“If you use your money to create exceptional products and services, you won’t need to spend it on advertising.”
—Seth Godin, American author and highly successful entrepreneur
As soon as I heard about Tinder, I knew it was going to succeed. How did I know that? They found the Holy Grail of any product (especially an online dating site) which is growth through massive word-of-mouth. That type of growth not only costs nothing, but when a user learns about a product via referral from a friend, they’re much more likely to embrace it than if a costly advertising campaign for it hits them in the face. For instance, I’ve heard of some $50,000 campaigns held during spring break with helicopters and girls in bikinis handing out flyers that got absolutely nothing in return. What a gaffe that would be!
The undeniable genius of Tinder first dawned on me when I was sitting at a bar in Manhattan one night. I noticed five or six women in their mid-twenties on their phones, looking like they were having a lot of fun. Judging from some of the reactions and bits and pieces of conversation I heard, it looked like they might have been using a dating app. I approached them to see which one they were using if that was the case.
I said, “Hi, do you mind if I ask what you’re doing that looks like so much fun?”
One of them said, “Oh, we’re playing this new game called Tinder.”
With much more at stake than just a passing interest in the app world, I engaged them in a lively conversation to find out more about this new “game.”
They explained to me that the app shows the user pictures of different men, one at a time. If the user likes the man, she swipes right. If the user doesn’t like the man, she swipes left. Based on that explanation, I didn’t fully understand the objective. So, I asked them how to win at a game like that.
They further explained, “You don’t really win, but if the person you like also likes you, then you’re matched, and you can then message each other and meet up.”
I replied, “So, it is a dating site.”
They argued that it was definitely not a dating site. Obviously, they preferred the concept of “playing a game” as opposed to the term, “online dating.”
We went on to have a strangely animated debate back and forth about whether Tinder was a dating site, a game, or an online retail store with an inventory of available men. Finally, one of the girls got really frustrated and defensive, and she shouted, “No! We’re not online dating! It’s like we’re shopping, but for men, get it?” That’s when it occurred to me—Tinder was going to change the entire landscape of online dating. They’d cracked the code.
How Did They Do It?
At that point in its existence, Tinder was not a household name, but I saw the “Wow!” factor immediately. I knew I needed to perform some research into what they were all about. As I said before, a lot of other dating apps were coming out around that time, and everybody thought I needed to pay attention to them. As it turns out, none of them were worth much of anything, and they all disappeared within twelve months or so. Tinder, however, I was justifiably concerned about.
No More Secret Taboo
Tinder figured out how to remove the secretive, taboo nature of online dating, which was prevalent in those days. Singles still weren’t eager to share with friends that they were using online dating sites. This charming group of young women didn’t think of Tinder as a representative of the online dating world. They thought of it as a game or a shopping experience, instead of any of the negative connotations associated with online dating. It was fun and acceptable to talk about Tinder with your friends, or to ”play Tinder” as a group. After that night, I started to look around a little more when I went out, and I saw more and more groups of women “playing Tinder.” That’s when I realized we had a big problem.
I quickly called for an all-hands-on-deck meeting at SNAP Interactive, telling everybody, “There’s a new dating app out there called Tinder, and it’s going to be the biggest dating app in the world. We have to figure out what’s going on.” That led me to another realization. We eventually needed to build an app that had similar functionality, just to understand the power of some of those features. I was eager to integrate them into AYI, but then I recalled the lessons from our social discovery pivot. It would be just about impossible to effectively rebrand an existing product in the eyes of the user—we had to build an entirely new product. But first, we needed to understand why Tinder was gaining so much growth through simple word-of-mouth.
Compounding Tinder’s effectiveness was that their user interface was awesome too. We had a good one, where a couple clicks would get a Facebook profile loaded and a new user signed on. On Tinder, however, a user was one click away from instantly seeing nearby attractive people. Do you like this person, yes or no? Done. That doesn’t quite align with the principle of being ten times better, but it might have been five times better—still an improvement. It’s not enough of an improvement on its own to make a big difference, but another aspect of Tinder’s game-changing application definitely was.
