Hinge advertises itself as a dating app that enables people to get their personalities across to fellow users more than other swipe-based dating apps like Tinder.
It does so by making users set up profiles with a collection of photographs and prompts.
Hinge’s prompts are essentially a set list of ways to begin a sentence, which the user then has to finish off. Examples of some of the templates Hinge provides are: “My mantra is…”, “Give me travel tips for…” and “I’ll fall for you if…”
Rather than swiping left or right, users select specific pictures and prompts to either like or to comment on. If the original user likes them, they match and take it from there.
It’s a format lots of Hinge users like but unfortunately, humans love a trope – and certain prompts, lines, and themes have a reputation on Hinge as being woefully overused.
Insider gathered a bunch of the most painful Hinge clichés and asked CEO Justin McLeod if he could suggest any improvements.
“I’ll fall for you if… you trip me up”
While many users may think this pun gives a sense of their sense of humor, McLeod suggested taking a slightly more direct approach.
“This [prompt] is giving you an opportunity to share what you’re really looking for in a partner, what you want, what’s important to you,” he said. “What gets you excited about someone and what is something that someone can do that would really show that they were super interested in you?”
He didn’t go so far as to say users should steer away from the “trip me up” pun entirely.
“It’s another way of showing your personality … So there’s no bad answer in that sense. It’s showing that you’d rather take this opportunity to make a snarky remark versus shar[ing] that side of yourself,” he said.
“I’m looking for someone who… doesn’t take themselves too seriously”
McLeod had some suggestions for how users could make this answer a bit less daunting.
“The more specific that we can be the better,” he said, recommending that users give an actual example of what they mean.
“The more that you can take the opportunity to say what you mean by ‘doesn’t take themselves too seriously’ – or [give] an anecdote,” was his recommendation.
“It just takes a little bit of extra brain power and a little bit of extra creativity but I do think that saying what do you mean by that, or what specifically do you mean by that is a is a good thing,”
“I’m overly competitive about… everything”
Once again, McLeod suggested refining this answer with a little specificity.
“What are the things that you are most competitive about, like overly competitive about [for example] my chess game and my ability in a cookie eating contest. Whatever it is, how can you show that particular flavor for you of being overly competitive?” he said.
He also gave the tip that users shouldn’t only be thinking about their own personality when answering prompts.
“I think that you just also have to think when you’re answering these prompts – if you want to do it effectively – is how can someone respond to this?” he added.
“Am I making an opening or a hook for someone to be able to start a good conversation with me? And so if you say ‘everything,’ then there’s not a real opportunity for me … I don’t know what to respond to that.”
Anything that mentions “Pineapple on pizza”
McLeod said he’s aware that stereotypically divisive food choices like pineapple on pizza or cilantro common themes on Hinge. He didn’t rule them out as an opener, but says users have to be ready to move the conversation along at a fast clip.
“I think they can open up a conversation, but I think it has to move pretty quickly from there, right?” he said.
“There’s only so much to say about whether or not you like pineapple on pizza.”
“I’m a regular at… my fridge/my living room”
A pandemic-specific cliché, McLeod rates this line more highly than the others.
“I would give that one a higher rating because at least you’re talking about a current event that you both have a shared experience of, and it has a little bit of humor around. So I do think that that gives you a little bit more of an opening to like start a conversation,” he said, adding that if users use “their fridge” that gives people the chance to ask what’s inside.
Although the pandemic has put a dent in people’s dating lives, it’s also given a springboard to dating apps.
Hinge has been a popular alternative to the likes of Tinder and Bumble since before the pandemic, and far from killing the app stone dead, 2020 seems to have supercharged it. According to Hinge’s Q4 2020 results, the company tripled its revenues compared with 2019. Its global downloads rose by 63%.
Compared to its competition, Hinge is doing extremely well. App analytics firm Sensor Tower told Insider Hinge’s growth outstripped the five other most-popular dating apps: Tinder, Badoo, Bumble, Happn, and Plenty of Fish. Collectively, these apps’ install numbers only grew by 4% in 2020, according to Sensor Tower.
