Match Group restructures exec team with focus on Asia

Tinder parent company Match Group, also the owner of a suite of dating apps including OkCupid, Meetic, Match, PlentyofFish and others, announced this morning plans to restructure its leadership team in order to better focus on the market opportunities for dating apps in Asia. Specifically, the company has appointed three new general managers in Asia to focus on areas like Japan, Taiwan, India, South Korea and other parts of Southeast Asia.

The company explains its decision has to do with the potential it sees for growth outside the U.S. and Europe, where there are more than 400 million singles, two-thirds who have not yet tried a dating app.

One of the new GMs is Tokyo-based Junya Ishibashi, who has been CEO of Match Group’s Eureka business in Japan. He now becomes the general manager of Match Group for Japan and Taiwan.

Taru Kapoor, who’s based in Delhi, will be GM of Match Group India. And Seoul-based Lyla Seo, who previously served as regional director of East Asia for Tinder, is now GM of Match Group for South Korea and Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Alexandre Lubot, who has served as both CEO of Meetic and CEO of Match Group EMEA & APAC since 2016, will remain CEO of Match Group EMEA & APAC. He will oversee the brands across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with the three general managers reporting directly to him.

Meetic, which is Match Group’s European dating app, will now be overseen by Matthieu Jacquier, who has worked as a CPO with the company for a year. Alongside Jacquier, Elisabeth Peyraube will now take on a new role of COO & CFO of Match Group EMEA & APAC.

While Match Group plans for growth across Asia, India has been of particular importance, especially as rival dating app Bumble entered the country last year, where it tapped actress, celebrity and Bumble investor Priyanka Chopra to advise its expansion.

Tinder has also tried to cater to its Indian users with the more recent launches of expanded gender options in its app, and the Bumble-like “My Move” feature, which allows the women to chat first.

However, Tinder’s strategy in India needs to differ from here in the U.S. where it’s now promoting the young, carefree and often less relationship-focused “single lifestyle.” In India (as well as in China and other markets), dating apps today still face challenges due to cultural norms. That’s led to an unbalanced ratio between men and women using the apps in India, a report from The Wall Street Journal found. And when women join, they’re overwhelmed by the attention they receive, as a result.

These issues will require Tinder to adapt everything from its marketing and advertising messages to even its product features in order to better cater to its Indian users. And it requires someone who fully understands the market to lead.

“Taru was originally hired to grow Tinder in India, but a little more than a year ago we increased her responsibilities to oversee the growth of other Match Group products in the country,” said Mandy Ginsberg, Match Group CEO, in a statement about the leadership restructuring. “During that time Tinder has become a big brand in India, but Taru also has meaningfully grown OkCupid’s user base in India over the last six months due to her keen understanding of the market and culture. Her success is a template for how we can approach these emerging Asian markets, particularly when we have stellar talent on the ground that understands the cultural, regulatory and market dynamics at play,” she added.

In Korea, Match Group credits Seo with executing Tinder’s first-ever TV ad campaign, which helped increase downloads in Korea 2.5x from 2016 to 2018.

The company also says Ishibashi more than doubled Pairs’ revenue in Japan since its acquisition in 2015.

Both executives will oversee other Match Group brands in their respective markets as part of their new responsibilities.

Match Group has been growing its footprint in the Asian market for some time. On its Q4 2018 earnings call in February, the company noted it already had teams in around half a dozen key countries throughout Asia focused on its marketing programs and developing the cultural insight it needed to succeed in those regions.

Ginsberg now says she would like to see a quarter of Match Group’s revenue coming from Asia within five years.

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Tinder launches a Spring Break mode

Tinder, the dating app company which, as of late, has been more fully embracing its status as the preferred hook-up app of choice for the younger generation, is today launching a new feature designed for its college-aged Tinder U users: Spring Break mode. The feature will allow students to swipe through potential matches before heading out to their Spring Break destination.