Girls, Girls, Girls
In the online dating world—scratch that—in the dating world, guys are completely irrelevant. They just show up wherever the girls are. However, women want a good experience. Unfortunately, online dating—scratch that—dating can be a brutal experience for women. It’s especially harsh in the online world. Women are constantly bombarded with unwanted messages from men they want nothing to do with. An app that could screen out non-matches for women was a Purple Cow. Tinder completely nailed this unmet need for women in online dating, because its functionality made it impossible to message another user unless you were a match.
This was a disruptive concept to the online dating world, because previously, sites were focused on simply getting the user as many messages as possible. Recall how our ninety-day sprint to increase revenue focused on getting more replies, which unwittingly resulted in an annoying level of unwanted pop-up messages for women.
For attractive women, messages from undesirable men were exceptionally problematic. It didn’t matter if these women put in their searches that they were only interested in guys named Troy or Lance who were over six feet tall with the body of a professional athlete and a seven-figure income to match. They would still get inundated with messages from unemployed accountants named Irv or Larry who were five-foot-two inches tall with a receding hairline and living in their grandmother’s basement. By not allowing unwanted messages, Tinder’s functionality was at least ten times better—they had really cracked the code. Anytime a woman received a message, she knew it would be from somebody she’d liked, which was a magical experience.
The Sooner, the Better
AYI did a great job of improving the user experience for people who were accustomed to online dating through the more popular traditional sites, where it would take days or weeks to get a date. We could do it much quicker than that. However, Tinder had functionality to do that better too. Remember how Facebook used supporting technology like digital cameras to add to their experience? Tinder used GPS functionality.
While users “play Tinder,” the app leverages the GPS functionality on their phones to show them profiles of potential matches closest to them. If a user likes someone who likes them back, they could meet in mere minutes if they were close enough. This was another instance of Tinder doing something ten times better.
I ran an experiment with several of my friends—guys and gals—to verify that Tinder was really ten times better than other online dating sites at meeting someone quickly. After all, the initial objective of users on a dating site is to get a date. I asked them to try a variety of online dating apps to see how quickly they could get a date on each one. With zero exceptions, all of them came back with the same result: Tinder allowed them to meet someone more quickly than any other site. Most of them met someone on Tinder within two hours, as opposed to two or more days on the other websites. In other words, Tinder’s ability to deliver on the core user objective, a date, was literally ten times faster than other dating sites. Game, set, match to Tinder.
#ExplosiveGrowthTip 67: Can you quantify how much superior your core product offering is than the competition? Is it 10X better?
An Improved Call-to-Action (CTA)
Evidently, the founders of Tinder understood all about the previous taboo nature of online dating. They knew they had to remove the stigma that sat like a glowing red scarlet letter on every online dating website’s CTA button, which usually read something like, “Browse More Singles!” The reason the first group of women I ran into at the bar said they were “playing Tinder” was most likely because Tinder’s CTA button asked, “Keep Playing?” It was a brilliantly shrewd use of language that made users think they were playing a game, rather than online dating.
I could see that all these brilliant features combined with their growth rocket was going to take Tinder to a level of success that AYI was never going to achieve. It was very frustrating for me, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. As I’ve said before, you only get one chance to make a first impression.
Best-Seller Explosive Growth is a compelling and inspiring narrative gives entrepreneurs a rare behind-the-scenes look inside a fast-growing startup that created the first online dating app that grew to 100 million users.
Explosive Growth combines lively and often hilarious storytelling, revealing genius growth tactics, numerous case-studies, and its step-by-step playbook to help your startup grow massively. It was recently ranked as one of the ‘Best Startup Books Of All-Time’ and ‘Best Growth-Hacking Business Book and is available on Amazon.