On this episode of Recode Decode, Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg talks with Recode’s Kurt Wagner about how her company became dominant in online dating. It owns sites and apps like Match.com, Tinder and OKCupid and is preparing for battle with Facebook, which recently announced that it, too, will enter the dating space. Ginsberg also talks about her admiration for Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe, even as the two companies have traded lawsuits and barbed words in the press, and why it’s natural for consumers of different ages to use different apps.
Kurt Wagner: I’m here in San Francisco with Mandy Ginsberg, who’s the CEO of the Match Group. Mandy, welcome.
Mandy Ginsberg: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Thank you for coming to San Francisco, because you’re not, actually you don’t live in San Francisco. I learned you live in Dallas.
Well, I live on a plane, technically, these days. But now I live in Dallas which is where the Match brand is based. But we got brands all over the place so I spend a lot of time on planes and on the West Coast.
I was going to ask if you live on an airplane because I don’t think of Dallas as being a place for the tech media world, which is what you obviously live in and work in, so how often are you on the road?
I’m on the road a lot. We have 1,500 employees across 20 offices. And we’ve got big offices in Vancouver and LA, Tinder’s in LA. We’ve got offices in Paris and Japan and New York and Dallas. In fact, I got a call 13 years ago that said that Match, the dating company, it was based in Dallas, Texas, which I was shocked, I had no idea at the time, I was living in Dallas. And they were looking for someone to run a startup within the Match business and so that’s how I found out for the first time that Match was in Dallas, Texas.
You didn’t even know. And you grew up there.
I grew up in Dallas, Texas, although I don’t have big hair, which you can’t see.
That’s true, I can confirm.
You cannot hear it through my voice. Although every once in a while I’ll say “y’all.” But yes, I grew up in Dallas. But came out to California at 18 to Berkeley, to Cal — go Bears — and I spent a lot of my career on the West Coast and then a lot of other places.
Okay, but you’ve been with Match for like 12 years now since you’ve been back in Dallas.
Yeah, I’ve been back in Dallas. After I finished business school, I moved back to Dallas and I’ve been there since. Kind of got lucky enough to be back in consumer internet through the miracle that Match was in Dallas.
Yeah, well, great. I want to get to kind of all that and hear also a little bit more about what you did pre-Match, especially pre your current role, but within Match. But you guys have so much going on right now. Facebook is all of a sudden getting into dating, that’s new. There’s been the Bumble lawsuit, which I’ve written about a lot, which has been very colorful. You just made an acquisition, I believe of Hinge, right? Which is relatively new. I think that was just last week.
Yes, we actually have a majority share with the right to buy them, but yes. In that case, yeah, that’s the plan.
Okay, so a strong investment.
So we have a ton to get to, but let’s talk a little bit more about you and a little bit more about how you became CEO of Match Group. So I mentioned you grew up in Dallas, you went to Berkeley. I think you spent some time in Tel Aviv. Give me your 30-second story here. How did you get into the tech and media worlds?
Well, you talk about the tech and media world, but I’ll tell you, no one in my family ever, that I can remember, ever had a boss. Everyone was a entrepreneur and they ran their own business. And I’ll tell you, when I graduated from business school and I told my grandfather that I got a job, he didn’t talk to me for a week because he said, “You could always make more money working for yourself than working for someone else.” So that was the mentality I grew up with and was always pretty fascinated with businesses — not because of just the business but the stories. I mean, a lot of people love sports and they love the stories of the players. I loved the stories of businesses.
What was your grandfather doing? What did your parents do?
My grandfather had so many businesses. He had an organic pesticide business, he had a chain of movie theaters in the South for a long time. He had an air-conditioning business. So he would buy start-up businesses and did many of them over the course of his life. And then my dad owns a chain of teenage driving schools. So he also ...
Really? Driver’s ed.
Driver’s ed. All throughout ...
Does he get in the ... is he an instructor?
He is not certified, so he does not actually drive with kids. But it’s a great annuity business. You are always going to have 16-year-olds.
Every year, a fresh batch of students and customers.
Okay, and then what was your first job? Most people, they get out of school, they tell their parents, “Hey, I got a job.” And they’re glowing with pride. And your grandpa’s ...
Yeah, well, that was business school, but I went to Cal and always was pretty fascinated with really just getting into people’s heads and now hearts. I was a bit of an adventurer and I left Cal and I moved to Israel. So I took a group of teenagers and fell in love with the tour guide, which is such a cliché. Told my parents I was staying in Tel Aviv, which, you know, they were not thrilled about.
It was a really interesting time. I worked for a software company at the time. And it was a great technology company but they needed to be able to translate what they were doing into English language because they were selling in Europe and the U.S. And so I did a lot of their marketing for them. And at the time, this was in the ’90s in Israel when things were really booming, so it was pretty fun to be in that sort of startup nation at the time of truly the startup.
Yeah, and the tour guide thing is like a movie script or something. And I know that that didn’t ... you’re no longer married to the tour guide, is that correct?
I am no longer married to the tour guide. He’s now a psychologist. But we did have a daughter. And we parted ways amicably and both went on to have great families afterwards.
And tell me, because I believe you were ... I read a few things that you were ... You had your daughter and then you went to grad school after that, right? And so you were a single mother going through grad school.
You’ve talked about being a female executive and kind of the importance and the power of that right now, especially given a lot of the conversations over the last couple of years in tech. How do you view that role that you play?
