MAK­ING THE FIRST MOVE

Whit­ney Wolfe wants to change the way on­line dat­ing works, on her way to mak­ing the dig­i­tal world a more civil space for every­one.

VOGUE Australia - - News - By Zara Wong.

Bumble founder Whit­ney Wolfe wants to change the way on­line dat­ing works.

Over a matcha latte in New York last winter, my clever, at­trac­tive, gain­fully em­ployed friend gave me the low­down on the city’s dat­ing scene. Bar eti­quette hadn’t im­proved, and most of the apps on of­fer hadn’t helped sin­gles. Ex­cept for one. “Bumble,” she said be­tween sips of her hot drink. “That’s the only app where the guys are so much bet­ter.”

Bet­ter? It seemed like a far-fetched state­ment to make of a sim­ple dat­ing app. But Bumble, as Whit­ney Wolfe tells me, has an in-built func­tion­al­ity that has changed the be­hav­iour of its user base. “From the get-go, peo­ple said it would never work, and that we were crazy, be­cause men are meant to make the first move and that women would never do it,” says Bumble’s 27-yearold co-founder and CEO. “We had to re­ally push our vi­sion and say: ‘Trust us, if it is the wo­man who makes the first move, it re­ally makes a dif­fer­ence.”

Wolfe, as tech world spec­ta­tors are likely to be aware, was also the co-founder of Tin­der – one of the world’s most pro­lific apps, which helped in­tro­duce the words “swipe left” to the courtship lex­i­con – and mas­ter­minded its univer­sity cam­pus-fo­cused mar­ket­ing strat­egy. She was forced out of the com­pany amid a sex­ual dis­crim­i­na­tion case that in­cluded as ev­i­dence in­crim­i­nat­ing text mes­sages from an­other co-founder whom she was dat­ing. The law­suit was set­tled out of court.

Hes­i­tant about re­turn­ing to the dat­ing app in­dus­try be­cause of her past ex­pe­ri­ences, Wolfe had hoped to start a plat­form that would “en­cour­age kind­ness, pos­i­tiv­ity and ac­count­abil­ity in the dig­i­tal space” for young women, as a re­sponse to the neg­a­tiv­ity found on so­cial media. But a meet­ing with her now busi­ness part­ner An­drey An­dreev, who founded the Rus­sian dat­ing app Badoo, con­vinced her that the dat­ing world needed a fe­male­cen­tric ap­proach. “I tried to fig­ure out what was miss­ing in terms of women in that space and what ex­actly was wrong with con­nect­ing as it ex­ists – both dig­i­tally and in real life – and it came down to the fact that gen­der norms do not en­cour­age women to be in con­trol,” Wolfe says over the phone from Austin, where her com­pany is lo­cated, away from the hub­bub and dis­trac­tion of Sil­i­con Val­ley. (“There isn’t a fear of miss­ing out; it’s de­tached from the ex­pec­ta­tion of look­ing over your shoul­der to see what the next per­son is do­ing,” she says of her choice of head­quar­ters.) “We have to be equal and that’s where chang­ing the roles and putting the women in charge was born.”

Wolfe is ac­tive in the fe­male start-up com­mu­nity and has in­vested in The Wing, a chic all-pink and rose gold women’s only club in New York that is less about breed­ing and more about ca­reer devel­op­ment, and which hosts events that run the gamut of women’s lives, from net­work­ing, sex ed­u­ca­tion and style.

“I think women re­ally strug­gle to get men to un­der­stand what their vi­sion is,” she says, “but that can only change by back­ing more women.”

She is also keen to shed light on the next gen­er­a­tion of women mov­ing up the ranks in the world. “It is hard for an 18-year-old girl with a few dol­lars in her pocket to think she is go­ing to be­come the next Ari­anna Huff­in­g­ton. Don’t get me wrong, she is an in­cred­i­ble in­spi­ra­tion, but we need to high­light some­one more at­tain­able and use­ful for women who are at the be­gin­ning of their ca­reers, not just the ones at the top.” It seems ap­pro­pri­ate then that Bumble has in­tro­duced the Bum­bleBFF func­tion, which al­lows women to find friends, and is due to launch Bum­bleBizz, which fa­cil­i­tates con­tact for busi­ness and pro­fes­sional rea­sons.

For Wolfe, the seem­ingly small act of build­ing a func­tion­al­ity that forces the wo­man to ini­ti­ate con­ver­sa­tion was a ne­ces­sity. She tells me about how she has been re­galed with ac­counts of how it has changed users’ be­hav­iours in the real world. “The golden rule is to treat oth­ers well, the way you want to be treated. It doesn’t ap­ply to dig­i­tal” – one thinks of all that cy­ber-bul­ly­ing, where vitriol that could not so eas­ily be ex­pressed in real life gushes on­line – “so if you want the golden rule to ap­ply, you need to phys­i­cally build that into your prod­uct … you can’t just cross your fin­gers and hope: you have to guide them for­ward,” says Wolfe on the pow­er­ful im­pact of mak­ing the first move. “And, with a very sim­ple im­ple­men­ta­tion, we have guided them to be­have in a cer­tain way, which will have a pos­i­tive im­pact in our com­mu­nity.”

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