Tinder’s co-founder and on-again, off-again CEO, Sean Rad, took the stage at the 2017 Startup Grind Conference wearing two new hats. He’s now chairman of Tinder and its new M&A branch, Swipe Ventures. Five years, 50 million active users, and 20 billion matches later, the dating and social search app must continue to evolve if it wants to stay on top.
Time To Take Tinder To The Top
Rad says he decided a few months ago that he wants to focus freely on Tinder’s next five-year goal while his immediate team catches up with a backlog of things to be built over the next one to two years. An important part of the development task is to bridge the inevitable infrastructure gap caused by the app’s rapid global acceptance as it “launched and exploded all over the map from day one.”
It's time to take Tinder to the next level. He told the crowd: “I strongly believe in acquisition as an avenue to grow the company because we’re still a small team [of] about 250, but we have a lot of opportunities ahead of us.”
And, artificial intelligence (AI), seems to be the major enabler for Tinder to continuously innovate and go after its long-term goal of “getting everyone who is single on Tinder.” It’s a massive market. There are over 600 million single people on smartphones today.
Rad announced: “In five years I hope that we’ve utilized some of our scale and some of our innovation and creativity to create the next great evolution in how people meet…I think a lot about how we can use AI to transform dating.”
Could AI End the Swipe?
Rad expects AI to help mobile phone users escape information overload and bring relevance to their experience. He said: “Five years from now instead of scrolling, searching, swiping, I think these devices will be intelligent enough to just give you the answer.”
One way that might look in Tinder could be a Siri-style interface that not only matches the user with a compatible person nearby, it knows the indie band you both like and locates available tickets it can help you buy.
When that day comes, people can search less, do and buy more -- and swipe right references could vanish from popular culture.
On the Cusp of a Platform Shift
There’s tremendous potential for virtual reality and augmented reality to change Tinder’s user experience, and Rad says that will definitely impact dating. “Right now, there’s no mainstream socially acceptable device out there that utilizes augmented reality. I think when that happens, it’s inevitable that it will become part of Tinder.”
Forbes interviewer, Kathleen Chaykowsky, asked if Tinder’s reputation as more of a hook-up app than other dating apps affects how the company approaches international expansion.
Rad was ready with the answer: “We look at ourselves as an introductions company. Our mission is to make it extremely easy and fun to meet [and get to know] someone new. And, we don’t judge what happens after an introduction.” He observed that many of the 20 billion introductions Tinder made have resulted in marriages, friendships, and dates as well as hook ups, adding: “It’s no different than meeting someone in a restaurant or through a friend. Depending on where you are in your life you might end up hooking up or might end up getting married.”
Focus on Cultures, Not Competitors
It took some time to learn how to think as a global first company, but it has been a key contributor to Tinder’s growth. On the most basic level, Tinder is so simple it’s universal. It solves an innate human problem: How to connect with a compatible person nearby.
To understand how that plays out in other cultures, Tinder sent its team out to listen to users across the globe. Understanding cultural nuances required the company to change its thinking to optimize its product and marketing.
It's the little things global-first companies need to do better, such as language localization. Using language that is socially relevant makes a difference, Rad noted: "I always say to my team: we've succeeded in building a global company when it doesn't matter what country you're in. If you think Tinder was founded in your country you've succeeded."
The team also learned to reflect socially acceptable norms, such as India’s value of relationships through family introductions and Korea’s fondness for group dating.
On the technical side, Tinder realized it needed different ways to log into the app. Cell phones are universal, Facebook is not.
The cultural learning expeditions paid off: “We didn’t grow through a viral hack, we grew through a human hack by delivering value,” Rad explained. “We got out there and pounded the pavements and pounded the streets in every market around the globe and went to the right groups and seeded the idea of Tinder. By allowing those ideas and those experiments to surface, I think it made us who we are.”
The global, commercial possibilities for an AI-powered social search app are intriguing. No wonder the company prefers the image of social search app over being seen as a place to find a casual tap.
How to Master Rapid Growth
Scaling a business can be hard, but Tinder’s rapid growth demanded its founders learn quickly. Among the insights Sean Rad shared at the 2017 Global Startup Grind Conference:
Generate more revenue with expanded features, but be sure they add value to the overall product ecosystem. Avoid models that create a dilutive experience.
Communicate your values. When you continuously focus on values, people can figure out process on their own.
Foster an environment where everyone feels heard and all are prompted to speak up in open forums.
Embrace diversity at your core. The success of your business depends on it, the success of society depends on it, and we can all do better.
Make a point to listen to all voices at all levels of the company. It helps the product evolve, continuously change, and helps the company remain relevant.
Seek feedback, listen to your users, and interpret what they’re saying. It can take you to places you never expected.