Name any three dating apps that you think are the most popular right now. Chances are at least two of them are owned by Match Group.
The Dallas, Texas-based online dating giant is the parent company of Tinder, Match.com, OkCupid and dozens of other dating apps. Its far-reaching presence in the lucrative and rapidly growing online dating market has not only got some industry watchers wondering how it hasn’t faced any antitrust probes yet, but it has also inflicted some internal wounds.
Last summer, the usually low-profile company made headlines after it was dragged into an expensive lawsuit with Tinder’s founders over the fair valuation of their payout when the startup merged with Match. Also, during the time of the litigation process, a former Tinder employee came forward to accuse the app’s former CEO, Greg Blatt, of sexual harassment. (The sexual harassment allegations were not part of the lawsuit.)
Much of those troubles fell upon the shoulders of the company’s new CEO Mandy Ginsberg, a longtime executive with Match Group who most recently served as the company’s head of North American operations.
Last month, a few days before Ginsberg’s one-year anniversary as Match Group’s top exec, Observer sat down with her to chat about her achievements and challenges over the past year, the fallout of the Tinder scandal, the potential threat from Facebook (META) (which launched a dating feature last year) and her first-hand experience on how love seekers’ perception of online dating has changed from embarrassing to a “badge of honor” over the past decade.
How would you describe your first year as the CEO of Match Group? What are the main highlights of the past year?
I’ve been with the company for a long time. But this past year was wonderful, because I had not been in a position where I was in charge across all these brands. We had our best performing financial year ever in our history. Revenue increased by 30 percent—Tinder was a driving force. And I think it goes without saying that, when business does well, it’s great for morale. We recently acquired Hinge, which has been a really strong breakout business this past year. Since we first invested in June 2018, Hinge’s DAU [daily active users] has increased by five times, which is great news to relationship-minded Millennials.
On the culture side, there were a couple things that were important to me. As a woman leader in the dating category, I wanted to make sure that I can help more women on our platforms on issues around dating and sexual assault. As a whole, Match Group has tens of millions of users worldwide. So, hoping to increase practices not in just one app but across all apps, I created the Match Group Advisory Council, and we brought together some of the most incredible leaders who have real expertise in the prevention of sexual assault, everyone from Tarana Burke, who started the “Me Too” Movement to the CEOs of sexual assault hotline RAINN and Thorn, which is Ashton Kutcher’s nonprofit that helps defend children from sexual abuse.
I also wanted to make Match Group the best technology company for women to work at, so we took a hard look at our company benefits. The first thing we did was to extend our parental leave policies. We also pay for egg freezing now, which I think is a really important benefit for young employees who want flexibility when it comes to making fertility decisions.
Who is eligible for the egg freezing program? Are there any age restrictions? Does the company pay 100 percent?
It’s for female employees or male employees’ partners. There’s no age restriction. We pay for approximately 80 percent of the total cost. My belief is that the company’s contribution needs to be generous enough so that people can really afford it.
For most news readers, the biggest event happening to Match Group in the past year was probably—unfortunately—the sexual harassment accusations brought up by several former Tinder employees against the app’s former CEO Greg Blatt. Can you give us the latest update on that?
Well, I don’t really have an update, because there’s been no litigation. I mean, there’s been a complaint, but no one has sued the company for sexual harassment.
I have been very aggressive to make sure that our employees know that we do not shy away from these issues and that they are in a safe environment. We have fired people in the past because of sexual harassment. I have an open door policy in the company. I encourage people to talk to me and talk to their managers and to make sure we address these things out in the open.
Has there been any HR policy change since then?
Most of the challenges we faced were around Tinder. When Tinder was this young, growing company, we had many employees right out of college. So I think they needed real clarity in terms of what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate in a workplace. We went through a process where we did sexual harassment training, both in person and via online modules, to make sure that people were aware of what the boundaries are.
We now have 300 people at Tinder with more older, experienced hires. Frankly, we’re just growing up as an organization. I sort of equate it to the terrible tooth that you eliminated in the teenage years, and after that, you start to become an adult.
Does the fact that Match is in the business of dating make it hard to set company policies around related issues, such as office romance?
I would feel hard pressed to tell people in the business of love that you shouldn’t fall in love with someone at work, especially when I myself fell in love with my husband at work—It was right before I joined Match; I got married about a week after I started at Match.
Our policy is that you can’t date people in direct reporting lines, so people know that they are never going to be in a compromised position. We don’t want to say, “Don’t ever date anyone.” It’s just important to know that, if they are going to date coworkers, they would date their peers and not direct supervisors or subordinates.
