Hinge’s CEO wants you out of his app and back into the real world

Hinge’s CEO wants you out of his app and back into the real world

Even during a pandemic-fueled period of lockdown and social distancing, dating apps have continued to boom. In part because they’re the only game in town; people can’t meet in bars or mingle at work functions, so they’re turning to apps as a way to find love. In fact, technology sits at the center of dating and relationships like never before. What does that mean a dating app should be?

That’s what Justin McLeod, the CEO of Hinge, spends his time thinking about. Hinge has been on a growth tear the last couple of years – McLeod said it’s the fastest-growing dating app on the market – as it tries to help users be more thoughtful, intentional and effective in finding someone to be with. Hinge’s thing has always been that it is “the dating app designed to be deleted,” which feels increasingly unusual in a market crowded with apps trying to steal your every waking second. (A disclaimer: Bennett Richardson, Protocol’s president, was in a former life a co-founder of Hinge.)

I think the pandemic really accelerated a lot of dating trends that we were headed for anyway

For the first episode in Source Code’s monthlong series about how tech is affecting love, dating, sex, relationships and everything else, McLeod joined the show to talk about the role of dating apps, what “dating” even means in an increasingly digital world and what it means to build an app you hope people don’t really use.

You can hear our full conversation on the latest episode of the Source Code podcast, or by clicking on the player above. Below are excerpts from our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

And so I think dating apps were a tool for a lot of people who wanted to hit the reset button

Obviously everything about the way people date and socialize has changed the last couple of years. So what does that mean for you? You’re the CEO of Hinge, what’s top of mind for you right now?

It’s led to much more usage of dating apps, because people who were still holding out I think finally went and adopted dating apps.

It increased the use of rich media in dating. People who felt really weird about doing anything more than looking at someone’s photos and texting with them – all of a sudden, we’re doing video calls and FaceTimes before actually meeting up in person. And so that, I think, has changed the dating landscape a lot in terms of what people expect. And then the other thing that we noticed, at least at Hinge, is that people just got a lot more intentional and thoughtful about their dating lives. I think we all just got more intentional and thoughtful about our lives and what we were doing: Is this the right career for me? Is this the right relationship for me?

Hinge has grown really phenomenally during the pandemic. We have a brand as “the dating app designed to be deleted,” for people who are really looking for something more intentional. And in terms of our employees, we were 50 people roughly when the pandemic began, we’re 180 right now. Headed towards over 250 by the end of the year. So it’s been a really fast period of growth for us.

The “app designed to be deleted” thing is, to me, permanently the most fascinating thing about Hinge. Because it feels like we’re hookup Toledo in this moment now where I think people are finally realizing, “Oh, my God, 17 hours a day staring at my phone, that’s not great.” But on the flip side, you have TikTok, which is astonishingly good at keeping me looking at it for 17 hours a day.

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