How the Founder of Bumble is Changing the Game for Women

Photographed by Kristen Kilpatrick

Outside Bumble‘s recently opened headquarters in Austin, Texas, a wall painted in the company’s signature cheery yellow proclaims in all-caps: “HAVE A BEE-AUTIFUL DAY.” Inside the 7,500-square-foot space, a neon “BEE KIND” hangs above desks. Even the light switches, emblazoned with the slogan “SHINE BRIGHT LIKE A DIAMOND,” are unusually supportive.

These are just a few signs of the upbeat, feel-good vibe at the company, whose app empowers women to make the first move: anyone can swipe right, but once there’s a match, only women can initiate the DMs. Originally a dating-only platform, it now offers two additional modes, Bumble BFF (for friendship-finding) and Bumble Bizz (for professional networking). The poised 29-year-old founder and CEO, Whitney Wolfe Herd, characterizes her mission as nothing less ambitious than creating a brighter, kinder, more equal future for women.

All of this may sound like sunshine and positivity, but the motivation for Bumble originated from a darker place. “After I left the previous company I co-founded [Tinder], and before Bumble launched, I lost that sense of belief in myself. Complete strangers were harassing me online, and I started to believe what people had been saying about me—it really had a detrimental effect on my self-worth,” explains Wolfe Herd, who sued for sexual harassment and discrimination after resigning from Tinder in 2014 (the lawsuit has since been settled).

But like all great entrepreneurs, adversity enabled Wolfe Herd to bounce back stronger. As she considered her next venture, investor Andrey Andreev came calling with the proposal to partner on a new app. After experiencing the Internet’s ugly side, Wolfe Herd zeroed in on the idea of building something anchored in respect for women, Bumble’s crucial point of difference. “We’re one app with three modes united by a mission to end misogyny and hold people accountable for their actions online,” says Wolfe Herd.

Her business instincts proved astute: Bumble has attracted more than 41 million users in 144 countries in four years—a formidable pace that makes it America’s fastest-growing dating app. The company is already valued by Forbes at over $1 billion. Wolfe Herd has also distinguished herself as one to watch, landing on Time’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2018, not to mention the covers of Fast Company, Wired, and Forbes (as the face of its “30 Under 30” list).

Just as she’s helped empower women in the online dating world, Wolfe Herd has her sights set on lifting up other women entrepreneurs in business, too. Yes, there’s already Bumble Bizz (clever tagline: “Be the CEO your parents always wanted you to marry”), but the company is now putting its money where its mouth is: this August, it launched Bumble Fund to invest in women largely ignored by the venture capital establishment—which would be the vast majority of women, period.

Last year, women-led start-ups garnered just 2 percent of all venture capital funding, Wolfe Herd points out. Women of colour got an even skinnier slice of the pie: African American women received just 0.2 percent of all venture funding for their startups last year. To play its part, Bumble Fund will focus on making early-stage investments, primarily in businesses helmed by women of colour and those from under-represented groups.

“We still—unfortunately—live in a male-dominated world,” says Wolfe Herd, but the game is changing. Asked what inspires her most right now, she name-checks a cohort of young bosses: model Karlie Kloss, founder of the non-profit Kode With Klossy; super-athlete Serena Williams, founder of her own self-titled fashion line; Tyler Haney, founder of the athleisure label Outdoor Voices; and Emily Weiss, founder of the millennial-fave beauty brand Glossier. “More women than ever are making the first move,” says Wolfe Herd, “which is shaking up antiquated gender norms and paving the way for a future that’s more empowering for women in every aspect of their lives.”