Similarly on revenue, Hinge’s success seems to have outstripped other dating apps, on average. Lexi Sydow, head of marketing insights at App Annie, said overall consumer spend on dating apps was up 15% year-on-year in 2020.
Insider spoke to Hinge founder and CEO Justin McLeod about how the company is planning to keep this momentum going through 2021, with vaccine rollouts getting people excited for the so-called “hot vax summer.”
Hinge users are looking to couple up
Despite Hinge’s growth over 2020, McLeod said the app had to deal with a peculiar set of “tailwinds and headwinds.”
While the app offered a welcome outlet for people stuck inside to flirt remotely, lockdown measures and colder weather still had an inhibiting effect. The app saw its biggest growth during summer last year, and McLeod is banking on there being another boom in activity this summer.
But while some have expressed a desire to make summer 2021 or “hot vax summer” a bacchanalian affair, McLeod predicts there’ll also be a trend towards people looking for more long-term relationships, based on surveys conducted on Hinge’s users.
“We’ve found at least a third of our users are saying that they have more urgency around wanting to settle down and find and a partner, and more than half of our users are actively seeking that long-term relationship,” McLeod said.
He believes the loneliness felt by many during lockdown could be driving this desire.
“I do think for a lot of people who maybe have been dating for a while and then went through the pandemic and went through it alone, they’re feeling the need for, I think, a partner and companionship more than ever,” he added.
This suits Hinge’s business model. Slating itself as the “dating app designed to be deleted,” Hinge markets itself as less of a hook-up spot than apps like Tinder (which shares a parent company with Hinge).
That doesn’t mean that users less laser-focused on a long-term relationship aren’t catered for on Hinge. McLeod said younger users may feel less urgency around settling down, and said the app saw its biggest growth last year among users in their early 20s.
Whatever users’ preferences, Hinge is planning to capitalize on the “hot vax summer” with new features, McLeod said, although he did not reveal any details. He did, however, highlight the video-chat feature, which Hinge added along with many dating apps during 2020.
“We’ll definitely think about how to make that a more interactive experience that really helps you get a quick spark check before you go out and meet up in person,” he said.
Pandemic or no pandemic, video dating is here to stay
McLeod thinks video dating will survive beyond the coronavirus pandemic, and predicted brief video chats before a first date would become a fixture in people’s dating lives for the next decade.
“No one is more of a proponent of meeting up in person and not spending time on screens than me,” he said. “But I do think that people will find that it’s just really helpful to do a five or ten-minute check that this person is worth meeting up with, before they go meet up in person so that they don’t waste their whole evening, walk in the door and realize like within two seconds that this isn’t the person that they actually want to spend their evening with.”
“I don’t think people will spend like hours and hours on video chat when they could be meeting up in person,” he added.
McLeod is confident about Hinge’s future, however this summer shakes out.
“In a way it feels like we’re the only app for young people that’s really serving this need of more intentioned relationships. I think some of the other ones, like the swipe-apps, are becoming even more explicit about being casual – because I think that’s very much how they’re designed,” he said.
He’s also unbothered by Facebook’s foray into online dating. Despite the social media giant’s resources, he doesn’t think Facebook will be able to poach Hinge’s younger usership.
“We haven’t seen them getting much traction, and I don’t think our target demo really uses Facebook. They don’t trust Facebook,” he said. “They don’t use it generally, much less for dating,” he added.
Online dating can be messy. The companies that run online dating can be messier.
Match Group, which started as one lonely Stanford Business School graduate’s attempt to build a less embarrassing way to find love online in the ’90s, has turned into a titan that owns nearly every US dating site.
College campus mainstay Tinder, serious relationship finder OkCupid, and Christian teen dating site Upward all belong to Match Group. Billionaire Barry Diller’s holding group IAC founded Match Group before it spun out the dating conglomerate last year.
Bumble, however, is conspicuously absent from Match’s portfolio. Bumble’s CEO, ex-Tinder executive Whitney Wolfe Herd, has a toxic history with the online dating group.