Here’s how it works.

From March 4 through March 31, 2019, Spring Break mode will go live in Tinder offering 20 popular destinations, including Cabo, Lake Havasu, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Puerto Vallarta, San Diego and others. To opt in, Tinder U users will need to look for the Spring Break card while swiping.

When they see it, they can then select their Spring Break destination to see who’s going. This destination will then be shown to potential matches through a badge on their profiles.

The idea, says Tinder, was inspired by trends the company was already seeing in product usage during this March time frame, when there would be huge upticks in some cities and locations. For example, South Padre Island experienced a 100x increase in activity in March 2018 compared to the previous month; Panama City saw a 10x increase; Destin Beach a 6x increase; and both Cabo San Lucas and Lake Havasu saw a 2x increase.

In addition to using its own data from past spring breaks, Tinder also consulted with its Tinder U users about which destinations to include.

“Spring Break, like Tinder, is a staple for many college students across the country,” said Jenny Campbell, Chief Marketing Officer at Tinder, in a statement. “We’ve historically seen huge upticks in Tinder usage during Spring Break in these destinations, and we are excited to give users the unique experience to connect before they pack their bags,” she said.

The new feature is one of several ways that Tinder is focusing on its more casual use case, as of late. Last November, the company told investors during its Q3 earnings that it would begin marketing the app as a way to enjoy the “single lifestyle” – that is, catering to a younger demographic’s demand for wanting to date around while in their 20’s – before they’re ready to settle down.

Tinder had also begun an online publication, Swipe Life, and is running various advertising campaigns, related to this initiative.

For years, Tinder had tried to downplay the app’s more casual nature, but it’s now able to change course due to its acquisition of dating app Hinge. Similarly aimed at younger users and millennials, Hinge is focused on creating relationships, not hook-ups. That frees up Tinder to refocus on what it does best: quick matches.

Tinder parent Match Group had hinted at its plans for Tinder U, during its earnings call earlier this month.

“In 2019, we are planning to solidify our leadership position among college students by expanding Tinder U to cover even more schools throughout the U.S. while also launching Tinder U in select international markets,” said Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg, speaking to investors. “We’re also expanding marketing through our on campus brand ambassadors and social media influencers. Expect to see more events and marketing tied to the school social calendar such as Rivalry Week and Spring Break,” she noted.

However, by shifting focus more towards a younger, less established customer base, Tinder could be challenged on the revenue side as college students are less likely to have disposable incomes for things like a paid Tinder Gold subscription. Instead, Tinder will need to generate revenue from these users through in-app purchases – like Boost and Super Like (the latter which is often used by mistake, turning it into a running joke on the dating app.)

Tinder said it’s considering rolling out a wider range of a la carte features in the future, and plans to focus on this aspect of its service, as well, in 2019.

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Tinder fires comms head and other employees who sued company

Tinder has fired its vice president of marketing and communications Rosette Pambakian, as well as other employees who sued Tinder’s parent company Match Group and its controlling shareholder IAC earlier this year.

The Verge first broke the news of the firings. A Match Group spokesperson confirmed that a number of Tinder employees have been terminated, though they did not identify them or say how many were involved.

The lawsuit was filed by Tinder co-founders Sean Rad, Justin Mateen and Jonathan Badeen and other executives. Some, like Rad, had already left Tinder, while others like Pambakian and Badeen, were still employed at the time.

In the suit, the group alleged that IAC and Match Group had manipulated financial data in order to lower the company’s valuation.They also alleged that Greg Blatt, who served as CEO of Match and Tinder, groped and sexually harassed Pambakian at the company’s 2016 holiday party. (Match and IAC said the allegations were “meritless.”)

In an email sent to Match Group’s current CEO Mandy Ginsberg, Pambakian said that after being placed on leave when the lawsuit was filed, she was subjected to “ongoing intimidation and retaliation clearly designed to pressure me into resigning.” Pambakian also said that after she declined to sign a non-disparagement agreement, “Match snuck an arbitration clause into its employees’ most recent compliance acknowledgements, causing me, Jonathan, James and Josh to have to withdraw from the lawsuit.”

