How Hinge disrupted online dating with data

In , Vanity Fair ran an article castigating hookup culture. The author prophesized a “dating apocalypse” and decried the multifarious dating apps of the day. The article pointed a finger at, among others, Hinge for “ swiping romance from the screen. ”

Back then, Hinge’s app–just like Tinder and Bumble–allowed profile swiping, a feature inspired by slot machine gaming psychology and widely blamed for trivializing modern romance. But unlike the other giants of the day, Hinge was listening.

In a 2016 interview , Hinge founder and CEO Justin McLeod told Vanity Fair that its dating apocalypse article had spurred a rigorous interrogation of the value of swiping to Hinge’s users and its impact on their lives.

Ultimately, the Hinge team turned to the data to make their decision. “Only one in 500 Hinge swipes led to a phone number exchange, and 81 percent of Hinge users reported that they had never found a long-term relationship through a swiping app,” says Tim MacGougan, Chief Product Officer at Hinge.

Tim joined the product team right as Hinge’s leadership decided they needed to detoxify dating app culture and retool Hinge so it led to more relationships. By harnessing empathy and data, Tim and the team helped transform how relationships are formed online. In the process, Hinge helped more people connect with others, and ultimately accomplish the good type of churn they like to see–which is finding love on the app.

Communing with customers

While Hinge was filing for incorporation in 2011, Tim was working as a customer support agent at Bonobos, the retail startup that’s now become the largest apparel brand ever built on the web in the US. This role helped him realize a few important things about his burgeoning career in product, before he even realized he’d officially step into that career trajectory.

“At Bonobos, I fell in love with the scrappy startup-culture. It was eye-opening to see how teams would collaborate together and find an innovative solution for the good of the customer,” remembers Tim. Looking back, Tim realized he had a knack for quickly understanding a user’s experience and being able to anticipate what they’d care about along with their frustrations.

How Hinge disrupted online dating with data

“It wasn’t that I just liked the process of untangling each problem; I also enjoyed providing the best solution based on what a person explicitly asked for, but also what I intuitively sensed would give them an overall better experience.”

Tim’s early work in customer service deeply informed his career in product. His keen focus on empathy wasn’t just a soft skill. Interpreting different signals, both qualitative feedback and quantitative data points, was the nuanced skill that helped him navigate his career as he transitioned from working at Bonobos to Hinge.

“Having a customer service background has advantages and disadvantages,” says Tim. “The upside is that you’re very in tune with real people and customers, not just statistics or theory. It makes you care a lot about individual feedback and that’s powerful.

“But, it also means you have to work twice as hard to connect those narratives with data. When interpreting streams of both qualitative and quantitative feedback on how users are enjoying your product, there’s definitely a balance to strike so you have a better gs can relate to, across industries, it’s not often that people write into a company just to share their glowing feedback. Users typically reach out to the company, often through Support, when they need to fix an issue.

But then there are moments in the real world where people who use the product rave about how they met their partner on the dating app. For Hinge, in particular, those moments of delight that people have on a day-to-day basis might not be expressed directly to the Product team, rather shared amongst friends, on social media, or in a more private setting. Even today, where ‘dating’ is synonymous with dating apps, matters of the heart are vulnerable ones.