This week Forbes published an exclusive investigation on Andrey Andreev and the work culture at dating company Badoo. If you are based in the US, you might not be as familiar with Badoo as you are with Tinder, but Badoo is a very popular dating app in Europe and Latin-America. The investigation uncovered a culture of racism and sexism that former Badoo employees claim was coming from the top down despite founder Andrey Andreev denying any knowledge of wild parties and general inappropriate behavior, to put it mildly. Of course, this is not the first time we hear about wild behavior at a tech company, so in a way, this is not really news.
Badoo employes’ inappropriate behavior did not stop at parties offering drugs and sex. Jessica Powell, Badoo’s CMO between 2011 and 2012, told Forbes that misogynistic and racist behavior was routine. She was asked, “to act pretty for investors and make job candidates ‘horny’ to work for Badoo.” She also added that “female employees were routinely discussed in terms of their appearance.” Sadly, this is also not the first time we heard of misogynistic mindsets that shape apps and services in the dating world, like in the case of dating agent ViDA and the code of conduct that its founder promoted at every level of the organization.
So, if we heard it all before, why am I covering this? The article initially sparked my interest promptly moved me to a sense of aversion when I read that Andrey Andreev is behind Bumble the dating up that focuses on putting women first in dating. I had always linked Bumble to Whitney Wolfe Herd, the former Tinder co-founder who left the company after a sexual harassment case that was settled privately but that still ended in her losing her co-founder title.
It turns out Andreev was actually the one who approached Wolfe Herd with the idea for Bumble. He also put up the capital for the company, and he is still the majority owner. According to the article, he is far from being a silent partner, maintaining control of most operations in London despite Bumble being headquartered in Austin and keeping Wolfe Herd just a phone call away.
Hypocrisy or Need
Wolfe Herd might not have known the true colors of Andreev when she was first approached. What is puzzling to me is that Wolfe Herd told Forbes that she has never witnessed toxic behavior in the Badoo headquarters, and she stands firmly behind Andreev going as far as adding: “He’s become my family and one of my best friends.” Of course, everybody is innocent till proven guilty, but given the nature of Bumble, I would think one might want, at a minimum, to assure some due diligence.
Of course, Wolfe Herd owes a lot to Andreev and cutting ties now would have a significant business impact, but doesn’t Wolfe Herd owe something to Bumble supporters too? How can you advocate being about women empowerment when it comes to dating but decide to turn a blind eye to business practices that are, at the very least, condoned by your majority investor? Serena Williams, who was featured int Bumble’s Super Bowl commercial, might rethink her backing of what she thought was a female founder business who put women first. And Bumble users might decide they do not want to contribute to the financial gain of hypocritical leaders. I, for one, feel cheated after having praised Bumble efforts in the past.
Women Businesses and Women Investors
If we give Wolfe Herd the benefit of the doubt, we might also think that a female owner might be less likely to come with the same baggage, so why not look for an alternative? Maybe because it is easier said than done. Looking at headline statistics, for example, women own only 5 percent of tech startups, women hold just 11 percent of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies, only 7 percent of partners at top 100 venture capital firms are women. Furthermore, like women across the board suffer from a pay gap, female founders receive less funding than their male counterparts. According to the Financial Times, in 2016, $58.2 billion worth of VC money went to companies with all-male founders. But last year, women got just $1.46 billion in VC money.
Of course, a female founder or CEO does not guarantee that the company will suffer no misogyny, racism, or other deplorable behavior, look at Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes. But I would hope that if you are building a business centered on women in whichever aspect of their lives having women as a crucial part of the organization would, at a minimum, offer a higher degree of first-hand understanding.
Empowering Women it not the same as Monetizing from Women
The reality is, however, that these are businesses, not charities. As much as I would like to think that Bumble was really started because someone thought it was time women made the first move in dating the reality is much more mercenary than that. Andreev saw an opportunity to target those women who feel pressured or intimidated by men making the first move. Or maybe the opportunity was for men not wanting to feel the pressure of the first move. Either way, Bumble was more about an untapped market opportunity than about women empowerment.
Empowering women to make the first move in a dating app is important, but what would truly be revolutionary would be creating a business environment where women are paid the same as their male colleagues, where they feel free to speak up because they will be heard, supported, and lifted. This is what Wolfe Herd should aspire to do after this week’s revelations remembering that as Madeleine Albright once said: there is a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women