Before the Event:
It was another early morning in the month of February 2018, followed by a day full of classes, before I wandered into this event; which took place the day before Valentine’s. The headline for this event, “How to Grow a $2 Billion Startup”, was very intriguing and the former CTO of Tinder, Ryan Ogle, would be talking at this event, so I just had to go. After a drive from LMU and parking in DownTown Santa Monica, I walked into this event located in the DownTown Santa Monica General Assembly building. This event was so packed that I had to sit on the floor, but it was worth it!
During the Event:
I stumbled in a little late and saw a man first introduce the speaker, Ryan Ogle, the former CTO of Tinder. Ryan Ogle began his talk by mentioning how Tinder was mostly geared toward working professionals and how there was nothing out there for the average college student to use for dating. The Tinder founding team knew that college people would not use Match.com. So the founders of Tinder thought that Tinder was the first really successful dating app of the college-aged generation.
Creation of Tinder features:
Ryan came up with the swipe feature in Tinder. He came up with the swiping idea due to his want of an easy app where he could easily swipe on his way to coffee and such. His swipe idea became the great new thing known as “the swipe”. Tinder gets a lot of credit for its UI/swipe feature.
Tinder had a feature known as Tinderize, which would show the number of connections from people who joined the app. Tinderize was an internal app that made Tinder grow exponentially.
Ryan mentioned how a lot of apps are confusing and hard to use, but he said Tinder is really easy to use and simple. Tinder had weekly iterations, and in the beginning, they quickly had a sense of what works and what doesn’t. The Tinder team often sought out feedback and admitted their early versions of Tinder were terrible. In fact, Tinder used to be a URL on Facebook. Tinder was strong on the belief that they didn’t want to create an experience like Match.com.
The marketing behind Tinder:
Tinder spent very little money their first year. In fact, they spent about $100,000. Ryan wanted to catch people in an innovative way, so he went to college campuses and got the most popular girls and guys to download Tinder and tell their friends. Tinder spent just as much time or more on growth strategy than product strategy. The Tinder team went to USC, then branched out to other colleges in Los Angeles. They realized that everyone is kinda mutant to radio and display ads. So, Ryan would go to parties on the campus and hand out stencils with spray paint, and no one said anything; so then they sprayed Tinder. Ryan told people to go to class and tell others that the professor was on Tinder, so then people would go on Tinder just to download it and find the professor. Tinder first targeted 10 schools, then 50 and stopped around 100 schools. It was only innovative for so far. They used a lot of creativity and he mentioned that this can’t be done for every app. In the beginning, it was very grassroots and they found it to be far better than traditional. PR came very easily for them. Sometimes Ryan sees apps that don’t go too far because they don’t want to change their message, although Tinder felt being edgy was good and helped them. Ryan said, “When you pick up Tinder and use it there is something really easy about it, simple.” In 2013, one of the Kardashians or Jenners posted about Tinder. In 2014, about all the athletes were using Tinder and they didn’t promote it. Tinder went from colleges then to other cultures, and it was very important for them to build a strong culture.
Working on Tinder:
Ryan was spending 80 hours a week trying to keep Tinder running. They didn’t hire a lot of people at first so it was really just them running it. If they were just there for paychecks they wouldn’t have done the efforts they did. He said that John barely slept and that he looked horrible cause his hair was messed up. He mentioned how the UI guy for Tinder would stay up for hours on the weekdays and weekends working on Tinder.
Tinder turned away amazing engineers who didn’t have the cultural traits they wanted. The culture was very important to them and they liked the idea of pranks. Such as pranking the new person who came in, it overall made everyone more comfortable. Engineers spent a lot of nights working on Tinder too.
Tinder held off monetization for almost two and a half years. Ryan said, “You’ll make a lot of money in the fourth or fifth year if you hold out from monetization.” Currently, Tinder makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year, mostly from Tinder premium and not really from their ads. He truly believes it is better to hold off and build a network then to monetize right away. A lot of companies need money to survive, but they get a lot of funding. Tinder went from a couple of thousand users to a million in January 2013. It was a nightmare when this huge growth spurt happened because they didn’t expect it at all.
In the first 6 months, it was steadily growing, but then it got crazy. Tinder got a big jump of a million users in January 2013, from July 2012. Apps tend to grow really big in January, February, and March on. It took them almost a year to get on the Android phone. Tinder also talked about doing an Apple TV app. They also tried to do a deal with Microsoft. They loved coming up with new ideas in the beginning, building them, and bringing them to market. In order to scale things, they called up all their friends that would represent well on Tinder and told them to download the app. They really didn’t believe it could grow that quickly.
Hiring for Tinder:
Ryan would see if engineers were passionate about the product. If interviewees saw the vision, he wanted to understand how they thought and solved problems. Do these engineers think about things in the right way? People are the most important asset. If Ryan was not a technical person, he would look for a great technical person. It is really hard sometimes to get into someone’s culture.
Ryan is now working on a new app called Ripple. The Ripple team hated the fact that it was hard to meet people from LinkedIn. Ripple is about meeting new people and making connections, a real network and less of a sales culture than LinkedIn. They have launched Ripple and are seeking feedback. Overall, Ryan feels that some apps are interesting on the engineering perspective but not on the other side. He noted that there were about 200 engineers when he left Tinder.
Creation of Ripple:
They made ripple about 2 years ago. They wanted to find something catchy and easy to spell that isn’t a real word.
Ryan’s thoughts on other things:
Instagram to him is a fire that just cannot get put out, he thinks it is really hard for Snapchat to compete. He thinks Snapchat needs to come up with something really cool in order to stay alive. Ryan also thinks there are cycles where things come and go. Two years ago, people were saying mobile is dead and there will be no more great apps. Ryan thinks there is room now for new mobile apps. New apps that would challenge things, like how the app Robinhood did. He thinks new stuff will come out over the next few years. He also thinks people should not spend a lot of time on data, that you just know when it works.
When something bad happens did you have any tricks to pick yourself back up?
Ryan: “What was really shocking was to see how common that was. There is an impulse to quit.” (He feels if he doesn’t quit then he can never really lose and he will find the path someway. If he keeps grinding it out eventually he will find the right way.)
How do you think Tinder has affected society, for better or for worse?
Ryan: “Tinder has opened up dating to a new sector of people, now it seems okay to online date. A lot of people used to not do online dating, especially millennials. It opened up a whole new sector.”
After the Event:
Networking among fellow attendees occurred after the talk and everyone downloaded the Ripple app. People then gathered around in circles and added each other. It was really funny randomly seeing people standing right next to me on the Ripple app and then swiping on them. I also got a free purple bunny teddy bear, which I still keep on my bed. They also gave out Ripple stickers, along with STRV pencils and STRV socks. After this event, I headed to LACMA College Night.
Most people don’t do one thing and immediately have success. He usually has success when he least expects it.
Sometimes you have that feeling when you don’t want to go to a meeting or conference, but when you push yourself to keep going and go, then it is good. Best to be persistent and never give up.
- In the beginning, you should go to all those different things even if you don’t have that much, so you get used to the atmosphere and make connections. There are super connectors who just know everyone. Surprising how important it was for him to meet people.
- Grow organically.
- Tinder had a feature called Tinderize which made it grow exponentially
- Tinder did not spend a lot of money their first year, they spent $100,000
- Tinder thought of new innovative ways to market their product and knew what did not work
- Tinder did not hire a lot of people in the beginning
- Tinder held off monetization for two and a half years
- Tinder did not expect their app to grow so fast
- Apps get a big jump in growth around January, February, and March on
- Ryan is now working on a new app called Ripple