The founder of an innovative women-centred dating app has just become the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire.
Whitney Wolfe Herd created Bumble in 2014, after leaving her role at the rival dating app, Tinder, where she was a member of the development team, before rising to vice-president of marketing.
At the age of 31, Wolfe Herd, now the CEO of Bumble Inc, has earned an overall personal fortune of more than $1 billion, after selling shares for the app publicly for the first time. This has brought her stake in the company to more than $900 million, with her overall fortune making her a billionaire.
Her meteoric rise to success is an inspirational tale for women tech founders, in a field where they are traditionally underrepresented. She saw an opportunity to create a new-style dating app that she felt addressed a need and went on to build a multi-billion-dollar company in just seven years.
Born in July 1989, she majored in international studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where her business acumen was apparent from the start.
At age 20, she launched a business selling bamboo tote bags, with the proceeds going to areas impacted by the BP oil spill disaster in 2010. Celebrities such as Nicole Richie and Rachel Zoe were pictured with her bags and the company received national press attention.
She also launched a second business, Tender Heart, while at university – a range of clothing aimed at raising awareness of fair trade and human trafficking.
After graduating, she joined Hatch Labs. The tech firm builds websites for small businesses and start-ups. With the contacts she made there (Sean Rad and Chris Gulczynski), she joined the development team for Tinder in 2012.
She reportedly came up with the name Tinder and the flame logo, inspired by the idea of the combustible material used to start fires. It was said she used tinder to light the fire at her family’s cabin in Montana. She was also credited with helping to increase the app’s popularity by marketing it to college campuses to grow the user base.
Wolfe Herd left Tinder in 2014 and filed a lawsuit against them for sexual harassment. It was an acrimonious departure after she alleged other executives repeatedly called her derogatory names. She also claimed she was stripped of her co-founder title because having a woman in that position made the company “seem like a joke”.
The lawsuit was later settled and Wolfe Herd reportedly received more than $1 million-plus stock as part of the settlement.
Turning a bad experience into something positive; it was her experiences at Tinder that led her to create her Bumble dating app. Designed to enable women looking for a heterosexual relationship to make the first move contacting the men, the app also allows either interested party in same-sex relationships to do the same.
It was reported that after her experiences at Tinder, Wolfe Herd didn’t plan on returning to the world of online dating. Initially, she planned to create a social networking site for women. However, on the advice of Russian tech billionaire Andrey Andreev, who founded dating app Badoo, she focused on the dating app Bumble instead.
She created it as a site “by women, for women”, marketing it as a place where harassment was strictly policed and women were empowered. It became the second most popular dating app in the United States, thanks to marketing campaigns such as: “Be the CEO your parents always wanted you to marry.”
Bumble Inc is now the holding company for Bumble and Badoo, valued at around $8 billion. Andreev said he felt “very comfortable” handing over to Wolfe Herd, who was “insightful and innovative” when it came to dating apps.
Her partnership with Andreev helped her overcome a common obstacle to women-focused, women-led start-ups: the funding. Statistics show less than 3% of venture capital goes to female-founded start-ups. This figure has hardly changed over the past ten years.
Women make up around 50% of the world’s population, yet self-made women make up just under 5% of the globe’s 500 biggest fortunes, with self-made men comprising almost two-thirds of the wealth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires’ Index. Out of 559 companies that went public in the past year, only three, including Bumble, were founded by women.
Wolfe Herd is bucking the trend in an economic climate where the world’s 500 richest people in 2020 gained $1.8 trillion – but 91% of the money went to men.
Harassment is reportedly one of the most common challenges for women in the world of start-ups, with 44% of female company founders reporting they had been intimidated during their career, yet evidence suggests women-led start-ups, on average, produce better returns than start-ups founded by men, according to research by Mass Challenge, the Kauffman Foundation and BCG.
Thanks to Wolfe Herd’s success, women in the start-up world have become more optimistic about the future, inspired by her meteoric rise to fame.
There are around 100 female self-made billionaires in the world, according to statistics from 2020 released by Hurun. China currently dominates the list, with 61 of the 100 based there.
The richest is believed to be 59-year-old Zhong Huijuan, founder, chair and CEO of Jiangsu Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group Co. She is worth an estimated $15.1 billion after her company was listed on the Hong Kong stock market.
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