By 2010 it seemed that online dating was going to be a niche market without real mass appeal. In public perception, films, and media, it was represented as a tool for the desperate or socially awkward. Then, in 2012, Tinder brought digital dating into the mainstream. Within just a few years, founder Sean Rad turned his company into a household name and a global enterprise.
Today, Rad has a net worth of around $3.1 billion, owing primarily to his incredible success with Tinder. While the success of his company might look similar to great tech startup successes, it did something especially remarkable. Rather than the more classical scenario of a great innovator disrupting an existing industry, Rad’s story shows us how a business can innovate in ways that open up entirely new markets, effectively creating an entirely new niche.
Sean Rad started his first tech company, Orgoo, early in college. An unsuccessful early attempt at a unified communications platform, it provided Rad with his first taste of entrepreneurship, and prepared him for his next venture, Adly. This company focused on celebrity social media branding, and enjoyed considerable success. After running the company for 5 years, Rad left the company and sold his stake to a private equity firm in 2011.
Tinder’s big splash
After leaving Adly, Rad took a job at Hatch Labs, where he was put in charge of the app Cardify. In his free time, though, he, Justin Mateen, and Joe Munoz began working on the idea that would eventually become Tinder. Seeing their chance, they submitted a prototype to a Hatch-sponsored hackathon, and won.
After that, things began to happen quickly. Hatch Labs switched Rad’s team to developing the app further, and had a more polished app ready for launch just 3 weeks later, on 12 September 2012. Within 2 months, Tinder had already made more than 1 million matches. Growing exponentially, that count reached 1 billion early in 2013. Today, Tinder is estimated to have over 50 million users worldwide, and has fundamentally impacted how young people meet and get to know each other.
What makes Tinder different
Tinder didn’t disrupt the online dating industry so much as it expanded it, pushing into new markets. In fact, Tinder isn’t in direct competition with traditional dating websites. Traditional dating websites primarily catered to people who didn’t have access to potential mates in the traditional dating world because they were too busy, geographically isolated, too socially awkward, disabled, or otherwise held back. Tinder, however, managed to get the attention of the regular dating public.
According to Rad, the thing that made Tinder relevant to everyone was its double blind swiping feature. By allowing users to “like” others without their knowledge, Tinder removed the risk of rejection that comes with approaching people in person. Since users can only reach out to each other after they’ve matched, both people already know that the other is interested in them.
What we can learn
Rad’s career and his personal success with Tinder are inspiring in their own right, but a closer examination also provides a few key points of insight for entrepreneurs and business owners.
Business success isn’t always about competition
Competition and disruption is a great approach for most businesses, and entrepreneurs often pigeonhole themselves into pursuing it because the existence of competition proves the existence of the market. If no one wanted to buy their good and services, there wouldn’t be any pre-existing industry to compete against.
Rad, however, looked past this to consider the needs of consumers. Instead of attempting to beat traditional online dating at something that it already did fairly well, Rad looked at what he could do for potential users who weren’t being catered to at all. As a result, when Tinder launched, it did so without any competitors, effectively guaranteeing its astronomical success.
Great entrepreneurs focus on creating businesses
Rad left Tinder in 2017 to pursue other projects. To date, he has invested in 35 different tech companies, and is looking to nurture the next great wave of innovation and entrepreneurship. While Rad’s departure from Tinder has been controversial, the act itself provides valuable insight to entrepreneurs everywhere. As the creators of new and innovative businesses, entrepreneurs are in their element when they’re creating something new. Because of this, the greatest entrepreneurs are frequently those who leave completed projects behind to develop new ones.
Rad has fundamentally changed how an entire generation builds romantic connections, whether it’s through Tinder or one of the competitors that has sprung up in its wake. Considering this, it’s important to realise that at just 32 years old, Sean Rad is a young multi-billionaire who is still at the beginning of a promising entrepreneurial career. In decades to come, Rad is sure to establish himself further as a force for entrepreneurial progress in the tech industry, whether it’s through his investments, or his entrepreneurial talents.