Bumble’s Founder Credits the App’s Early Success to Micro-Influencers

Whitney Wolfe Herd shared her secret with Joanna Coles at Cannes

Whitney Wolfe Herd explains what it took to build Bumble from the ground up. Alice Trott
Headshot of Sami Main

CANNES, France—When setting out to create her female-friendly company, Bumble, Whitney Wolfe Herd didn’t know what to expect.

She knew she wanted to solve the problem of harassment and abuse on dating platforms (and more generally across the entire internet), and she knew she wanted to give women more of a voice online. But the exact “how” was a little fuzzy.

Even before the app launched, Wolfe Herd and her small team started going door-to-door and “bootstrapped it,” the networking app’s founder said, while on stage in conversation with Joanna Coles, chief content officer of Hearst Magazines, at the Cannes Lions Festival.

“We showed up where young, social people were,” said Wolfe Herd. “Bars, cool companies, campuses. We painted a picture of what Bumble was before it even launched.”

This on-the-ground version of marketing did a lot in Bumble’s early days, but Wolfe Herd also took a hands-on approach.

Soon after the app launched, Wolfe Herd frequently used it to message people, asking how they heard about it. Funnily enough, a real percentage of people replied by saying they heard about it from someone named Anne Smith. (Not her real name.) 

After getting this response numerous times, Wolfe Herd asked her employees who Anne Smith was, and someone warily answered that it was their friend from high school.

The team tracked down Anne Smith (“I wanted a whole wall full of Anne Smith and a Venn diagram of her life”) and discovered her Instagram profile, which had 200 followers at the time.

She had worn a Bumble branded T-shirt during a spin class and shared a picture of it. This led her followers, clearly engaged and loyal to Anne Smith, to naturally check out the app.

“We then worked with maybe 10,000 ‘Anne Smith’ hyper-micro-influencers,” said Wolfe Herd. “Our team was so authentic and mission-driven that their friends wanted to be a part of it, too.”

By working with engaged, real consumers of her product, and listening to what those consumers wanted out of the experience, Wolfe Herd’s Bumble is about to cross 40 million registered users. The app has recently added Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz for people who were “hacking” their profiles to say they weren’t looking for a relationship but were looking to connect with people.

“Dating is not exclusive to love. We friend-date, we network-date,” she said. “We’re dating all day long.”

@samimain sami.main@adweek.com Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.