“Hinge is a dating app for people who want to get off dating apps,” Justin McLeod CEO and founder of Hinge in the OMR Podcast

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Things have never been better for Hinge. The app is used by over 23 million, 1 million of which are premium users, revenue is up from USD 8m in 2018 to USD 284m, a 44% year-on-year increase and international expansion plans are in full effect, with a recent launch in our home market of Germany and upcoming launched planned for Italy, Spain and beyond. But the road to success has been anything but linear. In this episode of the OMR Podcast, McLeod dialed in from company HQ in NYC to discuss the path Hinge has taken to success, the company business model, why he completely tore down Hinge back in 2015 and why the company has no need for standard performance metrics like retention and engagement.

Justin McLeod founded Hinge back in 2011, while he was still a student. “I was basically just trying to find a girlfriend,” McLeod recalls. “But I didn’t want to join any of the dating websites that were out there at the time,” a sentiment he saw widespread amongst his peers. “No one my age was using online dating. So, I wanted to find a way to make online dating accessible for the next generation.” That way was long and fraught with dead ends (like the precursor to Hinge, then called Secret Agent Cupid and was a Facebook canvas app), difficulties in finding investors and then after the app had reached critical mass and was established, it received some-less-than-flattering press that caused Justin to do some soul searching.  

The teardown

It was right before the Thanksgiving break in 2015 that Justin decided that enough was enough and started a complete teardown—a pretty bold move all things considered. “At that point, we had raised something like USD 20m in funding and we had good momentum, but from a mission perspective, it just wasn’t something that I had set out to build.” That mission is not to help you find a quick hook-up, but to help you find “the one” for you. “We wanted to provide something that had a bit more depth.” 

Step one: make the sign-up process more intensive and personal. “We wanted users to provide very detailed personal information to give a good sense of their personalilty.” These details include hot-button issues, such as political affiliation, whether or not they wanted to have children, etc., thus providing other users with plenty of information to weed out matches and, in theory, only lead to matches and dates with people you have chemistry with. Step two: limit the number of likes per day—and require likes to be trait-specific. “This forces users to be more thoughtful and to move away from volume likes.” 

Eschewing standard performance metrics

Thus, Hinge focuses on users who are interested in “going on their last first date.” As such, typical app metrics, such as engagement and retention—as the app is designed to be deleted—are not prioritized at Hinge. Instead, dates are, which brings us to step 3: measure dates. “To this day, we are the only dating app that asks users if they went on a date with someone—and how that date was.”  

Check out the full episode of the OMR Podcast International with Hinge founder and CEO Justin McLeod for more on Hinge’s approach to online dating, its business model, outgrowing the long-shadow cast by Tinder and marketing strategies employed by Hinge to achieve growth.

Scott Peterson
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