Bumble takes aim at Linkedin

The fem­i­nist dat­ing app is swip­ing right on net­work­ing.

Fast Company - - Contents - By Karen Valby

The fast-grow­ing dat­ing app lets users swipe through po­ten­tial matches—both per­sonal and pro­fes­sional.

Last year, two peo­ple met cute the mod­ern way. Ash­ley and Connor matched on Bum­ble, the dat­ing app where peo­ple swipe through po­ten­tial part­ners but only women are al­lowed to ini­ti­ate a con­ver­sa­tion. They started tex­ting. But when Ash­ley asked an in­no­cent ques­tion about work, Connor launched into a misog­y­nis­tic rant in which he called her a “gold-dig­ging whore.” Bum­ble’s re­sponse, a fiery blog post now known as the “Dear Connor” let­ter, quickly went vi­ral. The com­pany called for a fu­ture in which Connor would “en­gage in ev­ery­day con­ver­sa­tions with women with­out be­ing afraid of their power”—and then, in an un­usual move, banned him from us­ing the ser­vice.

Whit­ney Wolfe, Bum­ble’s 28-year-old founder and CEO, un­der­stands how it feels to be on the re­ceiv­ing end of such mes­sages. Flanked by a hand­ful of the 30 em­ploy­ees (mostly women) who work out of the com­pany’s Austin of­fice, she ex­plains that she founded Bum­ble in 2014 “in re­sponse to our dat­ing is­sues, our is­sues with men, our is­sues with gen­der dynamics.” At the time, Wolfe had been reel­ing from her dra­matic exit from the dat­ing app Tin­der, where she served as VP of mar­ket­ing. Fol­low­ing an ugly breakup with co­founder Justin Ma­teen, Wolfe brought a sex­ual ha­rass­ment suit against her for­mer col­leagues, ac­cus­ing them

of dis­crim­i­na­tion and strip­ping her of her co­founder ti­tle—claims Tin­der called un­founded. Texts in which Ma­teen re­peat­edly bashed Wolfe’s ro­man­tic life and threat­ened her fu­ture at the com­pany cit­ing their strained re­la­tion­ship were pre­sented as ev­i­dence; the case was set­tled out of court. “I started Bum­ble be­cause I was sick of be­ing called names by boys,” Wolfe says, “[and] be­cause ev­ery woman in this room would ben­e­fit from it.”

In less than three years, Bum­ble has amassed more than 20 mil­lion users, and it con­tin­ues to add more than 50,000 new ones per day. It’s on track to take in $150 mil­lion in rev­enue in 2018. (The ba­sic app is free, but more than 10% of its ac­tive users pay up to $9.99 per month for a sub­scrip­tion, which grants ac­cess to pre­mium fea­tures such as a list of peo­ple who have al­ready swiped right on them.) Bum­ble’s users are em­bold­ened by the app’s im­pres­sively low rate of abuse re­ports; in ad­di­tion to ban­ning peo­ple like Connor, Bum­ble also blocks those who send un­wanted nude photos, and it was the first dat­ing app to ini­ti­ate photo ver­i­fi­ca­tion prac­tices, lim­it­ing the po­ten­tial for fake pro­files.

Now Bum­ble is bet­ting that its match­mak­ing tech­nol­ogy can do more than fos­ter ro­man­tic or per­sonal con­nec­tions. Af­ter launch­ing its Bum­ble BFF ver­ti­cal a year ago, which pairs users with new friends, Wolfe is repo­si­tion­ing the com­pany to make room for Bum­ble Bizz, a pro­fes­sional net­work­ing ver­ti­cal de­but­ing this fall where users can look for work, find a busi­ness part­ner, or hire new tal­ent. The orig­i­nal dat­ing ser­vice will be re­branded as Bum­ble Honey. “Whit­ney’s vi­sion ex­tended well be­yond dat­ing from the be­gin­ning,” says Wolfe’s busi­ness part­ner, Andrey An­dreev, the founder and CEO of so­cial net­work­ing site Badoo. (An­dreev owns a ma­jor­ity stake in Bum­ble.)

