Inside Tinder’s Hookup Factory
At least three guys in the Tinder office have met their long-term girlfriends on the app. Jonathan Badeen, who designed the original app and is Tinder’s “User Number One,” says Tinder has radically changed his dating life. “In my twenties, I did not date much at all,” he says. “Tinder made something that was always a huge ordeal for me much more comfortable.” So what do girls say to Badeen after they find out he co-founded Tinder? “They always think I’m reading their messages,” he says. (He doesn’t.)
These aren’t wild and crazy guys. Rad is an L.A.-born Jewish-Persian-American whose parents emigrated from Iran in the 1970s and made a mint in the American consumer electronics business. He grew up as part of the close-knit Persian community in Beverly Hills. How close-knit? He has 42 first cousins. As a teenager, he started a band modeled on Coldplay, but “in my family, there was a need to make something of our lives,” says Rad. “Not doing something big with your life was just not accepted.” In high school, after interning for an entertainment manager and seeing how much control agents and managers exert over artists, he said, “Fuck it, I’m out of here.” He stares with those soulful eyes. “I figured I could amass a lot of wealth by doing things I love – then I can control my own fate as an artist.”
Rad had acne as a teenager, and his parents bought him his first phone at 13, to cheer him up. At 18, obsessed with mobile technology, he started his first tech company – Orgoo, a “unified communications platform” integrating e-mail, IMs and video chat (the name uses shorthand for “organization and an infinity sign,” he says) – followed a couple of years later by a management company facilitating celebrity Twitter branding. Rad was enrolled in USC at the time, but like a lot of Beverly Hills kids, he found dorm life intolerable and moved back home after two weeks.
Rad signed up with Hatch Labs, a tech incubator funded primarily by IAC, the media and technology company founded by Barry Diller. This means many of the millions that will almost surely eventually pour out of Tinder are going to end up in Diller’s pocket, since IAC owns a majority of Tinder’s shares – though Rad also says that “many people have the potential of becoming billionaires if Tinder gets escape velocity.” (He declined to define exactly what that means.)
Rad doesn’t seem amused when asked if Grindr, an early sex-on-demand app for gays, was an influence – “Tinder” was merely a play on an early name for the app, “Matchbox.” Rad imagined that a simplified dating app with a focus on images would be successful. He doesn’t think this makes him superficial or vain. “A photograph has a lot of information in it, when you think about it,” says Rad. “If I post a picture of myself on a ski slope, that says something different than a photo taken in Vegas at the pool at Encore.” He continues, “The irony of Tinder is that in some ways the lack of information, or text, is actually less superficial than having the information.”
The combination of Rad’s L.A. dude-ish, binary-sorting mind – “Can’t you see the way, at a restaurant, each person looks at the other going, ‘Yes, no, yes, no,’ ” he says – and growing up as a sheltered rich kid was a perfect storm for creating a hit dating app. At first, Tinder targeted VIPs, like the presidents of sororities and other “key influencers in Greek life,” plus celebutantes, models and other “high-quality people,” as one employee puts it. The principle was that popular people would help Tinder be perceived as not just another dating app for losers: It was helping hot people who could already get dates get even better dates. “Let’s say you’re making $100,000 a year, but why not try to make $250,000 a year?” says an employee.