“I never imagined that I’d be pushed out of my company for standing up for what is right,” she wrote. “But if that is the cost of being on the right side of history, I’ll pay it. As a woman CEO, I truly hope that you reconsider the safety of your remaining female workforce and allow Tinder and other Match owned companies to follow in the footsteps of Uber, Facebook and Google in eliminating forced arbitration for sexual misconduct claims. We deserve better.”

In response, Ginsberg denied that Pambakian was fired for complaining about sexual harassment: “You couldn’t have been, as you never reported Greg for sexual harassment.”

“As explained in the letter we sent you, you were terminated because it was not possible for you to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of your role as Tinder’s spokesperson for a number of reasons, including your public position against the company over a valuation process,” Ginsberg continued. “We also recently asked you to come to the office for a meeting with the HR department to discuss work-related activities and policies and were told that we can only contact you through your attorneys. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for you to do your work at Tinder if all communications related to your job have to go through your lawyers.”

I’ve included the full text of both emails (originally published by The Verge, but subsequently shared by sources with TechCrunch as well) below.

Email from Rosette Pambakian to Mandy Ginsberg

Dear Mandy,

Six years ago I wrote the very first press release for Tinder. Since then, I’ve poured my heart and soul into this company and helped grow it into a global phenomenon and top-grossing app. I was the youngest and longest-standing female executive at the company. I love Tinder. And I love my colleagues. But you have now fired me from a company I was so proud to build in blatant retaliation for joining a group of colleagues and Tinder’s original founding members in a lawsuit against Match and IAC, standing up for our rights, calling out the company’s CEO Greg for sexual misconduct, and confronting the company about covering up what happened to me.

While I truly hoped that decency and professionalism would prevail and that you would let me return to work, I knew that was probably unlikely when I was placed on leave the very day the lawsuit was filed and you continued to defend the actions of the executive that I spoke out against. Rather than acknowledge the truth and condemn his actions, you chalked it up it to “bad judgment.” To make matters worse, you told the world that a sham investigation (in which I was never even interviewed) determined the assault was some sort of “consensual cuddling”—as if there could by anything consensual about a CEO groping his subordinate in front of other employees after making sexually explicit comments throughout the evening of a company holiday party. No company that has faced allegations like this has gone to such lengths to protect one of its own – it’s truly despicable.

Since being placed on leave, I’ve been subjected to ongoing intimidation and retaliation clearly designed to pressure me into resigning—from immediately removing my name from my office and converting it into a conference room, to trying to coerce me into turning over my private and personal data on my phone. Though I can think of no other company that has actually fired the woman who made sexual assault allegations against an executive—the company’s actions here, including firing me just one day before my remaining options vest, are totally consistent with the way you have circled the wagons around him from day one.

Was the board aware that the company would publicly blame the victim?

When I refused to sign a non-disparagement agreement presented to me by HR, which would have prevented me from speaking publicly about my experience in exchange for compensation, Match snuck an arbitration clause into its employees’ most recent compliance acknowledgements, causing me, Jonathan, James and Josh to have to withdraw from the lawsuit. Know that my former Tinder colleagues and I still vigorously support that lawsuit — IAC and Match cheated us out of what we were promised and rightfully earned in exchange for building Tinder into Barry Diller’s most valuable business. As the lawsuit progresses the evidence will emerge and the world will see how IAC and Match plotted against their employees and rewarded misconduct.

I never imagined that I’d be pushed out of my company for standing up for what is right. But if that is the cost of being on the right side of history, I’ll pay it. As a woman CEO, I truly hope that you reconsider the safety of your remaining female workforce and allow Tinder and other Match owned companies to follow in the footsteps of Uber, Facebook and Google in eliminating forced arbitration for sexual misconduct claims. We deserve better.

