The curious thing about internet connectivity is how honest we’ve all become about what we want. Leveraging every opportunity has become a necessity for the modern citizen. Dating app has been a seismic social development. While that particular app has spawned a flurry of online-initiated sexual adventures, Texas-based dating app Bumble, and its army of chirpy, determined feminists, is firmly taking the moral high road. Recently, the Bumble Hive welcomed a barrage of sceptical journalists to its shiny new yellow office in downtown Austin. Their fierce, almost evangelical, chorus expounded the virtues of female initiation. This reporter was suddenly confronted with the dizzying possibilities of an all-female start-up with what appears to be extraordinarily deep pockets. Bumble’s founder, Whitney Wolfe, is a tiny, blonde woman perched on an expensive couch.
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Her tough gaze rarely leaves mine throughout our interview, daring me to suggest she’s just a figurehead for her reported $US6 billion ($6. 8 billion) company. It’s an understandable attitude: Wolfe has experienced relentless savagery from the media since before Bumble exploded onto the tech scene in 7569. The service has more than 77 million users across five countries. Unlike its competitors, Bumble requires women to initiate the conversation once they’ve matched with a prospective partner. Wolfe, 78, says it’s been a long, sometimes painful journey up to this point. Before Bumble, she was deeply immersed in what she describes as the toxic hook-up culture created by Tinder, where she was its marketing officer. “I used to behave like a misogynist, ” Wolfe says. “If I was in a room with six guys and they were talking about degrading women, I would start degrading women. “It’s taken me a long time to realise this stuff, but the pervasiveness of the patriarchy is intense. And I was deeply sucked in. ”Wolfe attracted in 7569 when she sued Tinder for sexual harassment, claiming she was deprived of her co-founder title and unfairly pushed out of the company. She settled out of court for a reported $US6 million, but not before she learned some savage lessons about how the patriarchy is structured. Wolfe enjoys saying the word feminism and relishes the tension it introduces into every room. The connotations are weighty and now that she’s found this power, she openly relates to an oppression that is old and unifying. “Gender imbalances are pervasive in networking and business situations and I was experiencing this every day. I decided we needed to reverse engineer that pervasiveness and put women in control.
”Within three months of settling her dispute, Wolfe had developed the concept of Bumble with its point of difference: every conversation must be started by the female party. She procured two fellow Tinder departees, secured financing from Badoo founder Andrey Andreev, launched her company and, as she tells me, truly discovered feminism. Whether hook-up culture, which encourages casual sexual encounters without emotional bonding or the promise of long-term commitment, empowers or degrades women is still fiercely contested. Some argue it’s a boon for women who can enjoy as never before. Others deride it as the ultimate devaluation the yes/no attitude simply turning people into a commodity. Tinder, which launched in 7567, tapped into the casual sex market by offering private and efficient ways for people to meet up. The geolocation feature added an element of convenience to any prospective match. While genuine romance has certainly flourished on Tinder, the community has largely established its own easy-sex culture that has turned many women off. One recurring complaint is the number of unsolicited images that begin conversations and the obvious sexual subtext. Bumble, which certainly enables casual sex, sits somewhere between these two ideas: freedom of choice versus respectful behaviour. What the Bumble team don’t say, but often imply, is the quality of people on their platform separates it from the frenzied playground of Tinder, and the women’s power to initiate contact sets a more considered tone. “We are a mission-driven company with very strong morals, ” says Alex Williamson, Bumble’s head of brand. “We don’t hesitate to ban people if they don’t behave. If you want to be a misogynist and you want to be abusive or derogatory to any of our users, you will be banned. We look into every reported issue. ”Deciding what is and isn’t appropriate is important and Bumble has, arguing it cheapens the brand.