I remember, oh it’s funny ... I went to business school, frankly, because my sister went to Wharton and her friends were so fascinating. One of them was running the San Francisco Opera, they just had really cool jobs. And I had been at a PR firm in San Francisco for five years and I was trying to figure out what my next move was and they were so interesting, so I thought, “Their lives are so interesting, I should just go to business school. Because there’s going to be opportunities that pop up.”
So my first day at business school, some guy asked me, “What do you want to do?” I said, “I don’t know.” And he said, “I want to be the CEO of a Fortune 50 company.” I looked at him and I said, “Well, that’s the dumbest aspiration I’ve ever heard. Who thinks that way?” So I certainly wouldn’t have thought that I’d be running a $13 billion tech company at that point. But what I did know is I just had to do something I was passionate about.
And then about a week in — that was day one, and a week in, that’s when my ex-husband now told me he was moving back to Tel Aviv. And at that point I had this little 1-year-old and it was all me. And I think I had just written my first tuition check, which was like, I don’t know, felt like gazillions of dollars at the time. I do remember exactly to the dollar how much I owed after those two years. But I just didn’t ... I was already in. I just had to conserve ...
I’m committed. And after days and days of just really kind of a meltdown, I was like, “I just gotta figure this out.” And then once I figured it out through the months and years I was like, “You know what, if I can figure this out, I think I can figure out pretty much anything thrown at me.”
I imagine that an experience like that prepares you for a lot of stuff after school.
I think it does. You don’t know how strong you are until you’re tested, and these are the things that test you in life.
Okay, so you graduate. What’s next? You said you started working in, what, you said software?
What happened was I actually started a business in logistics transportation — which we were way ahead of our time — with a couple of buddies. We had no money and I had a kid. And so, ultimately, we ended up building this technology, selling it to one of the biggest logistics providers on the East Coast, so we didn’t really lose too much money, thankfully. And then my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the time and I had this 3-year-old now, two years later. I ended up getting a job in Dallas for a small B2B supply chain software company.
Sometimes you just have to make choices in life not based on how excited and passionate you are about the path, but really what else it gives you. And at that time, because my mom was sick, I just needed to get closer to Dallas and I wanted to be with her. It really was one of the best decisions I made and I have no regrets about doing that. Because I thought for sure I’d be back on the West Coast.
Yeah. And then when you’re in Dallas, how did you find out about the Match stuff? Was that the next big thing for you?
So I did the software company for about five years. I ran marketing for the organization. They were a darling in the stock market, just prior to me being there. So it was the beginning of the downturn of that company. And then when I left, because the company wasn’t doing well, I got a call from a recruiter; actually, she’s based out of here. We had a lot of friends in common at Stanford and Cal. She said, “Look, we’re looking for someone who really understands consumer internet.” And prior to business school, I was doing a ton of marketing for consumer internet businesses. Did a lot of work for Microsoft products. I actually was responsible for the PR launch around Hotmail. And at that point, they were talking about changing the name. It seems crazy.
To what, do you remember?
I don’t remember. But how do you change the name Hotmail? It’s like the hottest name you have.
Now it’s kind of a joke, right? If you see someone with a Hotmail account, you’re like, “What the hell is going on?”
Yes, I know it sort of dates me, doesn’t it? But anyway, so I was excited because it was the first time I had heard about a business that I thought it was real consumer-focused. At the heart I was a marketer and I did a ton of PR at the time and non-traditional marketing. And they were making a bet on someone, they just didn’t want a typical general management background. They wanted someone that had marketing chops, and that’s how I got the job.
So how has Match Group changed? Because you’ve been there, what did we say, 12 years? And right now I was actually shocked because I think of you guys for the obvious, the Tinder, Match.com, what is it, PlentyOfFish, OKCupid.
These are household names. But you guys own something like 40-something different brands that are all dating. How many of those existed when you joined versus now? What did it look like back then?
This is, I think, one of the proudest sort of last 12 years looking back. Actually, I realize that every time — we have the summer party. The first time I was there, it was one brand, 200 people in Dallas. The summer party just happened two weeks ago and I think it was 100 degrees outside. And at the time, the guy who was my boss decided, “We got to have a summer party. Let’s do it outside in Texas.” He was a New Yorker and so it was a bad idea. And it was just this ... I think I knew every single person’s name and now we’ve got, like I said, 1,500 people, and we have the last summer party and we didn’t have all 1,500 people. But we had about 500 or 600 people that came in. About 350 in Dallas and then we had people coming in from all over the globe. And we do this big all-hands and it’s pretty amazing because you got the guy who runs our Japanese office, which is one of our fastest-growing businesses, which is a household name in Japan. So he presented ...
Which is called what?
Like a couple, a pair.
We had our European team that was presenting, which is great, about all the innovation they were focused on in Europe. And then we had, the guy who presented it runs a business that has multiple brands. And those brands included — you asked me about OurTime, which is for 50-plus, BlackPeopleMeet, which is the leading African-American dating app. We just launched BLK, which is for young millennial African-Americans. And we launched Chispa, which is a big partnership we did with Univision to attract the Latino community. And so where we see opportunity, it’s really this portfolio play, but not just the portfolio play in the U.S., but really at a global level.
Do you guys own, what is it, FarmersOnly?
We do not! Everyone always asks me that.
Yes. I just think there’s something about ... it just seems so different for many people who are urbanites, but no we don’t.
You don’t own Farmers.
We don’t own Farmers. I don’t know how big that business is. I can’t imagine it’s massive. There’s not huge farming communities, but I mean, I do get asked all the time.
What’s the most unique dating service that you own? Is there a specific group that might surprise people that there’s a dating service just for that group?
