7 questions for Whitney Wolfe, the CEO of our favorite dating app
In preparation for my conversation with Whitney Wolfe, the 26-year-old CEO of Bumble (y’know, the dating app where the girls message the guys) I joined the app. I uploaded some (lightly) filtered photos of myself, put in my search criteria (human males between the ages of 24 and 38) and started swiping. No shame in my game, Bumble hooked me quickly. Something about only having 24-hours to message my matches lit a fire under me and had me shooting off “hey Josh” messages with much more frequency than usual. That, of course, is what all these apps want; for you to become addicted. And I did.
Whitney and her app have quite the story. Prior to Bumble, Whitney was a co-founder at Tinder until she left, suing the company for sexual harassment in the process. (Wolfe doesn’t talk about the suit, but it’s reported that she received somewhere around $1 million in the settlement.) After Tinder, and “once I was able to sleep again and focus,” Bumble was born. The similarities between Tinder and Bumble are easy to see (swipe left, swipe right), but the differences are even more important. Bumble is a feminist platform, and proudly touts itself as such. Also because of the whole girl-messages-guy premise, it operates in a very heteronormative space (though it’s open for all users). That said, they are hard at work making the app more LGBTQ friendly, changes which Whitney hopes will be live in the next few months.
Of the app’s origin story Whitney says, “I kind of had an a-ha moment where I realized I’d always been in these terrible [dating] situations where guys have all the power. I felt inferior to a man [in dating], but I never felt inferior anywhere else. Never in my classroom, never in travels, never anywhere.” She continued, “So I kind of broke that down and realized a lot of that was because of the expectation of men needing to be the aggressor, or make the first move, or always being the one to go after the girl. I thought that was broken. So by making the woman make the first move, and kind of creating an everyday Sadie Hawkins dance, I thought we could make an impact on society.”
Before Whitney hits the stage this weekend at the Create & Cultivate Conference (where she’ll be joined by a whole slew of online entrepreneurs and girl bosses) we talked to her about all things love and Bumble. We hit on what makes the best dating profile, why girls are dubbed “clingy,” and how our grandparents have a lot to do with our messed up dating standards. We’re giving Whitney a total right swipe.
1. How do you think that dating changes when you give women the power of first communication?
I really truly believe that we are creatures of habit and our generation obviously is very progressive compared to our grandparents and parents, but who are we learning from? Who are we listening to? Who was putting food on our table as children? Who was tucking us in at night? These are the people we learn from. So we have been raised in a society where the woman is objectified in media, pop culture, all aspects of propaganda, and also at home. I know that when I was in junior high, if there was a working mom people thought that was weird. It was like, “Well, why does your mom work?” That’s a sick, twisted, diluted mindset but it’s the facts of where we’re at, even in a very progressive society compared to the rest of the world. Which is terrifying.
So I would say when we take those expectations that society has placed on both men and women and we kind of call bullshit on them and say, “Hey it’s okay to not want to be this Casanova aggressor, make-the-first-move, go-out-and-get-’em guy. You can be shy, you can relax, you don’t have to be so macho.” And for a woman to feel like, “Hey you don’t need to sit back, you don’t need to change your personality when it comes to dating, you can be yourself, you can go after what you want, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re not gonna be called or perceived as a slut or desperate” or whatever these names are that guys and girls call one another. We really wanted to create this ecosystem of erasing that slut shaming and taking away that expectation that men face as well, and evening the playing field because it’s not even where it is right now.
2. Do you have any insights into why girls are the ones who are called “clingy” or “crazy” in dating scenarios?
This is something that keeps me up at night because it’s so crazy. I used to get called those things, and my friends did, and it’s sick. It’s not fair. None of us ever were. We were never in someone’s backyard with binoculars, we were just maybe texting the guy first. And I think it’s society! I’m telling you. We are just prompted to follow the leader, so if the leader is the dads and the moms who maybe have a certain relationship where the dad is in control and the mother is not, it’s terrifying.
Also I think traditionally society has said that the man needs to be the bread-winner, and it’s sad but money oftentimes correlates to control. They go hand in hand. We could go on about this all day, we could write a thesis, for the sake of time and your sanity we’ll keep it short. But, when the woman does make the first move it can be daunting for her and the guy just because of what people perceive about a woman who makes the first move in real life. But with Bumble it’s happening everywhere, everyone’s treated the same. You’re playing in an ecosystem that set the rules and you just have to play by our rules. It takes away all that intimidation.
3. What would you say you’ve learned about women and about men since starting the app?
I’ve learned that we’re all just confused. No one actually understands the other one. I think women assume — we all live in these diluted assumptions of one another — women assume, a guy is confident and should be the go-getter. And they assume that the guy wants them to sit back and play damsel in distress. There are all of these weird assumptions that exist. And if you actually break it down and go speak to the majority of men, by the way, I cannot tell you how many thousands of emails and tweets, and just on the street and in daily life, we’ve heard from so many men just saying, thank you so much for this app because finally I can stand out. I’m not a needle in a haystack and I don’t feel like a creep. Guys also don’t want to be objectified in that sense. They don’t want to feel like they’re a predator and I would say that it’s good for both parties.
4. What are your dating profile dos and don’ts?
I would say, mimic real life. If you woulnd’t leave the house at 11am looking like that, don’t make that your profile picture. Because you have to remember that you are being seen at all hours of the day by everyone and anyone so you have to remember that it could be a Monday morning or a Saturday night. I would just make sure that you have an array of photos that show you at you. So if it is 11am on Monday you’re not looking like it’s 3am at a nightclub. Make sure you have an array of who you are and showcase yourself in different times of your life. So maybe that’s you with your family if you’re really family oriented, or if you ride horses make sure you include a photo with your horse, or if you play soccer or . . . I think showcasing personality really scores you lots of matches because they get an insight into who you are. And don’t use a profile picture with multiple people in it because then they don’t know who you are.
5. There’s been a lot of chat lately about the fact that Tinder internally ranks users. Do you guys use the same system?
We don’t disclose anything about our algorithm, obviously you can understand that it’s the nature of the beast. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this, my developers will probably get upset, but say you frequented the same coffee shop as someone else 10 times — we actually pick up on that. Because you have your location services on, everything is location based, so if we see that you have a pattern in where you go, (we’d never disclose that to users, we’d never share where you’re moving around to) but if we see a pattern in your location, that actually plays in significantly to who you see. So maybe you see someone and you’re like, “Wow I don’t know if I’m physically attracted to that person.” There’s still a reason why we’re showing you that person. It might be because you guys go to the same gym, or it shows that you go to the same gym because your locations have matched up X amount of times. So we are really looking at patterns beyond “hotness levels.” It is so much more intrinsic than that.
6. I have to ask: Are you single and do you online date?
I am not single. I have a wonderful, perfect, very supportive boyfriend. He is amazing. I do online Bumble but I don’t date, I use it for feedback. He and I will sit on the couch together, and Bumble together, and match with people and say, “Hey we just want to let you know we’re just reaching out because we would love your feedback on the app. Do you like it? Do you have suggestions? Is there anything we can do to make you happier?” So it’s like this constant costumer service hotline that we do. But no, we are very happily together and neither of us online date.
7. That’s cute. Did you meet him IRL then?
IRL. Yes. Can’t lie. If I was smart I’d say we met on Bumble, but it’s not the case. So yes, IRL.
This interview was condensed.
(Images courtesy of Elle Communications)