Giv­ing users more to swipe about than merely ro­mance fits nicely with Bum­ble’s fem­i­nist found­ing mis­sion. But this ap­proach also taps into a crit­i­cal cul­tural zeit­geist as women push back against the sub­tle and overt ha­rass­ment they face in busi­ness. A ris­ing co­hort of women, from ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists to fi­nance and tech en­trepreneurs, are de­ter­mined to re­fash­ion what is ac­cept­able and pos­si­ble in the work­place. In Wolfe’s case, it starts with a sim­ple ques­tion: “Why does it have to be all about love?” she asks. “How do we ex­pand hori­zons be­yond just say­ing, ‘You’re a fe­male, you have to get mar­ried by 30’?”

Dur­ing a cof­fee break at Bum­ble’s of­fice, more than a dozen mem­bers of the staff, who are as loose and ca­sual with one another as long­time friends, crowd around a lap­top perched on the kitchen counter. Wolfe pulls up a video of Bum­ble’s first ad. It fea­tures Sam Ful­gham, the com­pany’s di­rec­tor of col­lege mar­ket­ing, then a ju­nior at the Univer­sity of Alabama, jump­ing out of a plane shortly af­ter she started chat­ting with a match on Bum­ble (the ad’s clos­ing state­ment: #takethe­leap). Wolfe, who en­listed stu­dent am­bas­sadors to make Tin­der a hit on col­lege cam­puses around the coun­try, did the same with Bum­ble, and now she’s ap­ply­ing a sim­i­larly high-en­ergy, wide-net ap­proach to mar­ket­ing Bum­ble Bizz.

For cur­rent users, the con­cept of Bizz is a rel­a­tively easy sell: Set up a dis­crete pro­file for net­work­ing, all while con­tin­u­ing un­der the prin­ci­ple that any­one can match, but women alone can ini­ti­ate con­tact. Un­like many other pro­fes­sional and so­cial net­works, which ex­ist to con­nect you to peo­ple you know, Bizz’s mis­sion is to in­tro­duce you to new con­tacts, with added pro­tec­tions like ver­i­fied pro­files. One key to Bizz’s suc­cess will be draw­ing a new de­mo­graphic of users into Bum­ble’s ecosys­tem. The chal­lenge, says Bum­ble’s di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing, Chelsea Cain Ma­clin, is con­vinc­ing “some­one like my mother, who is mar­ried and has three kids and now wants to get back into health­care work, that we have some­thing to of­fer her.”

This month, Bum­ble is launch­ing a tar­geted na­tional ad cam­paign, geared to­ward women and men of vary­ing ages, that will pro­mote the idea that just one con­nec­tion can trans­form your pro­fes­sional life. Bizz will de­but with ver­i­fied brand part­ners such as Post­mates and Out­door Voices. Hir­ing man­agers at those com­pa­nies will help fill open po­si­tions by swip­ing through can­di­dates they find on Bizz. Bum­ble has also re­cruited “Queen Bees”—ex­ist­ing users who are so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers and en­trepreneurs—to part­ner with the app on net­work­ing and aware­ness events.

Wolfe be­lieves that Bum­ble’s mis­sion of em­pow­er­ment will be as ap­peal­ing in the pro­fes­sional realm as it is in the per­sonal. “We have women al­ready reach­ing out say­ing they’re get­ting [un­wanted

“How do we ex­pand hori­zons be­yond just say­ing, ‘You’re a fe­male, you have to get mar­ried by 30’?”

so­lic­i­ta­tions] on Linkedin, that they need a pro­fes­sional net­work where they make the first move,” says Wolfe. “Women will al­ways con­trol the ex­pe­ri­ence on Bum­ble.” Ash­ley Wright, Bum­ble’s con­tent man­ager (whom Wolfe hired af­ter swip­ing right on her on Bum­ble BFF), spent seven years work­ing in tech­nol­ogy, of­ten at jobs where she says she was dis­missed as “the booth girl” at con­fer­ences and talked over dur­ing staff meet­ings. “A woman-owned, pri­mar­ily woman-op­er­ated com­pany is mind-blow­ing in the tech space,” she tells her col­leagues. “I’ve worked on the other side, so be­lieve me when I tell you that this is a dream job.”