Well, we’ve got a series of small brands that are people like LDS Dating for people ... Generally people aren’t divorced in the Mormon communities so those are very small. I think the biggest one — and one of our fastest-growing segments — is over 50. Because people, I guarantee you, certainly 10 years ago, people never thought about dating as you got older. But I think what really happened is the more people got used to interacting in social circles, especially through Facebook, as they got older, I think they felt much more comfortable trying dating apps. And so we’ve seen this real ... And also in the U.S. with divorce rates being at 50 percent it’s hard as you get older to figure out where to meet people. So that’s a segment that I’m really proud that we are able to help.
I’m always fascinated because a lot of these kind of upstarts — and we’re going to talk about Bumble and obviously Tinder, which you guys do own — they’re started by young single people who are trying to ... they’re living that life. You are not living the young single dating life. You are married, I know you have at least one beautiful daughter. You brought her into our office this morning. How hard or different is it to run a dating business when you’re not dating? Do you even use your products? Or are you able to use your products?
Well, I mean, I can’t say I use the products, but they’re all downloaded on my app. And actually, we just launched a new app and I got connected with my cousin, it was so funny. He’s in his 20s, I took a screenshot and I sent it to him he said ...
Need to work on the AI for that one.
He said, “That’s gross,” yes. He’s like, “Eww.” But I do think, first of all, unlike a lot of products or businesses, it’s very hard sometimes to connect to the products that you create, especially the B2B products you create. But we’re humans, we’re in relationships, it’s not so long ago that a lot of us were dating, and so it’s not a huge leap to imagine what it’s like. Oh, it’s changing. We have to have a pulse on what’s happening with a younger demographic because it really is changing.
I talked to my daughter, who’s 20, quite a bit. And then we also talked to users all the time and we do focus groups all the time. We have people in our offices all the time. But for me, when I was divorced, before I got married again, I actually used dating apps. There was no apps at the time, I used dating sites. But it’s good because you sort of realize the ups and down ... Dating is hard. Online dating reflects what happens in the dating world. And just the rejection and the hopefulness, the ups and downs of dating. I just think that you have to get that in your mindset particularly, at least for me, for women. Because, ultimately, we’ve got to make products that are relevant for women. The men will come if the women are there, but if we don’t make great products for women, you don’t have a dating app. Or at least when we’re talking about the heterosexual population.
Sure. I want to talk about Facebook because I write about Facebook a lot. And I believe it was just a month ago, maybe at this point, maybe two months ago, six weeks ago, that they announced they were getting into dating. Which is, anytime a Facebook or a Google or an Apple says, “Hey, we’re getting into this industry,” the existing players kind of get on edge. So, walk me through that day. I think it was May 1st, Mark Zuckerberg goes, “Hey, we’re getting into dating.” What was going through your mind? Were you surprised?
Well, first of all, I literally was just finishing at that moment my earnings script, which was a few days later we had earnings. So I was putting the finishing touches on my remarks for earnings. And then my phone started ringing and I started getting texts all within a period of like five, six minutes like, “Check out the news, check out the news.” “What the heck is going on?” As I looked down at my phone I see our stock ticker and our price starting to plummet. And I was, “What the heck is going on?” So we did see our stock take quite a big hit during that day. But you know, people ask me a lot, “Were you surprised?” Yes, that actual day I was, because then I literally had just printed the script and I threw it behind my desk and all the papers flew everywhere — I just tossed it.
Like a movie scene.
It is a movie scene. And then I was like, now there’s only one topic on this earnings call which ended up being — although we had one of our, really our best quarter we’ve ever had. But anyway, a lot of questions around Facebook. So certainly not shocking because we’ve studied the single population. We do these huge studies every quarter with thousands of people, not globally, but in the U.S. And forever, I mean years and years, people were saying that they met their partners through Facebook. Now it’s like reconnecting through old friends or through a friend of a friend or they met at a party and they reconnected on Facebook.
And so that’s a phenomenon that exists which what we called sort of “implicit dating” or “alibi dating.” The fact that they went out and said, “No, we really want to connect people to date,” I think that was surprising, more from trying to understand their motivations because they’ve stayed away from it, quite intentionally, the dating arena.
Well, it’s interesting timing, right? I mean, given everything they’ve gone through with user privacy and maybe not being the most responsible when it comes to handling data, I imagine in the dating world, you have to be particularly cautious about that.
You have to be really cautious about it, and our business is 95 percent subscription, or these a la carte features for our businesses. So we’re five percent advertising or less. It’s a very small percentage of our business. So we’re not in the business of selling data, targeting users. It’s just much smaller, and so we have the ability to optimize based on improving people’s experience and dating experience. That’s not necessarily the case for advertisers.
Sorry to interrupt, but is it just because it’s too creepy? I imagine if I match with someone and they know we’re in San Francisco and you know we’re going to go on a date, that seems to me like a super-great opportunity for a restaurant or a coffee shop or someone to give me a 10 percent off coupon, like, “Hey, come have your date here. We’ll give you free dessert,” or whatever.
Well, let me ask you. And I happen to know that you’re getting married, so ...
I am. Yeah.
But if you went out on a date with someone, when the waiter came, would you give them a coupon?
Would I use a coupon? No, I would not. Well, I would now because I’ve already convinced her to marry me.
But then you shouldn’t be on our app. But yes, yes. So I do think there are opportunities, but what we’ve seen is that, like when we went public a couple years ago, we actually thought that our advertising business would be bigger, and what we didn’t realize at the time, particularly with Tinder, is that we weren’t sure how ... you know, if millennials are going to pay for these products. What we found is that they were willing to pay for these products because it creates more value for them in the dating experience.
