India’s most glamorous export Priyanka Chopra is on everyone’s mind these days — what with her much-publicised wedding with American singer Nick Jonas, and the after-shocks in the media, including a controversial column that slandered her for bewitching young Nick into marriage when all he wanted was a fling.
The big Bollywood-style wedding and its paraphernalia aside, PC is also in the news for her latest business investment, dating app Bumble, which she is promoting in India along with her newlywed husband. Bumble is part of a series of investments she’s made in the tech space of late.
A dating and social media app founded in 2014 by Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble today has nearly 30 million users and is called the ‘feminist Tinder’ because it allows only women to make the first move.
“For all the advances women had been making in workplaces and corridors of power, the gender dynamics of dating and romance still seemed so outdated. I thought, what if I could flip that on its head? What if women made the first move, and sent the first message?” 28-year-old Whitney explains of the inspiration behind her app, which has enabled “500 million first moves”, as she puts it.
In just four years, the app has taken off in a major way in the US and already has a growing brood of followers in India, even before a superstar like Priyanka stepped in to launch it officially. Its features that protect and empower women are obviously a draw for female daters, and where the women are, the men want to be.
Women have the upper hand in Bumble when it comes to asking men out. Men can swipe right, signalling their interest, but it’s women who must make the first move.
The app is rooted in qualities such as kindness and respect. “I’m more dedicated than ever to helping advance gender equality — and putting an end to the misogyny and toxic masculinity that still plague society. We don’t tolerate hate speech or bad behavior of any sort,” says Whitney. The app claims to have blocked thousands of users who were reported for bad behaviour.
Bumble also boasts of a ‘catfish-catching technology’ that helps it identify fake users and fish them out. If a user cannot match their selfie with their profile photo, they are booted out. Bumble reportedly employs over 4,000 people who match such images within a few minutes of uploading.
And the app is not just confined to the dating space. You can also seek friendship and build a network to further your career through Bumble. Led by women and mostly staffed by women, the app is designed to empower and protect its female users, while giving them various opportunities for growth.
With useful features such as this, Bumble’s quick growth invited the attention of Tinder, whose parent company Match Group made efforts to buy the app out. Whitney turned the offer down. Tinder later announced they would also introduce more women-friendly features.
Whitney was, in fact, was only 22 when she co-founded Tinder but was forced to quit and had sued Tinder for sexual harassment. Tinder settled her lawsuit for over $1 million. Tinder has now filed a suit against Bumble for allegedly stealing trade secrets such as the ‘swipe left and right’ feature. Bumble has, however, defended itself saying, “Instead of… trying to buy us, copy us and sue us, why don’t you spend that time taking care of bad behaviour on your platforms?”
Bad behaviour is one of the biggest pitfalls staring Bumble in the eye as it looks towards India. Though the app has even more protective features for women in India, such as allowing them to use only their initials at the time of setting up a profile, users are wary of divulging too much information.
“So far, not too many people know about Bumble in India, so the profiles are much better than the ones you find on Tinder,” says a 22-year-old female student who is a typical dating app user coming from an urban, English-speaking, educated background.
But given the fact that Bumble is also being offered in Hindi to target the ‘mass market’ in India, this Delhi student isn’t optimistic about the kind of dates she will find moving forward. She regretfully dismisses Bumble India as “meant for another audience”. But another young female user, an architect based in Gurgaon, is willing to give Bumble’s professional networking feature a try.
Given Bumble’s responsible tech image and Priyanka Chopra’s feminist marketing, the app does seem likely to attract many thousands of Indian women to take a shot at it. But whether or not Indian men live up their expectations remains to be seen.