Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe on how to ace your dating profile
London users are most active after 5pm, Fridays are the most popular
There is much that is wrong about online dating. There is the obvious: it is two-dimensional, and women complain that men open conversations with graphic pictures of unimpressive genitalia. Moreover, it is tedious wading through conversational signposts with someone in whose life you are not yet invested (“How was your day?” “Yeah, fine thanks – I did some things you don’t really care about with some people you don’t know. How was yours?” “Much the same”). Sometimes, you’d rather they just got to the (phallic) point.
Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe does not answer these issues (how could she?). However, her app addresses what she perceives as the chief social problem with dating – online and offline: the notion that men should initiate the interaction.
The gender split
“Society says that men should be the aggressors, and women should be the rejecters,” she explains. “Women trained [to think] that men are the hunters and it is our job [to reject them]. When that happens, something really unfortunate takes place: men know there’s a very good chance they’ll be rejected, so they need a defence mechanism.”
This is her diplomatic way of couching the stereotype: that men take an aggressive approach, and continue in an aggressive vein if and when a woman decides she isn’t interested. Hence Bumble’s conceit that women must initiate all conversations. Both men and women swipe, but only girls can start an interaction once they’ve matched; they must do so within 24 hours, or the match disappears.
London on Bumble
Wolfe is a Tinder veteran; she left the app in summer 2014, and launched her site in December 2014. Bumble is 13 months old, and is “in the millions in the US”. Usage is picking up in London: “we’ve passed the 500k mark of British downloads,” she confirms. Nearly 15 million messages have been sent from London users; women have started more than 200,000 chats.
70 per cent of London’s Bumble users are in their 20s. Users are most active after 5pm, peaking at 11pm, when there are nearly double the number of users online than at 4pm. Friday is the most popular day for London’s Bumble users; Sunday the least popular.
“It’s really just trickled over on its own,” she observes, pointing out they have made minimal spending on UK advertising (in contrast to, for example, Match.com, whose twee Tube advertisements have been a source of ridicule across the capital). “It shows the product is really resonating with people. [It’s] the first time a dating app has created the platform that says [women initiating] is normal.”
The ‘quality’ of the people
Anecdotally, Bumble has exploded in my circle; many people hypothesise that the ‘quality’ of people on the site is better, although they also complain that this quality drops off a little after you’ve been using the site for a while. Is this by design? “We’ve seen a lot of people say that Bumble puts all the quote unquote ‘hottest’ users first,” she sighs. “We’re not doing that: we have no way of actually determining who [is] the hottest. We don’t sit and manually look through the photos. It’s based on who the system thinks you are most likely to want to connect with.”
Certainly, during a cursory swipe on a Wednesday morning (during working hours), unearthed an Edinburgh graduate (swipe right) a model (swipe right), an Italian (swipe right), a dark-haired, bearded hottie (swipe right), and a long lost ex-boyfriend (admittedly, someone on whom I would definitely once have swiped right).
Overall, she finds the gender split is roughly equal – “it’s really even – slightly skewed male, [but] organic growth is almost right down the middle” – which is counter to trends observed on sites like Tinder (where at one point last year, men allegedly outnumbered women two-to-one).
Ace your profile
So how do you finesse your profile? “If you have four or more photos, you’re 40 per cent more likely to get a match,” she says. “If you don’t have a lot of photos it sends a signal that you are ashamed, or not taking it seriously. And having a bio gives you a two times higher match rate. A lot of people don’t write anything. Even if you just write some funny emojis, or a funny one-liner – even if it’s five characters – it gives you a boost.” Pics and quick quips, then.
Otherwise, it’s all the usual algorithmic stuff: location, preferences, age. “And then we show you who we think you are most likely to want to match with.”
The proposition enters the zeitgeist at the right time: grassroots (especially online) feminism is growing and Bumble chimes with this new, modern version of emancipation. A colleague in the States reports that on college campuses, many students say that Bumble is more popular than Tinder, the more established app (which last year, Vanity Fair journalist Nancy Jo Sales blamed for the growth of so-called hook-up culture). Seemingly, female students prefer the more considered approach, and where the girls go, the men follow (twas, ever thus).
“I can’t tell you how many times [there were when] I was single and I saw a really cute guy and I wanted so badly to be like, ‘oh my God, he’s so cute – I’m going to go over and talk to him’,” says Wolfe, frustrated. “And my girlfriends would say, ‘no, you can’t – he’ll think that you’re this, he’ll assume you’re that, you must let him come to you”’. And that’s ridiculous – why do I need to sit and wait for him? I’m confident, I know who I am, I’m allowed to go over and speak to him.
“Bumble completely changes the psychological reaction of the male. He is so alarmingly flattered that she’s expressed interest. It leads to very pleasant and nice interactions in the most part.”
“Dating is a lifestyle”
She is excited about the app’s potential in London – tellingly, she currently splits her time between Texas, New York and London – and about the longterm potential for the 20-something market over here. What’s the next step? “I think it will be about offering you dating experiences – beyond just that match and that conversation. [So] how do you date, where do you go, what do you wear, what do you eat, how do you get discounts, how do you get into this concert?”
It’s a comprehensive vision and sounds faintly terrifying: like an app that takes a relationship from the cradle to its grave (or, alternatively, to marriage – which some anti-romantics might consider to be the same thing).
“Dating is a lifestyle. Single people do different things than people in relationships. Their habits, their routine, how they spend their money, how they dress, how they act, it’s a different way of life. We want to become part of your lifestyle rather than just introducing you to a person on the street.”