Given how much we were able to monetize that stream, which is really around either giving you more attention or making you more successful by giving you things to show people that you’re interested in them, for example, it just made a lot more money. It was a lot more efficient than advertising. So we ended up spending a little bit less focus and engineering time and energy on the advertising side just because it was a smaller opportunity relative to the other piece.
But going back to your point about is it important. Yeah, the privacy issue is hugely important in dating. People have to come to us and realize that we’re not going to expose their information, we’re not going to sell their information, and that they have to feel confident because dating is highly, highly personal, and you certainly wouldn’t want to give people access to how you interact with a woman that you’re excited about or interested in in a dating app.
So it was surprising. We have seen that people want to separate their dating lives from Facebook. We had heard that anecdotally. We saw it in a few facts, which I’m happy to talk about. So we were surprised at the timing and just how, given the climate now, it felt like it was an odd time to introduce something that could create real concerns for consumers.
I read a story in Fortune about you and your business and just kind of the dating world. The lead, it was interesting. It was Barry Diller sitting there in a meeting and saying, “Oh yeah, Sheryl [Sandberg] called me last night to tell me Facebook was getting into dating.” So I imagine ... Were you ... Not that you had much of a heads-up. It sounds like it was less than a day that they were tipped off as a courtesy, but were you shocked at the stock reaction, or at this point does that make sense to you?
I think that any time Facebook makes overt gestures of getting into a category, I think the market pays attention. I think that post our earnings and I sort of laid out all the arguments around why this is ... Particularly for Tinder, and I can talk a little bit about it ... So, back to your question, the market definitely had a ... After the big shock of the news, our stock was back up, not to where it was prior, but ...
Well, you said you had a positive earnings call just a few days later, right? So I’m sure ...
We had a great earnings call, but the same thing was ... I mean, we actually took a hit right with our earnings call and say ... But over the last month or so, we were able to sort of gain some ground. But I think that the arguments we laid out and also that some of the investors, the analysts, have gone out there which makes people feel a little bit more confident in our ability to continue to drive growth.
And so I think that, while shaky at the beginning, I’m not sure people see it as viable of a threat. Particularly, Tinder’s our big growth engine, and Tinder tends to skew very young, so 18 to 25. Facebook does not skew that young in general. And then we also stated the fact that when we introduced ... It used to be, prior to last year, that if you joined Tinder you had to join through Facebook. Now, we give them another option to be able to sign up through Tinder through their phone, through SMS.
When given the option for new users coming through, not only did 75 percent of people say, “I’d just rather use my phone and not use Facebook,” even though it was the second option and Facebook was the big option on top. So that was clear, that they wanted to separate their dating world from their Facebook world. But the second thing is we got a ton of new users, incremental users, that at some point they were just like, “I don’t want to mix my dating life. And so now that you give me another option, I’ll just sign up.” So we saw a big benefit from that, too.
That’s the first thing. And then the second piece, I think, is that people use more than one app. If you’re a 23-year-old and you’re going to be using two or three apps, definitively we think you’re going to use one of our apps, most likely Tinder. So we just don’t think there’s as much of a threat, but Facebook’s got a huge amount of users, and they haven’t launched their feature yet. So we have to watch and see. We don’t want to underestimate Facebook, but we just can’t imagine a world where people who are 23 are going to say, “Oh, I’m going to stop using dating apps and I’m going to use Facebook only.”
Right. I imagine it’ll pose a threat to different brands of yours, right? As you mentioned, maybe not Tinder. Maybe the demo that’s using Tinder is not going to use Facebook, but maybe ... You mentioned the 50-plus crowd. Maybe that crowd.
Yeah, or Match.
We know very few [details] about it, but Mark Zuckerberg did say that, “We’re not going after hookups; we’re going after serious relationships.” So, yeah, Match is a little bit older. It’s always been a little bit older. It’s always been sort of 30 to 50, and it could ...
The other thing which I had alluded to before is the fact that if they go out in these markets, especially in these Asian markets where dating is just starting in these cultures, they could really ... It’s a stigmatized category, and so normalizing that category actually could open up more opportunity for us in Southeast Asia and areas where just people didn’t do it, but they’re all on Facebook. So we’ll have to see how it unfolds, but it’s certainly something that we’re watching.
Yeah. It was interesting when they announced it, Mark Zuckerberg did say, “Hey, this is for serious relationships. This is not just for hookups,” it seemed like a pretty clear dig at Tinder. That’s kind of always been the reputation of Tinder, as it’s like, “If you’re in your early 20s and you’re just looking to have a good time, you hop on Tinder and voila.” Does that kind of reputation bother you?
Well, it’s interesting. Five years ago, when Tinder launched, it brought an entirely new audience into dating apps. People did not ... If you were that young, you just weren’t on dating apps. So it made it cool and interesting. Now, the amazing benefit, we got tens of millions of people globally come on into the category, which is pretty incredible. But when you’re 18 to 25, you’re just not looking to get married.
So I think part of it is just a reflection of that audience and what they actually do. It’s kind of like when you first go to college and you meet, I don’t know, a couple hundred people in your first two weeks and you’re trying to figure out that ... It’s a huge funnel. You’re trying to figure out, “Who are going to be my friends? Who am I going to date? Who am I going to hang out with?” It’s the same thing when you enter that dating world, where you’re looking at lots and lots of people to try to figure out who you want to connect with, hang out with, and then ultimately maybe be in a relationship. But I can tell you, at 21, you’re just not looking to get married, nor should you be, in my opinion.
