- At 31, Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd is the youngest woman to ever take a company public.
- Along the way, she’s faced her share of cynics who doubted her ability to lead.
- She’s been able to use the belittlement of others as a secret weapon in her leadership.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd was severely underestimated during the first few years of her career — but she believes this experience was a critical ingredient to her success.
“Cherish being underestimated,” she said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “That’s your superpower.”
And that “superpower” has helped propel Wolfe Herd to leading one of the fastest growing online dating apps to date.
When Herd first launched Bumble, the dating app and social network where women make the first move, skeptics said the idea would never work. But at 31, Wolfe Herd is the youngest woman to ever lead a company to an IPO. Bumble now boasts over 42 million active users and raised $2.2 billion in its February IPO that valued the firm at over $8 billion.
Wolfe Herd is no stranger to being belittled in an industry where a dismal 14% of software engineers are women and 25% have computer science-related jobs. In her storied journey to finding success with Bumble, she’s encountered a fair share of skeptics.
‘What’s your name again?’
It’s been a long and obstacle-ridden path to prominence for Wolfe Herd.
She left her job as vice president of marketing at Tinder in 2014 after a sexual harassment lawsuit involving Justin Mateen, her former boss and ex-boyfriend. After the lawsuit, she was stripped of her co-founder title and suffered from cyber abuse — including rape and murder threats — from strangers on the internet.
She persevered, and when she conceived the idea to create a women-centric dating app, she was met with skepticism by businessmen who undermined the value of her brand.
“People thought this idea was crazy,” Wolfe Herd told Fortune. “Very few people early on believed in the mission. But I think it’s a really good sign if people tell you your idea is not going to work, because it is a sign that it is something new, unique and interesting.”
Now, she gloats in the surprise of businessmen when she tells them Bumble’s impressive figures.
‘What? Wait a second. What’s your name again?” Wolfe Herd remembers the skeptics asking when they learned just how promising the app’s metrics were.
Being underestimated is never pleasant
It’s important to avoid romanticizing the effects that belittling can have on ambitious women.
“It can encourage things like perfectionism – where you hold yourself to unattainable, over-the-top standards,” leadership author Selena Rezvani wrote in an email to Insider. “Even more so, because the people around you aren’t recognizing your value and contribution.”
Women are already more likely to consider themselves perfectionists, which can be not only detrimental to their work, but also associated with anxiety, chronic fatigue, and even early mortality.
It can also lead to a lack of visibility for women at the workplace, causing them to miss out on opportunities that they would otherwise be perfect for. And when a qualified woman misses a ripe opportunity, it’s detrimental to the success of a company as a whole.
Undermined but not defeated
Leaders in corporate America need to step up to prevent the chronic belittlement that women face at work. But in the meantime, there are ways for women to turn the experience to their advantage, and Wolfe Herd is an example of that.
“I see, in her, a woman who is very intentional about what she wants to accomplish, and having a negative experience helped to fuel that intention,” Gloria Fendt, cofounder and president of women’s leadership nonprofit Take the Lead, told Insider. “Women will elevate their intentions when they see an injustice.”
Instead of being weighed down by criticisms, Wolfe Herd made use of what Feldt refers to as “healthy anger” to combat the prejudices she faced. If anything, the skepticism she faced helped her to channel her energy into Bumble even more.
But it’s not just about proving the naysayers wrong; when people from marginalized groups are underestimated, they also tend to cultivate a set of strengths that those in power might not.
“The very things that we have been underestimated for, that we have been laughed at and devalued for, become our superpowers,” Feldt said. “And if we are smart enough to recognize and use them, we can have more Whitney Wolfe Herds.”