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Who Is Whitney Wolfe Herd and Why Haven’t We Heard More About Her?

She’s been interviewed by Times, Forbes, CNN, and was the youngest woman billionaire all in the last decade, so why does no one know her name? Whitney Wolfe Herd is the original co-founder of Tinder and CEO of Bumble, two mega-sites in the dating industry. While she came up with ideas for both apps, the story of her success and how it has changed intimacy forever are not that simple. Some have compared Wolfe Herd to a tech version of Kill Bill as she is a yellow-clad woman seeking vengeance after the men who tried to place a scarlet letter on her. Whitney Wolfe Herd’s motives and success aside, she has undeniably paved a new path for women into not only the world of tech, but intimacy as well.

The road to Bumble CEO and billionaire was not easily forged. Whitney Wolfe Herd grew up with a sister and two divorced parents in Utah. She remembers that while her family was not Mormon, the community they were surrounded by was, and for the longest time Wolfe Herd couldn’t understand the culture. She was surrounded by numerous unhealthy relationships where women were being exploited by their male-dominating partners and that was simply the “norm”. In an effort to escape this hostile environment, she went to SMU where Wolfe Heard joined a sorority in order to find new friends and community. She accredits this chapter of her life to the foundation of Bumble. Being in a sorority did not just teach her about building connections, but more importantly it taught her how crucial a brand is. Between rules, exclusivity, matching apparel, organized events, and more, Wolfe Herd adapted her experiences in sorority life to her later marketing career.

Wolfe Herd went on to work for the marketing department of Tinder, as well as becoming a co-founder and Vice President. She went to numerous campuses like the one she had just been on and passed out merchandise all while hyping up the social platform. Not long into her time at Tinder, she claims she was ousted from the company after breaking up with her co-founder Justin Mateen. When Wolfe Herd tried to sue for sexual harassment and discrimination the case was resolved with no admission of wrongdoing. Tinder has since given her an undisclosed payout and issued a statement that all executives named in the lawsuit no longer work for the company. Former employees have come forward recalling the executives would tell Wolfe Herd to “shut up”, demand she run their errands, discussing her breast size in meetings, slut-shaming her, and on one occasion someone spit in her face at a party.

Despite such a whirlwind experience, at only 24 Wolfe Herd did not let that stop her. She launched Bumble, with the help of an investor from the European dating app Badoo, in the spare bedroom of a friend’s parent’s house in Austin. Starting from the ground up, she went back to those same campuses and campaigned her new, safer, female-driven dating app with bright yellow honey-comb themed merchandise. Over four short years, likely with the help of the pandemic increasing online dating, Bumble offices moved from that bedroom to a massive office and created a billionaire in its first day of IPO. Due to a lack of investment in female-founded companies; self-made women only account for 5% of the world’s 500 richest people. This is suspected to be because of unfair standards set for women. However, against these odds Wolfe Herd is one of the only 100 self-made female billionaires in the world.

So just how does Bumble work? Similar to other dating apps on the market like Tinder, Hinge, and OkCupid the app displays profiles to the user based on location and proximity, users then swipe right for yes, left for no - but on Bumble only the women can message first. It is similar to a Sadie Hawkins dance, but unless you’ve paid for a premium membership you only have 24 hours before the connection is lost. Some have criticized Bumble for merely being a spin-off of Tinder and feminist marketing propaganda. Even its roots in the sorority world have been mentioned as a negative to the early work culture. Some have also critiqued that the Bumble system relies on women doing all the work while rewarding passivity in men. Many women find that this set-up instills behavioral problems that perpetuate men not taking the initiative in arranging dates, prioritizing communication, and continuing to place the burden of intimacy in a relationship on women’s shoulders.

Bumble is one of the few tech companies to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to caring more about safety than freedom. It is the first major social networking app to implement behavioral boundaries and moderate content as part of its business model. They have also pushed legislation in states like Texas to reinforce consequences for digital harassment. Wolfe Herd did not just design a dating app, she made a safe space for digital romance. She’s quoted for saying “Do I think by a woman making the first move on Bumble we’re going to solve every women’s issue around the world? No. Do I think it’s a good first step to recalibrate an age-old system that sets us all up for failure, men and women? Yes. Because the Internet has megapower to shift behavior–if you use it for good.”I n 2016, Bumble launched their BFF feature, which allows users to form platonic relationships through the app. The year after they released another hybrid called Bumble Bizz, designed to match potential business partners. Wolfe Herd has said that the app is more than just coding, it’s a brand first. Being a brand is important to her and had to be rooted in dating before it could inevitably branch outwards. Although growing the Bumble brand beyond dating was always in her plans, she says that addressing dating culture first might reduce the competition created between women that often leads to a lack of successful friendships. The platform is used as just that, a platform to advocate for better relationships and communication in culture.

In response to her decision to launch Bumble in India, Wolfe Herd said that “The most traditional, the most misogynistic mindsets globally — those markets for us are completely wide-open prairies.” While other US-based dating apps already exist in these regions, the differentiating factor of empowering women to initiate contact puts both Bumble and its female users at risk. The Thomson Reuters Foundation surveyed more than 500 experts on women’s issues, and concluded that India was the most dangerous country in the world for women due to factors like sexual violence against women and cultural traditions impacting women’s safety. Bumble saw these statistics as an opportunity to empower women instead. In order to prioritize the safety of its users, the app took precautions such as allowing the ability for women to display only an initial rather than full name and requiring that all male-users provide their full-identification. These adaptations also inspired new global features such as photo verification. With this push came another, to develop a department focused on the diversity of the platform. In the book, The Dating Divide: Race and Desire in the Era of Online Romance, its sociologist authors, Jennifer Lundquist, Celeste Vaughan Curington and Ken Hou-Lin, argue that online dating sites exacerbate racial divisions, particularly those that allow users to filter by race-related “preferences” (Bumble is not one of those). A study for OkCupid found that black women receive the least matches and interaction, followed by black men, and that women of color frequently report being harassed on dating sites, so Bumble has started moderating body shaming by imposing a ban on “unsolicited and derogatory comments made about someone’s appearance, body shape, size or health.”

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