'I took some time to... put myself back together again. Humpty Dumpty Sat On The Wall... And, you know, there was a media storm surrounding that, and that was weird. A 24-year-old from Utah.... It was just, yeah... that's a-whole-nother thing. But that being said, it made me who I am today.'
I am talking to Whitney Wolfe, founder of dating app Bumble, and she is telling me about what happened in the aftermath of the sexual harassment case which saw her take Tinder – the dating app she helped to cofound – to court. I had read she avoids the topic, so I am surprised by what she is saying – surprised and saddened.
Wolfe started at Tinder following a post-university gap year (of sorts) which saw her volunteer at orphanages around Asia. She knew she wanted to do something meaningful, something that was 'going to have a positive impact, that has reach' but she didn't know what that was. Back in the States, at 22 years old, she turned to tech – '[it was] limitless what would happen there, right?' – and joined Hatch Labs, a tech incubator in Los Angeles which helped fund fledgling startups.
The 5-strong team started on a dating app project, one that used Facebook as a medium through which to find single people in the nearby vicinity. Fellow cofounder Christopher Gulczynski designed Tinder's symbol, the flame, and Whitney came up with the name: 'we were playing with tons of words', she said. 'Tinder is brushwood that ignites a flame,' she continues. 'To be very honest with you, it does not make me any genius or savant that I came up with [it]. I mean, you get out a thesaurus and anyone in the room could have come up with that.'
She was hired as Tinder's Vice President of Marketing, ironically, as she had no marketing experience and had been rejected from marketing school (she had gone on to studied global studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas instead). '[Marketing] is not hard to come up with,' she says, 'it's the execution that's hard. I went back to my alma mater and went to different sororities [in] the country. I just jumped in there and basically forced everybody to download [Tinder]... and kind of just made it happen.'
'There were five of us. You do everything,' she continued, and our conversation turns to the nitty gritty of working in a startup. 'You don't limit yourself in that type of a role, like, everything is your job, everything was my job. It just didn't matter what it was. If the computer fell apart in 50 pieces, I needed to find a way to put it back together. That's hypothetical, but that's just kind of how it goes with these companies. It's not a corporate situation.'
In February 2013, she entered into a relationship with fellow cofounder Justin Mateen, and the pair went on to date for roughly a year. But when their romance ended, he became verbally controlling and abusive (she has said in the past) and allegedly forced her to quit the company.
A highly-publicised court case ensued, which resulted in an out-of-court settlement for Whitney of reportedly $1million and stock in Tinder. As she told Business Insider last year, 'it wasn't about the money,' and as I sit in front of her now, looking straight into her eyes, I believe her. Because what I see before me is a young woman recalling what was clearly a difficult time for her even younger self, and to be honest, I feel angry on her behalf.
'It was very hard... as you can imagine. Two years of, you know, around-the-clock undying passion, work, stress, everything, [the] excitement, all of it... To be on a pretty crazy ride... And then to just not be there anymore... It's not a job, it's a life, it's a lifestyle. It's saying goodbye to something much bigger than that. So that was definitely hard.'
Many would have crumbled under such pressure, such intense scrutiny – '[I was] under a microscope, people were... you know... I had certain type of publications watching my every move' – but not Whitney. As aforementioned, she took some time out, put herself back together and came back fighting.
Bumble describes itself as a 'feminist' dating app. Much like Tinder it is linked to Facebook and users can select the people they wish to 'match with' by swiping to and fro. But unlike Tinder, the woman has to make the first move, and she must do it in 24 hours. If she doesn't the opportunity evaporates...
The idea came to Whitney from a desire to create a social media network that empowered women. She had early aspirations to design a 'Twitter/Instagram-esqe-SnapChat type thing' for young girls, where only positive comments could be left. But when she left Tinder she was connected to her current business partner, Andrey Andreev – the cofounder of dating website Badoo which currently boasts over 250million users. It was Andrey who convinced her to stay in the dating sphere.
'He said: "Listen, I love your values I love your vision, I think it's great. But why would you jump out of a market that isn't done yet? There's such a long way to go with these dating apps and such a gap to fill for women feeling good about themselves." He said, "Take this idea and shift it into dating." And so that's really what we did.'
Bumble launched 14 months ago and today, boasts over 3 million subscribers. In fact, there are over 25,000 new sign ups each day. It's still free to use, but Whitney reveals she's 'ambitiously' working on a 'monetisation road map'. 'It's going to be a value add versus any sort of detraction,' she affirms.
This is clearly only the beginning for the 26-year-old. Whilst it would be easy to feel sort of envious of someone so young having accomplished so much, so early on, I can only feel glad for her. 'I spent so much time over the last few years being told by men that I don't need to go to that meeting because I'm a girl. And this has nothing to do with Tinder – actually I'm referring to people who have nothing to do with Tinder – [but] even by people in my family, uncles and grandfathers. Women were always pigeon-holed into, like, "Well you don't really need to worry about it, go to college and you're going to meet some guy..."
'It's just [that] stereotype and I don't like that. I want women to strive for greatness outside of just trying to find a husband. (It's funny I say that as we have a dating app!) But the point is, we want you to have a confident relationship where you can also have a career – a modern way of dating, right? It's the new way to date.'
It's around this moment I come to the conclusion that Whitney Wolfe might just be the most empowering, likeable young woman I've interviewed to date. And then she compliments my hair.