Over your 13 years in the dating business, what are some of the interesting trends you’ve observed on how people use online dating services?
When I said online dating 10 years ago, people would look at me as if I was crazy. And people would feel very embarrassed to tell others that they met their spouses through a dating site. Today, its kind’ve a badge of honor.
What has driven the big transformation in this category is the popularity of free services and smartphones, which have attracted young people into online dating. Ten years ago, a few big players, particularly Plenty of Fish and OkCupid, decided to disrupt the category by not charging subscription fees and making money through advertising. It really opened up the category to a lot of people who are less committed and might say, “I’ll try it because what do I have to lose?”
And then, six years ago, Tinder became the first to launch a mobile-first dating service. Before Tinder, most online daters were over 30 years old. (A lot of people would get on to a dating site on their 30th birthday and be like, “OK, all my friends are getting married. Maybe I’ve got to open up my social circle and be serious about it.”) But Tinder started on college campuses for a very young audience. It was fun and exciting and wasn’t this serious online dating thing that their older brother or cousin did.
So today, tens of millions of people in their 20s are on dating apps. We’ve also seen a trend of people using multiple apps at the same time, rather than sticking to just one.
Why do people need multiple apps?
Imagine you are a woman in your 20s living in 1990s New York. How would you go about meeting people if you are really serious about it? You’d just go out a lot. You might need to go to, not just one bar, but multiple bars.
It’s probably the same theory when it comes to dating apps. It’s like, “OK. If I’m going to be in it, I should put myself out there.” For example, you often find people who identify themselves as Jewish active on both JDate and Match.
Speaking of using multiple apps, it feels as if most of the dating apps we know are owned by Match Group. Some of them merged into Match through acquisitions. Is it a big part of your overall strategy?
So, there are three ways we’ve grown our business. First of all, we are always focused on driving better experiences within each product. The second way is incubating young companies. For example, we incubated Tinder from scratch. We also recently launched a new brand called Ship, which allows users to form groups where they can matchmake friends. And lastly, as far as acquisition, our philosophy is that when we acquire companies, we make sure they can drive their business independently and also benefit from all the expertise and practice from us.
In the case of Hinge, for instance, we felt that it was a really compelling product. It’s a non-swiping product, so it created a very different way of engagement than our other brands. We also liked the management team and felt that we could add real value and help propel their growth, because we had so much experience in the dating category.
With Match Group’s pace and scale of acquisition, are you concerned with potential antitrust issues with regulators, especially given the tightening policy environment in Europe?
Actually, besides Hinge, we haven’t made any acquisition since 2015. As far as market share, outside studies have shown that we control only about a quarter of the total revenue from dating products in the U.S.
The other thing is that it’s a bit hard to say that we own the dating market, because there are so many ways for people to find dates. There are millions and millions of dates that happen every night, and we’re just a small percentage of all that.
On the competition note, what do you think of Facebook’s new dating service? Is it a potential threat to your brands, especially Tinder?
It definitely generated a lot of attention. I think Facebook has launched the dating service in a couple of markets, but we haven’t seen any real impact on us yet. But for Facebook, you can’t underestimate them. They’re a huge player and they have access to a lot of people.
In terms of competition, We feel really good for a few reasons. First, we found that when people were given a choice to sign up on Tinder with a phone number of a Facebook account, 75 percent actually chose not to use Facebook.
This sort of behavior is really interesting, because, when Tinder first started six years ago, the only way to create a profile was through Facebook. We actually got a lot of complaints from people who either don’t want to be bundled with Facebook or don’t have a Facebook account. So in late 2017, we gave people the option to sign up using phone numbers. That was a clear message to us that consumers don’t really like connecting the two worlds together.
The second thing is that Tinder users are generally between 18 and 25. We’ve seen that users of this age group tend to use multiple dating apps. So I don’t think Facebook would drive them away from Tinder.
How has being a part of the matchmaking business affected your views on relationships and dating in this day and age?
I feel there has been a lot of negativity associated with dating, especially from the younger generation. But I’m hopeful, because, at the end of the day, we humans are wired to have deep emotional connections with people. I believe the main reason our businesses do so well is not that we have some secret sauce—although we probably do have a little bit of secret sauce—but that we all have this primordial desire to be in love with someone.
If you ask any single person if they want to be in a relationship, most people would say yes if the right person comes along. Globally, there are 600 million single people who have internet access, and a large percentage of them have never even tried dating apps.
Of course, dating is ultimately all about chemistry. And there’s a lot that our products can do to enhance that. So, I do believe that, as the technology gets better and better, there’s a higher chance of finding the right person and the right chemistry.