Bumble: Monetizing Empowerment
A look at how bumble creates value while sticking to its mission of providing women more agency over their online dating experience.
In 2014, Whitney Wolfe Herd left Tinder as their vice president of marketing. After this she filed for sexual harassment against the company. This led to her being ostracized from the tech community and being repeatedly threatened on the internet. She took this experience and built the fastest growing dating platform in America.
In the December of 2014, she launched Bumble, a dating app with a very unique selling point, any conversation after a match has to be initiated by the woman. It gives women 24 hours after a match to message someone before the match “expires.” A part of the reason for this practice of allowing women to initiate the conversation was the prevalence of women getting unsolicited explicit messages and images on dating application. Bumble built its platform by concentrating on women and their experiences of internet dating. They created value by allowing women to have more agency over their online dating experience. They also marketed themselves directly to their audience. Using her background in marketing, Wolfe Herd positioned the platform as a champion for women. An example of this was A letter called “An open letter to Connor” in which they publicly called out a male user who was abusive to a female user. They held events around the world, inviting local influencers and making sure their mission got out there. This building of brand strength and the network effect that rose out of women coming to bumble and this in turn attracting male users is another way they created value.
Unlike other apps in this space, they still retained the familiarity and ease of the swipe-based user interface which was so successful at Tinder. They also get feedback from their community and use the data they have to implement new features. This can be seen clearly in the implementation of “Bumble Bizz” and “Bumble BFF.” When they noticed that there were people on their dating app that were interested in platonic relationships, they created Bumble BFF as another feature in the app. Anyone who was looking for friendships could move their search here and only see people interested in the same. Similarly, they created Bumble Bizz when they noticed that people were using the platform to expand their networks. They added the prompts which allowed users to post answers to quirky questions. This created room for conversations and generally let users capture their personalities more vividly. They added filters that let users target their searches better than the standard age and distance. This improved the user experience as it enabled users to find exactly what they are looking for quicker.
Rather than advertising, as most of its competitors have done, Bumble captures value using a freemium model where it offers 2 enhancements on top of the free user experience: Boost and Premium. Boost users extend the times for their matches, unlimited swipes every day, backtrack(go back on their last swipe), one spotlight(more visibility) and 5 SuperSwipes(higher level of confidence in the match. Premium includes all the features of Boost plus the ability to use an unlimited number of advanced filters as compared to the usual two, ability to rematch with expired matches and the ability to see who has liked your profile already.
Bumble has had no major troubles scaling as their clear message draws female users and network effects have been helping them gather users. Since they are an app based platform, they can scale rapidly but since they are committed to the values they need content moderators around the world for different languages as shown by their job postings. Their response to customer needs and constant innovation and activism have attracted users. The introduction of their lifestyle magazine Bumble Mag has help them get more ingrained in their user’s lives and increase stickiness. They also post bumble success stories on their website and engage very actively with their community. This engagement with their community increases their sustainability as their users are invested in them.
They had their IPO in February 2021, setting their valuation at $13 billion. As a company using technological innovation to make women feel safer on the internet, Bumble looks like it has a bright future. Their commitment to their mission and their responsiveness to their community along with their CEO are going to long term factors in their growth.
Student comments on Bumble: Monetizing Empowerment
Thanks for writing a great and timely article! One question though: do you think long-term sustainable value creation is coming more from the premium buy-ins or the ecosystem of added services that bumble is aggressively expanding into, some of which you have highlighted above as well?
Thanks, Vikram. Building on Pranav’s question, how do low frictions to multi-homing impact the premium business (i.e., add-ons)? Is there any way for these dating platforms to force users to choose one vs. using all?
Love this question. I thought about the same for quite a while when I was researching Bumble. The best answer I came up with is using the network effects to create higher frictions to multi homing. As more users buy these add-ons, the would get more invested in one platform. Bumble has an edge here due to the advanced filtering. If the users see the same faces on all platforms, it makes sense for them to use the platform where they can exercise maximum control over who they see.
Great question. In my opinion bumble creates value through its brand identity as a feminist organization and its added services. It utilizes the premium buy-ins as a way to capture the value that it creates.
Bumble is one of the few apps that isn’t owned by the Match group and in my view is best positioned to have long term success. I say this for a number of reasons. Firstly, the users on Bumble from my experience tend to be more engaged and sticky. Secondly, the demographics are more favorable when it comes to capturing value since it’s an older crowd. The number one risk with this service is that many women are afraid to make the first move, and thus don’t use the app at all. I am long term bullish on this platform as long as it doesn’t begin to emulate the exploitative tactics of the Match group apps like Tinder!
I knew I was going to find a comment from you on this post! I’m torn actually on how churn will play a role in this company in the longer term. The way I understood it, its business model still relies on people remaining on the platform, but has less exploitation for you not to find “the one”…that person who would drive you to finally uninstall the app. I know they’ve built different models to continue engaging users, like with the platonic relationships, but I wonder if the long term result for these dating apps is to eventually become what you initially said you wouldn’t: an app that purposefully exploits the user to ensure they don’t find the one and remain engaged with the app.
Yeah it’ll be interesting to see how bumble choose to evolve moving forward. Bumble’s value capture is fundamentally very similar to Tinder, although they do a lot more partnerships and advertising from my experience. The thing is, a new generation of eligible 18 year olds comes of age every year, so there will always be new customers replacing churned ones, but there are limits to the ultimate market penetration. I think the biggest boon for dating apps is the fact that young adults are delaying major milestones like marriage, giving these apps a much longer time horizon to capture value.
This was a spot-on write-up of the Sadie Hawkins of dating apps. I imagine Bumble leadership had has to grapple with sensitive conversations around gender inclusivity in recent years. How have they navigated this?
I second your point that Bumble has a bright future. Just last month, Bumble’s CEO became a rare female billionaire. Bumble is one of three female-founded firms to IPO in past year, according to Bloomberg…!
Thanks for this post, Vikram. It was very interesting to see how Bumble was able to innovate and challenge Tinder’s hegemony by solving one of the pain-points women experienced on Tinder. It’s a great example on how to compete with already established platforms.
Thanks for sharing a very interesting post, Vikram! It is quite surprising that the company extended their service into more professional networking. I wonder how they were able to build two completely different brand images, dating and professional, at the same time.
Thanks for this post, Vikram. I second Kanako’s point and find it interesting that Bumble thought it was a good idea to expand in friendships and business networking. I wonder if some people will not abuse the system and use these features to circumvent the rules and use it to date anyway… If that happens, there might be a big risk of the value proposition being completely diluted.
I guess a solution would be to rebrand those two features and push them to users who already found a long-term relationship, thereby increasing consumer lifetime value, while appealing to a completely separate customer segment.
Thanks for the post, Vikram!
I found Whitney Wolfe story is very empowering!
As mentioned by Kanako, I am surprised to see that Bumble is expanding its operations into career networking. I wonder whether this is a smart more, or rather a very risky one due to Bumble’s well-established brand image.
I am also considering the potential home-coming effects of entering the professional networking app market. Do you have any thoughts?