A Very Busy Bee with Whitney Wolfe Herd (Bumble) | Disrupt SF (Day 2)
5:32PM Sep 6, 2018
Whitney Wolfe Herd
I'm really, really excited about our next guest. I've been covering the dating space for a really long time and the growth of this company is just insane. And the story behind this founder is even more fascinating. So with that, I'm gonna bring her on out. Please welcome to the stage Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd and your moderator Fitz Tepper. Warm welcome please.
How are you?
I am great. How are you?
Good. I'm so pumped to be in SF. Neither of us, we're New York and Austin, Texas.
I know. That's right.
It's like the land of magical startups and scooters.
And sourdough bread.
And sourdough bread. So it's been a wild year. In the last year, Bumble has turned from a popular dating app to a cultural phenomenon. And you guys are just kind of firing on all cylinders right now. But I want to start with an episode of successful founders that are just like us. So who in the audience has a startup that was started from their apartment, office, apartment office, anything like that?
So you guys just grew to 100 employees on day one, right? And moved into your big offices?
Yep. Day one. That was exactly how it went. No, it was crazy. So we started as a really small team. And we thought we had made it big, because we were moving into an apartment. My part time living place, that was also our work from home Bumble headquarters.
In Austin. And there was three or four of us and then it became six or seven of us and I thought we were a huge company. Then all of a sudden we started growing a little bit more, and our conference room became the bathtub. And then our second conference room was the closet and that was really the Bumble headquarters for the first couple of years. And then you came into our new office that we thought you know, we have really grown into a real proper headquarters and now we're already you know, bursting from the same. So that's, that's great news, but it's all part of the journey.
Did you do a bathtub conference call?
Several. Yes. Totally normal. You know, founders bathtub conference calls.
Well, actually, the bathtub had the bath, the best reception in the entire office.
You guys would fight for it.
So we would put three or four people, you know, sitting on this corner sitting on that corner, standing, and everyone's hanging over trying to get on the conference call. And it would have this awful echo. And we're like we're so sorry, our new conference room's under construction. We're really in a bathtub. So.
That's so funny.
I want to start by talking a bit about the MeToo movement, which kind of came to be almost a year ago. And Bumble's always kind of champion to women's first mentality and that's how the app works. How did you guys kind of feel inside the office when the MeToo movement started to come to be.
You know, I think the MeToo movement was incredibly emotional for a lot of the team members in an inspiring way. You know, we when we started Bumble, when I started Bumble, we were really championing this new way of thinking about empowering women. And it was one of the first initiatives in the tech space from a consumer facing product that a put women in control and b truly built a real brand based on those values. And so seeing society kind of catch up and acknowledge that the empowerment of women and the equality of women and really standing up for the right thing, the fact that that became normalized, and people were raising their hands was something we were so excited about. And, you know, it's something we had been waiting for, for a long time and, you know, fighting for so it's a phenomenal tidal wave happening where women feel empowered to use their voice and they're not scared, they're not ashamed, and so I would say that we're, you know, we're very excited about the momentum and of course devastated as you hear all these horrible stories coming out, but we're really proud and we, you know, stand with every woman that's come forward.
From like a strategic internal perspective, was there any discussion like how we're going to attack this, how we're going to embrace it? Or was it just from day one, finally like
I think it was more the latter. I don't think there was a moment where we said, oh should we change our merchandise? You know, this is who we are. We were never a company that felt like we needed to become on trend with some cultural movement. This is our authentic voice. And it's genuinely what I founded the company on in terms of values and, and ethics and it was just more momentum behind us to keep pushing harder and further and to spread, to spread our wings even further.
But you did publicly align yourself kind of with the movement as a company, right?
Not all tech companies have, and I, you know, maybe I'll say, not many tech companies have. Do you think? Bumble's a pretty closely held company. There are only a few major shareholders. You're one of them, Badoo is one of them. Do you think that made it easier to come out and publicly embrace the movement, knowing that you didn't have a lot of shareholders to be accountable to and you know, people in the cap table.
I think if you look at Bumble from day one, Bumble has always taken firm decisions based on our values. And so this was one of those moments where it was a no brainer, it wasn't sitting around a board table saying, well, how is this going to affect our bottom line? Quite frankly, that's not something I'm concerned about. I care about our users. I care about changing the dynamics and our team cares about doing it our own way, a way that we truly believe will move the needle and if that compromises the bottom line, temporarily, that's something we're willing to embrace.
Do you think it did affect the bottom line or did it help the bottom line?
