WHITNEY WOLFE: I, quite frankly, thought I was at the very bottom of my barrel. I mean, there were days where I didn't want to live. I mean, the Internet defined me - the article calling me the most ugly names in the world, the people on Twitter saying the ugliest things.
But through all of this pain and struggle, I still had an itch to create. And so I kind of sat down and said, I can start something right now, and I can change what I hate that I see in the world.
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GUY RAZ, HOST:
From NPR, it's HOW I BUILT THIS, a show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements they built.
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RAZ: I'm Guy Raz. And on today's show, how Whitney Wolfe's painful exit from Tinder inspired her to build Bumble, a kinder, gentler dating app where women make the first move.
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RAZ: There was a time, believe it or not, when internet dating meant you were desperate, or awkward or both, and it wasn't something you talked about openly. But today, it's the complete opposite because the Internet and dating apps have made it so much easier and more efficient to meet lots and lots of people, and it's more or less frictionless. There's no awkward phone calls, or courtship rituals or face-to-face rejection. There's something almost transactional about the whole thing.
And it's no exaggeration to say that even though they've only been around for, like, five years or so, dating apps have pretty much transformed dating. And if you love them, you can thank Whitney Wolfe. Or you can blame her if you hate them because Whitney was part of the dating app revolution. She was one of the founders who helped create Tinder, which is now one of the biggest dating apps in the world.
Whitney left Tinder under difficult circumstances - circumstances she can't legally discuss. But as you will hear, it was a time in her life where she came under intense online abuse. And that experience would inspire her to build Bumble, which is a different kind of dating app. And today, just three years since its launch, Bumble is one of the top dating apps in the U.S. But the story of how Whitney got into that world at all - well, like many of our stories, it starts with a little bit of luck. Right after she graduated from college at Southern Methodist University in Dallas...
WOLFE: I was just kind of going day by day, exploring and being OK with that, right? So I think, to my family, I almost was - I don't think they were super proud of, like - oh, my daughter went on to do X, right? I was in this weird place. So I kind of moved in with my mom in California, and I went to LA one afternoon to visit a girlfriend of mine and ended up at a dinner where I met a couple people, one of which went on to be the CEO of Tinder.
RAZ: This was Sean Rad.
WOLFE: Yes. And he had told me how he was going to be the general manager of this incubator that would be launching all sorts of apps, all sorts of different apps. And they were looking - at the time, they were focused on one app, which was a consumer loyalty app called Cardify - kind of like a digital punch card for your favorite coffee shop, for your favorite whatever it is.
RAZ: And he just told you about this at this dinner party.
WOLFE: Yeah, we were just at a restaurant having dinner, just a few of us. And I said, well, that sounds really interesting. And when he asked what I was doing, I said, you know, I'm really looking for a job. I think I could probably help you market your app. And he said, well, why don't you call me tomorrow and come in for an interview?
So I called him at 8 a.m. the next day. I think he was alarmed and surprised that I actually called him. And I ended up going in for an interview. It worked out - started working from home right away, and then I moved to LA.
RAZ: ...For this incubator.
WOLFE: Yes, for Cardify - was the app. There'd been really no talk of Tinder yet, and my job was very much focused on Cardify. So I started working full time, and while we were getting Cardify off the ground, you know, I spent a lot of time going door to door to door in LA to different restaurants, and boutiques, and so on and so forth and trying to sign them up - and I struggled with it because there was too many moving parts, right? And so...
RAZ: What kind of moving parts?
WOLFE: I mean, you have to get the store on board, and then once the store is on board, you have to hope that the customer has the app, right?
RAZ: Yeah. Were the stores interested when you came in? Were they like - I mean, was it...
WOLFE: No. To be honest, very few people were interested. I think it was really how you positioned it. And I learned a lot through that experience because, you know, one pitch would go one way, and you'd say something a little different the next time, and it'd go in a completely different way.
And so I really realized that it's not so much about the what, it's the how or the why you should do this, right? Like, this is why you need this instead of what you need, right? And so it was really interesting - crash course in marketing and sales.
