Are ‘Authentic and Vulnerable’ Dating App Profiles the New Swiping?

Hinge doubles user base after giving ubiquitous swipe the boot

Sorry, fellas: “hookup culture” is on its death bed.

That’s what Hinge CEO Justin McLeod told TheWrap, one year after his dating app abandoned the classic “swiping” method made famous by its chief rivals, Tinder and Bumble.

“We believe and started to feel from the market that people were just over ‘hookup culture’ and all these apps were designed for games — and there was nothing there for people that wanted to get into a serious relationship,” McLeod told TheWrap.

Following its redesign last year, Hinge has embraced a more holistic approach. Yes, there’s still the standard six pictures for each profile, and users are able to fill in where they work and went to school. But, according to McLeod, Hinge wants to allow people to be “authentic and vulnerable” — or as much as they possibly can on a dating app. To do this, users pick from a slew of questions or topics and add them to their profile: “try to guess this about me,” “pet peeves,” “I will never tell my grandchildren,” or even seasonal themes like “what I am thankful for.”

Rather than swiping, Hinge users can “like” a particular part of another person’s account — also with the ability to comment on photos or question responses — to engage their potential match. Hingers get 10 free likes per day, and can sign up for an unlimited amount with a “preferred” membership, which runs for $4.99 a month for a six-month commitment. In the one year since its relaunch, McLeod said the interface has paid off in spades, with only “one in 500” conversations starting with a boring “hey.”

McLeod didn’t share user data, but said its accounts had “doubled” in the year since ditching swiping. A Hinge rep declined to comment on whether the company is pursuing another round of funding, but the New York City-based app has raised $20.6 million to date, according to Crunchbase.

Another feather in the 33-year-old CEO’s cap: People are spending less time on Hinge than its rival apps. This is typically the opposite of what a tech exec would want to see. Hinge users are only on the app for nine minutes per day; for comparison, a New York Times profile of Tinder in 2014 said users spent “up to 90 minutes” per day swiping. McLeod said Hinge sent 100,000 users on dates last month, based on exchanged phone numbers. He added this is because Hinge gives people what they want — a more “engaging” interaction that results in quick dates and long-term relationships.

“You need to spend less time on [Hinge] to find what you’re looking for. We didn’t design it like an addictive game.”

And that’s the crux of the matter for the Harvard Business School grad. Old school swiping apps, designed like video games, may have short term value, but fail to deliver in the long run.

“They’re designed to be addictive. They’re using gamification tools that turn this whole thing into a matching game. Every time you hit ‘like’ you wonder if it’s going to be a match. It almost operates like a slot machine,” said McLeod. “And it keeps people constantly in that world. It’s much easier to keep swiping than to actually engage people or get into a relationship.”

Looking to curb the Wild West nature of most apps, Bumble has carved out its niche by letting women start all match conversations. But even this, according to McLeod, is ill-suited for women looking for more than a fling.

“Being forced to talk first, if they don’t want to, doesn’t really speak to them. Generally we find that women want to be respected and treated equally, but not pandered to. Honestly, with the redesign, I think we have the most feminist app because we believe in creating a great experience for everyone equally. And generally I think forcing them to talk first isn’t really feminist, it’s sexist in the end. And women are starting to see that.”

After talking to the exec, it sounds like he’d answer his own “what I am thankful for” Q with an obvious answer: Hinge leaving swiping in the dust.

Brian Welk contributed to this story.