Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd on the value of rejection: ‘I personally love being underestimated … It’s a total superpower’

When it comes to business, Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd swipes right on underdogs.

At the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado, last week, the 33-year-old entrepreneur explained why she thinks being underappreciated is beneficial. Being overlooked or rejected can be an incentive to work harder – or find somewhere or someone who recognizes your skillset – whether you’re just starting your career, switching jobs or pitching a new idea, Wolfe Herd said.

“I personally love being underestimated. I think it’s a total superpower,” she said. “I think I’ve trained myself to be motivated by people who say ‘no’ and create energy from that.”

Wolfe Herd said she learned that lesson from personal experience. In April 2014, she resigned from dating app Tinder, where she was a co-founder and vice president of marketing. She then filed a sexual harassment and discrimination suit against the company and her fellow executives. The lawsuit was settled in September 2014, and Wolfe Herd launched Bumble – a rival app intended as a kinder, female-led dating service – three months later.

On Bumble, women initiate conversations with matches. According to Wolfe Herd, this was immediately a problem for investors, who told her that women wouldn’t want to ask men out – and men wouldn’t sign up for the app because it went against societal norms.

Wolfe Herd said the rejection didn’t make Bumble a bad idea. Instead, she said, she started viewing it as a new idea that people didn’t know how to visualize yet.

“I just retrained my brain from Day 1: Every time I got a hurtful email or tweet or some investor telling me [the idea for Bumble] was stupid, I just got really excited about it,” Wolfe Herd said. “People generally don’t know how to see things that don’t exist yet, so you just have to believe in yourself.”

Being underestimated also gave Wolfe Herd the element of surprise, she said. When other companies identify you as a competitor, they’re watching your every move. If they don’t see you as a threat, they won’t see you coming around the corner to overtake them “like Princess Peach in Mario Kart,” Wolfe Herd said.

Bumble launched with $10 million of funding from dating app Badoo co-founder Andrey Andreev and Tinder co-founder Chris Gulczynski. In 2021, Wolfe Herd became the youngest female founder in history to take a company public.

At Aspen, she said that when Bumble went public, she received “profound notes” – and even some apologies – from journalists and “reputable people” who initially thought Bumble would never get off the ground. As of Wednesday morning, the company has a market capitalization of $6.7 billion.

“If everybody thought it was going to work, it would have already been done,” Wolfe Herd said. “That’s really how you create a gap in the market for yourself.”

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