RAZ: But you were not a tech person, necessarily. You were just really interested in tech, right?
WOLFE: Yeah. I wasn't even interested in tech. I was just interested in the way it had reach, the way that tech could expand beyond the walls, right? I went through college with no Instagram. And so Instagram really became huge right as I graduated. And then you saw it sell for a billion dollars, and I think everyone kind of went, whoa.
WOLFE: And this was kind of, like a - an eye-opening moment for my peers.
RAZ: And so did it - I mean, did you - was there, like, a sense of excitement that you guys were on to something big or did you know pretty soon after you joined that this thing was not going to work?
WOLFE: No, you know, I think everyone was really excited and very hopeful, and it was a beautiful app. I think everyone really wanted it to happen. And I remember we were all sitting around like, we're going to be the, you know, next big thing. And then shortly thereafter, I think we started getting excited about this side project, Matchbox, which is what became Tinder. But at the time, it was Matchbox.
RAZ: ...Which was supposed to be a dating app.
WOLFE: Yeah, it was, like, a flirting app. It was, like, connecting people to flirt, right? And after we were really unable to get Cardify to gain significant traction, I think we all - you know, the first few of us were kind of like, maybe we need to shift gears. You know, and I was 22 years old. I had just come out of college. I was thinking very much like a college student, still. And I was like, hmm, this will work.
And I think I was so excited about the fact that there was something that I and my friends would use, versus Cardify, which was something I personally would have never used. And again, it was not a new idea. You have to think about what existed already - dozens of dating apps, flirting apps, connecting apps. I mean, there was already the behemoth, which was Match.com, right?
WOLFE: And we sat on the same floor as Match.com in LA.
RAZ: Wow. So was building Tinder, like, part of an idea to build, like, more of these dating-type products or apps?
WOLFE: So Tinder was not my idea. I've never said it was my idea, ever. I became a co-founder of Tinder via my marketing contributions and my early involvement in getting it launched and getting it out there.
RAZ: Got it.
WOLFE: So I've heard about 30 conflicting stories of what the original idea was. And who really cares, at this point? I mean, it is what it is. And it was to connect people around you, you know? If you see someone that you want to talk to across the room, how do you talk to them without, you know, feeling awkward? I think where we went in a very unique direction was marketing it to millennials, and I just don't think that had ever been done in a successful way.
RAZ: And what was the actual product? What was the app? What did it look like, at that point?
WOLFE: It was very similar to what it looks like now. It was just a very early version of it.
WOLFE: So you would just swipe left or right on people. And actually, when I first saw it, there was no swiping. It was, like, a tapping, like a card game, originally.
RAZ: Oh, wow. And was it called Tinder, by that point?
WOLFE: No, it was not. We played with so many different names. I mean, it was maybe going to be Flirt, and then it was maybe going to be - I mean, there were so many different things that it was going to be, and Tinder ended up sticking.
RAZ: So you're thinking, I - this thing has legs. And so what'd you do? How did you test it?
WOLFE: Yeah, I remember thinking to myself that it would work at SMU. And I remember, I took the guys into a meeting, and I gave them my little sorority-fraternity-rollout pitch and said, I'm going to show up on Monday. I'm going to go to all the chapter meetings. I'm going to run from the sororities, the fraternities. I'm going to get everybody on it. And then it's just going to take off.
RAZ: At SMU.
WOLFE: Yes, at SMU. And so I got the green light to go do this. And we had very, very, very, very minimal marketing materials. I think I had three or four T-shirts that we took that had Tinder on it. And then I had to get really crafty. So when I landed in SMU - it's funny.
I was talking to my girlfriend about this the other day - my good girlfriend who now does the weather in LA, she was a year younger than me, so she hadn't graduated yet. And I took a picture of her, and then I took a picture of one of my guy friends on campus, and I dropped them into the match screen - like, the Tinder screens. And I wrote a big thing on top of it, saying, find out who likes you on campus.
