Whitney Wolfe Herd: How I built a tech company with women in control

On International Women's Day 2023, Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Bumble shares the best career advice

Updated: Mar 8, 2023 02:45:41 PM UTC
Whitney Wolfe Herd, Founder & CEO of Bumble; Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage /Getty Images

International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated to honour the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements and accomplishments of women. The theme for IWD 2023 is DigitAll: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality. It is aligned with the priority theme for the upcoming 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. According to the UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 report, women’s exclusion from the digital world has shredded $1 trillion from the gross domestic product of low- and middle-income countries in the last decade—a loss that will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2025 without action.

Therefore this theme aims to spotlight the importance of protecting the rights of women and girls in digital spaces and addressing online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence. The world of social media and dating platforms also play a pivotal role in the inclusion of women in the digital world, and the app Whitney Wolfe Herd created has taken some strides in that direction.

With her digital platform, Bumble, Whitney Wolfe Herd is letting women find meaningful connections by making the first move for mentorship and for dating. Her work at Bumble has offered entrepreneurs a blueprint for how to succeed in a saturated field. Her mission with Bumble, the women-first dating app, has always been to make the internet a better place for women–a goal very much in line with this year’s IWD motto.

Also read: Billion-dollar Bumble 

On the occasion of IWD, Herd shares personal insights into pivotal moments in her career and how she’s managed to turn challenges into opportunities:

1. Turn your challenges into your fuel. 

Early in my career, I was the target of online abuse and harassment. I lived in a perpetual state of anxiety; the internet felt like the wild west, dangerous and toxic. I knew there had to be a better way: a kinder, more respectful internet. By solving this problem for myself, I could in turn help make the online world a safer space for other women. Bumble—where bad behaviour isn’t tolerated, and where women feel empowered to make the first move—was born out of my own experience. Except for my closest friends, not many people seemed to believe a woman-first dating app was necessary or could succeed. I was often underestimated. But as a result, we were able to test ideas, build, and make Bumble better.

Also read: From PC to VC: Priyanka Chopra's third act

2. Know your weaknesses, and hire for them. 

When I founded Bumble back in 2014, we didn’t even have an office. There were four of us working out of a two-bedroom apartment, where I’d take calls from an empty bathtub. As we’ve grown, though, I’ve learned to be honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses. I’m a marketer. I understand branding. What I’m not is a design guru or a whiz at operations. As you build your business, look to create a diverse team of subject area experts—while being forthright about your skills and limitations.

3. Throw the old rules out the window. 

I didn’t take the traditional founders’ route—I never took a consulting job or went to business school. My first job was not my dream job on paper, and it took me down a very different road. My career has not unfolded smoothly, or as expected. Bumble was actually born at a point when I wanted nothing to do with dating apps. Instead, I wanted to create a social network where women could exchange compliments. But then the idea became Bumble. Over the years, the best ideas, opportunities, and even hires have come from unexpected places. We have to remind ourselves that the old rules of the working world were created by and for men, and make our own.

Also read: We need more women-centric VCs and funds: Navya Naveli Nanda

4. Don’t glorify the grind. 

At Bumble, we work hard—if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to roll out new features, to scale, to take the company public. But we don’t glorify hustle culture. No one should sacrifice their mental health for the sake of their career. If I’m up early working through emails, I’ll carve out time in the afternoon to spend with my kids. And during the pandemic, when our mental health took such a collective hit, we instituted two company-wide weeks off a year, as well as an unlimited paid time off policy.

5. Kindness is power. 

I’m proud of our culture at Bumble. We make sure our actions and decisions at work are aligned with our values as a platform, including honesty, inclusivity, accountability, and of course kindness. We live in a world that expects a lot of us, so asking for help is key. But remember to also offer something to others—whether that’s your time, your contacts, or even just your moral support. What you achieve matters, but how you achieve it is just as important.

The author is the Founder and CEO of Bumble, the parent company that operates Badoo, Fruitz, and Bumble, three of the world’s fastest growing dating apps worldwide.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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