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6 business insights from Tinder CEO Sean Rad’s Web Summit talk

Tinder CEO Sean Rad on where the app is today, where it’s going, and how he’ll take the world’s biggest player in the online dating market there

Tinder co-founder Sean Rad would mop the floors at the company if he had to. As an entrepreneur who has been kicked out of the top job of his own company – Tinder is owned by – and only recently returned as CEO, he’s apparently living the dream.

He was speaking at Web Summit in Dublin today to share where the world’s hottest dating app is right now, where it’s going, and how he plans to take it there.

“There are over 1.5 million dates stemming from Tinder per week, meeting in the physical world,” he told the packed audience.

Over a million of those are first dates. Over 500,000 dates result in second dates. It’s used in 194 countries and while Rad promised Tinder would always be free to the basic user the app IS making money with “the vast majority of our revenues coming through Tinder Plus”, with the company just “scratching the surface” of its ad revenue possibilities.

“Tinder is increasing the number of connections in the world. We are bringing the world closer together at a scale that no platform has ever been able to do. In that sense it’s changing the world and that’s a beautiful thing. We’re approaching nine billion matches. Every day there are 30 million matches and 1.5 billion swipes happening.”

Staggering stuff for the company founded just three years ago by Rad, Justin Mateen and Jonathan Badeen. But what did his session at Web Summit reveal about the way he leads the company?

Love what you do – and get a killer team!

As the intro states, Sean Rad is passionate about what his business does. “It’s a beautiful thing. We take pride in it. We love it,” Rad said. Around a year ago, he was removed as CEO but opted to stay on as head of product after much soul-searching. His replacement, Christopher Payne, a former executive of Ebay, Amazon and Microsoft, didn’t work out and Rad was returned to the position of chief by his fellow board members.

But while working for the company as the deposed CEO he saw his role as helping the new CEO to make the best decisions for the company. However, much like dating, the board decided Payne, wasn’t the perfect match.

“It was done for a lot of reasons. I think the board wanted me to be CEO again. I’m happy to play any role. It sounds corny and cheap, but as long as I get to work on the product and make an impact in this world, I’m there. I’ll mop the floors if I have to, if that’s the best use of my time.”

Granted a second chance, Forbes’ interviewer Steven Bertoni asked how it had changed his approach. “Every single day I feel like I’m learning and have a great support system around me. I learned a lot from the experience as an individual and I have an awesome team. At the end of the day you’re only as good as the people you’re surrounding yourself with. We have a wonderful team that’s passionate, knows what they’re doing, and makes very good judgement calls. And that’s why we’re here.”

Collect and then maximise the use of data

If a start-up has access to vast swathes of anonymised customer data it would be remiss not to use it for the benefit of the company. Rad explained how Tinder is acquiring and then using data to inform its tech development. “There’s a lot of [anonymised] data we collect on Tinder for the purpose of recommending better people for them to meet,” he said.

“There’s also a lot of data we collect for the benefit of understanding ‘single culture’. We’ve just conducted a survey of 300,000 users. It was one of the largest surveys of single people ever. What we found was that over 80% of people on Tinder are there to find a long-term relationship, something stable and long-term. 20% are there for very brief ‘friendships’.”

But now the company, Rad announced, is about to release a “huge change” to its algorithm designed to increase the number of matches by 30%, which in turn – you might surmise – will give its user-base a greater likelihood of getting what they want.

Treat good and bad press the same

To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling’s verse, it pays in life to meet with triumph and disaster and treat the two impostors just the same. And the same applies to receiving bad press for Rad, it seems. “The press is always focused on what’s controversial,” he told Web Summit.

“They’ll go with the story that’s going to fly and don’t focus on things with substance. If you want an angle you’re going to find that angle and the supporting evidence to prove whatever it is you’re trying to say as it gets more eyeballs. For us, we’re closer to the audience than anyone else. It’s why we wake up every morning because we’re having a positive impact on the world. But I welcome all points of view.”

Essentially, Rad said, if you’re having an impact on culture and society you’re always going to have critics, so simply welcome the interest.

Don’t stand still – innovate constantly

The next six months for Tinder will see the dating app move faster and more aggressively than ever, Rad said. ‘Super likes’ have been added to the app this year, to let users know whether they’ve been super-liked before they make a match. And while Tinder’s always been anonymous when you express an interest in somebody, the app is modifying its features to make matching akin to walking over to somebody in a bar and saying hello, “not just giving them a wink across a room”.

Next, he confirmed, are features to make more sense of the sheer volume of people using the site in order to build deeper – and presumably longer-lasting, connections.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to reduce the barriers to connecting on Tinder and in the real world to increase the number of quality connections,” he confirmed. And this is where the major change to Tinder’s algorithm to increase the number of matches by over 30% will come in over the next few days.

“There’s always tinkering,” he said. “We don’t talk about exactly what those inputs are. The whole team is dedicated to not just more connections, but more meaningful connections.”

Focus based on the resources you have

What Rad is careful not to do however, is get distracted by the highly engaged user base that are a source of constant suggestions for new features. “Users suggest features all the time,” he said. “None are crazy. Lots of them are things we’ve either thought about or plan on doing. But there’s so much to do.

“Prioritising is the challenging part. We’ve become pretty good at balancing our priorities with the resources we have. There are tens of millions of users. The trick is to find the set of things that will have the biggest impact to the largest audience.”

And for Tinder and Rad, the mission remains simple: “It’s been our mission since day one to uncover every possible relationship. Our frustration has always been that it’s hard to meet somebody. There are so many barriers. You have to walk over and say hello. Get nervous. It’s not a fun process. If we can make it more efficient and smart and create more possibilities I think you’re fundamentally changing the world. What makes us all human, defines us and changes us, are the people we meet.

“You’re not going to remember the photo you saw on Snapchat two hours ago. You will remember the person you met on Tinder two weeks ago. The goal is to continue evolving and widening our audience.”

Compete with yourself, not rivals

Like Uber, Facebook, Airbnb and other disruptors, Tinder has become the name used by thousands of start-ups seeking to describe what they do in the most simple of terms.

And among those companies are outright knock-offs, attempting to be the next Tinder with a twist. So how does Rad and the team at Tinder deal with that?

With Tinder’s scale Rad sits in a comfortable position. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs have to be realistic enough to know that the next big thing could be around the corner.

“We’re competing with ourselves. Everyone else is trying to be the next Tinder. It’s a bad business model to try to be another company. Obviously we look at the landscape and all the apps and take inspiration. But we don’t care much about the competition. We’re flattered.”

So what’s in store in 2016? “Recruiting the team necessary to get us where we want to be is definitely one of the most challenging parts for any organisation that is scaling. It’s exciting!”

Sean Rad was speaking to Forbes’ Steven Bertoni at Web Summit in Dublin.


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