Whitney Wolfe Herd opens the double doors of her suite at the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi in a hotel bathrobe, her face hidden beneath a sea foam–green beauty mask. “Do you use any dating apps?” she asks the trio of room-service waiters as they roll a large trolley table into the room. Indeed they do. “Bumble has changed my life,” says a handsome 23-year-old named Shlok, who could be a spokesperson for the four-year-old dating-and-networking company. “We don’t have time to meet people.”
Wolfe Herd’s eyes widen, delighted. And though it’s 1:30 a.m. on a December night, and she has just changed out of the floor-length beaded Indian gown that she wore to Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’s Delhi wedding reception (the last of five days of Chopra-Jonas festivities), the Bumble CEO and founder doesn’t seem remotely tired. It is mid-morning in Austin, Texas, where the company has its headquarters, and there’s work to be done. Wolfe Herd, 29, is joined by three female Bumble staffers in sweatpants and company T-shirts, MacBooks clutched under their arms. She serves everyone red wine and Margherita pizza. The mood is buzzing, on-brand-business meeting meets pajama party.
Wolfe Herd tells me Bumble is profitable, in the range of $200 million in revenue last year
A company by women for women: Bumble was founded on this idea before it became fashionable, in what could be called the PreToo era, in the days before power woman T-shirts were sold at J.Crew. It began as a dating app with a simple concept: Give women the agency to dictate their own relationships and overturn the dynamics of online courtship by letting them make the first move. Now, Bumble wants to be nothing less than a purveyor of female empowerment worldwide, a social and professional network as much as a romantic one. The app, which now includes BumbleBFF and BumbleBizz, claims more than 50 million users, and adds half a million more every week. “No one has those numbers,” she says. “No tech company at our age is ever profitable.”
Bumble is active in 150 countries, but the company has been especially focused of late on India-on track to have more than 700 million people on the internet by 2020. In she enlisted Priyanka Chopra as the company’s partner, or rather, Chopra enlisted Bumble, grabbing the CEO’s arm at the New York launch of BumbleBizz and saying, “We have to bring this to India.”
At dinner Bumble’s founder stands to introduce herself
A year later, here we are, with a rebuilt, India-friendly version of the app (incorporating languages, identity protection for women, and culturally specific marketing). The first of three parties to mark the occasion is held at Bikaner House, a high-ceilinged colonial mansion in the heart of New Delhi, and a who’s who of Delhi’s media, fashion, and business worlds have arrived to sip chili-infused vodka cocktails called Cupid’s Love. The crowd hushes and parts when Chopra and Jonas enter, around 9:00 p.m., Wolfe Herd following behind them.
“I was 22 years old when we started Tinder, and it took off like a rocket ship,” she says, the emerald beads on her long Naeem Khan skirt shimmying as she turns to face different pockets of guests. She’s confident and poised, her shoulders not just straight but arched back, her arms bent in front of her, the pose millennial women tend to take when explaining something. She speaks crisply but at a clip. “I ended up leaving while it was gaining two to four hundred thousand new users a day and had to take action against the company at a moment when no one wanted to be involved in a lawsuit as a young woman.” She is disarmingly earnest, almost unpolished-delivering a welcome speech to 100 strangers as if she’s talking to a close friend. (Or it could be the double dose of Benadryl she took before dinner after an unexpected brush with a cashew; she is deathly allergic to nuts.) “I went into this deep depression to a point where I didn’t country chat room think I’d ever leave the house. I was considering getting a lot of cats.” The crowd titters.