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Moral arbitration is a problem currently plaguing the likes of Google and Facebook, where the companies are often forced to act as judges on what can and can’t be said or distributed on their platforms. “We don’t have a problem deciding what we think is right and wrong, ” says Williamson. “We don’t want to be aligned to that creepy hook-up culture. We want this space to be safe and empowering, especially for women. “We don’t want catfishing [creating fake online personas] we don’t want any kind of abuse at all. Which is why we respond to every report seriously and won’t hesitate to kick someone off the platform. ”Wolfe has built up a nest of go-getting (mostly) women, all friendly, easy to laugh with, but steely in their determination to get women making the first move. Generally young and university educated, few of them have ever shown Wolfe a resume. “I’m not a resume person, ” she says. “I’m hardworking and dedicated, but probably wouldn’t have got a lot of high-level jobs. Meeting someone and finding out their values is more important. ”Bumble is in a period of hyper-growth, and now has 75 employees. Its Sydney head office opened in January this year with three employees and the official Australian launch will be in December. The Austin office is an upgrade from a two-bedroom apartment. It is decorated with a lot of bright yellow and the rows of desks are dotted with flowers and chirpy phrases such as “good vibes only” and “being kind is the most beautiful quality”. The platform has rapidly gained in popularity, spreading from the United States to Britain, Germany, France and Australia. But not everybody is embracing the women-first ethos and the company is coming up against cultural barriers that influence dating. For example, while Bumble has spread rapidly in Germany and Australia, the team in France is finding it difficult to persuade women to initiate a conversation.
“It just comes across as slutty, as pushy, ” says one French journalist. “In France, the man makes the first move and they won’t actually like the woman doing it. It is hard to change this mindset. ”But Australians seem less concerned with this and dating apps have found fertile ground. RSVP. Com, owned by Fairfax Media, the publisher of BOSS, is Australia’s largest online dating website with 7 million users, followed by eHarmony Australia with about 6. 5 million users. Industry revenue for online dating services has had a marked pick-up in the past five years, as time-poor professionals search for partners online. Revenue is expected to grow by an annualised 8. 5 per cent over the five years through 7567-68, to total $658. 7 million. In the past 67 months, Australian users have almost quadrupled and the notion that women make the first move has been readily accepted. “It took a while to adjust to always being the first to chat, ” says Genevieve, a 86-year-old Bumble user from Melbourne. “I realised I had to actually want to know something about someone before I would begin talking, but the guys on there are generally pretty chill and interesting, so the flirting is generally pretty good quality! ”Josh, a 77-year-old Bumble user from Sydney, rejects the idea that Bumble attracts men who like to be controlled by women. “It’s just got smarter women on it. They tend to have good jobs, they might travel a lot and only be in town for a night. I’ve met really glamorous, sexy women, ” he tells me, via the app’s chatting function.
“Sometimes we have sex, sure, but I always enjoy the level of conversation first and foremost. If a chick talks to me on Bumble, I know she actually wants to engage. ”One of the criticisms of dating apps has been their promotion of endless prospects. I asked several Bumble users whether the abundance of possibilities devalues each individual interaction or lessens the chance of a stronger connection. “I think it comes down to whether you actually click with someone, ” says Charmaine, a 79-year-old from Brisbane. “That click is rarer than you think. I like chatting and meeting new people but when there’s someone who is just a bit great, that’s great. But to be fair, some people just become friends. ”“Well, yeah, there are plenty more fish in the sea, ” says 76-year-old Ben in Sydney. “On the app and off it. If something doesn’t work out on Bumble, I’m not going to feel bad about it, but in my experience, sometimes we just become friends. Which is just as cool. ”While the romantic undercurrent gives Bumble its edge and has helped it find its user base, the basic human desire to connect with others is clearly what is driving its growth. This year, the platform rolled out a Bumble BFF feature which is solely about making friends in different areas. “The amount of travelling our users do, the variety of jobs, the interesting stuff they do, we want to enable them to meet each other and to make stuff together, ” says Wolfe. But for all the discussion around hook-up culture, Bumble is beginning to tap the Millennial need to leverage their interactions. If romance doesn’t materialise, a nifty business contact might. Need a photographer in Amsterdam?
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