Tinder feels like sort of the crown jewel for you guys out of your portfolio. I don’t really know why I say that because, as we mentioned, I’m not a user. But that’s just like, the growth seems to be really big. You guys talk about it a lot on earnings and things. Can you give me a sense of how Tinder is maybe different than other services that you guys own?
Well, Tinder was really the first innovative, you know, with the swipe, the first innovative mobile-only dating product that appealed to this millennial audience. It really created a new trend, and it’s wild. We incubated it inside of the company, which almost never happens, to create lightning in a bottle inside of a bigger company. And so we’ll take it.
Sure. So you own the whole thing. Is that right?
Yeah, yeah. It is part of the public company and the Match Group. Anyway, so I think that what it did is, I think that it gave people ... We’re so early on in Tinder. Tinder at this point is a lot of swiping, getting to know people, dating, hanging out. Also, as that group ages, we’ve got to also figure out, where are they going to go next? So that’s a huge preoccupation of ours.
But every person who’s 18, 19, 20 should be on Tinder. The reason they’re on Tinder is because it has certainly, you know, gamified. It makes it fun. It’s fun to look at people. It’s fun to see who’s responding back to you. But I think that’s the start. We’ve got a lot of work to do because we really want to be integrated into people’s single social life, especially when they’re young. And so what are those touchpoints, and how do we take this product ... You’ve covered so many businesses where ... Think about the early days of Facebook, the early days of Snap. There’s just one feature, and that one feature actually didn’t define the experience. So that’s the journey we’re on right now with Tinder.
Are you okay with the idea that, if I’m 19 to 24, I use Tinder, and then I graduate to another Match Group product? Or, ideally, would you like that group that’s using Tinder now ... Do you want Tinder to be the product they use into their late 20s/early 30s? I guess I’m curious how comfortable or hard you try to get consumers to go from one product to the next as they evolve in their dating versus find one that works and then be able to kind of carry them all the way through.
Well, at the core, I’m a marketing and brand person, and Tinder cannot ... I mean, it’ll age a little bit just because the name got introduced on college campuses and we’re seeing it age a little bit into people’s 20s, but it is really the definition in my mind of mass cool, and we just can’t ... We can’t have what happened to other brands happen to our brand, which is like, “Ew, my older sibling uses it. My dad uses it. My mom uses it.”
So I would say, even at the expense of alienating older users, we’ve got to stay young and highly relevant to that core audience.
What is the metric that you look for in an app? I’m sure they’re all different. I’m sure the metrics you care about with Tinder are different than Match, but it’s kind of a weird business in the sense that if you do your job really well, I should no longer need your product. If you have matched me with someone that I want to be with, then I’m no longer dating, and therefore I’m not a customer. So I’m curious how you handle that. You want to be good. Is there ever a thinking like, “Well, we want to be good but not too good because people are going to not use this?”
Well, it’s funny. I’ve heard this question through the years. Our goal is that, if you find a ... First of all, people are single for long periods of time. And now that we’ve got a younger audience for the first time in the last five years in the category, they are single for a very long time because the average age, I think, for marriage in the U.S., I think, is 27. I think that’s for men.
So you’re spending almost a decade single from 18 to 27. We hope that people will come back because it’s relevant and they’ll date someone. They’ll break up. They’ll get back together. They’ll date someone else. So, hopefully, it will be part of that experience. But ultimately the holy grail is people seem to have a great experience on our products, and so if you open up the New York Times and you see more than half of the stories in the New York Times marriage section are through dating apps, people are out there ... It used to be when I started, 13 or 12 years ago, people did not say they met through dating apps even when they got married. Now, it’s really a badge of honor. People thank us and they feel very proud that they’re on these apps.
For every person they tell, you’ve got this word of mouth that is created. There’s still a little bit of stigma in our category in the U.S., but that stigma is much more profound outside, particularly in South America and Asia, where I think that word of mouth and having success and people talking about this success is going to be really important for the growth.
I’m curious how you actually measure it, though.
Oh yeah. Oh, you asked me about the KPIs.
I’m sure you’re not clipping New York Times stories.
No, no, no. You ask a really important question. There’s a lot of KPIs, and people always say, “Oh, you work for a dating company? How fun.” Yes. I love it and it’s fun and I’m pretty passionate about it, but it’s a hardcore, metric-driven technology company. But what we really look at across all these businesses is, well, we call them three-ways, which sounds much more provocative than it is.
Three-way conversations. At some point, it’s like, “Guys, we actually can’t say that in meetings. Just say ‘three-way conversation’ instead of ‘three-ways.’” But when I communicate with you, you communicate it back to me and I communicate back, that is a high degree of confidence that we have that you’re going to actually go on a date. So there’s a high correlation between communication, obviously ...
So it’s not like you sent me a note and I said, “No, thanks.” That’s why we actually have three points of contact, and then after those three points of contact, we’ve been able to measure the correlation between dates. So everything we do is to try to optimize around those three-ways, those three-way communications, and that’s across a lot of our platforms. Just because, ultimately, we really do want people to go on dates because the chemistry is really around when you’re sitting across from a table, like you and me right now, and really trying to figure out if you’ve got a connection.
But you’re not trying to measure if people get married or how long they stay together or anything like that. Have you thought about that? It seems almost impossible.
