Bumble and Latana Logos (cover image)
Brand Deep DivesJuly 22, 2022

How Bumble Is Building a Better World of Online Dating

July 22, 2022
Elena Author Photo Framed
Elena Prokopets
Freelance Writer & Content Strategist

The online dating market is competitive. You have “legacy” players like eHarmony and household digital names like Tinder — plus a ton of “shady” dating websites, set up for debatably nefarious purposes.

Profitability drives the proliferation of online dating platforms. By the end of 2022, the global online will hit $3.97 billion. Its growth is unlikely to stall, much as people’s eternal search for love.

Bumble – a newer market entrant – immediately stood out among other brands thanks to its fresh positioning as a “feminist dating app”, made for women and by women. It’s the only online dating app where women must make the first move to start a conversation.

This novel idea struck a chord with both users and investors.

As of 2020, Bumble amassed 12.3 million monthly active users. By the end of 2021, the app broke the 10% paying users mark and hit $150.5 million in revenue.

Bumble went public the same year, making its founder, Whitney Wolfe Herd, the world's youngest, female, self-made billionaire and the youngest woman to ever take a company public by the age of 31.

As of May 2022, Bumble reported a further increase in paying users by 7.2% to 3 million. The team projects to close the year with $211.2 million in revenues.

But Whitney Wolfe Herd and Bumble brand have hit some bumps on the road too. Here’s the brand story, plus lessons other brand marketers can apply.

Bumble’s Breakneck Success Story

Whitney Wolfe Herd, CEO of Bumble. Source: Refinery29

Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble founder and CEO, had personal experiences with toxic masculinity and misogyny.

In 2012, she became the VP of Marketing at Tinder. Yet, the tenure wasn’t long. By 2014, Wolfe Herd not only resigned from Tinder but also pressed sexual harassment charges against the company.

The matter was eventually settled in a hush-hush manner. Wolfe Herd is said to have received over $1 million in a settlement in exchange for not airing things publicly any further.

But Wolfe Herd didn’t stay unemployed for too long. She used the acquired acumen to launch a competing online dating app, Bumble, with the help of Andrey Andreev — a Russian billionaire and founder of Badoo, another popular dating platform.

In exchange for an initial $10 million investment, Andreev received a 79% stake in Bumble. Wolfe Herd took the CEO role and retained a 20% stake. As part of the deal, Bumble also agreed to use Badoo's tech infrastructure and Andreev's product consulting.

Just like that, at 28, Wolfe Herd got at the helm of her own online dating company.

The concept of Bumble came from Wolfe Herd’s own history of problematic relationships. As she admitted in an interview with :

“My ambition comes from an abusive relationship. I never had this healthy male relationship until I created it. I engineered an ecosystem of healthy male relationships in my life.”

From the get-go, she envisioned Bumble as a means to shape how people behave online. Her goal was to cultivate a space where women are empowered to “make the first move”. After being matched, male users can’t immediately message female users. They have to wait for a gal to start the conversation.

This mechanism helps to minimize the number of harassing messages or unsolicited nude images female users overwhelmingly receive on other dating platforms.

Bumble also has many by-design user safety and privacy features like “hide first name”, “photo verification”, or rapid reporting. All complaints are taken seriously and bans get dished out fast.

The team later added other features for moderating user behaviors. For example, Bumble banned shirtless male mirror selfies photos. They also added a feature to auto-blur nude images, sent in chats — and continue tweaking the platform’s AI algorithms to minimize cases of online harassment, body shaming, and hate speech, among other misbehaviors.

Users immediately loved Bumble’s concept.

By the end of 2016, Bumble amassed 11.5 million users, facilitated 800 million matches, and processed over 1.7 billion messages.

The app also attracted a highly-educated user base from major cities (NYC, LA, London, Toronto) with the most common job titles of “attorney”, “investment banker” “doctor” and “real estate broker”. That’s a good target audience to monetize.

2016 data on Bumble users’ “most liked brands”. Source: Bumble

In addition, Bumble found that many women joined the network for more than just love. Bumble’s brand audiences also cared about friendship and careers.

In 2016, Bumble added a BFF feature, which allows you to swipe right and left in search of new friends. A year later, they also launched a Bizz app — an offshoot project, for professional match-making. Despite being a standalone app, Bumble Bizz retained most of the familiar interfaces. The spin-offs have been less successful than OG Bumble but helped garner a positive brand sentiment.

Users viewed Bumble as something “better, more controlled than Tinder” — a walled “safe space” to meet genuine people online and have civilized conversations.

They were also ready to pay for such an experience. By the end of 2017, Bumble crossed the $100 million in revenue mark after it began monetizing via in-app purchases in August 2016.

