Romance is big business: Bumble’s Valentine’s weekend IPO makes a billionaire of founder Whitney Wolfe Herd

Whitney Wolfe Herd during Bumble's IPO. Source: Bumble on Instagram.

Love is in the air for at least one entrepreneur this weekend. US dating app Bumble has gone public in a wildly successful IPO, valuing the business at some US$13 billion ($16.8 billion).

Co-founder and chief Whitney Wolfe Herd, who owns almost 12% of the company, now holds a stake worth about US$1.6 billion ($2 billion).

Ahead of its much anticipated IPO this week, Bumble was offering 34.5 million shares at US$28–30 ($36–38). However, strong demand meant it was able to sell 50 million shares for US$43 million ($55 million) in total.

By the time shares started trading publicly, that price had surged to just shy of US$76 ($98) — 77% higher than the pre-trading offer price.

They closed out the day at just over US$70 ($90).

It also marks a stark improvement on Bumble’s 2019 valuation of about US$3 billion ($3.9 billion).

What is Bumble, and where did it come from?

Bumble is a dating app that puts power into the hands of women users, requiring them to make the first move after a match.

It was launched in 2014 by Wolfe Herd and co-founder Andrey Andreev, who also founded dating app Badoo.

It was designed to offer a dating experience without the toxicity that can come with some of its major rivals. Wolfe Herd was also a co-founder of Tinder, but later sued the business over sexual harassment and discrimination claims.

Now, she’s bringing the competition to rival Match Group, which owns Tinder, OkCupid and Match.com, and which is also listed on the Nasdaq, with a current market cap of about US$45.8 billion ($59 billion).

On Tuesday, Match announced it was boosting its presence in Asia, through the acquisition of South Korean video chat company Hyperconnect.

Between the two apps, Bumble now has a presence in more than 150 countries, and more than 42 million monthly active users, combined.

It brings in revenue from a paid product, which offers users perks such as unlimited swiping and overseas swipes.

 

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In the first nine months of 2020, Bumble saw total revenues of US$376.6 million. That was just a 4% increase on the same period in 2019, but slow growth has been attributed to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 crisis, and there are hopes for a rebound post-pandemic.

In 2019, Bumble sold a majority stake to investment management group Blackstone, in a deal valuing the business at approximately US$3 billion.

Blackstone also reportedly bought out Andreev’s stake in the business, handing control of both the Bumble and Badoo apps to Wolfe Herd.

At that time, Wolfe Herd reportedly received US$125 million ($161 million) in proceeds, plus a loan she used to pay the personal taxes arising from the deal.

The platform has also expanded beyond the romantic sphere to create Bumble BFF, a wholesome matching service for platonic friendships, and Bumble Bizz, a platform for making professional connections.

But, the course of true-love startups never does run smooth, and Wolfe Herd has found herself in tricky moral situations. In July last year, Forbes reported on allegations of a misogynist, racist and generally toxic culture at Badoo’s London headquarters, specifically citing misconduct from Andreev.

Wolfe Herd initially stood by her long-time friend and mentor, but amid allegations that go against everything Bumble stands for, she later issued a statement saying she would not challenge the claims.

It was just four months later that Andreev exited the business. The investigation into the incident is still ongoing.

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