Tuesday, June 15, 2021

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Women chief executives are held to higher standards than male leaders,

Bumble Inc.

chief executive Whitney Wolfe Herd said Tuesday at The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival.

“It’s unfair and it’s wrong,” said Ms. Wolfe Herd. “I’m

pretty sick about the way a lot of these women have been completely taken out of these businesses that they’ve built.”

Ms. Wolfe Herd, who founded the dating-app business in 2014, said she had felt the pressure of being a rare female CEO in America.

“I have been under such a microscope,” she said. “So much scrutiny. The snooping around of looking for something at all times, I mean this will paralyze a woman emotionally, and it’s really wrong.”

A number of female founders have been ousted from their businesses for various reasons in recent years.

Examples include Steph Korey, the former CEO of online luggage seller Away, whose departure was announced in 2019 shortly after an article in the Verge criticized her management style as harsh, the Journal reported at the time. In June 2020, Audrey Gelman, CEO and co-founder of the women-focused club network known as the Wing, stepped down after more than a year of internal turmoil at the once-highflying startup. A Journal article cited employee concerns over the mistreatment of staffers.

Ms. Wolfe Herd said the treatment of some women leaders was discouraging to up-and coming, would-be female CEOs. Many young women had told her that they didn’t want to start a business, in part because they feared they would be taken down, she said.

“Don’t cancel a woman because someone has hurt feelings over something that a man would never be judged for,” she said.

Her comments came as she discussed how her company had fared during the Covid-19 pandemic. She said dating had been transformed as people world-wide embraced online connections more than ever, and she identified an increasingly popular possibility for dating apps: finding friends online

Bumble relaunched a feature on its platform named BFF that allows users to form and build friendships. During the pandemic, there has been an uptick especially by male users looking for friendships, Ms. Wolfe Herd said.

The company also plans to open a wine bar in New York this summer. Ms. Wolfe Herd said Bumble aimed for users to transition their online relationships to in-person interactions.

As people seeking dating partners were less able to meet in person due to lockdowns, many went online, reducing some of the stigma associated with online dating, she said.

Ms. Wolfe Herd said people advanced their relationships through the app in different ways during the pandemic. Instead of connecting, chatting and then meeting in person, many Bumble users in the past year decided to meet over video first before seeing each other in person, introducing a new step to online dating dynamics.

“People are basically doing the legwork of getting to know each other all through their phones, so when they do meet in person, they know what they are getting into,” Ms. Wolfe Herd said. “They know who that person is on the other end.”

The chief executive’s appearance came about three months after Bumble’s trading debut. After a strong start, the app’s stock price has fallen by more than 25% to about $50 a share.

Whitney Wolfe Herd says that finding friends and building communities on the internet is ‘the next horizon’ for technology, speaking at The Future of Everything Festival.

One of the flagship features on Bumble allows women in heterosexual matches to message a man first to make a connection. The goal was in part to limit aggressive and unsolicited messaging behaviors by some men that women have reported experiencing through online interactions. The app also has an option for users who seek same-sex interactions. Among Bumble’s early backers is private equity giant

Blackstone Group Inc.,

which bought a majority stake in the company in 2019.

Ms. Wolfe Herd earlier co-founded

Match Group Inc.’s

Tinder dating app.

Bumble’s revenue comes through in-app purchases offering premium features that aren’t available on the free version, including those that allow users to change their location to another city before a trip, or offer them additional control over who can see their profile. The company in March said it had 2.7 million paying users for the fourth quarter, up 32% from a year earlier. It reported a loss for the quarter of $26.1 million.

Ms. Wolfe Herd said Bumble planned to introduce more features for users that enable them to fine-tune their preferences. She said while the pandemic had shifted many processes in business and consumer habits, the need for relationships is a constant.

“We all need connection,” she said. “This is something that is never going away.”

Write to Sebastian Herrera at Sebastian.Herrera@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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