And I saved the file, and I took it to the FedEx across the street from SMU, and we printed, I think, a thousand copies. And I offered a bunch of people around campus $20 bills to help me put them everywhere - I mean, on people's windshields, under dorms, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.
And then Monday night, I rallied all of my friends that were still in school because, again, I had just graduated, and I had a lot of the friends that were younger. And we'd made our rounds. We went to the sorority houses and gave a pitch, got up on chairs and told all the girls, you know, you have to download this app because college is all about meeting people.
And right now, you only have access to the people that you hang out with every weekend, and it's a really closed-minded, you know, experience, and you guys need to meet all these great people on campus, and there's all these really cute guys waiting for you on the app. So we rushed and got all of these women to download the app.
And then we ran as fast as we could to the fraternity row, and went into the frat houses, and said a different pitch and said, hey, guys, I bet you have no other way to access, you know, hundreds of sorority girls right now. Download the app because they're all waiting for you. They've all just downloaded this app, and they're waiting for you to like them.
RAZ: (Laughter) What...
WOLFE: And so - yeah, I know, it's so ridiculous. It's embarrassing, at this point, but...
RAZ: (Laughter) But you had to pitch it. You had to see if it was going to work.
WOLFE: Listen, you have to do what you got to do.
RAZ: You were hustling this thing.
WOLFE: Yes, I think that it would be an accurate representation. And so the next day, I remember, you know, we looked at the download numbers, and hundreds of people had downloaded overnight. And hundreds was bigger than the downloads we'd gotten on Cardify over months. And so, you know, I'm looking at hundreds of downloads, and I'm like, we made it. Like, we're the next Facebook - right? - just being super, you know, a little disconnected from reality, probably.
RAZ: Well, but not that distant, as we would eventually discover - so you go back to LA. Like, what's the next step?
WOLFE: I can't remember if I went straight back to LA or if I went straight to Utah because I went and did the same thing at University of Utah.
RAZ: ...Which seems weird, like you - that would Tinder...
WOLFE: But I knew people there, you know? And it's funny. I called this a long time ago. I said to everyone on the team - I said, guys, watch. BYU will be one of our biggest markets one day because in the BYU, it's a LDS college in Provo, Utah.
RAZ: Mormon, right.
WOLFE: Yes. And they're all expected to get married by the end of college. Like, that is the expectation. And so I said, I promise - I think BYU will be one of our biggest markets, and I think half of Utah will end up getting married because of Tinder.
WOLFE: And Tinder became massive...
RAZ: In Utah.
WOLFE: ...On the BYU campus. Oh, yeah, massive.
RAZ: Wow. I mean, in that period, 2013, you know, was there a feeling like this is just so amazing, this is so exciting?
WOLFE: Are you kidding? Yes. I mean, I lived, breathed, dreamed - I was engulfed. I mean, my friends didn't want to talk to me anymore. They're like, oh, gosh, she's going to call and talk about Tinder again. No, it was such an exciting time, and again, it's worth noting, Tinder was a group effort, right? It was not just me. It was not just one of the guys. It was not just one of the other guys. This was really teamwork.
RAZ: So I'm going to do something, Whitney, that we don't often do on the show, which is I am going to skip over a few years when Tinder was growing and becoming this massive dating app with millions and millions of users...
RAZ: ...Because there are legal reasons why you can't talk about certain things. And I'm just going to say I am going to explain this briefly, Whitney, which is that you left Tinder in 2014 under pretty difficult circumstances. You had been in a relationship with one of the other co-founders that broke down, and so you left, and there was a sexual harassment lawsuit, and that was settled. And you can't talk about that. But all of a sudden, you were - you were all over the tech press because people - people caught wind of this lawsuit, and there were text messages that were sent to you that were abusive, and they were published on blogs. And then all of a sudden, you were in the public eye, and you were, I guess, like 24 - what? - 24, 25 at the time.
WOLFE: I was 24. I turned 25 just a few days later.