On this day, the team works knee to knee on lap­tops, with the bath­room serv­ing as space for con­fer­ence calls in a pinch. There’s a scrawled two-week count­down on the wall un­til the staff moves into its new head­quar­ters, a 5,000-square-foot space done up in Bum­ble’s sig­na­ture ca­nary yel­low and equipped with a pri­vate room Wolfe calls the Mommy Bar, where new moth­ers can pump in peace and ev­ery­one can en­joy weekly blowouts and man­i­cures on the com­pany’s dime. This is a group that hugs and cheer­leads and hyper-com­mu­ni­cates, like when Wolfe clar­i­fies three times that she was call­ing some­thing her col­league said “weird,” not the woman her­self. The pro­longed ex­change ended with the two mak­ing heart shapes at each other with their hands. “Once a week some­one tells me to toughen up, get a sharper edge,” says Wolfe. “I don’t do that.”

She in­sists that Bum­ble’s cul­ture of pos­i­tiv­ity is the en­gine be­hind the team’s pro­duc­tiv­ity. In July, Bum­ble launched Su­per­swipe, its most re­cent mon­e­ti­za­tion ef­fort. For $1.99 a pop, users can re­in­force their in­ter­est in a match by press­ing a heart sign over his or her pro­file pic­ture (it’s sim­i­lar to a Tin­der fea­ture, Su­per Like). Overnight, Su­per­swipe turned the com­pany into the 29th most-prof­itable app on itunes, a 35% in­crease from its pre­vi­ous po­si­tion. Next year, Bum­ble will launch in-app ad­ver­tis­ing that will be tai­lored to users. The app will give you the chance to swipe right on pizza, for ex­am­ple, be­fore of­fer­ing a coupon to the pizze­ria around the block.

Even as Bum­ble ex­pands, it could be a long time be­fore it reaches the scale of its con­tem­po­raries. It faces stiff com­pe­ti­tion from the likes of 22-year-old dat­ing site Match .com and Tin­der, which has nearly 2 mil­lion pay­ing sub­scribers. And Linkedin prob­a­bly doesn’t con­sider Bum­ble Bizz a threat. But in giv­ing users a new set of guide­lines for how to re­late to one another—both so­cially and pro­fes­sion­ally—wolfe is ask­ing us to re­set our ex­pec­ta­tions for such in­ter­ac­tions.

Back at the of­fice, Wolfe’s team is work­shop­ping new bill­board ads for Bizz; “What does your Dad do? What does your Mom do?” is a top con­tender. Wolfe’s own mom is a brand am­bas­sador who has spent the past six months re­cruit­ing the over-50 age group at var­i­ous events in the Santa Bar­bara, Cal­i­for­nia, area. As for her dad—wolfe’s par­ents di­vorced when she was 17—she has a story about him. Wolfe tells her team that she called him re­cently to share news of Bum­ble’s ris­ing rev­enue: “And he said, ‘Well, good for you, now why don’t you just leave it be? Get a CEO in there and take care of [your hus­band] and en­joy your life.’ ”

The room of women (and three men) groans, as Wolfe laughs and throws her arms up in mock out­rage. “We need more users,” she says. “Clearly our job isn’t done yet.”

Pro­fes­sional match­makerWhit­ney Wolfe wants Bum­ble to be about ex­pand­ing ac­cess— not just to love, but to op­por­tu­nity.

Gen­er­at­ing buzzDi­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing Chelsea Cain Ma­clin, bot­tom left, and head of brand Alex Wil­liamson are lead­ing Bum­ble’s tran­si­tion from a dat­ing app to a con­nec­tion hub.

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