It’s hard. I mean, it’s really hard, and the other thing, too, is that I just don’t want to put out bogus claims in the market. I think it’s very complicated to measure, and I’d rather tell people that I know for a fact how many dates, relationships and marriages happen through our apps, but I can’t guarantee that. The other thing, too, is that there’s so many impacts that go ... Divorce is complicated, and I know. I’ve been through a divorce. It’s very hard to predict divorce.
So, on the flip side, I don’t want to predict long-term marriage. But in this country, which ... Mark Zuckerberg used my quote which I use all the time, is that a third of relationships start with apps. We’ve been tracking that over the last 10 years. It didn’t use to be that high, for sure. When I first started, it was less than 10 percent. So we’ve seen this huge surge, and it is the way to date. I can’t imagine someone in their 20s saying, “I’m never going to use an app,” because just the chances of meeting someone that you wouldn’t have met otherwise ... You just reduce that chance a lot.
I want to go to Bumble first because that’s been fun to watch you two kind of battle in the press. I’m going to do my best to maybe summarize in 10 seconds, but ...
Fun for who?
Fun for me, for those of us reading on the outside, because it has been a contentious relationship. But I’m going to try and get up to speed. You can correct me. Sounds like you guys were in talks with them; then there was a lawsuit. You sued them for some patent infringement stuff. They came in and the New York Times wrote a very aggressive response to you, and then they counter-sued you — all of this, again, while a lot of people thought, “Well, maybe Match Group is going to buy Bumble.”
Where do you stand now? I see two lawsuits, one on each side. I see people fighting through the press about this or through advertisements in the New York Times. Where are you guys?
Well, the funniest thing is that I took on this role in January. As a female CEO in the tech industry, and even some of the discussions I had with my board, is that they really encouraged me ... As a woman, and I’m such a hands-on operator, and my head tends to be more focused internally, not as much externally. So my board said, “You really need to get out there more. Your story’s important. What you’re doing with the business is important, and the fact that you’re a female in the tech industry is really ... It’s important, especially at this time.”
So I set up ... I don’t know. I can’t remember now the timing, but a few months after I’d been in the role, I think it was post-Valentine’s Day, I set up a series of meetings for me to talk to a lot of media. And literally the day that that ... All those meetings are happening over the next two days. I get a text at four in the morning from my head of PR saying, “Do you have the New York Times?” I said, “No.” She said, “Well, go get it.” So I call down at the lobby of the hotel in New York, and they gave it to me. I opened up the page. I was like, “Oh my gosh. What a day for this to happen.”
It was scathing. Did it bother you?
It bothered me only because when people know me and meet me and especially have worked with me, they know that I have integrity, and certainly the last thing in the world you’d ever call me is a bully, for sure. But it’s also, you know, this is a highly competitive space. And then I’ll back up and tell you a little bit about the history.
Q4 of last year, so towards the end of last year, we got ... From the U.S. Patent Office, we got this patent, which is great, which was a patent around the swiping and unlocking communication, which we were really excited about. We never had that before. This was end of last year. And on the earnings call, my first earnings call, we alluded to the fact that we had this patent, we were really excited about it [and] we felt that it really was defensible. And honestly, you don’t use a patent unless you feel that it’s defensible because it’s expensive, and it takes a long time, and it’s just not worth it. So anyway, we scoured, looked at all the competition. There were several competitors that were big that were infringing on the patent and also had some, you know, an issue around trade secrets.
It was specific to swiping, right? That was ...
It was swiping and unlocking conversation. And so we made a decision to go after Bumble, Tantan... There’s some other ones too that we’ve actually sent letters to as well, that they’ve now adjusted their products or are in talks with us. And then of course smaller products that have used the swipe in a way that looks very much like Tinder have reached out to us and said, “We know that you want to protect your I.P., so we actually don’t want to get into a situation where our little startup gets shut down. And so what can we do?”
And so I think it’s an important signal because this was a patent created by the genius in our company, still there, who’s a founder at Tinder. And you know, it’s really important that we protect it. And so, anyways, so we made the choice to do that. And there’s definitely conversations going on. We had signed an NDA with Bumble. They don’t have an NDA with us, we have an NDA with them. So I’ve been much more reticent to talk about anything in the press. But they went out there and talked a little bit more publicly about it.
And what I’d say is, like look, it’s a highly competitive space. I do think that there’s real integrity behind that. I felt a little bit Mama Bearish, like we gotta protect our employees and the IP we work on. The reaction was definitely more extreme than I thought it would be, but at the end of the day, I think that you’ll never know what happens in life. And also, you know I have a tremendous amount of respect for the brand and what Bumble has done and what Whitney [Wolfe] has done. And so for me, life goes on. And we’re serious competitors for sure. But I also think that that rhetoric certainly gets media excited. At the end of the day, you know, as I tell my kids. I’ve got one sitting out here who’s 10 and one who’s 20, is like, don’t get caught up in the fray. Just keep your head down and keep working. And that’s what I told the team to do, and that’s what we’re doing.
Have you spoken to Whitney since?
I have got a really nice, I mean, I think really highly of Whitney, and I have stayed in touch with her. And I think she’s great. So that’s the irony in all this. And I think as a female leader in technology, and I have been in the industry a long time. There’s not been a lot of women in the category. So it’s nice to see. And I think that, you know, given what she’s done with this brand, she’s done a really nice job.
What’s the thinking when you are talking to a company about a potential acquisition and then you sue them? There has to be some kind of strategy behind that. The implication at the time I remember hearing was like, well, this is a tactic to try and say, “Hey, we’re suing you. This lawsuit could go away if you decide to sell your company to us.” Is that fair?
