In recent years, Tinder has taken over the millennial online dating scene. Most of us have used or know someone who uses Tinder with relative frequency. Thus, it is fascinating to learn how Tinder became one of the most dominant dating platforms in the world.
Tinder’s founders had a fairly clever way of growing its user base. From inception, Tinder targeted specific demographics (i.e. college students in California participating in “Greek Life”). The founding team organized social events (i.e. Greek parties) on specific college campuses where access was granted only to those who had downloaded the app. Within days, Tinder had grown to thousands of users thanks in part to largely positive word of mouth marketing. Furthermore, the college campuses where the launch took place were in highly dense urban areas—which helped spreading the user base faster and within the built-in range of the platform. It was not long until celebrities and influencers started to publicly endorse or admit using Tinder which added to the growing and often free media coverage that the platform enjoyed. The combination of all of these factors contributed to Tinder’s growing network effects.
From a platform standpoint, once users accessed it they quickly discovered how simple it was to sign up relative to other online dating platforms. There were no long and tedious personality questionnaires nor confirmations by email. It just required the target millennial user to sign up through Facebook, pick their pictures and let the profile-swiping begin. It was the presence of a sizeable contingent of target users and the seamless integration of Tinder with Facebook and Instagram that made many early adopters stay in the app. Furthermore, Tinder “shielded” its users from the pain/fear of rejection—users can only communicate with those with whom they match (mutually liked their profiles). This sort of rejection-free/safe-space dimension of Tinder motivates its users to access the platform more frequently to discover new matches. The aforementioned has led some to describe Tinder as the precursor of the gamification of dating and the viral emergence of similar online dating platforms.
Tinder’s advent was fueled in part by the lack of players in the space in which it triumphed. The online dating world had vastly ignored millennials and their differing dating preferences. Long time players had focused on matching people based on personality traits captured in detailed tests that users had to fill out on their desktops. Tinder defied these industry standards by recognizing that millennials spent increasing amounts of time on their smartphones and that the natural ecosystem for an online dating solution became the mobile (iOS and Android) world instead of desktops. In a way, users’ perception of Tinder was positive relative to other online dating alternatives—swiping on Tinder became cool and did not carry the negative baggage that other online tools had. Furthermore, Tinder’s user interface focused on the ease of use and creating a sense of community. Matches were not thousands of miles away. People on the app were living within a range of no more than 100 miles and this created a tangible opportunity for people to meet in person.
Tinder has proven to be a formidable growth story. The platform provides tangible value for its users by simplifying the online dating process. Nevertheless, growth has not come free of challenges and the firm has struggled capturing value. Scaling up at a global level will require constant adaptation that caters to local communities while preserving the Tinder-like experience. Tinder’s leadership recognizes that swiping is limited by the amount of new users entering the platform. Thus, they have introduced freemium elements to the app that limit the amount of swipes that users are allowed to do in a day. Furthermore, the app’s geographical range limit made it inherently local and dependent on new adopters pouring in. Management has tried to sort this issue with the introduction of “Passport,” another freemium product that enables premium users to swipe outside of the 100 mile limit. Despite all these implementations, Tinder has not been able to convert most of its users to premium subscriptions—they probably do not need to do so, but could potentially cap the firm’s long-term growth prospects.