As a long time user (Read: Forever Alone Engineer :P) of dating apps, I’ve always been fascinated by how they worked. Tinder, the market leader, and other dating apps like Bumble (my personal favorite), Hinge, POF, The League, etc. act as matching platforms, connecting consenting users to converse over the platform. I will focus my attention on Tinder specifically for the purposes of this blog post, but rest assured, many of these insights are broadly applicable to the dating app marketplace. Tinder has completely changed dating marketplace dynamics. As I did a little bit of digging and exposed the dark truth, my views have completely changed.
What I once saw as fun app to pass time and a potential way to meet the person I hope to spend the rest of my life with, I now see as an exploitive platform that preys on the insecurities of men, and undermines that dating culture hurting both genders. Before I spit my written rhetorical righteous rage and cultural commentary (note the alliteration :)) that motivated this blog allow me to cover some of the basics.
How Tinder Works:
Swipe Left. Swipe Right. Sometimes you even Swipe Up. Tinder is a dating app, and digital matching platform that connects two mutually consenting users of any gender/sex, within a selected geographic search radius up to 100miles/161km. A user swipes right to indicate interest or left to move on to a new profile. Tinder operates on a freemium subscription model. Free users have 100 free right swipes per day, before running out for the remainder of the 24hr period and are given one Super Swipe or Up Swipe per day which allegedly triples the odds of a match. Tinder has released numerous features, like Boosts which bump your profile to the top of the queue for currently active users, and premium services like, Tinder Plus, Tinder Gold and Tinder Platinum, which offer varying levels of allegedly value added service to increase a user’s odds of success, for a price.
How Tinder Creates and Captures Value:
Tinder creates values for it’s users by acting as a virtual bar room. Rather than needing to be in the same place, at the same time, like in the dating days of old, at a bar for example, Tinder enables you to connect with people whom you find attractive/desirable, and who have also expressed interest in you (both individuals right swipe= a match). Tinder captures economic value by selling premium features and services to “help” their users get more matches. For example, Figure 1 below shows the pricing that I see on my app as a 29-year old male user.
Figure 1- Tinder Plus, Tinder Gold, Super like and Boost Pricing.
Tinder has supply/demand issue as a matching platform because over 78% of users are male . They attempt to follow the same playbook as Las Vegas nightclubs by pricing features and services at lower rates for female users . This hasn’t stopped Tinder’s success at all, with its paid user growth increasing steadily over the years as seen in Figure 2. In fact Tinder is WILDLY successful as one of the highest grossing app on IOS in 2018, as seen in Figure 3 , and grossed over $1.2B in 2020 alone across all operating systems, with an astonishing 40% gross margin .
Figure 2- Tinder Paid Subscriber Growth Over Time .
Scalability, Sustainability and Features of Dating Application Platforms:
Dating applications, like social media, have VERY strong network effects. You want to be on the dating app that has the greatest number of users to maximize your opportunities to meet someone. This is where Tinder really shines. Tinder was first to market for heterosexual people (Grindr was first overall) and has the largest user base of any dating app as can be seen in Figure 4. However, despite the strong network effects, multi-homing is a very common phenomena since users can easily operate multiple apps at once. Hell, after a particularly bad break up, I once was on four dating apps at once (not my finest moment).
Figure 4- 2019 Dating Application Users 
As a digital platform, Tinder is infinitely scalable. If there are single people with smartphones, this app will thrive. Furthermore, in the disconnected and locked down era of COVID-19, it’s getting more challenging to meet people further increasing the short-term prospects of this application. The app’s growth will be sustainable, especially as younger generations’ (Gen Z I’m looking at you) social skills degrade due to the move from the physical to the digital world .
The Exploitation of Men (Righteous Fury Time):
Users are assigned an attractiveness score based on how many people like them. The dating apps tends towards a pareto distribution where 20% of the users get 80% of the matches as seen in Figure 5. However, users are sorted based on their attractiveness score, and thus you’re shown users who are roughly in the same league as you. Furthermore, the average male user gets one match in 115 profiles . With only 100 free swipes a day, 80% males who haven’t paid for premium service will average less than a single match a day.
Figure 5- Like distribution by gender and attractiveness.
Tinder sells users a fantasy, a hope that maybe if they just purchase this premium feature or service maybe they will find the one. The claims about getting up seen by 10x more profile views, or up to 3x improvement in matches, when examined empirically means that many users still get almost no benefit from these features/services. The ease of use of the application to purchase said services acts as an almost gamification, that facilitates the microtransactions that create the app’s wild profitability. The app explicitly and almost exclusively preys on lonely men. What’s worse is the 20% of users who get all the matches (myself included), get most of the matches, thus creating a dating culture where people are disposable because there’s always another match waiting. This is the grim reality that the Tinder platform has created. Don’t waste your money on dating apps.
 Campbell, Patrick. 2021. “Why Tinder’s Charging Older Users More, And Why It Makes Perfect Sense”. Priceintelligently.Com. https://www.priceintelligently.com/blog/why-tinders-charging-older-users-more-and-why-it-makes-perfect-sense#:~:text=But%20this%20much%20anticipated%20launch,paying%20upwards%20of%20%2419.99%2Fmonth.
 “U.S. Tinder User Ratio By Gender 2020 | Statista”. 2021. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/975925/us-tinder-user-ratio-gender/.
 “Tinder Made $1.2 Billion Last Year Off People Who Can’T Stop Swiping”. 2021. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2020/2/4/21123057/tinder-1-billion-dollars-match-group-revenue-earnings.
”Tinder Paid Dating Subscribers 2020 | Statista”. 2021. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/992916/paid-dating-subscribers-tinder/.
”U.S. Dating Apps By Audience Size 2019 | Statista”. 2021. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/826778/most-popular-dating-apps-by-audience-size-usa/.
 “Tinder Revenue And Usage Statistics (2020)”. 2021. Business Of Apps. https://www.businessofapps.com/data/tinder-statistics/.
 2021. Usatoday.Com. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/05/03/gen-z-loneliest-generation-social-media-personal-interactions-column/574701002/.
 Bartlett, Matt. 2021. “How Tinder’S Algorithm Is Micromanaging Your Dating Life”. The Spinoff. https://thespinoff.co.nz/tech/18-07-2020/how-tinders-algorithm-is-micromanaging-your-dating-life/#:~:text=Users%20are%20then%20sorted%20into,of%20attractiveness%20when%20you%20swipe.