Online dating is a crowded marketplace, with users typically on multiple apps and often seeing the same people. “Faddishness is what [Wolfe Herd] has to battle,” says tech journalist Kara Swisher. “It’s a constant marketing game.” But Bumble is not shy about marketing—just consider the expense of that Super Bowl commercial. “It’s not to be lavish,” Wolfe Herd says of the company’s marketing budget. “It’s to show people we’re serious.”
Others have scratched their heads at the appointment of Erin and Sara Foster, the comedians who embody a brand of irreverent, blonde privilege, as Bumble’s creative directors. But Wolfe Herd bristles at any criticism of their qualifications, says she loves working with them and that they speak to a significant demographic. “Trust me, the college girls in Oklahoma matter,” she says, “and if they like the Foster sisters, great.”
She sighs then, frustrated: “If we’re going to be a part of making men treat women better, why don’t we start treating each other better?” It’s clear that Wolfe Herd feels that she has been let down by her own gender in the past. Asked to name her female mentors, she becomes quiet and says there haven’t been many. Of course, Wolfe Herd herself is becoming a mentor to the women who work for her (Bumble has 140 employees, 85 percent of whom are women), and she is quick to celebrate and support her female peers. When her friend the Glossier founder, Emily Weiss, made the cover of Entrepreneur, Wolfe Herd had cookies made of the cover image and sent to her office.
It could be that Wolfe Herd started Bumble to create the supportive female community she never felt she had. “I was painfully insecure,” she says, when she started Bumble, “and I think every great company has a paralyzingly insecure founder at the helm because there has to be a deep-rooted desire for validation.” She leans forward, fingers laced. “What I went through in 2014 made me immune. It was like getting a huge vaccination. I just don’t care what people think about me. If I want to spray champagne, I’ll spray champagne; if I want to volunteer, I’ll volunteer. I will do what I want to do, and as long as I’m not hurting you, what does it matter?” (She later politely follows up that she’s never sprayed champagne; she’s maybe been sprayed once or twice.)
Bumble has plans to open physical meet-up spaces, start producing Netflix-style content, even introduce a beauty line—all of this while weighing a public offering (an IPO would make Wolfe Herd the youngest female CEO of a publicly traded company). In late 2017 its rival Match Group, owner of Tinder, reportedly tried to buy the company for more than $1 billion. Asked why they walked away, Wolfe Herd will only coyly reply, “It wasn’t a match.” At the time Bumble posted on its website, “Dear Match Group, We’ll never be yours. No matter the price tag, we’ll never compromise our values.”
“Being underestimated is my superpower,” says Wolfe Herd. “It’s like Princess Peach is driving in invisible mode.” It takes me a minute, but she’s referring to the Nintendo video game Mario Kart. “There’s Bowser and Luigi and you could call one Facebook, the other . . .” she seems on the edge of saying Tinder but thinks better of it. “Bumble is Princess Peach. No one thinks she’s fast; they all think she’s the token princess. But she’s gonna win the game.”