RAZ: And you were the main target of a lot of the attention surrounding that story.
WOLFE: So real quick - I'm going to jump in and just say I have absolutely no comment on anything from the lawsuit. And I have no comment on, you know, any of the allegations or anything. But the way the people online spoke about me, the way both reporters and complete strangers, you know, Internet, the - Twitter and the comments section, it was - it jolted me in such a way, it completely robbed me of every last ounce of confidence that I may have ever had.
Listen, I was not - I was not a famous person in my life. I come from Salt Lake City. I don't have famous parents. I'm, quite frankly, just a normal professional, right? Like, that's just who I was. And to have The New York Times calling extended relatives and to have the Daily Mail knocking on the back window at your apartment when you're not even there and to have your personal emotions being turned into caricatures on tech blogs and mainstream media, TMZ, I mean, it was really, truly traumatic.
RAZ: How did you just, like, get through the day?
WOLFE: I, quite frankly, thought I was at the very bottom of my barrel. I mean, there were days where I didn't want to live. I didn't want to get out of bed.
WOLFE: I felt like it was stamped across my forehead. And when I say it was stamped across my forehead, that was 50 different things. That was the article calling me the most ugly names in the world. That was the people on Twitter saying the ugliest things. I mean, the Internet defined me for a moment in time. And I wanted to die, yet I had to make this bigger than myself, right? Like, this was bigger than me, meaning I have people in my life that I have to be there for. I have parents. I have friends. I need to continue my career. I'm 24, about to be 25. I am not going to just call it a day at 25. I mean, am I? You know, like, there was a lot of that.
And after I was able to pick myself off the bath mat crying, I was able to through the fog see the real problem. And the problem was not me or the media or the story or what happened. The problem was the lack of online accountability that human beings are exposed to every single day. And what it made me realize was, you know, whatever I felt was going on online, this is what goes on on a 13-year-old's phone all day every day.
WOLFE: And it scared me.
RAZ: Was it impossible to ignore that stuff? I mean, could you have just shut that out?
WOLFE: No, it was impossible. It just became this obsession, and it really messed with my psyche. I mean, it made me really not right for a while. I mean, I didn't really socialize. I kind of became a hermit for two years. And what I did during those two years was I worked my tail off. I mean, I worked so hard, and what I had realized was you can't kill ambition. You can kill confidence, but you can't kill drive. Through all of this pain and struggle, I still had an itch inside of me to create. And I missed the feeling of creating all day and building and seeing something grow and engineering it to grow - right? - you know, marketing it. And so I kind of sat down and said I can start something right now, and I can have an impact, and I can change what I hate that I see in the world.
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RAZ: When we come back, how Whitney took that idea and turned it into Bumble. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.
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RAZ: Hey, welcome back to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So by the time she was 24 years old, Whitney Wolfe had already helped launch one of the world's biggest dating apps, Tinder, but after she left the company and everything that went with it, the online bullying and the severe depression, Whitney wanted to get away from all that. She wanted to get away from dating apps and build something new, something a little more kind.
WOLFE: So I started working on this concept called Merci, and what it was going to be was a female-only social network where women could only use compliments. They would no longer be able to, you know, comment on appearance or hurt their - hurt each other's feelings or use social media to bully, right? So it was the antidote to what I felt I experienced online. And I started working on this and had, you know, my marketing plan mapped out, and I was thinking about doing that, and I was approached by my now business partner, Andrey Andreev, and he is an incredible, talented entrepreneur based out of London. He has built so - a lot of very successful companies, and his current very successful company is called Badoo, and it is the world's largest dating platform. It is massive overseas. I mean, we're talking - I think they have something like 320 million registrations or something. Like, they're part of that club of only LinkedIn and Facebook and Instagram, like, those big, big, big, crazy numbers. And he said sorry to connect, you know, this summer. I know that probably not the best time for you, but I'd really love to hear what you're up to next. And so his initial intent was to hire me as their CMO - their chief marketing officer - at Badoo.