I mean, I understand the optics of it, but we also had a tiny issue around a sort of legal process, and so we sort of had an opportunity. It was like, we have to do this. And the sales process was just taking a while. It could take forever, or end tomorrow, or end in two months. And so we had to make a move.
I mean, honestly, there’s not much that you can sort of take with you. And you know, fame, money, all that stuff, doesn’t sort of matter at the end of the day. You have to have integrity. And so for me, it really, it wasn’t about that. Businesses and deals will come and go, but you’ve got to make sure in the market that you’ve got, that people trust your word and you’re not playing games and processes.
And so, anyway, I just think it was important for me. And it was just unfortunate ... In fact, the truth is I wanted to keep pushing that out, that deadline out. I was like, “Oh, we’ll figure this out,” sort of down the road. But we couldn’t. We had to make a bit of a game-time decision on the timing side. And so anyway ... But I do, I completely understand the optics of it all, but it wasn’t, that just wasn’t the case.
Yeah. Do you think there’s, I think the New York Times, I’m going to butcher the language. But it was something like, “We’ll never sell to you ever, ever, ever, ever.” Right?
I don’t know.
Do you think that could still happen?
I mean, you never know. And I think sometimes these reactions tend to be, as you said, like optically, people were upset because of the optics. And I think there’s emotions involved that I ... You never know.
You’re interested, though, it sounds like.
We look at businesses all the time. And you know, they had started their own process. And so in the beginning they clearly had been reaching out to a lot of different folks in the space. Both strategic buyers like ours, as well as other investors. But yeah, I mean, we look at lots of businesses. It has to make sense, and the value has to be right for us because we’re not going to pay way above market prices.
We’re really smart value buyers and we’ve done that way ... Barry Diller’s run many, many businesses and processes that way. And we are the DNA of IAC. And that’s how he thinks about deals. And so we’ve got a team that is dedicated 100 percent of the time to looking at companies and businesses and deals. That’s all they do. And so we are, we’re looking at businesses outside of the U.S., we’re looking at businesses, you know, smaller businesses inside the U.S. And so, we’ve just always been a highly acquisitive business.
Let’s talk about a deal that did work for you, which was Hinge. I think you just announced it a week or two ago. I know you clarified at the beginning of the podcast that it’s a controlling stake. Yes, is that right?
That’s right, yup.
What’s that business, and how did that come together?
Hinge has been just one of these really, really interesting entrepreneurial stories. It goes back to like, you know, me in the beginning, I talked about loving the entrepreneurial stories and these business stories. And you got to give a lot of credit to Justin, who’s the CEO there. He created real momentum with the Hinge business. And his whole idea was like, how do we create for the millennial audience something that is higher intent, more serious? Because there’s so many 20somethings coming into the category. But when they were looking for something much more higher intent and a real relationship, where do they go next? And so he provided that solution. And his initial real hook was like, friends of friends. That was what he ended up doing. He decided, a couple years ago, maybe it’s been a year and a half — now I’m losing track of time — to pivot the product. Completely pivot the product. And usually when that happens, you see a business really decline, especially if you’ve got to rebuild up your user base.
And the community matters a lot in dating. Because without the community, you don’t have liquidity, you can’t match people and it’s a shitty experience. So what he did is he created this beautiful product. And it definitely caught some fire, particularly on the East Coast, and a few markets, New York and Boston, some other markets where they’ve gotten real traction. And during that pivot, well over a year ago we started talking to him, and we have relationship with a lot of the startups in the community. And they were looking for an investment. We made an investment. We put one of our executives who was, who actually really did the deal, was a board member. And so we’d been supporting, helping him, been on the board, having visibility into obviously what he’s been doing.
And then, like I said, one of the reasons we love this business is ’cause the tenacity of the product team, and Justin’s tenacity. And it doesn’t happen often where you have a business that has fire, and then sort of comes down and then goes right back up. And it’s just been a great story. And word-of-mouth marketing is because the product is so good, I think it’s really been what has driven a lot of the growth of the business. And we love those businesses. I mean, we look at businesses that, where are paid, like you pay for the brand. Bumble’s an example of that. This particular business, they do very little to no advertising, which is pretty compelling.
So the money is through what, a subscription? Or it’s just a free service?
They don’t monetize a ton right now, just because right now most of, you get a lot of access for free. Most of the apps today you get a lot of access for free. There’s not a lot of monetization happening on Hinge. But what we’re seeing is, we’re seeing huge growth and monthly active users. And then people are coming back and they like the experience. And it tells a little bit of a deeper story about who a person is versus just a photo.
Can you tell us how much you paid for Hinge?
We can’t, we won’t disclose that, and it’s not material enough from a public SEC perspective. But I think it works out great because Justin and the team I think are fired up. The way that, when we acquire companies, we generally let them run independently. But the big benefit that they have is they can get access to everyone, all the mistakes we’ve made. We’ve made a lot of them over the last couple of decades. And so he now will have direct access to every analytical person of the company. He’ll be able to have direct access to all the best practices. And we want them to succeed, and we think that their growth is really compelling.
A lot of the conversation in broader tech — and again, I write a lot about Facebook, so this is somewhat specific to them — has been this notion of companies having a monopoly, right? And you guys have a ton of dating services we’ve talked about. I know there are a lot out there, but I think a lot of the ones that come to mind, people may be surprised to know they’re all owned by the same company. Do you ever think about that as you are going about your acquisition strategy, or just kind of your business more broadly? Is there any thinking like, “Okay, we can keep acquiring people but we can’t acquire too much”?
