Vi­sion

Founded just four years ago, Tin­der has launched a slew of off­shoot plat­forms – in­clud­ing the ex­clu­sive and se­cre­tive Tin­der Select – and has for­ever changed the game of love.

Bespoke - - THE CONTENTS -

Tin­der p. 24, United Na­tion’s Hap­pi­ness Re­port p.28, Paolo Pin­in­fa­rina p. 30

Like many good love sto­ries, this one be­gins on a night out. It is spring 2012, and a group of young men sit hunched around a ta­ble in Cec­coni’s, a ritzy Ital­ian restau­rant on Mel­rose Av­enue in Los An­ge­les. They are smart, good-look­ing, and on the hunt for women. They bend stu­diously over their phones, fran­ti­cally tex­ting girls they know, to see if they will “hang” with them for the evening. Two me­tres away is a ta­ble of young women, also on a night out. One of the men clocks them. He has dark, in­tense eyes and fast, ex­citable hands. Per­haps, he sug­gests to his friends, they should try talk­ing to these girls in­stead. The bolder mem­bers of the group ap­proach the women. They then do what young men across the world have been do­ing for cen­turies – the ag­o­nis­ing courtship of small talk. Sean Rad, the 30-year-old CEO of the dat­ing app Tin­der, laughs when he tells me this story. We meet over lunch in a small, un­pre­ten­tious café off Ox­ford Street in Lon­don. He or­ders gin­ger tea and honey, be­cause he tells me, he is “sick”. Some sort of cold/flu/tem­per­a­ture thing that he just can’t shift. “I was like, this is com­i­cal! There we were sat in a restau­rant all on our phones tex­ting girls to see who would come out. But when I looked around there was a ta­ble of girls right next to us!” He takes a sip of tea. On one wrist he wears a chunky gold Aude­mars Piguet. On the other, three ‘in­tent’ bracelets made of string, the sort of thing stu­dents come back with af­ter a gap year. One reads ‘Dream’, the sec­ond, ‘Power’. The third one sim­ply says, ‘Breathe’. If you’re sin­gle, un­der 35 or have chil­dren of a con­sent­ing age, you will be fa­mil­iar with what Tin­der is and what it does. If you’re not, these are the ba­sics. Tin­der is es­sen­tially a lo­ca­tion-based mo­bile phone app, whose icon – a small red flame – can be found on the phones of sin­gle (and some­times not so sin­gle) men and women across the world. Users open the app, get pre­sented with an ever-re­volv­ing carousel of cheery/pouty/blue Steel head­shots and start swip­ing. Swipe left to re­ject and right to give the nod. A con­ver­sa­tion is only ini­ti­ated if both users right-swipe. It’s called “a match”; the dig­i­tal equiv­a­lent of say­ing, I fancy you, you fancy me, let’s get this thing mov­ing. Now a whole gen­er­a­tion of men and women need never know what it feels like to be re­jected. For the record, I’m not a Tin­derer (to tin­der is now a verb). I’ve been out of the dat­ing game since 2002, but I work with an of­fice full of young, sin­gle men and women. They have all used Tin­der. Even when not us­ing the app they speak in a strange lan­guage of “right-swip­ing” (as in, “I’d rightswipe him”) and of mys­ti­fy­ing mal­adies such as Tin­der­i­tus (like RSI, but for your in­dex fin­ger, af­ter over-zeal­ous swip­ing). Some say Tin­der has rev­o­lu­tionised the dat­ing scene, fa­cil­i­tat­ing in­tro­duc­tions (or, as they’re called in Tin­der­land, “con­nec­tions”) that would not or­di­nar­ily hap­pen. Oth­ers say it is a “hook-up” app; the scourge of mod­ern love, mak­ing empty one-night sex as easy as, well, swip­ing right. A Van­ity Fair jour­nal­ist wrote about “the dawn of a dat­ing apoc­a­lypse” in which users – the men in par­tic­u­lar – used it ad­dic­tively for ca­sual sex. I ask Rad what hap­pened when they ap­proached the ta­ble of girls in 2012. He laughs. “We got re­jected! They were like, ‘This is awk­ward. We’re eat­ing din­ner. Leave us alone!’” The brush-off did give him an idea. What if you could com­bine mo­bile phones and dat­ing, he thought when he got home. Bet­ter still, what if there was a way of know­ing whether a woman was in­ter­ested in you be­fore you made the first move? In the sum­mer of 2012, Rad and a small group of friends got to work. Twenty-three days later, Tin­der was born. Four years on, Tin­der fa­cil­i­tates 1.3 mil­lion dates a week. There are 9.6 mil­lion daily users, ac­count­ing for some 1.8 bil­lion swipes a day. Tin­der is part of Match Group, which in­cludes other dat­ing sites such as Okcu­pid and match.com. In Novem­ber, Match Group was val­ued at around $3 bil­lion ahead of flota­tion on the New York stock ex­change – ac­cord­ing to one re­cent es­ti­mate, 1 bil­lion USD would come from Tin­der. If that were all – Rad is re­ported to own more than 10 per cent of the com­pany – this would be a happy, un­com­pli­cated tale of love, riches and megabytes. But this is startup land. Things get com­pli­cated, quickly. And Tin­der’s story (by which I re­ally mean Rad’s story) has been more tu­mul­tuous than most. “I feel like I have been through more in

