As a co-founder of Tinder and the sole founder of Bumble, Whitney Wolfe has played a part in the dating lives of more people than even the most promiscuous of her twenty-something peers could boast. Even if you don’t know her name (yet), there is no question that she has influenced the way you or someone you know dates. And if it wasn’t enough to revolutionize the speed and convenience at which we find partners, she’s now working to change the way women and men interact in this space. Think the usual scene with a feminist twist – a literally equal playing field.
Wolfe welcomed us into her appropriately yellow-hued head office in Austin, Texas, to talk Bumble, business and the modern feminist.
Kit and Ace: How would you describe yourself?
Whitney Wolfe: Twenty-six, hard working, never sleep, brain goes a million miles an hour, very dedicated to Bumble.
How do you think apps have changed the way we approach dating and relationships?
WW: I think that apps have given us access to dating that we never had before. Here’s a great example – we were chatting with someone who ended up matching with a guy that lives in the building next door to her, and now they're dating. They literally live within 50 yards of each other and they'd never met. These apps really give you access to things that are outside of your normal reach in your day‑to‑day life.
Bumble stands out among other dating apps because of the feature that only allows women to start a conversation. How has this changed our ways of interacting?
WW: At the moment, women feel that society judges them for making the first move even though it’s an obvious desire for both sexes. This way of thinking is a really big disconnect and it skews the power and the control in the favour of the man. He is automatically perceived as the one that holds the key and has the power. That's a dynamic that's really hard to change.
Bumble is really striving to empower women to make themselves equal to men in the dating world. By doing so we also take some pressure off of the man, and let him know that it's OK if you're shy, and it’s OK not to be highly aggressive in the dating space. It’s a small change that can have a huge influence on the relationship.
A common sentiment among our generation is that we spend too much time in front of a screen rather than engaging in face‑to‑face interactions – do you worry about Bumble contributing to this?
WW: Our goal is real life interaction. A lot of our matches and a lot of our conversations, they lead to actually meeting in real life. It's inevitable that we're going to engage in screen time. When the cell phone was first introduced there was the same concern and the same worry – "The phone is up to your ear all day. Get out there and talk in real life.” Now the worry has shifted to staring at the phone. It just happens.
As innovation streams through our culture and captivates the attention of our generation, it's always going to cause concern from the outside, but I don't see a huge problem with it.
Tell us about founding and running a company as a 26‑year‑old.
WW: It's hard, I'm not going to lie. At 26‑years‑old, I don't remember the last time I had a dinner without my phone or the last time I went out with my friends for a few cocktails and a fun night. I don't do that. But it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. It's funny, when you're passionate about your business and what you're doing, nothing else sounds better. When you're really driven and determined to see your goals through, it changes your perspective on how you spend your time.
You refer to your company as being feminist. What is your interpretation of the modern feminist?
WW: Our definition – we have both males and females at my company – is that we want equality for both sexes. We're not trying to put women above men. We would love to see women and men treat each other as equals and be respected as equals. In the current landscape a guy very regularly gets to use his interactions with women as a means of bragging rights with his friends. He is considered cooler, more interesting and more popular in his social scene the more women he gets under his belt.
If a woman does that, she gets labeled as “easy” in her group of friends or by society. That's just one area of the dating world that is so unfair for men and women. It should not be that way. We're really trying to make an effort to say, "Listen, we're all human beings. Just because you're a man or a woman does not mean one of you deserves more or less respect than another."
What's it like working in a female-dominated company in the tech world?
WW: I love it. I don't play into the whole tech jargon, tech space nonsense. I think every business should have its own culture and have its own way of operating.
I built this company with people that I found to be extremely passionate about the mission. For some of our employees this is their very first job ever. Their passion, their potential and their dedication was so bright that it was almost impossible to ignore. We're not hiring women because they're women. We're hiring based off of potential, passion, aligned visions and their credentials. Man or woman, it’s just based on who they are as a person.
What was the best decision you've made to get where you are now?
WW: The best decisions I've ever made have been the ones that my gut said yes to or no to immediately. I usually know what's right or wrong in the first instance. If you are leading a company, you know your brand inside and out.