For most entrepreneurs, success comes slowly over time. Sometimes, however, the right person puts the right idea into a ripe market and experiences a meteoric rise. Whitney Wolfe was that right person for the online dating industry, a fast-growing global market projected to be worth over $10 billion by 2025. In only a few short years, this 31 year old brought about a complete paradigm shift in the way online dating is approached, not only on her platform, but also across social media as a whole.
Although her college major was in international studies, Wolfe’s true passion was always entrepreneurship. When she was 19, the BP oil spill spurred her to create an organization called the Help Us Project. By selling totes and clothing designed by the affluential stylist Patrick Aufdenkamp, her endeavor gained national attention and numerous celebrity customers. About 60% of the profits were donated to charities.
The partnership that changed Whitney Wolfe’s life forever
Like most graduates without pre-existing industry contracts, Wolfe struggled to gain a foothold in the highly competitive entry-level job market despite her earlier work. Her first big break came when the 22-year-old met the future CEO of Tinder, Sean Rad. After hearing him discuss his idea for the dating app, she pitched him a proposal to help market and design the platform. Impressed by her suggestions and tenacity in following up, he brought her on the venture.
Wolfe brought her uniquely creative insight and clever branding to the project, and the app was launched in 2012 as an online dating platform that stood apart from the crowd of options available at the time. With her brilliant field marketing, Tinder exploded very quickly. By 2013, the app saw over 20,000 new downloads per day on iOS. Ironically, despite the stunning success of the platform, it nearly ended her career in the industry rather than catapulting it upward as would be expected.
Shortly after beginning to develop the project, Wolfe began dating another Tinder cofounder, Justin Mateen. That relationship quickly spiraled downward, and she found herself fronting a deluge of derogatory text messages and emails when they separated. Deciding to take a stand against the treatment she received, she left the company in 2014 and filed a lawsuit.
Whitney Wolfe’s lawsuit was sensationalized in the media
Although the lawsuit was settled quietly out of court, the internet had caught wind of it and fanned it into sensationalism. Within days, Wolfe found herself the subject of dozens of speculative and derisive news articles. Worse, she began receiving messages from Twitter users threatening her life. Deeply rattled, she deleted all her social media profiles and moved to live with her then boyfriend—now husband, Michael Herd—in Texas.
While recuperating from panic attacks and severe anxiety as a result of the onslaught, she began to formulate an idea. What if women had a safe space where they did not have to entertain unwanted male attention? With that idea at the forefront, she developed the beginnings of a plan for Merci, a social networking site for females.
Wolfe was approached around this time by Andrew Andreev, the founder of the world’s most successful dating website, with a proposal to create another dating app. She initially declined, still burned out from her experience with Tinder. However, after a few weeks of talking with Andreev back and forth, they realized that her ideas for Merci would translate extremely well to a new dating platform.
Bumble created a safe space for women
Women, despite making up just under half the workforce and population, and despite making over 85% of consumer purchases in the United States, were a largely unserved market in the dating industry. There were countless websites and apps available, but none of them provided a platform tailored specifically to provide a space where women felt comfortable.
Wolfe saw an untapped market as well as a way to help other women avoid the worst pitfalls of online dating, such as unsolicited pictures and cyberstalking. She wanted to create a place where women would be the only ones who could initiate contact, where predatory behaviors were ruthlessly stamped out, and where women felt empowered and secure.
With these ideals, Bumble was born. Andreev offered an initial investment of $10 million and a pledge to fund future growth, and in return took a 79% stake in the company. Wolfe was given a 20% stake and took the helm as CEO.
Bumble caught on like wildfire
Taking the lessons in field marketing learned from launching Tinder, Wolfe and her small team relentlessly pushed the app into public awareness. From a balloon-covered building to walking the streets with branded stickers, they never missed an opportunity to catch the interest of a potential new user. Although the industry experts were heavily skeptical about its premise and ability to succeed, Bumble defied all expectations.
Word of mouth spread the app through college campuses like wildfire. The untapped market of single women proved to not only be incredibly eager, but also be incredibly lucrative. With spectacular speed, Bumble became the fastest-growing social platform in the country. Today, six years after its birth, it has over 100 million users and is second only to Tinder in the US. It currently boasts a growth rate of around 60,000 new users daily.
After a scandal with Andreev that caused him to step down in 2019, Wolfe took over as CEO of Bumble’s parent company, MagicLab. His majority stake was purchased for roughly $2.4 billion, giving the company an estimated valuation of $3 billion. In 2019 its revenue was $240 million and has averaged a growth rate of around 40% each year since it was released.
Whitney Wolfe’s net worth
31-year-old Whitney Wolfe has a net worth of around $575 million. Although, that number may increase significantly in 2021, as the company prepares to go public with an IPO estimated to be between $6 and $8 billion. When she isn’t perfecting and expanding the Bumble brand, she campaigns politically for laws that ban digital harassment.
A natural gift for marketing, a talent for networking, and a powerful work ethic were the only tools Whitney Wolfe had in her belt when she entered the industry. She took them and built an empire, making the world a little better for women along the way.