjecting her to “sexist, racist, and otherwise inappropriate comments, emails, and text messages.” Tinder and Herd settled the lawsuit and Mateen was fired. Herd reportedly received a settlement of more than $1 million plus stock in Tinder.
As chaotic and stressful as those turn of events must have been, Wolfe Herd emerged on top, and succeeded on an even greater scale in the online dating scene. No one would have blamed her, a young woman at the beginning of her career, if she took time to step back and lick her wounds and plot her next move. But she plunged right ahead and founded Bumble.
At first she intended it to be a networking app for women, and not a dating app, but Russian billionaire and Badoo founder Andrey Andreev intervened. He liked Wolfe Herd’s passion and advised her to stick to what she knew. Andreev spoke from experience: Badoo, a dating app in Europe and Latin America, was one of the world’s largest, with more than 60 million users.
So Wolfe Herd took that advice. Her concept had a hook that all the other apps — Tinder, Match, OKCupid, Plenty Of Fish, Coffee Meets Bagel, and more — lacked. On Bumble, the women were in control.
When a man and a woman matched, the woman had to make the first move. Specifically, she had 24 hours to send the first message, and her possible suitor had 24 hours to respond or else the match disappeared.
Through this approach, Wolfe Herd hoped to cut down on the plethora of inappropriate messages and “dick pics” women often receive from men on dating apps. Bumble was designed to be a kinder, more welcoming environment for women.
A call to entrepreneurship…and social causes
It proved to be a brilliant idea, and Bumble swiftly soared to become Tinder’s top competitor. Where did all that drive and vision come from for Wolfe Herd? Well, the signs were already clear in her early life.
Wolfe Herd grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. Although Salt Lake City is known for being heavily Mormon, Wolfe Herd’s mother was Catholic and her father was Jewish.
Growing up in a conservative, religious community, she was distressed by the dating scene where men were always expected to make the first move. She moved to Texas to attend Southern Methodist University, where she majored in International Studies.
While in college, she started a bamboo tote bag business to provide financial support to areas affected by the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. She called her budding nonprofit the “Help Us Project.”
She further gained traction when television personality Nicole Richie and celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe were spotted carrying Wolfe Herd’s bags. By the time she finished college and moved to Los Angeles, Wolfe Herd was ready to dive into the startup ecosystem.
How Bumble got its wings
When Bumble launched, Andreev invested $10 million in the company for a 70% stake. This included giving Wolfe Herd access to his dating app’s software. Wolfe Herd’s marketing genius helped elevate Bumble and within a month after its launch, Bumble had been downloaded 100,000 times.
In 2017, Match.com (owned by Tinder’s parent company IAC) reportedly offered Wolfe Herd $450 million for Bumble. When Wolfe Herd initially turned it down, Match countered with $1 billion. But Wolfe Herd wasn’t tempted.
After being Spurned, Match sued Bumble, and alleged the company was a Tinder knockoff that infringed on patents and trademarks. Wolfe Herd stood her ground, counter-suing for $400 million and accusing Match of defaming Bumble to discourage other acquirers. Both cases were eventually dropped.
The $1.5 billion woman
But the drama didn’t end there for Bumble. In 2019, an investigation uncovered a pattern of racism, sexism and tax avoidance tied to Andreev. The damaging report put the billionaire in a deeply negative light, and raised questions about whether he really should be associated with Bumble, a site that prided itself on women’s empowerment. He sold his shares, and Wolfe Herd was finally made CEO of the company she had created.
In January 2021, Bumble filed its S-1 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, indicating its intention to make an initial public offering. At the time, the S-1 revealed that Bumble’s 2019 revenue had surged 30 percent to $488.9 million from $376.6 million in the previous year.
The company also surprised Wall Street by reporting that it had 42 million active users in the third quarter of 2020, even when much of the world was riding out the Covid-19 pandemic at home.
Bumble went public in February 2021, raising $2.2 billion. Its market capitalization soared as high as $7 billion. Today, Bumble is still buzzing. The company said it counts 94,000 new users every day, and that its app plays host to 23 million new matches every week.
Although it has diminished significantly from its post-IPO high of nearly $76 per share, Bumble’s stock price continues to cover around $25 to $26, putting its market cap at about $4.7 billion. Tinder, which hasn’t had its own IPO, continues to be owned by Match Group parent IAC.
In the end, Wolfe Herd had the last laugh. She had defeated every obstacle thrown in her path to leading a successful company. And she enjoyed the fruits of that success.
Today, Mateen, the former Tinder executive accused of harassing Wolfe Herd, is reportedly worth $300 million. With the IPO of Bumble, Wolfe Herd far surpassed that sum. Her wealth reached a cool $1.5 billion.