No, you know, I think that's why a lot of people have never done anything about it beforehand because they were afraid it would. But in reality, our company is thriving. We're profitable business in less than four years, we're growing at a incredibly rapid rate. We were 22 million registered users this time last year. Now we're over 40 million. And we've taken some farm stances, and we have inadvertently alienated certain mindsets and that's okay. Because if you don't stand for something as a business, then you really have no future in my personal opinion, and ultimately the community that cares about what we're doing, they they're there for something more than just a random product. And so we we owe them to continue to make the right decisions for them and to push the needle and you cannot create any type of change or any type of growth with making a few people uncomfortable.
And like specifically men on the platform. How have they reacted to this?
You know, this has been one of the biggest questions since day one of Bumble a lot of people. I remember when it was just an idea. And outside from my business partner, and from our early team, I would go around the community kind of thing on wanting this dating app. But here's the caveat, we're going to empower women and we're going to give them control and women going to make the first move and they would kind of go entirely blank and go, why would you start a product where there's going to be no engagement that makes no sense. So this this misconception of men will hate this has kind of been ingrained in in popular you know, opinion for a long time, but in fact, it's the opposite. So the more we empower the women on our platform, the the safer the space becomes, the more enjoyable the space becomes. And the more evangelize the brand becomes, the more attractive it actually becomes to men because what people are doing on this platform is connecting. And if you alienate the women, and if you make the experience something that women aren't going to enjoy, why would men enjoy that? And so it's somewhat of a no brainer.
You do some interesting things about highlighting bad behavior from men on the platform, almost like publicly kind of shaming them. Is that the way to put it I guess, tell me a bit about like the rationale behind that and how that works.
So we definitely don't ever want to shame
No, no, I No, no, no. So and
Walk through I guess what that looks like.
So our intention is definitely to stay in line with our values. And our values are very simple accountability, which is, in my opinion, one of the most important kindness equality and empowerment and growth and accountability is this really important you know topic right now and if you look at where all these other social platforms are, quite literally on Capitol Hill yesterday talking about the need for accountability and almost apologizing? Whoops, here we are, you know, almost a decade later. I don't know where we've been. We, I started out really wanting to reshape the internet to create an accountable society. How can we engineer a platform through product and brand to make people feel empowered to behave well, and to be kind to one another. And so when we do get the bad behavior, we have to hold people accountable. And so that has come in the form of open letters that has come in the form of banning people permanently. And it's something we're proud of, if you can't come to our space and behave well and treat people with kindness, which by the way, is not asking much then you don't have a right to be here. And again, many companies have been scared to own that because they don't want to lose a user and we are taking the opposite approach and have always taken the opposite approach, not just after, all of a sudden, you know, these media companies are in the hot seat. This is who we are. It's what we've been doing.
Got it. What do you think bomb would look like today if the MeToo movement didn't start the year ago?
Well, I think it would look like what it looks like a week before it started, I think we would be doing the exact same thing, we would be pushing further harder having a stronger voice. And we would definitely stand for the same things regardless of the cultural tailwinds. And we are just incredibly excited to see that more companies more voices and more communities are acknowledging the grave danger of a disempowered society when you're focused on women and how women are treated and how they're, you know, held to these gender norms.
Got it. I want to move on and talk about product a bit. So within the last year, you launched Bumble Biz and Bumble BFF, which is a business networking tool and a friend networking tool. Why did you launch those features?
So we launched the features, we really try to always look at our user base. What are our users doing here? What, what do they want out of this experience? And something really interesting started happening very early on in the product. Actually, almost day one, we saw women hacking the product, to use it to seek other social connections. And it was because they were protected behind this wall where they were in control. They were in their driver's seat, they were not getting inundated by strangers or by conversations or communications, therefore, they could really shape what they were looking for from the experience. And so when we saw hundreds of thousands of profiles indicating newly married or in a relationship, husband or boyfriend just got a job in Chicago. I know no one here I need a friend to go to yoga or I want somebody to start a company with we started paying attention to this in a real way and we said you know what, this is our moment. It's early enough.
Our brand identity is not, you know, cemented yet let's take this to the next level and let's evolve and give our users what they're looking for and let's be the premier product to connect you to people you don't know yet for anything you're looking for. And so that was our foray into that. And Bumblebee, FF and Bumble biz were really the first directions of that and so now it's a full fledged social network in its own right and people really use the product in a different way. And so the LTV of Bumble is significantly different than the other products on the market. Because there's inherent churn with a dating product, you do your job, you lose your user, but what we've seen now through thoughtful product integrations from our team is you know, we you can hide dating mode so if you're in a relationship but you want to use Bumble to find a new girlfriend or friend to go do something or a new business contact you can simply deactivate the dating side and we hold you accountable back to our values where it timestamps the day you hit dating mode. So there's accountability in your relationship. And so that's the beauty of this is that you don't have to be exclusive to our product in one direction or another.