WOLFE: And I said, you know, I'm flattered. That's great. However, I'm, you know, essentially not for hire. I'm going to start my own business, and I want it to be mission driven, and I don't want to work in dating. Like, that's just not going to be my future. And he said, OK, so tell me about this vision of yours and what are you going to do and how are you going to build this into a huge social platform? And I told him my vision.
RAZ: For this new app, Merci.
WOLFE: Yes. And he could hear and feel my passion for this platform, and he said, you know what? You need to build this, but you need to do it in dating. And I said...
RAZ: (Laughter) After you said I'm not doing dating.
WOLFE: Yeah. And I said, I don't think you understood me (laughter). I'm not going back into dating. Like, that's not happening. And he said, no, no, no, this has to happen. What you're trying to do needs to be done in dating. And I thought to myself, you know what? Maybe he's got a point. Maybe dating is broken, right? Like, maybe connecting is broken beyond just being a young woman talking to a young woman in junior high. Maybe this is something that affects us at all ages. And so we kind of did a handshake deal and said, OK, we're going to build a company. And we formed an incredible partnership where I was founder and CEO. I could build my own team, my own vision, my own brand, but we would have access to his resources beyond just money. And that was something that was never going to happen twice.
RAZ: And you didn't know - at this point, you didn't know what that was going to be.
WOLFE: No. And so it really wasn't until a couple of weeks later when we brought on - you know, I called Chris Gulczynski and Sarah Mick, who I'd worked with that Tinder. They're really, really talented designers, and, you know, in order to build a great brand and product, you have to have a great team of designers. And so I brought them on board, and they had their own app at the time, so they wanted to come on as consultants.
And so once we were all kind of together, I think there was, like, 10 of us in the room or something. We were sitting outside. And Andrey said, OK, so what is this product going to be? And I said, I think I have it. And I said, I always wanted to text the guy first. I always wanted to go after what I wanted in terms of if I saw a cute guy in class, I always wanted to talk to a guy, but I was never allowed to because society and my friends said no. So I said we're going to reverse engineer this, and this is how the product's going to work. You're going to mutually match with each other, but women have to send the first message.
They have 24 hours to do it because it will give them a, you know, kind of incentive. And if they don't, the match disappears forever. And this will change the dynamics of how we connect. This will put the ball in her court. For any same-sex matches, if you follow the same rules minus women making the first move, right? So if two women match, either woman can reach out. If two men match, either man can reach out. However, they do still have to follow the you go first in 24 hours and then you follow within 24 hours.
RAZ: So this was, like, completely different from anything else that was out there at the time?
WOLFE: Completely different and hadn't - didn't exist.
RAZ: Because dating apps, I think, I imagine, are most - mostly guys are signing up for dating apps, right?
WOLFE: Well, my theory at that time was they hadn't been built for women yet. Let's just look at this from the basics. Men are raised from very early age to be the go-getter in a heterosexual relationship. Go get her. Go make the move, right? And women, on the flipside, are trained to play hard to get. So here you're telling men to be overtly aggressive, and here you're telling women to be the inverse of that. And so now you're training two human beings to act in opposite directions of each other. And so what you do when you do that is you set both up for failure. You set the men up to be constantly rejected, and you set the women up to be at risk of aggression and abuse, right?
And so here we have this world that behaves this way. Now, add another element, which is a profile, right, a digital shield where you can hide behind a username or a profile photo, and you don't have to be accountable. And so when you put women in control, you completely reverse the roles. So she now has the confidence to go after what she's interested in, and the man on the other end doesn't feel rejected. He feels flattered. And then all of a sudden, you've balanced the behavior.
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RAZ: So where did the name Bubble come from?
