The tech billionaire who is putting women first

By Jane Wakefield; BBCC

Whitney Wolfe Herd

You may never have heard of her – but the founder of dating app Bumble, Whitney Wolfe Herd, has joined Forbes list of the super-rich.

And while others, such as fellow billionaire Kim Kardashian, are grabbing the headlines, there is an argument that the lesser known Wolfe Herd could serve as an equally strong role model.

The 31-year-old became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire when she took Bumble public in February.

She rang the Nasdaq bell with her 18-month-old baby son on her hip. In her speech she said she wanted to make the internet “a kinder, more accountable place”.

In an interview with the BBC in 2017, Ms Wolfe Herd said the secret to being an effective chief executive was not to take yourself “too seriously”. She also emphasised the need to find a work/life balance and make time for family, even if that meant “taking an afternoon off”.

Her rise to membership of the billionaires’ club has been an interesting one.

Before Bumble, she was among the founding team at Tinder but after tensions with other executives – one of whom she had been dating – she left. Shortly after, she launched a sexual harassment case.

Tinder’s parent company, Match Group Inc, denied the claims but paid around $1m to settle the dispute.

As a result of the case, she experienced a lot of online abuse, prompting her to delete her Twitter account.

Bumble, rather pointedly, is all about putting women in control.

The central focus of her app is that only women can initiate a conversation in heterosexual matches. It is a simple idea but one that makes a world of difference to those on the dating scene who have been bombarded with unwanted messages from men.

She founded Bumble with help from early investor Russian billionaire Andrey Adreev, who also has a stake in Badoo, both of which he sold in November 2019.

Ms Wolfe Herd owns a 11.6% stake in Bumble, giving her an estimated net worth of $1.3bn. She also heads Badoo. The two apps have a combined 40 million users, 2.4 million of whom pay a subscription.

Ms Wolf Herd grew up in Utah and in an interview after Bumble went public, she spoke to Time Magazine about an abusive relationship she was in as a teenager, and how it “stripped her down to nothing” while also “informing her understanding of what was wrong with gender dynamics”.

Bumble on a phone
image captionBumble floated on the Nasdaq at a value of $8.2bn

In the same interview, she appeared determined to put her past behind her: “I don’t need to justify myself any more,” she said.

“Why am I cleaning up somebody else’s drama? Women are always cleaning up somebody else’s mess.”

Her willingness to talk openly and to avoid corporate speak has won her fans.

Yet while she may be keen to carve a different path to that of other tech companies, last year Bumble logged more than 880,000 incidents that violated its guidelines – and like many other platforms it too relies on Artificial Intelligence to scan for hate speech.

Its latest campaign is against body shaming, banning derogatory remarks about appearance, body shape and size.

Ms Wolfe Herd is one of 328 women who made Forbes’ 2021 list of the world’s billionaires, up from 241 women last year.

This year, MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, is among the top three richest women – beaten to the top spot by Alice Walton, who made her money via Walmart and frontrunner Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, whose grandfather founded cosmetics giant L’Oreal.

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