Bumble's success wasn't just due to a cool product idea. Andrey Andreev had been running another dating app for almost a decade. He had troves of user behavior data and market-tested monetization strategies. From day one, Bumble had access to data and technology for implementing paid in-app perks, thanks to Badoo.

After the initial spell of success, Bumble hit a bit of a rough patch.

In 2017, Wolfe Herd received a $450 million acquisition offer from Match Group (owner of Tinder), which she turned down.

But some egos got bruised — and a year later the Match Group sued Bumble for violating its patents and trademarks, and for misuse of trade secrets.

In response, Bumble lawyered up and released a cheeky statement:

“We swipe left on you (Match Group). We swipe left on your multiple attempts to buy us, copy us, and, now, intimidate us. We’ll never be yours. No matter the price tag, we’ll never compromise our values. We — a woman-founded, women-led company — aren’t scared of the aggressive corporate culture. That’s what we call bullying, and we swipe left on bullies.”

Bumble also countered with its own lawsuit, accusing Match of asking the Bumble team to reveal proprietary information under the pretense of M&A negotiations. The conflict was eventually settled outside of the court.

Afterward, Bumble returned to its crusade against sexist, lewd, and misogynistic behaviors. In 2019, the team released a brilliant open letter to "toxic Connor", where they promised to:

“Expand our reach and make sure women everywhere receive the message that they’re just as empowered in their personal lives as they are in the workplace. We’re going to continue to build a world that makes small-minded, misogynist boys like you outdated”.

But it turned out that such “Connors” weren’t just pestering Bumble app users. They were also working at Badoo, Bumble’s parent company — and Andrey Andreev might as well be one of them.

In 2019, Forbes released an exclusive investigation into the toxic, misogynistic culture pervading Badoo’s London office. It listed accounts of lavish, inappropriate, drug-infused off-site parties — captured in photos and videos, then shared via internal email lists by participating employees. All of these were likely happening with Andreev’s knowledge.

Female Badoo’s staffers were also tired of ongoing bigotry, misogyny, racism, and sexism happening at every level of the company. Andreev was also accused of tax avoidance.

Four months after the Forbes story broke, Blackstone Group acquired Andreev’s majority stake in MagicLab (the parent company of Bumble and Badoo). Wolfe Herd was appointed as the CEO of both Bumble and Badoo. Andreev, in turn, was largely erased from public company history.

Cut to 2020, Bumble has just recovered from an earlier scandal, but then the pandemic has begun. Though in-person dating was out of the picture for many, casual online chats were still a thigh.

Despite all the calamities, Bumble ended 2020 with some upward growth trends:

  • Bumble app revenue increased by 46.6% to $105.8 million

  • Total paying users increased by 32.5% to 2.7 million

Then came 2021 — the glorious year of Bumble’s IPO — making Wolfe Herd the youngest woman to ever take a company public.

In 2022, Bumble remains on a growth streak. The app now has 3 million paying users and expects to end the year with $218 million to $221 million in revenue.

3 Brand Lessons From Bumble

Wolfe Herd had a strong vision for Bumble. Its name encapsulated the brand identity of “a queen bee, the woman is in charge, and it's a really respectful community. It's all about the queen bee and everyone working together”, Wolfe Herd told .

Most of Bumble’s subsequent brand marketing has been rooted in this “community” element, which (mostly) served the brand well.

1. Activate Communities to Do Your Marketing

Wolfe Herd applied the same strategy that worked for Tinder: marketing the app on college campuses.

From day one and till the present, Bumble engages sororities (which Wolfe Herd was part of) to join their very successful Ambassadorship Program:

  • Each of the partnering campuses has a Campus Director in charge of all marketing and multiple Campus Ambassadors. Campus Ambassadors are the “worker bees”, implementing all marketing initiatives.

  • Bumble also has a Queen Bee program for non-college students. This program has different part-time roles for prospective brand ambassadors.

Currently, Bumble has over 420 brand ambassadors across more than 100 college campuses, who relentlessly market their product.

Thanks to a strong “feminist” vibe and memorable visual branding, recruiting young women to cheerlead Bumble is easy. Plus, “influencing” is a trendy thing to do — and the Bumble team gives support to its ambassadors, which allows many to create cool clout around them.

Separately, Bumble enlists established college-aged social media influencers to amplify their messaging.

As Power Agency reports, Bumble managed to generate over 2 million social media impressions from a recent influencer campaign, which drove over 4,000 attributed new app installs.

The Takeaway: Online ads, out-of-home advertising (OOH), and event marketing make a powerful combo for user acquisition. Don’t settle for one marketing channel — test multiple combinations.