WOLFE: The name Bumble is actually really funny. So a woman who was really - actually a great mentor to me for the first couple of years of Bumble, name is Michelle Kennedy, she named it on a whim one day because it was such a struggle. I wanted Bumble to be Moxie - M-O-X-I-E. Like, you've got moxie. Like, you've got courage, right? Because you'd have moxie, you made the first move - moxie. And unfortunately, there is a really powerful company that exists somewhere in America that has trademarked every format of the word, so we couldn't get that. And then we were sitting there for weeks. Oh, my gosh. It was a disaster. We had probably a thousand words in the running. And then one morning, she said, you know - I think she had, funny enough, I think she had called her husband a bumbling idiot. She's got this really adorable British accent. She said, what about bumble? And I said, no way. Like, that's like fumble. That's like Bumble and bumble., the hair product. I hate it.
And then Andrey was like bumble, bumble. I love bumble. And he checked the domain and we could get the domain. It was a miracle. Like in what world could we get bumble, but we couldn't get moxie? We couldn't get all these other words. And so after that, I was talking to who - she ended up becoming one of my - she was my, like, third hire. Her and her family are really close friends of mine. And I was talking to her mom in the kitchen. And I was like, hey, what do you think about Bumble for an app? And she was like, oh, like, be the queen bee of Bumble. Find your honey on Bumble. And she started throwing out all these really cute slogans, and I was like, done. I was like, done. Perfect branding opportunity - hives and bees and building your your hive and queen bee, the women make the first move. It was perfect, actually.
RAZ: So you - so Andrey contacts you in July of 2014. If I'm - if my timing is right, you launched Bumble by the end of that year.
WOLFE: Correct. We worked really, really hard.
RAZ: When you first launched it, were most of the people signing up men initially?
WOLFE: No. Even - even split.
RAZ: How did you - how did you get people to sign up? How did you get the word out about it? Because there's lots of competition in this space. There's tons and tons of dating apps. How did you - how were you able to tell people about it and get them to know what to do?
WOLFE: Well, I kind of had a little bit of a playbook. I had maybe done it once before. So I went right back to SMU...
WOLFE: ...This time decked out in yellow, and I went back into all those sororities, and I spoke from the heart. Listen, I have lived through the pain points of male-dominated relationships. I have felt it. I know what it feels like and guess what? Every other woman in that sorority house, chances are she's felt it, too. So, you know, I'm speaking from the heart, and I'm speaking to them about how they can be empowered, and they make the first move, and they go after what they want. And me and my early team members, I mean, they're - the girls are at my office right now, they're still with us. We went in there, and we took pizza boxes with stickers on it and offered a piece of pizza to the fraternity boys that would get on it. We wrapped cookies in Bumble stickers. We took all sorts of goodies, and we kind of growth-hacked our way to success.
RAZ: So - all right, so let me just jump out of the story for a sec because I want to ask you about this idea that dating apps, even Bumble with, you know, a mission or a purpose to empower women, even an app like Bumble, you know, does it contribute to just kind of like a culture of hookups?
WOLFE: Well, so here's what's interesting. If the hookup is taking place and the woman is empowered and feels comfortable and confident in that, then I say more power to that, you know? I don't care what you do on Bumble. If you want to, you know, spend the rest of your life with someone you meet on Bumble - phenomenal. If you want to hang out with them for only a night, but you're going to wake up the next day and you're not going to feel terrible about yourself - that's what this is all about. It's about reverse engineering the dynamics of how men and women feel. And Bumble is not just a hookup app. I mean, I can't tell you how many emails I get a day about Bumble weddings, Bumble babies, Bumble engagements.
Now we're launching Bumble Bizz. We have hundreds and hundreds of thousands - if not in the millions, at this point - of active BFF users, which are, you know, young women matching with other young women kind of in that Merci capacity I spoke about earlier. They're finding roommates. They're going on trips together. They're building social circles in new cities. It's really not a dating app anymore.
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RAZ: I read that that you guys have zero - there's zero tolerance for sexism on Bumble. But if two people are communicating on Bumble, how do you police that? How do you enforce that?
WOLFE: So that's a great question, and it's actually a very tricky one. So we have zero tolerance for bad behavior, but it requires a little bit of work from our users because we also want to respect your privacy, right?
