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How Success Happened for Justin McLeod, Founder and CEO of Hinge

Justin McLeod built an app that he eventually wants you to delete.

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I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Justin McLeod, Founder and CEO of Hinge, for an episode of my podcast How Success Happens. I was initially drawn to Hinge because of their unorthodox tagline — "Designed to be Deleted." What kind of app would go out of its way to refer to its own deletion? A very popular one, it turns out. Hinge is the fastest-growing dating app in the US, UK, Canada and Australia, and even during the pandemic they saw their revenues triple. 

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Hinge is built on the premise that for people to form a lasting relationship, they need to get off their phones and get out on dates. They also need to be vulnerable and take a risk. McLeod, as it turns out, is no stranger to this. In addition to being a talented entrepreneur, he’s also a huge romantic, with a made-for-TV personal history. After learning that his college sweetheart, Kate — the “one that got away” — was about to marry another man in Switzerland, McLeod flew to Zurich to meet her. After talking in a coffee shop for seven straight hours, she ended up calling off the wedding and flying home to New York with McLeod. They’re now married with a son.

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It was clear that McLeod called on the same kind of courage when Hinge did a complete reboot in 2016, and then relaunched as the product so many millions know and love today. Before then, Hinge had been just another swiping app, with a friends-of-friends twist. You were only matched with someone that you had a mutual friend in common with on Facebook. But it was not as successful as the giant in the industry, Tinder. McLeod and team learned that a lot of single people were actually exhausted by the endless swiping and transactional nature of many dating apps, and were looking for something more serious. So, they redesigned Hinge with one thing in mind: getting their users out on great dates, and into relationships.

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The new Hinge did away with swiping, and emphasized Prompts — short questions that allow singles to showcase who they are. McLeod argues that liking a Prompt leads to a more substantive conversation, and deeper connection, than simply swiping on a picture. And while the “like” rate went down on the new version of Hinge, from 56% to just 10% across the app, the number of actual dates per user skyrocketed. In fact, to this day, Hinge members spend more time on dates than they do on the app. And since relaunching, Hinge has facilitated more than 30 million dates for members around the world, and they set up a new one every 2 seconds. 

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The bigger question that my conversation with McLeod introduced was: How cognizant are we of the actual role of technology in our life? Many of us, McLeod would argue, are more hooked on our phones than we think. As a former addict who got sober on the day of his college graduation, McLeod has a unique perspective on tech addiction and the many tools that social media companies use to maximize screen time. “Our current relationship with technology can often compromise the utility that made technology attractive in the first place,” he told me. So, what are we to do? Well, we can start by designing and using these powerful tools much more thoughtfully. Hinge’s proposition is part of that, and pretty simple: Download the app, find your partner, then delete the app forever.

Robert Tuchman

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Robert Tuchman is the host of Entrepreneur's How Success Happens podcast and a founder of Amaze Media Labs an agency that creates podcasts for companies and brands. He built and sold two Inc. 500 companies: TSE Sports and Entertainment and Goviva acquired by Creative Artists Agency (CAA).