I imagine that there's still probably a significant group of people, men or women who are not signing up to use those two modes because their boyfriend or girlfriend doesn't or husband wife doesn't want them using Bumble, you know, period. And does that happen? How do you combat that? And was there ever talk of doing like three separate apps in the beginning.
You know, there was never talk of doing three separate apps because we have such an engaged community that when we pulled our community a lot of them said they weren't even exclusively there for dating. They were open to opportunities and that they feel the brand is something that allows them to be there for more so if you think about products in relation to real physical places, Bumble is not just you know, a nightclub Bumble is a coffee shop or also serves alcohol. If you want alcohol, we have food. So it's this warm, cozy, inviting environment where you're allowed to be yourself in any circumstance.
Do you hope that one day when someone hears Bumble, they don't immediately think dating app?
You know, I don't mind what people think when they think about Bumble as long as they feel safe, and that they feel Bumble stands for empowerment. I want Bumble to be five years from now the world's premier empowerment company across every vertical and it shouldn't just be about connecting to these three exclusive verticals right now.
That's a good transition because I want to talk about media being you know the foremost I guess empowerment movement company you have to expand beyond not only dating but beyond connection so I guess you did announced some media efforts earlier this year. Maybe surfacing some content in the app may be charging for one day. Tell me about your plans there and Bumble as a media company, how important is that to the long term vision?
Sure. So it's all about not shifting away from connecting people. But going deeper into connecting people being deeper in those connections. So if you're going to connect somebody for romantic purposes, let's give them content that will help them have better relationships. Let's help those relationships go deeper and be more evolved. And if they're looking for business connections, let's help them learn how to set up a business right from our product. Why would we want to connect to you just to the person we need to surround you from a 360 Hello a holistic perspective and really add value to support those connections. And so the future of Bumble media is really vast. We've hired incredible team, we hired a remarkable woman who had been with Forbes for several years, Clara Connor, and she's brilliant and is really building out the strategy with several other of our amazing team members. And I think you'll see a lot out of us in early 2019. From from our media arm,
And do you think there'll be users one day who will only interact with Bumble media and may not come into the app at all. And
I'll see that in 2019, early 2020.
I want to talk about offline for a second. You've done some cool things, with retail stores, retail presences in Soho, New York and Los Angeles, you have a read to not a retail, but you have a physical activation here. That's something that Silicon Valley startups kind of stay away from Normally, I think they think retail and in person is like a waste of time. Why have you guys dedicated so much effort to that?
So we don't really look at it from a financial model and say, Oh, is this the best ROI? Or is this not what's the best ROI of our brand? And how can we go deeper with our users and how can we build community so our users have shown us that they want to be a part of our brand in a deeper way more than just using our product How can they engage with us and our values and what we can offer them in the physical. And so we had pop up hives and in 2019 we are rolling out physical hives, the kind of the nitty gritty of those I can't announce on stage, but there'll be something no one's seen in the space. And it won't be a model that you've seen. And outside of the space, it's going to be very unique approach to this, but all going deeper into connections and really, truly about bringing good people together, which is our tagline
And will you try to monetize those are It's okay, if they're kind of a loss.
There is a deep monetization strategy built into that. But currently, Bumble is a profitable business just on a subscription model. So 2019 will come the introduction of both advertising on the platform and then in the physical space.
Interesting. And kind of on that same online offline topic. There's been a lot of conversation recently about social media. healthiness unhealthy. Enos social media addiction, I know you guys have something to announce today about that. I guess in that kind of tell me your broader thoughts on social media addiction, do you think Bumble kind of falls into that category?
Absolutely. And I would be, it would not be right of me to exclude Bumble And then try to hold everybody else accountable. So we take accountability. And we, we, we are responsible in part for this epidemic of social media obsession. And I think that this is the moment where we're seeing not only companies be held accountable for their behavior, as you know, interacting with their users, but it's time to almost encourage our users to to focus on themselves and mental health and take care of themselves and not feel trapped in this warp of a never ending stream of social connection. And so today, we're very excited. First time anyone was hearing about this, we are introducing snooze. snooze is the first feature across the board from really any major social media platform. It's quite different to anything anyone else has done where we let you snooze our product, you get to choose the amount of time you'd like to snooze for, which freezes everything, and essentially sends in a way message to any of your matches. And you get to indicate the timeframe and the reason for being out. And so why are we doing this? We're doing this for a few reasons. Reason number one, we listened to our users and a lot of our users have indicated that they feel overwhelmed in keeping up with these connections in the midst of their busy lives, and they wish they could peacefully just take a break without offending or rejecting anyone and so it came from that and then data you know, obviously supports that and then we really just looked at this piece at large of how social media affects one another and ourselves and so you know, I personally have been off social media for almost three weeks now I feel like a different person it's like
That's why you're not liking my pictures
That's why i know i that's Please don't be offended but.