I think there’s two ways we’ve thought about it. First of all, I guess technically when it comes to relationships, a lot of people meet through bars, but we don’t see ourselves competing against bars, so that’s this one argument. Where people meet through a lot of different ways, it’s just one of the ways they meet. And then also when Facebook decided to get into the category. I mean they really, that is probably one of the biggest competitors. So it changed the competitive landscape quite a bit. But you know, if you look at some markets, where we still have pretty low penetration of this market, relative to ...
This market being the U.S. market, you mean?
Sorry, meaning the dating, the global dating market, it’s still pretty small. If you look at, for example, in India. That dating/marriage market, there’s these big players that have brick-and-mortar stores that are more about arranged marriage. And so if you think about how big our imprint is, it’s still relatively small.
Also, I think there’s huge opportunities, which we haven’t talked about, as just the growth opportunities I don’t think are in the U.S., although we’re going to continue to grow in the U.S. But that’s not where the big trajectory of growth is. It’s really outside of the U.S. in western Europe, where you see a lot more people.
It’s going to look like what the U.S. looked like 10 years ago when I was slogging away at the second brand of Match, trying to grow the portfolio, because we knew that there’s a lot of different people with different needs, and so how do we solve those needs? So it’s certainly something that we’re cautious about, but given the landscape right now, it doesn’t seem to be as big of an existential threat for us.
What is the one international market that you’re most intrigued with right now, or that maybe people would be interested to know is a big opportunity for you?
South America is a big opportunity. Culturally, there’s not as much stigma, and there’s a lot, we have a lot of users. It’s going to be around people feeling comfortable and starting to pay for products. So that’s one. And then I would say the markets that I’m really excited about are markets where the generational gap is starting to become profound.
So in India — my husband’s from India — and we went to my nephew’s wedding in December, and it was crazy because my sister-in-law, that generation — my husband was the first person in his family to not have an arranged marriage, and so my sister-in-law had an arranged marriage. But that next generation, my nephew’s generation, very few to no one has arranged marriage. So it’s just a big change generationally going on there, and so I think India’s a big opportunity, and we’re seeing it’s one of our highest-growing markets for Tinder in particular.
And young, urban markets. And I think that’s just, it’s such a huge population, and more and more people want to find partners outside of the traditional ways.
Got it. I think maybe one more question. Technologically, I joked when you got, you told us a funny story about matching with your nephew, I think it was. You know, the AI is huge in this, right? Like, the people can decide pretty quickly when they get on a service if they think it’s a good use of their time, if they feel that they’re being matched with people that actually have a chance of dating. How good is the technology getting, and where do you feel like you are in terms of perfecting the matching technology that you use?
Well I think with some of our products, for example, Tinder, we don’t have a lot of data because it’s just your photo and very little information. There’s other apps that we have — for example OKCupid, Plenty of Fish and Match — where we know a lot about you because you give us a lot of information. And so we have a lot more data points to improve the matching algorithms.
But AI’s changing things. It allows us to get much more predictive in terms of matching. But look, I mean, it’s not just this three-way communication that we try to optimize around for these businesses. It’s really around ultimately, the holy grail for me is around being able to predict that you’re going to have chemistry before you actually go out and have a beer with someone.
And so as you think about, not just AI, but also around what can we provide, what features can we provide within these products that allow people to get to know someone in a way that they wouldn’t have with just a one-dimensional photo and a swipe? So that includes things like video technology, which is there. I mean, we’ve got to figure out a way ...
Yeah, you guys just started using video, or who was it, Tinder is or somebody’s using video, right?
Tinder, yeah. A bunch of our different products do, but we just have a three-second video on Tinder.
And so, it’s not just that, it’s more about what are the ways to get to know people in a more profound way? We just launched places on Tinder, for example, and it’s not just lat/long where you cross, but it’s around, you are where you go. So you live in San ... well, I don’t know if you live in San Francisco.
I do, yeah.
But you live in San Francisco, you go to your coffee shop. You go to an art gallery. You do whatever the things you do. You now have the ability, through Tinder, to figure out, you know, now I can see who — it’s past tense, so it’s not currently, especially because we want to protect women’s safety. So if you leave an establishment, a bar, a restaurant, a coffee shop, it’ll ask you if you want to see who’s actually been at that in the past. And so who you are, where you go, says so much. And we think a lot of these apps using technology, you know, location technology, video technology’s going to get so much better at really figuring out much more about who you’re going to have chemistry with.
I said that was the last question, but I realize we just talked this whole time, I never asked you once about funny dating stories. I imagine you’ve only heard a million great dating stories as the CEO of a dating company. Are there any that come to mind?
Oh God, every time I sit on a plane, which I told you I live on a plane, people ask me for dating advice, which is so funny. And there’s two people that I’ve said, you know, you should really try Match. And I’ve actually just, as being a nice person, I’ve comped them — both people found their spouses on Match with, texted me, or emailed me back, yes.
We’ve got millions of dating stories out there. For example, we just had a great event at Match where we did a honeymoon game, it was really fun, where we asked people questions. About four couples came in, and we asked them questions about the other — sorry, “The Newlywed Game.” We asked them about their partners. It was really fun. We have people from Tinder and OKCupid and Plenty of Fish. And they got in front of us on a stage. And one of the couples that met, they went to grade school, they went to high school, and they went to college together, to A&M. They had never met at any of those places, and they got on Match and met through Match. And so we hear these kind of stories all the time, which are sweet, not funny. But sometimes you just, you pass these people that you know, might have been your match and you never had a chance to get to know them, yeah.
Awesome. Rhank you so much for joining. This was a lot of fun.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.