Ahead of Bumble’s entrance into Nasdaq, here’s the decades-long history into how Match Group became the owner of practically every online dating space in the country.
Match Group was founded in February 2009 after the holding company IAC decided to bundle all dating sites it owned. IAC’s initial purchase of Match.com dates back to the 1990s.
Stanford Business School graduate Gary Kremen founded Match.com in 1995 to design a meeting place for older professionals looking for long-term relationships, SF Gate reported.
But Kremen left Match.com in 1996 after butting heads with the firm’s investors. He walked away with just $50,000, Insider reported.
Ticketmaster Inc., which had recently been bought out by USA Networks Inc. (later renamed IAC), bought Match.com in 1999 for $50 million. Cendant Corporation bought the matchmaking upstart a year earlier for $6 million, per SF Gate.
During the 2000s, IAC chairman Barry Diller turned Match.com into one of the most successful online dating companies in the US.
Jim Safka, a former ETrade and AT&T executive, took over as Match.com CEO in 2004 after years of stalled growth.
Match had grow its subscriber base by 10% just a few months after Safka joined, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2007, partially due to his emphasis on marketing to older demographics. Revenue increased 68% between 2003 and 2006, going from $185.3 million to $311.2 million, D Magazine reported.
During Safka’s leadership, Match became the one of best-performing companies in Diller’s portfolio, per D Magazine.
Barry Diller decided to form Match Group after breaking up IAC into five different companies in 2008.
Diller won a court battle to break up IAC into five companies: the Home Shopping Network; Ticketmaster; time-share company Interval; LendingTree; and IAC, which would include Match.com and Ask.com, per the NYT.
In February 2009, Match Group officially formed, as IAC set its sights on more dating platforms.
Diller acquired some of the hottest online dating sites in the years following his decision to splinter off Match Group.
IAC acquired People Media for $80 million in cash in July 2009, months after Match Group’s inception. Tech Crunch reported the deal included 27 targeted dating sites, including BlackPeopleMeet.com and SingleParentMeet.com, with a combined 255,000 subscribers.
In 2011, IAC’s Match Group announced another blockbuster acquisition of OkCupid for $50 million. OkCupid differed from other dating sites at the time by skipping the subscription-model and offering services free of charge. OkCupid, geared toward younger people, raised $6 million in funding prior to its acquisition, per TechCrunch.
Today, Match Group’s portfolio of apps includes:
Match, the company’s original app, which is available in 25 countries
Tinder, which lets users swipe through potential matches
Hinge, an app focused on finding relationships
POF (Plenty of Fish), one of the largest dating sites in Match’s portfolio and available in over 20 countries
OkCupid, which asks users multiple choice questions to determine compatibility
OurTime, a dating app for singles over 50
Meetic, which serves European countries
Pairs, which serves Asian countries
Upward, a Christian dating app for Gen Z and millennials
According to data from mobile analyst firm Sensor Tower, as of 2014, Match Group’s portfolio of apps saw an estimated 56 million installs globally. In the first three quarters of 2020, Match Group reached 82 million installs worldwide, an increase of roughly 46%.
The road to attaining what is essentially a monopoly on dating hasn’t been smooth, and it began with the birth of Tinder.
Match Group owns a sizable stake in the multibillion-dollar dating app industry, Vox reported, with a report from Apptopia estimating the company has cornered about 60% of the dating app market with its suite of apps.
Match Group has evaded antitrust investigation due in part to lax oversight by the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, Evan Gilbert wrote in the NYU Law Review in 2019.
Monopolies are also “hard to prove,” and the FTC may not view Match Group as a big threat, Christopher Sagers, a professor at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, told Yahoo Finance.
In January 2012, Hatch Labs, a startup “sandbox” launched by IAC to incubate mobile apps, hired entrepreneur Sean Rad as general manager. During a Hatch Labs hackathon that February, Rad, who had been considering creating a dating product, worked with developer Joe Muñoz to create the prototype for Tinder.
