Around Valentine’s Day this year (and perhaps fittingly so), Whitney Wolfe Herd became the youngest woman to take a company public when her company, Bumble Inc, had its IPO. On the first day of trading, the company was already valued at $8 billion; a 63% jump in value. This made 31-year-old Herd the youngest female self-made billionaire, with many praising Bumble for being a revolutionary company that could empower women in the bedroom, the boardroom, and beyond.
Not just another dating app
It’s easy to react to the news with skepticism — what’s all this hype about a dating app? But although Bumble has a long way to go to match up with its competitors in the dating app scene (Match Group Inc, which runs match.com and Tinder, is valued at $45 billion), one thing sets it apart: its mission. As Herd puts it, “We welcome competition…but we’re the only one who says that women come first”.
Bumble’s feminist mission is clear from the premise of the app — it is a dating platform where women are the ones making the first move. After Herd sued her ex-colleague and Co-Founder of Tinder for sexual misconduct, she received death threats and rape threats, which showed her just how bad the abusive nature of the internet can get. And one place where the internet can be particularly cruel and intimidating is the dating scene; women are frequently harassed on these sites, either with abusive messages or with unsolicited, inappropriate photos.
Tinder knows this is a problem, and tried to roll out several adjustments to its app. For instance, the US version of the app allows users to press a panic button which alerts local law enforcement should they be in a place of danger during their dates. Globally, the app contains a photo verification feature which is supposed to prevent catfishing, as well as a feature that automatically detects offensive messages and asks users whether they’d like to report them. Previously, it launched another feature that allowed only women to send certain reactions (such as an eye roll) to unacceptable messages.
There are a couple issues with these adjustments — ranging from the fact that the panic button is only available in the US, to how the reactions, though funny, put the burden on women to stop the abusive behavior of men, rather than preventing it outright. It’s hard for Tinder, a platform that is known for its sketchy-at-best-and-predatory-at-worst culture, to change that culture by simply placing a bandage over these issues.
Contrast this with Bumble, which has the protection of women at its core. The simple act of requiring that women are the ones making the first move (in heterosexual relationships) not only protects women, but empowers them to focus on and seek out relationships that they are actually looking to be invested in. Along with this central premise was the development of an AI-powered private detector that warns users about inappropriate photos with an impressive 98% accuracy, which allows the app to go one step further in creating a safe space for women.
Users of the app would also point out that Bumble is not just a dating app, but also an app to find platonic friendships and network. When asked why Bumble decided to expand beyond dating, Herd mentioned that many women were “hacking the system”; they’d create a profile, but their bio would say that they are married, not looking for partners, but just looking for friends to go to hot yoga with. Similarly, many women were also starting to use Bumble to seek out female mentors or networks. The staff at Bumble noticed this, and responded by creating Bumble Biz and Bumble BFF, expanding the virtual safe space for women. Herd noted that traditional networking sites (such as LinkedIn) sometimes have instances of women getting unsolicited approaches from older men under the guise of business mentorship, so the creation of Bumble Biz was critical to providing women with a safe place to expand their own networks.
Bumble’s product continues to evolve to ensure that it is creating a safe space for its users. Despite receiving multiple threats to her own safety, Herd decided to ban all images of guns on the platform shortly after the devastating 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
The safe and empowering community that Bumble hopes to build is especially relevant to one group in particular: college students. Bumble’s marketing strategy includes hiring students (affectionately known as Bumble Honeys) to promote the app on campus. It’s essentially a marketing internship that you get to do whilst in school, according to Cecile Schreidah, Brown’s Campus Director. When asked whether she thinks Bumble has helped promote better relationships on campus, Schreidah’s answer was a resounding yes. “It’s no shock that college students use dating and social networking apps, but if they’re going to use them, they might as well use one that aligns with their own values,” she added, hinting that Bumble’s openly progressive leanings help in encouraging students to buy into the product over that of competitors.
Beyond the app
One look on Bumble’s career page and you’d see many women and family-friendly policies. This is a rare sight in the tech space, which is often characterized as male-dominant and not too welcoming to non-male employees. Bumble’s inclusive company culture attempts to go beyond just being women-friendly, and Herd emphasizes this often, saying that “we’re very committed to our customers, but we’re also very committed to our team. We’re here for diversity and inclusion, and breaking down barriers that historically existed in the tech industry.”
Schreidah mentioned that even as a Bumble Honey, she has had lots of Zoom calls with tons of “super cool employees and even Whitney herself” and that the company always makes a huge effort to show them how valued they are. She remarked that Bumble’s mission of empowerment, inclusivity, and diversity is something that other tech companies should strive for too, to make the tech industry more accessible for everyone.
It’s impressive enough that a mission-driven company is able to set itself apart from its opponents by having a solid, distinct product, but perhaps equally as impressive is what Herd and her company are doing with their political and financial capital.
In 2019, Herd commissioned a Super Bowl ad starring Serena Williams. The result was getting Williams to back Herd’s Bumble Fund, which invests in female-led tech companies. Their portfolio currently includes a range of companies across healthcare, finance and fashion industries, and aims to change the fact that currently, only around 2% of venture capital reaches all-women teams in this space. Furthermore, during the same month that Bumble rolled out the private detector that screens for inappropriate images, Herd initiated and successfully lobbied for a Texas bill that makes sending unwanted nude images illegal. These initiatives show that Bumble isn’t just a business that strives to make money from one app, it’s a movement that strives for feminist change in this world.
As Herd puts it, “at the end of the day, even if the company had crashed, I would’ve been able to sleep at night, because we had done the right thing.”