At 28, Whitney Wolfe has managed to do more in her few years of adulthood than the most clever minds can do in a lifetime.
As a philanthropist who created her own non-for-profit organisation while she was still in college, and who went on to create not one, but two, of the most successful and profitable dating apps of our time, Wolfe’s mark on the world has already landed her in the Forbes 30 under 30 list.
And though her achievements in tech have made her an official postergirl for women who have trail blazed an industry characterised by male dominance and gender inequality, the 28-year-old’s rise to the top has been one littered with hurdles.
Wolfe, who co-founded the billion-dollar juggernaut that is Tinder in 2012 at just 22, is long-credited with marketing the app to college-aged students in America before taking the company worldwide.
But in 2014, Wolfe left Tinder in a highly-publicised exit, later filing a lawsuit against the company for sexual harassment; a lawsuit that saw her reportedly receive a pay out of up to US$1 million.
A year later, in an interview with Vanity Fair, Wolfe says the stories that made headlines can speak for themselves.
“If you tell anyone the very basics—girl co-founds Tinder, girl leaves, now she starts Bumble, where only girls can talk first—it’s very easy to interpret that how you will.”
After leaving Tinder and settling out of court, Wolfe made the bold decision to go out alone, launching a dating app made by women, for women, where only women could make the first move. Bumble was born.
“I always wanted to create a space online that women felt protected and respected,” Wolfe tells Mamamia.
“Online is a scary space, and it was important for me to create an environment that made online activity accountable. I think every woman has felt disrespected or affected by misogyny at some point, so the aim of Bumble was to flip this on its head – to let women lead and to give them the control of when and how they make the first move.”
She believes the fact women are the ones who start the conversations creates a culture where exchanges online are less aggressive and more respectful. Inevitably, she says, this paves the way for more meaningful conversations, and later relationships.
Telling, of course, from a woman who started one of the first ever dating apps, only to leave after discovering its inherent flaws – both within the app and the company itself.
“Bumble was definitely born out of a feminist initiative.
“This isn’t about alienating men though – we love men! It’s more about giving women a chance to choose when and if they start the conversation. I feel proud that we’ve cultivated an environment now where the men on the app respect these types of women – and we’re moving to a place where when dates happen – they’re on equal footing. Ultimately feminism is about equal rights for both sexes; something which I strongly believe in and that will fuel the future of Bumble’s evolution.”
It’s a brilliantly clever move. Watercooler chats among millennials often centre on the murky modern dating world, where courting is non-existent, trust rarely afforded and a general sense that intentions are often mismatched.
Compound this with the fact women rarely feel safe or powerful in a dating sphere, and here you have a gap in the market that is both commercially viable and good for women.
The response was swift and strong and positive: Bumble had a reported 18 million users as of July 2017, sending a powerful message about exactly the kinds of things men and women have been craving. Not just an app, but an entire shift in the dating experience.
“I can definitely see the culture shift happening, and it motivates me to work harder for both my team and for women in general. We have come so far in terms of gender equality, but we still have a way to go. I hope as we continue to evolve as a company (we have a lot to come) we can also be part of this movement. We’re more than just an app, we’re a mindset.”
For Wolfe, her work is all about leveling the playing field, and then making that space safe, protected and enjoyable. Bumble, in its fast and furious rise as a serious player in the dating industry, is proving that humans aren’t disposable, dating and harassment can be mutually exclusive, and the online space can actually be safe.
And if you ask us, that is very kickarse.