Email from Mandy Ginsberg to Rosette Pambakian

Dear Rosette,

I’m glad you reached out to me directly and I would like to take this opportunity to clarify a few points, because there seems to be a very real disconnect here that I truly want to fix.

You were not terminated because you reported Greg for sexual harassment. You couldn’t have been, as you never reported Greg for sexual harassment. When Sean Rad brought the subject up nearly five months later, right after the valuation process commenced, it was immediately and thoroughly investigated by the Board, independently without any involvement from Greg, which concluded that no sexual harassment occurred. I was not the CEO at the time, but I know that you were interviewed on at least two separate occasions and you never alleged sexual harassment.

On the topic of sexual harassment at Tinder, you know how seriously reports are taken. You yourself reported two other male colleagues, whom Sean Rad hired, and they were very quickly dismissed. Clearly, it was taken very seriously given the company terminated those individuals. More importantly though, Greg is no longer here. I am. And I promise you, we do not retaliate against anyone who reports sexual harassment. Your position was never at risk due to any sexual harassment complaints. I wanted to find a way to keep you employed at Tinder.

As explained in the letter we sent you, you were terminated because it was not possible for you to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of your role as Tinder’s spokesperson for a number of reasons, including your public position against the company over a valuation process. We also recently asked you to come to the office for a meeting with the HR department to discuss work-related activities and policies and were told that we can only contact you through your attorneys. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for you to do your work at Tinder if all communications related to your job have to go through your lawyers. As it relates to your personal information, any suggestion that we have been trying to access it is just not true. Like any company, we’ve asked for you, and all other employees involved, to return company laptops, phones and other devices to us. And unfortunately, we couldn’t retrieve a number of company devices from you and the others since you claimed that they were coincidentally all lost or damaged just before you decided to sue the company.

There are two last points I want to make: on the point about your equity, those options have already been accelerated, and should be exercisable in your account, along with the other equity awards that have vested since August. However, on the arbitration agreements, there is no NDA in them and we never tried to force you to sign a non-disparagement agreement. You’re free to talk about anything publicly that you’d like. You have already done so and that’s your prerogative. But the arbitration agreement is attached again. As you already know from when you signed it, it’s clearly labeled “Agreement to Arbitrate.”

I am a strong female advocate and have said to the women in the organization that as a female CEO in charge, I have zero tolerance for bad behavior and I am very much invested in every single employee’s success. If you’d like to discuss any of the above, or have a productive dialogue, I am here and will make myself available for an in person meeting. Just let me know.

Mandy

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With ‘Rivals Week,’ Tinder tests an expansion of its well-performing Tinder U

Starting this weekend, Tinder will allow college students on its Tinder U service to match with others outside their own university for the first time. The dating app is positioning this market test of a potential Tinder U expansion as the  “Rivals Week” – a way to match users with those who attend a rival university for a limited period of time.

Tinder U’s Rivalry Week starts November 17 in the U.S. for students attending 4-year, degree-granting colleges and universities. It ends November 24, Tinder says.

Tinder U itself is still a relatively new feature, having only launched a few months ago as a way to attract more younger users to its service and re-engaged lapsed users.

College students can choose to opt into Tinder U by signing up with their “.edu” email address. Once enrolled, the users can switch over to Tinder U using a toggle switch at the top of the app.

Until now, however, Tinder U limited users to matching only with those who attend their same school.

That changes with “Rivals Week,” as Tinder will now let students match with others at nearby schools – or even cross-country – just so long as those schools are considered a “rival.”

Tinder is not, of course, calling out the move as anything more than just a bit of fun. But the week-long event could return valuable data to the dating app maker, in terms of consumer demand for a Tinder U product that was less restrictive in terms of its catalog of potential matches.

