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Designed to solve female-specific dating app frustrations like "dead-end matches"—connections that rarely lead to conversations, let alone dates—Bumble requires women to make the first move. If she doesn’t start the conversation within 24 hours, the match disappears. Wolfe has described her strategy as "Sadie Hawkins-inspired," and just three months since its official launch, the Austin-based startup boasts more than a million matches, as well as a global network of ambassadors (cool girls enlisted to spread the "buzz" about Bumble).
Racked checked in with Wolfe from a Bumble retreat in rural Texas to discuss empowering users, dating confidence, and why she doesn’t plan to replace Tinder.
How did the idea of Bumble come about?
I actually had a different idea at first! I wanted to start a social platform app that would encourage kindness among a younger demographic of women, more of the junior high or high school set. It's such an impressionable age for girls, and it's a time they're likely to be affected negatively by bullying. The original goal was to make something similar to Snapchat or Instagram where you could only talk to one another in kindness, whether it’s through emojis or pre-approved comments.
What made you change directions?
Out of the blue I heard from Andrey Andreev, who is my partner at Bumble now. He’s an entrepreneur who is the founder and CEO of a very powerful social network called Badoo. It’s extremely profitable. He wanted to know what I was up to after Tinder and changed my mind about a couple of things.
He wanted me to explore getting back into the dating market. He told me it was a good place to stay right now, particularly with both of our backgrounds, and repositioned my opinion on the space. However, it was still very important for me to do something with social responsibility that could give girls power. We agreed to keep that in mind with this new project.
How does Bumble give girls power?
That’s where the whole "girls speak first" aspect comes in. We wanted to modernize dating. I’ll go out with groups of my friends and someone will see a cute guy across the room, or in the bar, or in the restaurant. She’ll be like, "Oh, he’s so cute, I wish I could talk to him!" And then we all encourage her—"Go say hi, go send him a drink, go do something!"—and she never does. There’s this unwritten rule that it’s not ladylike, or it’s wrong, or the guy should go first. The whole thing feels silly and outdated! Women are extremely independent in every facet of our lives, except dating. We wanted to encourage a confident connection. Making the first move, whether a woman is matching with a man or a woman, gives her a boost of confidence right off the bat. It immediately puts her in the driver’s seat.
How have men reacted to this?
The response on the other end has proven really interesting! We’ve noticed that men are responding in such a polite and flattered way; it sets the tone for the conversation. It could ultimately set the tone for the relationship too, if it gets there.
Who is Bumble's target demographic?
It spans from about age 18 to 35. We don’t want to limit ourselves and say, "Oh, we’re just for the college market" or "We’re only for young professionals." We want to be the brand that any woman can turn to. I don’t care if you’re 18 and this is one of your first times ever dating anyone, or if you're 35 and you’re back in the game, we want to be available and relatable for women of any age.
How are you tapping into the growing college market?
We have a very strong college representative program in place right now, with more than 90 college reps. We've gotten over 4,000 requests from girls seeing if they can be part of the college ambassador program—it’s amazing. We’re creating a movement, and they’re really into it.
How would you describe the actual user pool?
I just got a text this morning from my friend about this. It said, "Whitney! Is this real life? Every guy on here went to Harvard Business School, works at a Fortune 500 company, or is gorgeous. What is going on?" That’s exactly what she said. People are baffled by the pool of people on here. It’s a very sophisticated group that are using the app, and very international as well. It’s not unusual to see someone whose profile says, "Harvard Business School, back and forth from London and New York." It’s a cool, creative group of people using Bumble.
Would you say that the Bumble user takes dating more seriously than, say, a Tinder user?
I can't speak on behalf of other apps, Tinder included. I think Tinder is great and I refuse to say anything negative about it—I wish them continued success. What we have seen, feedback-wise, is that people have been taking Bumble quite seriously, though not in a daunting way. It's not like, "Oh, I’m going on Bumble only to find my future husband." But the fact that we include your job and your education in your profile, it makes it feel more secure. We want to provide more context around users, so that when you are swiping through people, you know if you’re compatible or not.
Why doesn’t Bumble have an option for users to enter their height?
It’s so funny, we get probably 15 emails a day asking about that! Height, for me, doesn’t feel like something I would ever want to put in. It can lead to snap judgments or hurt feelings, and things that I would never want to promote. It's up to the person to discuss when they were chatting.
What does your team look like now, a few months in?
We’re a team of 12, including developers. In the United States, there are seven of us, and it's primarily women. We're from all walks of life, with different backgrounds and experiences.
What has been the biggest obstacle you've faced so far?
A company like this is a moving target in many ways. The app can crash, or our users can want something different, or we'll work hard for a few weeks on something that people don't respond well to. So much of this is trial and error, and using relatability to understand what it is that makes a young man or woman tick. It’s so funny because everyone thinks that an app is a great route to take if you are looking to do something easy, but it’s actually the contrary. There’s always something that hits you when you least expect it.
How do you respond to critics who say that the dating app market is oversaturated?
It’s a crowded market because it’s a good one to be in. It’s not like there’s one right way to do it; there’s no quick fix for how to meet someone, and there are so many routes. If we can introduce a powerful, uplifting option that gives women more control, then that's great. It’s not necessarily an alternative by any means—I’m not trying to take over the entire market—but Bumble is something that can give women power and also take the pressure off men. We wanted to even the playing field a little bit.
How do you feel about where Bumble is right now?
I’m totally pinching myself because the feedback has been so good. It's so much greater than what I anticipated! I didn’t expect us to grow this much or have a fraction of the amount of users we have in this amount of time. Women are on the app an average of 75 minutes a day, which is insane. I’m excited and so grateful—my expectations have been met in such an amazing way.