Jonathan Badeen and Chris Gulczynski were hired soon after to help with front-end and design, respectively. Whitney Wolfe Herd was hired by Hatch Labs in May of that year and Justin Mateen was brought in as a contractor. The app was originally called Match Box.
By August 2012, what had been renamed “Tinder” launched on Apple’s App Store. In a few months, Tinder had made a million matches, mainly as a result of marketing heavily to fraternities and sororities on college campuses.
By April 2013, Tinder officially incorporated, with Rad, Badeen, and Mateen considered the company’s cofounders. Rad served as CEO.
In 2014, Wolfe Herd, then Tinder’s vice president of marketing, sued Tinder and IAC for sexual harassment and discrimination. Wolfe Herd alleged that Mateen, her former boyfriend, harassed her while she worked for the company.
Wolfe Herd alleged that she had held the title of Tinder cofounder, which was later revoked. She also claimed in her suit that Mateen verbally harassed her following their breakup, and that Rad and Match.com CEO Sam Yagan did nothing about. Eventually, Wolfe Herd resigned.
After text messages between Wolfe Herd and Mateen were published as part of the suit, Mateen was suspended and ultimately resigned. In November 2014, the lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed sum, but reports from the time pegged it at “just over” $1 million.
Rad also decided to step down in the wake of the scandal and so IAC could find a more experienced CEO.
By 2015, Rad was back at the helm of Tinder, just as Match Group went public.
Match Group’s stock opened at $12 per share and the company raised roughly $400 million, on the low end of what it hoped to raise with the initial public offering.
The IPO came shortly after a bizarre interview with Rad in which he discussed his sex life. The article also mentioned Tinder’s number of users, which Rad wasn’t authorized to discuss on the eve of the IPO. (A quiet period prior to an IPO bars executives from publicly discussing certain matters.)
Match Group had to file an update with the Securities and Exchange Commission to clear up any confusion about Rad’s interview.
One year later, Rad became chairman of Tinder and Greg Blatt became Tinder’s CEO while simultaneously serving as CEO and chairman of Match Group. By 2017, Tinder had merged under the Match Group umbrella.
In 2018, Rad and nine other Tinder employees sued IAC, claiming IAC purposely undervalued the startup. The lawsuit sought $2 billion in damages.
When IAC merged Tinder with Match Group in 2017, the suit argued, Tinder employees’ options in the rapidly growing app were “stripped away,” leaving them with options in Match instead, which was less valuable.
The suit also argued that Blatt valued Tinder far lower than Tinder’s cofounders believed it to be worth. Additionally, Rosette Pambakian, Tinder’s vice president of marketing and communications, alleged that Blatt had groped her at a Tinder holiday party in 2016.
IAC sought to dismiss the suit, which a New York state appeals court rejected in 2019. IAC also counter-sued Rad for $400 million, alleging he had improperly recorded conversations with his superiors.
Starting in 2017, Match Group set its sights on another dating upstart: Hinge, an app focused on finding long-term connections.
Match took a share in the app that September, and in June 2018, acquired a 51% stake in the company.
From Match’s initial investment to the following year, Hinge saw a 400% increase in users, particularly on the East Coast of the US. Hinge, which had been described as the “anti-Tinder,” removed the swipe feature from its app and shifted to more fleshed-out user profiles with a goal of helping users find relationships.
By December 2019, IAC announced it was spinning off its stake in Match Group. “We’ve long said IAC is the ‘anti-conglomerate’ – we’re not empire builders,” Barry Diller, IAC’s chairman, said in a statement at the time.
“We’ve always separated out our businesses as they’ve grown in scale and maturity and soon Match Group, as the seventh spin-off, will join an impressive group of IAC progeny collectively worth $58 billion today,” Diller told CNBC in a statement.
By July 2020, IAC and Match Group completed their separation. IAC said that given Match’s market capitalization, it was the largest company IAC has separated in its history.
Match Group introduced four new board members, including actor Ryan Reynolds and Rupert Murdoch’s third wife, Wendi.