To keep your costs low, focus your efforts on marketing to your best-performing target audience, such as female college students for Bumble.

2. Amplify Your Core Brand Message Through Multiple Touchpoints

Early on Wolfe Herd selected “empowering women” as a turf she wanted to defend. She then chose to amplify this brand value through different channels:

  • By improving the product experience to make it even safer, more fun, and more attractive to women.

  • Through her own actions — public appearances, partnerships, and even legislative efforts.

  • Via strategic partnerships with select-few celebrity brand ambassadors.

Bumble enlisted actress Priyanka Chopra as a brand ambassador (and an investor) when they began operating in India.

In 2018, Bumble also started a Bumble Fund — a startup accelerator program for companies led by women of color. Apart from having some big-name institutional investors like Cleo Capital and Female Founders Fund, Bumble also persuaded tennis superstar Serena Williams to join as an investor in 2019. Prior to that, Williams already acted as the app ambassador, starring in its 2019 Super Bowl commercial.

In 2019, Wolfe Herd also succeeded in lobbying the state of Texas to pass a law banning the sending of lewd photos. She continued to bring her concerns around online harassment legislation (or lack thereof) to other public officials.

Though there were some mishaps in Wolfe Herd's journey (namely the Andreev scandal), she remained firm in her beliefs, actions, and mission behind Bumble.

The Takeaway: Mission-driven brand marketing can help cultivate a strong brand. However, it’s somewhat of a double-edged sword. Any misstep from your mission can lead to rapid loss of brand equity and public bashing of your brand (as it once happened to Tony Chocolonley).

If you want to succeed with mission-driven brand marketing, you need to stay consistent with your messaging and action at every level. Cultivate strong brand knowledge among your employees, business partners, and suppliers – and don’t let any issues get swept under the rug.

3. Don’t Let Bold Branding Hide Underlying Flaws

Bumble’s pineapple yellow brand color is on everything the company does — its app, website, ads, merch, corporate swag, etc. During the IPO, Wolfe Herd even showed up at Nasdaq wearing a pineapple-colored suit from Stella McCartney and yellow Manolo Blahniks.

Bumble’s Austin HQ, called The Hive, is also bright yellow with loads of other brandable elements (honeycombs, queen bee references, “Make the First Move” slogans).

The borderline obsessive branding is hardly a happenstance. Wolfe Herd has modeled her brand after sororities, which she and Bumble’s former chief brand officer, Alex Williamson, have been part of at Southern Methodist University.

As such, Bumble developed its world of rules and expectations for brand ambassadors, employees, and ideal Bumble users (to an extent).

Bumble’s brand marketing sometimes leans into dictating how your world should look if you want to be this cool “Bumble-using” person. This degree of “control” has proven to work against Bumble when it comes to their workplace practices.

A Bloomberg investigation found that:

“Former employees said the company’s internal culture is the opposite of the values of kindness and respect it preaches”.

Some proceeded to describe it as a Mean Girl vibe, where popular cliques and Queen Bee behaviors were all-too-common among mid- and senior-level staff.

A former intern was sent to replant pots at her boss’s home. An employee of color asked why Bumble prefers to use white, blond models in its ads. To which Bumble’s chief creative marketing officer (a blond woman) replied that this was her preferred type.

Other employees mentioned the frequent practice of excluding some team members from after-work gatherings or gifting sprees for no obvious reason. The articles also mentioned that many people fear retaliation if they speak out about their work experience at Bumble.

However, if more accounts of problematic workplace practices were to emerge, they would break Bumble’s brand positioning of a “safe place where women could be in control of their connections” beyond recovery.

The Takeaways: You can’t build a strong consumer-facing brand presence without addressing internal operational and cultural issues. A strong brand goes beyond using corporate colors in the office or dressing up everyone in cute swag.

You need a strong internal “buy-in” from all your people — and, more importantly, their full commitment to practicing the set corporate values. If your leadership isn’t on-board, you won’t secure grassroots support either.

Final Thoughts

From the get-go, Bumble challenged multiple dating tropes and annoyances users had with other dating apps. It won over targets with a vibrant, bubbly brand personality and brand values that really resonated with users.

However, brand catchphrases, mascots, and visual identity are just the tip of the brand-building iceberg. Bumble has a fierce and fabulous female leader — who’s also an inspiring role model for many young women. But it appears that Bumble is struggling with some “back office” cultural issues — first in the Badoo office, and now in Bumble HQ.

We hope that Bumble manages to resolve them sooner than later. Because as an earlier brand story of WeWork told us: poor C-suite leadership can tank even the boldest brands.

Want key insights into the dating app industry? Check out our Dating Apps Brand Battle.

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