Bumble makes Wall Street debut in a milestone moment for female founders

Business

Whitney Wolfe Herd isn’t based in Silicon Valley. She doesn’t have a STEM degree and she didn’t raise billions in venture capital. But Wolfe Herd’s company, Bumble, is set to have one of the most high-profile technology IPOs of the year so far, in what will be a milestone moment not just for her business but for female founders generally.

Bumble, best known for its female-centered dating app, began trading on the Nasdaq Thursday under the stock ticker “BMBL.”

Bumble priced its stock at $43 Wednesday evening, up from its original proposed price range of between $28 and $30, signaling strong investor demand in what’s proven to be a lofty market for newly public tech companies. Shares surged immediately upon trading, opening at $76, a 77% increase.

The company was founded in 2014 by Wolfe Herd, who started her career at another dating service, Tinder. She initially set out to create a women-focused social network before landing on the concept of a female-focused dating app. Bumble requires women searching for heterosexual matches to make the first move, the idea being that this feature would empower women to make their own choices.

The idea took off. Bumble, headquartered in Austin, has become a household name even as it competes in a crowded market for dating apps. It also now offers services beyond dating, including professional networking (Bumble Bizz) and finding new friends (Bumble BFF).

Investment firm Blackstone bought a majority stake in Bumble’s parent company from Russian billionaire Andrey Andreev in 2019. The parent company also includes Badoo, a popular digital dating service outside the United States, founded by Andreev in 2006. The Blackstone deal valued Bumble, the parent company, at $3 billion.

Bumble’s public offering comes on the heels of multiple successful tech IPOs. Airbnb and DoorDash each soared in their recent public market debuts and continue to trade well above their IPO prices.

Unlike many other technology companies, the majority of Bumble’s board is made up of women. At 31, Wolfe Herd will become one of the youngest female CEOs in tech to take her company public, following in the footsteps of Katrina Lake, the founder and CEO of Stitch Fix, who was 34 when she saw her company through its IPO.

“You don’t have to be one type of person to find success in the business world or in the tech industry,” Wolfe Herd said “I’ve truly just always tried to build what I wish existed, what I wish could help make lives better for the women I care about and the people I love, and I think it doesn’t always have to follow the same path.”

Sarah Kunst, managing director of early-stage venture capital firm Cleo Capital and a former senior adviser to Bumble, said that Wolfe Herd’s IPO sets a meaningful example to other founders who don’t fit the mold of what a “tech entrepreneur” typically looks like.

Wolfe Herd’s success story bucks the notion that “you can only start a company credibly if you have multiple prestigious degrees [and] all the right experience,” Kunst said. “She played this game on her own terms.”

Wolfe Herd has worked to set her company apart — from publicly slamming and blocking a misogynist user to banning gun photos and flagging lewd images sent through direct messages on its app. Late last month, the company updated its terms and conditions to ban body shaming. She’s also used her profile to throw her weight around issues pertaining to women and the digital world. In 2019, she and Bumble successfully advocated for a new Texas law outlawing digital sexual harassment.

The fact that Wolfe Herd got Bumble to this point is significant in the larger push to diversify the venture capital and startup ecosystem so that men — and specifically white men — are not the only big beneficiaries and gatekeepers.

“It’s not just me, I built this with a wide team … but I think everyone can be here if they stay true to what they’re trying to achieve,” Wolfe Herd said. “It is time there are more women in positions of leaderships, on boards, receiving capital and funding.”

Pam Kostka, CEO of diversity-in-tech nonprofit All Raise, told CNN Business that “Whitney and the Bumble IPO is a herald of that coming forward.”

“There is going to be a different kind of wealth creation from this particular IPO,” Kostka said, “and what will people do with that wealth?”