Since Bumble’s blockbuster IPO at the height of the pandemic, investors’ ardor with the dating service has cooled. At least, Bumble’s shares trade at roughly $11 per share right now, a far cry from the $76 where they ended on its first day as a public company in February 2021.

Of course, investors are fickle, which is a challenge for nearly every publicly traded company. The bigger concern for Bumble is user fatigue. People aren’t downloading dating apps as enthusiastically as they once were, which means less subscription revenue. Younger people in particular are gravitating to other platforms to find love, including TikTok, Snapchat and even Discord.

Now, it’s Lidiane Jones’s job to reverse these trends. It’s a tall order, and one faced by numerous CEOs who’ve been tasked with rescuing outfits from their post-pandemic doldrums: in publishing, in retail and in the automotive industry, among other sectors. The outcome is far from certain, of course. But Jones, who was recruited to Bumble in January from Slack — where she was also hired as a turnaround CEO and left after just 10 months  — has a game plan, as she explained recently over the din of lunchtime diners at a San Francisco restaurant.

Part of it ties to AI, which Bumble’s rivals are also leaning into more heavily. Part of it ties to “margin expansion.” A big part of it, Jones told me, is simply restoring joy to an experience that is no longer fun for nearly half of the participants. Much of that conversation follows, edited for length and clarity.

Like a lot of CEOs right now, you walked into a situation where, almost immediately, you had to lay off people — in Bumble’s case, 30% of a staff of 1,200. That’s a lot to figure out fast. How did you manage it?

I had a bit of onboarding that was going on before I even started. [Bumble founder] Whitney [Wolfe Herd] was incredibly engaged in my onboarding, which gave me an accelerated path to learning the organization. She’s been really supportive. I think that made a huge difference. I’m also a strong believer that if you’re going to do a transformation, be really thorough and do it thoughtfully, so that you’re not putting the company through a lengthy multi-phase process.

You are relaunching the Bumble app in the second quarter of this year. I read that you are reconsidering having women make the first move, which seems like a big shift.

Our brand awareness is so high, it’s amazing. And if you ask anybody about Bumble, they’ll say it’s about women, and the core of that is not changing. We are a company that really cares about women’s empowerment.

But as we approach our 10-year anniversary, it’s a great moment to think about how we best serve our mission. For us, it’s really about how we express women’s empowerment today and for the next 10 years. What we really want is to go from women making the first move to women deciding [who should make the first move]. We’re giving women more control and flexibility based on what works for them.

Do you think that by inviting women to make the first move, Bumble had an impact on who uses the platform? Friends have told me the men they’ve met on the platform tend to be more passive, sometimes to their consternation.

Historically, what we’ve seen is that a lot of men will come to Bumble who believe in women being empowered. I’ve heard that feedback about passive [men] a few times but not as much. Certainly, our ultimate goal is to ensure that our customers have a great experience.

Other areas of focus for you are security and AI. What can Bumble’s users expect to see with this relaunch?

If you think about the advancement of this incredible technology in the context of dating, it’s only as good and as safe as a company’s data and safety practices. Our customers’ privacy and their trust has always been incredibly strong; we’ve always had a high bar for healthy connections.

Over the last 10 years, we’ve developed a lot of AI and a lot of technology that really safeguards behavior in the app, and we can tune the models to reflect our values and safety guidelines. But we want to take it even further. A huge part of Bumble’s DNA is advocating for policies that will ensure women feel safe, and we want to be at the forefront of not only driving great technology development but also policy advocacy for safety online.

Bumble has long done physical verification of its users to ensure user profiles aren’t bots or scams, but it does not conduct criminal background checks. Is that changing with the help of AI? 

Background checks are one that we are exploring. It’s one that we certainly will partner with different [players]. But it is a priority for me. I think it’s an important next step for us.

What else should people know about the coming update?

It really is the beginning of a new pace of innovation for Bumble. It’s the start of a new set of experiences. We are updating the profile experience, we’re updating the visual language of the app, we want to feel more connected to our users and for the tone of voice to be fun and joyful. We’re looking at AI to help augment some of the inflection points in people’s lives that are particularly anxiety provoking, like the profile creation, which can be really challenging. We really want dating be fun again — that’s really the key of it.

User fatigue is a lot to combat. Is there a new user acquisition strategy to accompany the new app?

Bumble has always been great at community-based marketing: hosting events and finding ambassadors who really want to represent the brand. That got a little disrupted during the pandemic; we’re using this moment ahead of our launch to reignite a lot of community-based events because there are a lot of people who are excited to reconnect in person, and that’s the starting point.

Bumble has always been about more than dating, too. Dating is a huge part of it, but we’ve always believed that there is a need for connection and friendships, so we’re expanding our investments in our friendship capability, because we believe that a lot of people want to just start by hanging out with other people. From a friendship perspective, when it comes to local and safe in-person events, there are tons of opportunities there and unmet need.

Bumble for Friends launched last year. Would we ever see you spin this out as a standalone entity?

We’re still gathering customer feedback. I’ve heard passionate cases for both. We’re still exploring that one.

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