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Tinder: how one of the world's biggest brands came to be

 Sean Rad (left) tells Farrah Storr (right) how Hilary Duff and Katy Perry are known Tinder fans and use the app regularly
Sean Rad (left) tells Farrah Storr (right) how Hilary Duff and Katy Perry are known Tinder fans and use the app regularly

It's fair to say Tinder has shaped the modern dating world, since it swiped right into our lives back in 2012. Forming an astonishing 11 billion matches from 100 million downloads of the app, the dating phenomenon has seen incredible growth for a start-up. What is the secret to its success?

This was the question CEO and founder, Sean Rad, addressed at this year’s Advertising Week Europe, where Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief, Farrah Storr quizzed him.

In true Cosmopolitan form, Farrah grilled the dating app mogul on all things sex and success. And the interview didn’t disappoint.

Rad bared all about being ousted as Tinder CEO, how women are more selective than men and how success and great leadership are defined.

"We’re in an amazing spot," said Rad. "We’ve built this tremendous platform, we have users all over the world, we’re a global brand and we have tens of millions of people actively using Tinder."

From four billion matches to 11 billion in just one year, Tinder’s growth is representative of a growing audience, explained the mogul.

"I think the quality keeps increasing as Tinder gets smarter and we’re able to create more quality introductions, tweak our algorithms, get user feedback, build better products and enhance the profile to provide more information. Both the number is going up, but also the quality of those matches."

"STDs in the UK are on the rise," said Farrah, "and some people would say it’s the hook-up culture and Tinder is in the centre of that. But it’s like the selfie camera: did the selfie camera create this generation who like taking pictures of themselves or was it already there?"

"All of these platforms – Tinder, Snapchat – we are products of our audience. We have tools," explained Rad. "Our audience really defines how to leverage those tools. Snapchat is a lot about expression but it formed from how people were using it – and the same goes for Tinder. It’s the audience. We have a vast percentage of the single population of the world on Tinder and they’re defining what it means because of their desires and their wants."

But is Tinder just a hook-up app? And does that suggestion make him angry? Sean said it doesn’t make him angry – but it is incorrect.

"What Tinder is doing, is making an introduction. It’s a platform to meet people and what our users decide to do is completely up to them. The majority of our users want a meaningful connection."

Sean Rad, CEO at Tinder tell his story behind the hugely popular social dating app that single handedly upended the concept of virtual courtship.

Unsurprisingly, Tinder generates a lot of data but Rad explained that despite the volume collected each day, nothing is more valuable than talking to users. He said that he actively uses Tinder to speak to users from all over the world.

"Human connection is not a one way street, it’s a two way street – which from a data scientist’s standpoint makes it a very complicated problem to solve," he added.

Using algorithms to improve the quality of matches is just one way Tinder is using the data it collects to improve the user experience. And it measures success based on how much real-time interaction users get: "We look statistically at how many conversations happen, and how long those conversations last is an indicator. Usually those longer conversations will result in people meeting in the real world.

"Women are more selective so they swipe right way less than men – kind of like life," said Rad. "We underestimate the amount of information our minds can pick up from a visual photo or a light piece of information.

"People think that photographs or first impressions are superficial. They’re actually not. They’re incredibly profound. Our human minds are powerful beyond what we understand."

Sean said that they have a lot of data to prove photographs that express something about that person’s interests or personality, get more matches. "I always tell people be yourself, especially now with social media and all the photographs we see – we’re very smart at reading these images – if someone’s being fake we can figure it out," he added.

He went on to say that ‘modelly’ pictures, headshots and group photographs with friends don’t perform well either. Shots that display what you look like but also the environment you live in and your interests, tend to work the best – according to the data.

Tinder will always be free
Tinder did a lot of "cool partnerships" in the beginning according to Sean. But they had to be strict and selective because there wasn’t a lot of room for brands to work with them. They wanted to make sure they had the perfect product. Sean also explained that through a lot of learning and iteration, the product has been improved and is ready to go. This means more opportunities for brands to work with Tinder in the future.

Sean Rad explains to Cosmopolitan’s Farrah how the app initially only took 23 days to complete.

 "Being fired was one of the best things that ever happened to me"
The board fired Sean back in 2014, and he explained to Farrah that it "surprised" him as the company was doing so well at the time. But in the end, it was the best thing that could have happened.

"I was able to take a step back and really embrace the things I was good at and then admit and recognise the things I wasn’t good at," he said. "Being a leader doesn’t mean you’re good at everything. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When you’re a rocketship you don’t have the opportunity to pause."

Sean went on to say that no one is perfect and no business is perfect. Growth comes from finding problem areas, both in yourself and the business, and solving them.

It was just four months later that Sean found himself back in charge – a decision that delighted him.

"I was more ready than ever," explained Rad. "I stayed because I believed in Tinder and I want to contribute in any way, and if the best way to contribute was to mop the floors then I would." 

Cosmopolitan’s Farrah Storr who spent the hour grilling Tinder founder on all things sex and success

Pointing to Evan Spiegel and Mark Zuckerberg, Farrah asked whether too much experience can be limiting as a leader.

"In a way, experience limits you because it sets you in your ways. But when you don’t know what’s possible, that naivety allows you to break through bounds that other people have created." He added. "Even now as I gain more experience I also try to step back and be young, foolish and hungry, because that’s what allows you to understand your users.

Sean explained that companies go obsolete because they don’t change or evolve, which is why it’s important to have an aura of naivety.

Harnessing the right talent is a difficult challenge for any brand or agency in today’s workplace. But Sean believes diversity is the key. "It’s about embracing the next generation within these organisations," he explained. "Tinder has always been about having diverse points of views. One form of diversity is having points of views of all ages and some of the most talented contributors at Tinder are very young. We look for talent everywhere regardless of age or gender and every organisation needs to do that. You have to embrace talent when you see it and not judge it."

Whether you’d swipe right or left for Tinder, it’s undeniable that the app is paving the way for this new breed of online dating millennials.

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