The launch also notably fits in with Tinder’s new strategy to position itself as a dating app for younger users who are less interested in settling down into long-term relationships. The company is investing in a marketing campaign across the U.S. where it promotes the “single lifestyle” Tinder offers.

Essentially, the company is embracing Tinder’s reputation as the “hook-up app,” but in a way that brands short-term dating – if you can call it that – as a more positive thing.

Tinder is able to do this because its parent company, Match Group, now owns a majority stake in Hinge. It says it simultaneously plans to invest in growing that app’s user base along with its reputation for serious relationships.

Meanwhile, Tinder sees Tinder U as a possible growth engine for the young adult-oriented service.

“We created Tinder U to both attract new college students to the Tinder experience and re-engage students who have been part of the Tinder community in the past. Ultimately, we see it as a way to deliver more value to the college user by providing more relevant recommendations, which helps to increase engagement,” said Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg. “We’ve seen strong early traction with Tinder U, both in terms of driving higher swipe rates and higher retention,” she noted.

The Tinder U product is live in over 1,200 colleges across the U.S.

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Bumble serves countersuit to Match Group, says it’s pursuing an IPO

Bumble is officially serving the papers in the suit against Tinder parent, Match Group. Bumble had said in March it was filing a suit of $400 million against Match Group for fraudulently obtaining trade secrets, following Match’s suit filed only weeks before, which had claimed patent infringement and misuse of intellectual property.

Match’s original lawsuit said that Bumble had copied “Tinder’s world-changing, card-swipe-based, mutual opt-in premise,” and accused Tinder -turned-Bumble employees Chris Gulczynski and Sarah Mick of copying elements of the design.

Bumble was also founded by CEO Whitney Wolfe, who was also a co-founder at Tinder and had previously sued Tinder for sexual harassment.

Following Match’s suit, Bumble responded then filed a separate action that raised new allegations against Match Group. It said that when Bumble and Match Group were in acquisition talks, Match filed its suit to make Bumble look less attractive to other suitors. Bumble also said that Match Group fraudulently requested for Bumble to provide “confidential and trade secret information” which Match Group said they “needed to provide a higher offer for Bumble,” the suit alleged.

Bumble’s suit also said that no subsequent offer came, and Match Group instead requested and obtained this information solely for “the financial benefit of its dating app businesses.”

And it said that Match Group “published false or disparaging information about Bumble, including statements in the press falsely claiming that Bumble infringed Match’s intellectual property, as well as false statements in the Lawsuit.”

Bumble and Match Group had tried to come to some sort of settlement over the months since the lawsuits were filed, in hopes of finding another solution outside of having to take their claims to court. But with court papers now being served, it appears that’s not going to be the case.

Match Group has had Bumble on its radar as one of its top competitors and a threat to its dating app business led by Tinder. It has tried to acquire Bumble twice, and has been turned down. Last year, for example, Match was in discussions with Bumble over a deal that then valued it at over $1 billion.

In the months since, Bumble has grown significantly as its business continues to expand outside the U.S. The company is now available in English-language countries like Canada, Australia, and the U.K., and is investing in expansions into Germany and Mexico. Latin America andSouth America are also on the roadmap for 2019, and Asia is in the works, as well.

In addition, Bumble has now upped its revenue run rate to $200 million per year. That doesn’t mean Bumble is making $200 million in 2018, only that it has exceeded its original expectations of $150 million in revenue for the year.

The revenues come entirely from Bumble’s in-app subscription business – the app doesn’t run ads.

The app also recently passed 40 million users, Wolfe recently noted on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 alongside news of Bumble’s new “snooze” feature that allows users to take a time-out from the app. She also spoke of Bumble’s plans to invest in its non-dating businesses, grow its real-world footprint through an expansion of its “Hive” locations, and introduce advertising.

In terms of how this suit will impact Bumble, Wolfe said, “we’re focused on our growth. We’re focused on ending misogyny, and we’re actively pursuing an IPO.”

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