What’s going on?
Bumble’s USP has always been that women have to make the first move – a precedent that proved very popular. Not only did this remove the cocky bro-vado so many men seem to adopt on Tinder, it also provided women with the power and removed the stigma so many of them feel about sending the first message. Bumble Founder Whitney Wolfe Herd told the Evening Standard earlier this month that the tool was meant to “reset the heteronormative rules in our current landscape,” and it’s for this reason that Bumble is the third most-downloaded dating app in America, sitting behind only Tinder and Plenty of Fish.
So, when Tinder decided to copy Bumble’s blueprint in February 2018, things blew up. Its new ‘ladies first’ setting allows women to choose whether they want to make the first move or side-step all the awkward small talk. It means users no longer have the need to download Bumble, getting the best of both worlds in one app. “Often, women don’t really want the pressure of kicking off the conversation, but if they want it, that’s great,” Mandy Ginsberg, CEO of Match – the parent company that owns Tinder – said in an interview with Market Watch.
To make matters worse, the new feature came shortly after news that Match had tried to buy Bumble for $450 million ($315.6 million) to no avail. (The company’s worth is actually closer to $1 billion, according to Tech Crunch.) And despite introducing the very Bumble-like ‘ladies first’ feature, Tinder accused Bumble of breaching had own copyright – launching a lawsuit against the app in March, accusing Bumble of infringing patents held by Tinder including its famous ‘swipe’ system.
However, Bumble ‘swiped left’ on Match’s claims in an open letter to the company: “We swipe left on you. We swipe left on your multiple attempts to buy us, copy us and, now, to intimidate us… We’ll never be yours. No matter the price tag, we’ll never compromise our values.”
Around a week later, Bumble then sued Match for $400 million in damages. Bumble’s suit acknowledged the fact the two companies were once in acquisition talks, but accused Match of interfering with its business operations by requesting “confidential and trade information” and using it for their own personal gain. It also addresses Match’s patent claims, stating these were made “frivolously” in order to make Bumble look bad to investors. Essentially, Bumble felt that Match’s lawsuit is a throw-your-toys-out-the-pram response to their refusal to sell the business for less than it was worth.
Why is this lawsuit so important?
Bumble’s Founder and Chief Executive Whitney Wolfe Herd was also a Co-Founder of Tinder but left in 2014 to launch Bumble, hoping to give women a safer experience when it came to meeting men.
There’s a strong connection between Bumble’s MO and Wolfe Herd’s experience at Tinder. As one of its first employees, she was integral to the launch, but once she began dating Tinder’s Chief Marketing Officer – and her boss – Justin Mateen, things went downhill very quickly. She alleged that after she had broken up with Mateen, he began calling her derogatory names, threatened her and told her he would take away her title, because having a young female co-founder made the company “seem like a joke”. She also claimed Mateen, along with fellow Co-Founder Sean Rad, subjected her to “horrendously sexist, racist and otherwise inappropriate comments, emails and text messages”. In fact, Wolfe Herd had initially taken her complaint about Mateen to Rad, who called her “dramatic” and fired her when she offered to resign.
So, she sued the company in June 2014, bringing forward a case against Mateen and Rad, eventually settling the case for around $1 million (£701,000). Then, she took several Tinder employees with her to start Bumble.
Bumble’s fruition is no doubt a direct consequence of the kind of behaviour she experienced at Tinder; an effort to shield women from the Mateens of the world. Because Tinder at its worst isn’t just a cheeky testosterone-filled message or the odd aubergine emoji – it can go as far as sexually abusive messages and illegal doxxing of women who turn them down. In fact, crimes related to apps like Tinder and Grindr have gone up by 382% in the past five years.
Tinder has become so synonymous with harassment, there are Instagram accounts dedicated to the subject. Cue Tinder Nightmare, which features screenshots of the abuse users have received. Sure, women can also behave abusively, but this is by and large an issue perpetuated by men. Whitney, with all her experience of harassment, created an app that does its best to protect women because she has lived it. Beyond their new female-friendly policy, Tinder’s only attempt to protect women has come from a half-baked anti-harassment feature released last year called Reactions, which has a selection of animated responses only available to female users, allowing them to throw a virtual martini in the face of a user who’s been bothering them.
“To be clear, this case is not about any Bumble personnel’s personal history with anyone previously at Tinder,” a statement from the suit read. But it would be impossible to ignore Wolfe Herd’s personal experience with her former employer.
What happens next?
As this case is so fresh, there’s been no new developments as of yet. But as the New York Times notes, the language suggests there could be more to these lawsuits that just patents – it definitely feels personal.
“Match could be attempting to damage Bumble’s reputation by pointing out similarities… [And] could also be making a move to devalue Bumble’s valuation… to scare away buyers,” Wayne Pollock, the Managing Attorney at Copo Strategies, told the publication. Bumble, on the other hand, might be talking to Match investors, asking, “Why would you want to get in business with this organisation that’s a bully. They’ll come after competitors.”
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