Dating app Bumble says buzz off to Facebook, plans Hive space expansion next year

Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder and CEO of social and dating app Bumble, said today that Facebook’s move into dating is a “huge validation, the best thing that could happen to the dating space, maybe ever.” But all the same, the profitable service — which is notable for how it puts women into the driver’s seat for all interactions — has been taking some significant steps in asserting its independence as a multi-faceted social platform in its own right.

That has included not only building its own social graph, but rebuffing acquisitions for now while it continues to grow, and exploring a new wave of online and offline services, such as its Hive networking pop-ups.

One of the big problems with a lot of apps that rely on people tapping networks of people they know to grow and be used is that many of them are built on Facebook’s data, making them dependent on the whims and business priorities of their partner. Not so with Bumble.

“We’re really not reliant on Facebook anymore,” she said during an interview this morning at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, “so [Facebook’s move into dating] isn’t a direct response to us. When we released a non-Facebook login, our registrations went up 40 percent virtually overnight. That’s very telling of who’s coming to [Bumble].” She added that Bumble “skews both younger and older.”

The company today is actually a subsidiary of London-based dating company Badoo, but it was reportedly in talks for an acquisition by Match Group — owner of Tinder, which Wolfe Herd helped co-found before leaving under a controversial cloud — for $1 billion in 2017. But although Bumble’s made a big effort of trying to “clean up” the world of online dating and network for women by letting them have more control over the process (most recent development: the launch of a “snooze” feature to help manage how often you are getting alerts), dating remains a messy business: both Match and Bumble have also been suing each other over trade secrets and other allegations.

While Bumble remains where it has been, under Badoo, the M&A rumors have raised the prospects of just how it would work with other companies down the line.

Facebook has also served as a cautionary tale, said Wolfe Herd, as the company develops its own standalone network independent of third-party data, and considers how it might ever work with other social networking and social media companies in the future.

“Who knows, maybe there is an opportunity for a partnership down the road,” she said. Shared values has become a big part of how she evaluates working with another company. She batted away the idea of Facebook or other social media companies as potential acquirers.

“We’re not spending our days really thinking about an acquisition,” she said. “I haven’t spent too much time thinking about that. We’re so busy, just focused on taking our future to where we want to go.” 

In the meantime, the company has been doubling down on new services for its community of users.

Among them, Wolfe Herd said that Bumble would be expanding its Hive interactive networking spaces next year. The company in the past has hosted what it calls “pop-up Hives” — hives, referencing the beehive branding that Bumble sports.

These spaces have allowed customers to interact with Bumble in the real world – an idea that makes sense, given the app’s focus on helping people make real life connections.

“Our users have shown us that they want to be a part of our brand in a deeper way, more than just using our product,” Wolfe Herd explained. She said users want to engage with Bumble and its values in the physical world, which is why it first launched its pop-up hives.

“In 2019, we’re rolling out physical Hives,” she said, declining to detail those plans during the on-stage interview.

“They’ll be something no one’s seen in the space, and it won’t be a model that you’ve seen outside the space.”

That seems to indicate these won’t involve copying the typical real-world dating events — like speed dating, for example. Instead, she described the spaces as places where good people would be brought together.

Bumble’s pop-ups have offered a variety of activities, including entertainment, interactive sessions with entrepreneurs and influencers, as well as drinks and snacks.

Wolfe Herd noted, too, that there’s a monetization model attached to these plans, something that’s not necessarily needed, given that Bumble is already a profitable business, based on its subscription model.

Advertising will be a part of this monetization strategy in the physical space, as well as online.