the past three years than some peo­ple do in 20,” Rad tells me with his char­ac­ter­is­tic lack of guile. He makes an un­usual CEO. His forth­right, un­fil­tered man­ner has po­larised any­one who has watched his phe­nom­e­nal rise, win­ning him fans – and get­ting him into trou­ble. In 2014, his best friend and fel­low Tin­der co-founder Justin Ma­teen had a sex­ual ha­rass­ment law­suit brought against him­self and the com­pany by for­mer vice-pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing Whit­ney Wolfe. Ma­teen – Rad’s best friend – had been in a re­la­tion­ship with Wolfe. When they broke up Rad and Ma­teen were ac­cused of sub­ject­ing Wolfe to “a bar­rage of sex­ist, racist and oth­er­wise in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments”. Even­tu­ally they set­tled out of court for a re­ported 1 mil­lion USD, Ma­teen left the com­pany and Wolfe en­acted the sort of coup de grace that could only hap­pen in Sil­i­con Val­ley: she launched a ri­val dat­ing app called Bum­ble – one in which it’s the fe­male users who ini­ti­ate the con­ver­sa­tion. Nei­ther side has ad­mit­ted any wrong­do­ing, but the case did noth­ing to re­solve Tin­der’s rep­u­ta­tion for hav­ing a lad­dish, jock-dom­i­nated work­ing cul­ture. (Like most start-ups, it em­ploys a high per­cent­age of men.) It got worse. Shortly af­ter, Rad was fired as CEO, with the board cit­ing in­ex­pe­ri­ence. (“It was more about mis­takes not yet made than mis­takes al­ready made,” he ex­plains, although ob­servers were quick to note the tim­ing, so soon af­ter the sex­ual ha­rass­ment case.) Critics of Rad said he was naive and out of his depth. Six months later though, he was re­in­stated. Then, on the eve of Match Group’s flota­tion, Rad gave an in­ter­view to the Lon­don Evening Stan­dard. He said he was “ad­dicted” to Tin­der – “Every other week I fall in love with a new girl” – and boasted about a fa­mous su­per­model who was “beg­ging” him for sex. This was sup­posed to be Rad’s sec­ond chance, but it seemed as though noth­ing had changed. Was he still a li­a­bil­ity? When the jour­nal­ist asked him what he found at­trac­tive he con­fused the word “sa­pio­sex­ual” (mean­ing some­one who gets turned on by in­tel­li­gence) with “sodomy”. It went vi­ral.