However, if somebody is in a conversation and someone says something inappropriate, we have very easy reporting tools. And once something is reported, we do review it. And if there was bad behavior, that user is banned for life. There are no second chances. We really take it seriously. If you need us, like, we're one click away.
RAZ: Do you ever run into any backlash from, you know, people who say - you know, who are offended, in some ways, that this empowers women? I mean, does it make some people angry?
WOLFE: Yes. Bumble gets a lot of that, you know? Just last week, we became under attack from this website called The Daily Stormer. It's a neo-Nazi site. And we had upwards of a hundred men sending us threats. We actually had to have police at our office all week.
WOLFE: They were emailing my employees, calling my employees, calling me, leaving the most vulgar messages.
RAZ: Because you're self-proclaimed feminist organization.
WOLFE: Yeah, female empowerment is not something that they believe in, unfortunately. So, you know, we get this too. The bullying - now I don't let - that doesn't hurt my feelings anymore because I know these people are just atrocious. But it fuels me. The anger fuels me to try harder at work and try and, you know, change this misogynistic mindset that exists.
WOLFE: And so now we're putting such an emphasis to get all these people off of our app, if there are any. We're hoping there's not. We now have a whole new set of moderators looking for hate symbols and hate speech on our platform. We're really just trying our best to build a clean, safe community.
RAZ: Yeah. It's been 2 1/2 years since you launched this company, I think.
RAZ: And you have how many active users now?
WOLFE: Twenty million registrations, nearly.
RAZ: So 20 million - that's - I mean, that's pretty amazing - 20 million downloads of the app since you launched.
RAZ: And when will you know that you have really created this hugely powerful thing, when you've got a hundred million, a billion?
WOLFE: I'll never feel like we've made it. And we've got to just keep going. I mean, it's funny. I used to say to myself, oh, when we have 1 million, when we have 5 million, when we have 10 million - oh, imagine if we had 20 million.
And now we're here, and I'm like, you know what? We always need to evolve, and be better, and try harder, and have bigger reach and better reach. And once we have that reach, we need to start over and do it in a different vertical.
RAZ: How much of your - you know, of your story through Tinder and Bumble, now, is luck? And how much of it was because of your skill, and talent and hard work?
WOLFE: You know, luck is a funny word. I don't know if I'd call any of this lucky because I don't feel - you know, I think luck is probably a certain element. But if people think I just, you know, was at the right place at the right time, and just snapped my fingers, and twirled a couple times and here's Bumble, I mean, they're really wrong. This has been - we're talking all day, every day, ups, downs, highs, lows and laser focus.
RAZ: So you guys are still a really young company. Do you, like, stay up at night worrying about a competitor or somebody else coming in and just, you know, totally replacing you?
WOLFE: We really, truly aren't super worried about competition for one reason. I really believe anybody can copy a product - anyone. I'm at the UT campus speaking to you right now. I could go to the engineering school, probably find five really talented young engineers, and they could build Bumble. With the right support, somebody could rebuild any piece of technology. It's engineering.
However, you cannot just copy someone's brand and become them. There has to be authenticity when you build a brand, and there has to be true purpose. And so yes, you're right. Anybody could go and build a competitor version of Bumble.
But where I don't think they can just come in and sweep us off our feet is, I don't know if there's another group of people with the exact same story or the exact same mission and motive. And that goes back to what I lived through that summer of 2014 and what landed on my phone every morning. And it was - I almost built my remedy to the hardships that I personally was going through, and Bumble saved me.
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RAZ: Whitney Wolfe - she founded the dating app Bumble. By the way, according to Forbes Magazine, Bumble turned down an acquisition offer of $450 million this past August from the Match Group - Match as in Match.com, which also owns OkCupid and Tinder.
Now, for the record, Bumble has never confirmed that report, but if true - not bad for a company that's only been around for three years. And as for Whitney, she recently got married. And guess how she met her husband? Through - nope, not through Bumble - they met through friends on a ski trip.