No, but see this. This interaction right here is so telling of this addiction to social media and the validation. Every single person these days is seeking from this digital acceptance of friends or people they don't even know. And it's actually wild. The amount of people I've spoken to in the last three weeks has shrunk down to just a handful of people, the people I see in my office, my family, my very closest friends who I'm constantly on the phone with but it's been a really perplexing experience. I went through a withdrawal for the first 48 hours genuinely and I felt panicked. I felt anxious I felt depressed and then all of a sudden I started relearning how to be human again. And it's it's a really liberating feeling and something I hope everyone will try at some point
so quickly before we move on. I think some of one of the reasons at least Facebook Instagram whatever has been hesitant to put kind of a similar motive is they're worried that People are going to wait three weeks be refreshed. Wow, I can't believe I feel better without this, and maybe not go back or not go back as much as they used to. How do you you worried about that.
So we're a bit different than the other social media platforms. They keep you in touch with people you already know. And then let you essentially know people you don't know just through their photos. They don't really connect you to people you don't know yet. And Bumble comes back to the core of humanity. Everyone at some point or another. Whether you're in a social media burnout or not, needs human connection, you need a friend, you're going to at some point your life want to date, and you need business connections. And so regardless of the burnout, or feeling refreshed, you still need connections. And that's what Bumble serves brings people together. And so we're really not worried about losing our users. We are actually excited about giving our users a refreshed experience and letting them take control over their experience.
Got it. I want to talk about the future a bit after Facebook announced their foray into dating you guys released a pretty interesting statement you said we were thrilled when we saw the news. Our team has already reached out. Maybe we can work together in the future. And I think Tinder said, screw you bring it on.
Why did you guys kind of put out that statement?
Um, so we love Facebook. We work with several people at Facebook, across the board. huge respect for Facebook. And obviously, how could you not respect the growth that they've achieved over the years. But, you know, Facebook's the biggest dating app in the world, let's just be honest, it always has been and the fact that Facebook came out and said, we are actually going to use the word dating publicly huge validation to us. I mean, that's the best thing that could happen to the dating space maybe ever. And what is also worth noting is we're really not reliant on Facebook anymore. So this isn't a direct risk to us. When we released non Facebook login our registrations went up 40% virtually overnight. And that's very telling of who's coming to our product. Our product us both younger and older at the same time. And people are coming in, they're logging in with Altair with alternate logins. And so we don't feel at the whim of of what they're going to do. We're actually excited to see what they doing. Yeah, who knows, maybe there is an opportunity for a partnership down the road
Has kind of the drama that Facebook's gone through over the last few months. And even all big social platforms changed the way you feel about ever partnering or, you know, working or being acquired by them or any of the other big networks.
Well, I'm we're not spending our days really thinking about acquisition genuinely. And we're focused on growth and adding value to our users. How can we make the experience better? How can we evolve? How can we take this vision of global empowerment brand to the next level and so to be candid, I haven't spent too much time thinking about that. We're so busy just focused on taking our you know, our future to where we want to go,
Whether it would be Facebook or another larger tech company, what are kind of the list of like, must haves for you to either be willing to be acquired or do a significant kind of partnership with them?
You know, I think values count, and we are. So it's so much in our DNA at this point of focusing on these values. And when we build a product feature, or when we make a revenue move, it always has to check those value boxes. And so I would assume, again, I haven't given it too much thought we're just not there yet. We're just in high growth mode. I would think it's very important to both myself and our team and our our board that we find a partner that share similar values, but that's for any good partnership in the world.
And as you've you know, again, you're not looking but as you've kind of seen, I guess, how these companies operate. Do you think being picky is the right word but having that kind of clear cut set of values that you want may make it harder and or impossible to ever merger be acquired.
I don't think anything is impossible chest may have been very shocked in the last few years. Definitely nothing's impossible at this point, but you know, I don't know we'll get there when we get there. I think that Bumble has several different exit opportunities in the future. But we'll never get to that point if we don't bring more value and grow more and spread our vision, our mission to the rest of the world. And so we're focused on global where we're going very global and 20 that the end of 2018 and 2019 and I think you'll see a lot of international growth out of us in the coming year.
Got it well keep us updated. Thank you.
Thank you. Thanks so much.