The daughter of a property manager and a stay-at-home mom, Whitney Wolfe enjoyed a happy, quiet childhood, growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah. When it was time for university, Whitney chose to attend Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, where she majored in International Studies.
As a senior, Whitney was moved to action after the BP oil spill disaster in the Spring of 2010. She decided to raise funds to help the impacted wildlife by making and selling bamboo bags. Whitney partnered with a celebrity stylist – Patrick Aufdenkamp – to design the bags, which were adorned with the image of a brown pelican, in a choice of three colors. When celebrities Nicole Richie and Rachel Zoe were seen with the bags, Whitney’s Help Us Project received national attention, raising awareness and funds.
After graduating, Whitney went to Southeast Asia, where she volunteered her time to aid children at several orphanages.
Returning home, she was determined to achieve success – to make an impact. Whitney knew that to have an impact she would need to have reach, and there was no better path to reach than through the technology sector. At 22, she was hired into Hatch Labs, a startup incubator. She didn’t know tech – but she did know marketing. At first, she worked on a project called Cardify, led by Sean Rad. When that initiative stalled, Rad moved to a different project, bringing Wolfe with him.
Rad and Justin Mateen were the senior members of the team which created the dating app, Tinder. Whitney, with her early involvement and significant marketing contributions, was a co-founder. Tinder became wildly successful in an incredibly short time frame. Behind the scenes, however, things were not going so smoothly. Whitney and Justin had started a personal relationship, which would end badly. Whitney ended up leaving Tinder – filing a suit for sexual harassment, and wrongful dismissal. That suit was settled with Whitney being awarded a reported $1 million and a share of Tinder. Mateen was placed on indefinite leave.
The fallout from the Tinder situation was brutal. Accusations, name-calling, rumors, and speculation was rampant – much of it negative and aimed at Whitney. She kept a low-profile for a while as the nastiness ran its course – all the time knowing that she would emerge stronger and more determined.
Her concept was to create an app which would help to diminish bullying – especially for young girls. She was approached by Andrey Andreev, the founder of Badoo, perhaps the largest connection site in the world. Andreev wanted her to start a new dating app. While doing so wasn’t in Whitney’s plans, she was open to discussion – and what a wise choice that was.
The resulting idea was a truly unique dating app concept. While its technology was similar to Tinder and other mobile apps, this one was different at a societal level. The new app would allow only the female to initiate contact. This seemingly simple difference, empowered females and eliminated long-standing societal pressures from males. Importantly, having women send the first message eliminated much of the aggressive, lewd messaging common in other apps.
The new app was named Bumble, as in bumble bee, led by the queen bee. Bumble was not only successful as a business, it was creating gender equality and reducing online abuse. The creation of Bumble, the societal impact it is having, and its expanding potential are all the results of Whitney Wolfe being a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands have resolve in the face of controversy and persistence in the pursuit of purpose
Whitney Wolfe has experienced more in her twenty-eight years than most do in a full lifetime. Without a doubt, her departure from Tinder has been the most hideous experience of her life – the success of Bumble is at the other end of the spectrum.
Bumble is expanding its scope driven by company vision and customer demand. Bumble BFF – Bumble Friend Finder – is a variation of the app which is focused on finding friendships. Next up is Bumble BIZ, which is designed to foster business connections rather than typical networking.
Whitney sees the future of Bumble as a means to positive connections in virtually any aspect of life. Perhaps augmented reality will be integrated into the app. Possibly artificial intelligence. One thing’s for certain, Whitney Wolfe is not one to rest on her laurels. She will continue to look ahead, to pursue grander ideas, and create a larger impact. As she does, there’s a great deal we can learn about achieving success and building a fearless brand.
Stay on track – It can be difficult to ‘stay the course’ in the face of countless outside pressures to change, add to, take from, and alter your vision. We must remain open to input, especially from people who we know have our best interests in mind. However, it’s equally important to know our vision – to be fearless in our pursuits. Ask yourself this – “Is this input more likely to advance my vision or steer me off course?” We have to be true to ourselves.
Seek impact beyond self – For our efforts to have real meaning, our purpose must have a positive impact for others. A self-focused purpose will rarely yield the rewards we seek. Bumble has an impact for others – it empowers women, it is freeing to men, it eliminates bullying and abusive language and it creates the opportunity to make meaningful connections. Ask yourself this – “Will my efforts serve others – and how?”
Trust your gut – Peer pressure can be extremely powerful – especially if we are the least experienced, an outsider, or different from the core group. It is easy to be swayed by what we consider to be the status quo. Whitney Wolfe is quick to point out that she’s learned to trust ‘her gut’. If something doesn’t feel right, if it’s in conflict with your vision or your ethics, move away. Challenge the norm. Ask yourself this – “Is there an alternative option which is more in keeping with my vision and values?”
Whitney Wolfe has achieved a great deal of success. She has endured a tremendous amount of hardship. She has learned from both. All that we can control is our attitude, our actions and our reactions. We must embrace our passion, define a purpose beyond self, and have the persistence to stay the course. Those are the keys for each of us to find success and satisfaction – for each of us to be a fearless brand.