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RAZ: And please stick around because in just a moment, we're going to hear from you about the things you're building.
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RAZ: Hey, thanks for sticking around because it's time now for How You Built That. And today's story comes from Michelle Innis of San Diego. And the problem she set out to solve starts with her husband, Jack, who likes to go sport fishing on weekends.
MICHELLE INNIS: He comes back so stinky. You know, you'd be in your house in the evening, watching a movie. And I'd say, just don't touch me.
RAZ: Don't touch me because Jack's hands always smell like stinky fish. And nothing he used - not soap, not lemon or baking soda - nothing would get rid of that smell. So Michelle decided to tinker around in the kitchen and make her own soap to try and kill that fish smell.
INNIS: And getting the formula right took months and months.
RAZ: Michelle did come up with a formula, which, of course, is a secret. But we do know that one key ingredient is star anise, the stuff that smells like licorice.
INNIS: It neutralizes the fish smell. It's magic. And so my husband was filleting fish, and I said, try washing up afterwards with this. And when he did, he goes, oh, my God. Oh, my God, it works. It works.
RAZ: And so pretty soon after, Michelle started selling her soap, which she called De-Fishing Soap, at local fishing stores and getting really good feedback.
INNIS: I have people come up to me still that say, you saved our relationship.
RAZ: Michelle ran her small business mainly from the kitchen for about 10 years. But four years ago, when a family member got sick, she decided to sell it.
INNIS: We had calls from all kinds of people. And I'd go, I don't like them. I don't want to sell it to them because it was my baby. But finally, when I met Nate and David, they were the right people.
DAVID LEON: My name is David Leon. I'm based in Carlsbad, Calif.
RAZ: So David and his business partner Nate are both into fishing. And back when Michelle was advertising on Craigslist to sell her business, the two of them had just quit their day jobs to start something new, and they weren't really sure what. But then they saw Michelle's ad, and they were like, this is it. This looks really interesting. So they drove down to San Diego to meet her.
LEON: We were excited from the business perspective, but I think we a bit intimidated by the actual making of the soap. And initially, we're looking at this, and we're like, we're going to have to learn how to make this.
RAZ: But once they agreed to buy the business, Michelle gave them the step-by-step instructions on how to make the soap in their kitchen, and she gave them all her equipment, too.
LEON: We loaded all these things up into Nate's truck. And we go in and back it into our place, and we start unloading it, and these were, like, big, industrial plastic drums, beakers, graduated cylinders. And I remember telling Nate - I'm like, our neighbors are going to think that we're opening a meth lab.
RAZ: Thankfully, nobody reported them to the cops. And David and Nate started to grow the business, first by selling the soap online and then by pitching it to national retailers. And they actually flew down to Bentonville, Ark., to meet with a buyer.
LEON: This buyer at Walmart manages over half a billion dollars in spend. And we went in there with some canned salmon, and we said, you got to dig your hands into this, and then we'll wash you up.
RAZ: And the buyer was impressed or maybe just really relieved to get the smell of canned salmon off of his hands. And anyway, now De-Fishing Soap is selling at 1,200 Walmarts across the country. David says the business is now at ramen profitability, which means that they're not rolling in cash, but they are making enough money to feed themselves ramen. And the original soap lady, Michelle - she's still cheering them on.
INNIS: It's just like my kids. I'm so proud of what they've done.
RAZ: You can find out more about De-Fishing Soap on our Facebook page. And of course, if you want to tell us your story, go to build.npr.org. And thanks for listening to the show this week. If you want to find out more or hear previous episodes, you can go to howibuiltthis.npr.org.
Please also download our podcast at Apple Podcasts or however you get your podcasts. You can write us. That's firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send us a tweet. It's @HowIBuiltThis.
Our show is produced this week by Rachel Faulkner with original music by Ramtin Arablouei. Thanks also to Neva Grant, Sanaz Meshkinpour, Claire Breen and Jeff Rogers. Our intern is Diana Mustak (ph). I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.
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