How Tinder made up its founding story

Bloomberg Businessweek has a fascinating article on Tinder’s origins story, which alleges much of what we know to be mythologized.  It’s a fantastic story and worth reading.

Tinder is not a start-up, for starters.  Giant corporation IAC is the majority owner.  IAC also owns and originally planned for Tinder to be a marketing tool to get more users to the paid service.

The two most often portrayed as Tinder’s co-founders, CEO Sean Rad and his buddy Justin Mateen, aren’t really so.  Mateen joined only after Tinder was launched on the app store, and there were three others who played crucial founding roles but don’t get much if any recognition.

One of them is Whitney Wolfe, a former marketing executive, who is suing Tinder and parent IAC for sexual harassment and discrimination.  More interesting though is that Tinder’s marketing breakthrough was her initiative.

In 2012, when Tinder was still an unknown app, Wolfe thought up and executed a plan to promote the service at a half-dozen key sororities. “We sent her all over the country,” Munoz told me this week. “Her pitch was pretty genius. She would go to chapters of her sorority, do her presentation, and have all the girls at the meetings install the app. Then she’d go to the corresponding brother fraternity—they’d open the app and see all these cute girls they knew.”

(As an aside — more proof that a successful app is both great product and great marketing.)

Whitney Wolfe and Jonathan Badeen - Glamour Hearts Tinder Party in Hollywood
From left to right: Mateen, Jonathan Badeen (Tinder’s iOS coder), Rad and Wolfe

Obviously, we don’t know the full picture, as much as the story’s writer sought opinions from different sources.  For one, the story does not contain any quotes from Rad or Mateen; a glaring deficiency.  What’s their response to being accused of fictionalizing themselves as Tinder’s genius co-founders?

Let’s assume the story is the essential truth.  Here are some of the ways CEO Rad messed up:

  • Bringing in a buddy, Mateen, to supervise Wolfe in marketing when Wolfe was doing just fine
  • Allowing Mateen and Wolfe to date
  • Not intervening when, after the two inevitably broke up, Mateen took to bashing Wolfe as an untrustworthy whore
  • Pretending he and Mateen are the only co-founders that matter; the people who created Tinder before Tinder was Tinder

How insecure is this guy?  It’s easy to judge, but I also know from personal experience that people can lose perspective when it comes to claiming credit.  If feecha was ever to succeed, I have no doubt one or two people would come out of the woodwork claiming they deserve co-founder status.  (They categorically do not.)

Insecurity aside, Rad should not have brought Mateen in as CMO.  If Wolfe wasn’t doing a good job that would be different, but she was doing fine according to Joe Munoz, Tinder’s backend coder and spiritual co-founder.

Rad should definitely have forbade the two from dating.  It wasn’t a good idea given the team is small, and it was an even worse idea given one reports to the other.  When they broke-up (to no one’s surprise), Rad did not step in and set boundaries.

Now he’s got a shit storm on his hands and he has nobody else to blame but himself.

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