Match Group CEO of 14 years, Mandy Ginsberg, stepped down a year later.
Ginsberg said in a letter to employees she left for personal reasons, including undergoing a preventative double mastectomy and witnessing a tornado demolish her Dallas home.
Former Tinder COO Shar Dubey took over for Ginsberg, and became one of few women of color in chief executive roles at Fortune 500 firms.
Meanwhile, Wolfe Herd had been building a company of her own: Bumble, a dating app aiming to create a comfortable and empowering online dating space for women.
Wolfe Herd was reluctant to build another dating app after her experience at Tinder, but Andrey Andreev, the cofounder of dating app Badoo, convinced her. Along with two former Tinder employees — cofounder Chris Gulzcynski and former vice president of design Sarah Mick — they launched Bumble in December 2014.
Andreev made an initial investment of $10 million and became the majority owner with a 79% stake. Wolfe Herd became CEO with a 20% stake in Bumble, according to Forbes.
Bumble’s basic mechanisms worked like Tinder’s: Users could swipe right on someone they were interested in and swipe left on someone they weren’t, with one catch — only women had the ability to make contact first.
Wolfe Herd told Insider in 2015 that she wanted the app to empower women and feel more modern overall.
By the end of 2017, two years after launching, Bumble had amassed more than 22 million users. Match Group came calling.
According to a report from Forbes’ Clare O’Connor, Match Group offered $450 million for the startup sometime around June 2017, but Bumble rejected the offer.
The talks reportedly continued after that: in November of that year, both Forbes and TechCrunch reported that Match Group was still trying to buy Bumble at a $1 billion valuation.
But the spurned acquisition offer was the beginning of a soured relationship between Match Group and Tinder. In 2018, the companies sued each other, launching a heated legal battle that lasted for over two years.
In March 2018, Match Group filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Bumble, accusing the startup of copying Tinder’s technology, particularly its design and the process for matching users. The suit also alleged that Gulzcynski and Mick stole confidential information from Tinder.
Bumble claimed in its suit that Match Group used the acquisition talks to improperly obtain proprietary information about the company and used the lawsuit to make Bumble look less attractive to other potential buyers.
The two companies reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, to settle. In September of that year, Bumble announced it was taking Match Group to court as well as preparing for an initial public offering.
In June 2020, Match Group and Bumble announced that they had settled all litigation between them. Details of the settlement weren’t disclosed, but both companies said they were “pleased with the amicable resolution.”
But Bumble has remained Match Group’s biggest competitor and has become a multibillion-dollar behemoth in its own right.
In late 2019, after reports of Badoo’s history of drug-fueled parties and sexist behavior, Badoo founder Andreev sold his entire stake in MagicLab, the umbrella company for Badoo and Bumble, to the Blackstone Group. The deal valued the company at $3 billion.
By July 2020, MagicLab was renamed Bumble and Wolfe Herd was named CEO of the whole company, overseeing 750 employees worldwide. Wolfe Herd has retained a 19% stake in the company.
Now, as the pandemic continues to keep much of the world locked down, singles are flocking to dating apps, helping fuel the growth of both Bumble and Match Group’s suite of apps.
Match Group reported better-than-expected third-quarter earnings last November, particularly when it came to Tinder: the company saw revenue growth and an increase in subscribers in the third quarter, despite the pandemic.
“Tinder remains the highest grossing app in the Lifestyle category in ~100 countries and has grown direct revenue from essentially zero in 2014 to an expected nearly $1.4 billion this year,” the company wrote in its letter to shareholders.
Match Group also reported in its third-quarter earnings that Hinge subscriptions were up 82% last year and revenue had grown more than 200% year-over-year.
For Bumble’s part, Wolfe Herd told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on the “Boss Files” podcast that there have been some advantages to dating app users during the pandemic.
“More genuine connections are forming out of this, and people are really, you know, being secure in who they’re meeting before that eventual physical meet-up ever begins,” Wolfe Herd said.