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Bumble is a dating app that puts women first. Like Tinder, users swipe left or right to match. But when a match occurs, it’s the lady and not the gentleman who must make the first move within 24 hours.
(Featured Image: Whitney Wolfe Herd, Founder of Bumble / Image Credit © Kristen Kilpatrick for Harper’s Bazaar)

The ‘feminist dating-app’ has made over 15,000 marriages possible in its four years of existence. Whitney Wolfe Herd, co-founder of Tinder, founded Bumble in 2014. After leaving Tinder, Whitney found a business partner willing to invest in her new venture, which subsequently experienced tremendous growth. The CEO of the startup, which is valued at over $1 billion, made it on the Forbes list of 30 under 30 three years after the launch of the app.

I had the chance to meet one of the female leaders that Whitney hired to help Bumble grow. Louise Troen, VP International Marketing and Communications, was a speaker at the Fashiontech conference in Berlin, and we found some time to chat about the app’s success, the importance of storytelling, and how a startup can navigate through competition and succeed.

I want to hear about the early adoption phase. What were the challenges? How did you manage to convince all these people to download Bumble in the beginning?

In the beginning, the tactics were word-of-mouth and guerrilla marketing: we didn’t have the budget to do the things we do today. It really was the network effect. Young university students in the States wanted a safe, attractive and cool place to find people. So we told 20 girls who told 20 boys who somehow told another 30 girls and suddenly there were 70 really cool, smart, good-looking people using the product.

Once you have a couple hundred people, the rest of the work begins. It’s all about making sure that your quality at the initial stage doesn’t lag. Our founder, Whitney, would go around to these universities and talk to thousands of people. They listened to Whitney and her vision. As a young, sassy, super bright individual, she reinforced the quality of the app.

Then she hired a host of senior leaders—women who not only believed in the product but also needed the product. These were women that had the target problem and could work out how to fix it with the strength of the company behind them.

“Brands are often either bad at storytelling or they don’t even realize that they are telling a story.”

I see that you put a focus on storytelling. Can you tell us more about that?

Storytelling is the most important part because, at its core, life is a collection of stories. As a brand, we’re just telling a story about equality. In politics, they’re telling stories about their campaigns, and most of the time we use stories to evoke emotion. When we evoke emotion, engagement falls into place naturally.

Storytelling will always be at the heart of Bumble because we’ve built the brand on a collection of stories that happened before—stories about women who have been abused, who lacked opportunity, felt victimized. By giving human pieces to these stories, engagement skyrockets.

We’ve found that brands are often either bad at storytelling or they don’t even realize that they are telling a story, but it’s well established that people are listening to you when you tell stories about things that resonate with their feelings.

Can you give me five tips for young startups that want to grow like Bumble?

1. Serve a purpose

You need to define what problem you are fixing right from the start.

2. Build a foundation of messages

Once you decide what problem you’re fixing, ask yourself, how does that translate into a message? If you’re trying to help the environment, your message 1. we need to be more mindful about product waste and 2. could be the quantity of waste is affecting X, Y, Z—these are your key hero statements.

3. Invest in internal culture

So much about brands is built from inside. If you’re starting a sustainability brand, don’t hire someone who doesn’t give a damn about recycling. When you interview people it’s less about “can you write a strategy, and do you know how to write good content?” and more “why are you so invested in this?”

Passionate people are going to work harder and longer and better. When people come to interview with me I’m like “I don’t even want to see your CV. Tell me why quality is important, tell me some ideas you have, win me over, because when I send you into a partner meeting you’re not going to go with a piece of paper, you’re going to go as an individual.”

“I’m in a relationship but I love your tone of voice. I love your Instagram and your events, and by the way I’m alone in Sydney. How can I get involved?”

4. Have what it takes

Don’t worry about business plans, just do it, have passion, have energy, have conviction. Instead of spending time writing business plans and decks and documents, read up about the current state of that business, why sustainability is relevant now, what the statistics are to back it up, and what the state of play is in society at the moment—all that which reinforces your mission.

5. Don’t follow a marketing plan

I think so many people starting businesses read books telling them what to do. It takes too long, and it doesn’t work. What you need to figure out is “How can I make a difference?” Instead of going to a book and deciding which checkpoints to achieve, understand and establish how you can fix that problem as an individual and then blow that up to a massive scale.

I often say to my team: “Tell me when you feel bad about yourself or if you have a bad day, because those are the real feelings that we need to be aware of, as we’re a company of women who feel. Only when we know that can we understand how to rectify the problem and build campaigns and projects that can do the same for others. Stay at the heart of business.

And how did you get the idea to also launch two more platforms, Bumble Bizz for business and BFF for women to find friends?

Those ideas came through our users—they asked for it. We built this community, and it interacts with us. That’s the brilliant thing about technology: you can always add to it and innovate. We can shift things around. The possibilities are endless.

So, what happens is our users are close to us, so they they tell us what they need. They help us stay relevant. There was a woman who wrote to us,

“I’m in a relationship but I love your tone of voice. I love your Instagram and your events, and by the way I’m alone in Sydney. How can I get involved?”

So we thought, of course we should create a community just for women. Then people on Bumble BFF were using it to connect to business and then we said, “Let’s make one for business!”

And that’s new, right?

Yes, we launched it last year.

Does it work? Is business growing?

Absolutely. We’ve done so much. We even hired people through it. I’m a mentor to a few women who used it, and lots of my friends have done freelance work with producers and photographers. MakeupThere are lots of creative industries packed in the app. It’s a melting pot for freelancers as well.

You can use Bumble for you. It’s a social space that has democratized access to a network, and the predominant strength is its foundation built on the network effect. We are very aware that it was a real luxury that many of our team members were well connected and had friends—not everyone has a group of 30 friends—and we wanted to make sure that those from less privileged backgrounds have a similar space to connect. Ultimately, it’s those connections that shape and change your life!

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