So let’s talk about sodomy, I say as he forks a mouth­ful of as­para­gus omelette. “Oh God,” he says shak­ing his head. “I was re­ally sick, so just bear that in mind.” He laughs ner­vously. “So grasp­ing for the word in my head was par­tially be­cause my mind was fry­ing.” Did his mum read it? She did, he tells me. He de­scribes her re­ac­tion as “con­fused”. So did his team. “But be­ing the laugh­ing stock of the in­ter­net for two min­utes … That taught me a lot.” While Tin­der has had a lot of grow­ing up to do over the past three years (not least fig­ur­ing out a way to mon­e­tise it), so too has Rad. He’s 30 now and although he has the boy­ish en­thu­si­asm of some­one ten years younger, he has the mettle of a sur­vivor. In in­ter­views in the past he’s of­ten de­scribed sit­ting in a bar swip­ing through the glam­orous women on his Tin­der feed as though he can’t believe his luck. To­day he de­scribes him­self as “re­served” and says he finds meet­ing new peo­ple “chal­leng­ing”. He has only had three proper re­la­tion­ships in his life, he tells me, and, yes, he met his last girl­friend, Alexa (daugh­ter of tech bil­lion­aire Michael Dell) on Tin­der. “I think the per­cep­tion is that I’m this LA tech party guy, but the truth is I’d rather sit in a room with my best friends than go to some crazy party.” An ex­am­ple: he was re­cently in­vited to the Play­boy Man­sion. He didn’t go. He looks em­bar­rassed when I ask if he is dat­ing. “I am,” he says ner­vously. “But it’s early days.” All he will tell me is that she is def­i­nitely not fa­mous, nor is she a su­per­model. The far less glam­orous truth is that she works in tech and was a friend be­fore any­thing hap­pened. “Ac­tu­ally,” he con­cedes, “we’re sort of se­ri­ous.” Rad is the son of Ira­nian-jewish im­mi­grants. His par­ents (who own a suc­cess­ful con­sumer elec­tron­ics busi­ness set up by Rad’s grand­fa­ther) live in Bel Air, a smart LA sub­urb a short drive from Rad’s apart­ment in West Hol­ly­wood. Rad grew up lis­ten­ing to the fam­ily talk busi­ness at the din­ner ta­ble. He has said, “I got a mas­ter’s de­gree in busi­ness be­fore I left home.” In­ter­est­ingly, when the new CEO was brought in, Chris Payne, a vet­eran tech pro­fes­sional and busi­ness leader from ebay, he lasted less than five months be­fore Rad was re­in­stated. (There was a stand­ing ova­tion when he walked back in as CEO.) Why Payne didn’t last longer, no one ap­pears to know. But when you en­ter Tin­der HQ, the Frank Gehry-de­signed glass build­ing on Sun­set Boule­vard, you get a sense of what might have hap­pened (out­side, Tin­der tourists pose for self­ies be­side the logo). Tin­der is a young place. There are bean­bags and peo­ple hunched over lap­tops in high-top train­ers and lowrise denim. There is a wall of can­dies, a bas­ket­ball court, a fancy-look­ing drinks area that dis­penses three dif­fer­ent types of kom­bucha, the fer­mented tea, as well as wine and beer on tap (oth­er­wise known as “the win­er­a­tor” and “beer­era­tor”). You get the feel­ing any­one who re­mem­bers plaid shirts and Dr Martens the first time around might have a tricky time fit­ting in. Last year, Tin­der in­tro­duced Su­per­like, which en­ables users to alert peo­ple that they have liked them. Su­per­like is in­cluded as part of Tin­der Plus, the com­pany’s pre­mium sub­scrip­tion ser­vice. The ba­sic app is free but for a monthly fee Tin­der Plus gives mem­bers un­lim­ited swipes and five Su­per­likes a day. Rates are more for the over-thir­ties (as Rad said, with typ­i­cal bullish­ness, around the launch to one in­ter­viewer: “How much would you pay me to meet your fu­ture wife? Ten thou­sand dol­lars? Twenty thou­sand dol­lars?”) The com­pany also re­cently launched a new by in­vi­ta­tion-only plat­form called Tin­der Select, which is meant to serve only the elite users on the app, in­clud­ing CEOS, su­per­mod­els, and other hy­per-at­trac­tive/ up­wardly af­flu­ent types, and Tin­der So­cial, which es­sen­tially al­lows you to plan your night out by invit­ing peo­ple you know, as well as match­ing with other groups who are go­ing out that night, too. He could have done with that on his night out in Cec­coni’s, I say. “Right,” he agrees. “It’s come full cir­cle.”

Tin­der fa­cil­i­tates 1.3 mil­lion dates a week. There are 9.6 mil­lion daily users, ac­count­ing for some 1.8 bil­lion swipes a day.

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