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Meet the Jewish founders of Tinder

It's a match!


by Jared Sichel

August 27, 2014 | 11:53 am

<em>From left: Tinder co-founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen. Photos courtesy of Tinder</em>

From left: Tinder co-founders Sean Rad and Justin Mateen. Photos courtesy of Tinder

Finding dates used to require approaches such as hiring matchmakers, signing up for dancing and cooking classes, attending synagogue, asking friends for help, or, for the least energetic, merely creating a cursory profile on sites such as JDate.

But now, thanks to apps such as the uber-popular Tinder, it takes just one finger and a smartphone to maybe, just maybe, find your one-and-only. 

Launched in 2012, Tinder may now be millennials’ most popular source for matchmaking — possibly even more than friends introducing friends.

Two of the app’s three creators are Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, two Jewish 27-year-olds from Los Angeles who set up shop in West Hollywood with their other co-founder, Jonathan Badeen. (Despite their full work and social schedules, both Rad and Mateen said they make sure to be at their parents’ Shabbat dinner tables every Friday.) They declined to reveal how many millions of people have downloaded Tinder, but they are competing with the most successful matchmaking apps (see: Hinge) in “creating introductions,” Tinder’s raison d’etre.

Available for free on Apple and Android operating systems, Tinder works like this: If Ted, 22, wants to meet someone new, the app starts by pulling information from his Facebook account — first name, age, interests, friends and photos. Then Ted can write a brief description of himself, choose which photos to post and — voila! — time to Tinder.

One after another, pictures of young women — if that’s who he’s looking to meet — will appear on Ted’s screen, along with their first names and ages. Ted can also see whether they have friends or interests in common. 

Clicking on the profile photo of one — say, Victoria, 23 — Ted scrolls through a few more pictures, reads her bio (she describes herself as “compassionate and adventurous” and has an Instagram account) and sees that their mutual Facebook friend is someone he has never met in person. Not sufficiently intrigued, Ted swipes his finger to the left, sending Victoria into the Tinder netherworld. He will never see her again.

Next up is Beth, 21. Bad photo. Easy choice. Swipe left.

Then Jamie, 22. Cute face but strange smile. Swipe left.

It has been only seven seconds since Ted swiped left on Victoria, and he’s coming up on his fourth potential match: Sara, 21. She’s very pretty, has four mutual friends, loves Dave Matthews Band, and she last used the app five minutes ago (Tinder shows that), so she’s definitely actively looking. Swipe right.

Suddenly, a new screen pops up with a picture of Ted and Sara and the words “It’s a Match!” This means Sara must have seen Ted’s profile and swiped right, too. This allows them to send direct messages to each other, share some jokes, exchange phone numbers and then, who knows what?

Shallow? Sure, but, Rad says, Tinder is merely a digital replication of “real-world interactions,” much like when two strangers on opposite sides of a room at a party approach one another knowing only that the other is attractive, probably about the same age and, because they’re both at the party, that they likely have some friends in common.

“People think that first impressions or photos are superficial, said Rad, a graduate of Milken Community High School, during a recent interview at Tinder’s minimalist, post-modern office in West Hollywood. “But the reality is that it’s superficial to say it’s superficial. [Tinder] is a perfect representation of humanity.”

The only difference, according to Rad and Mateen, is that in the real world, the fear of rejection can prevent one from making the first move, and merely the awkwardness of the moment might lead even those who muster up the courage to not act natural. 

Rejection is a dirty word in the Tinder world. It doesn’t exist — it can’t — because the only way users can match is if they both swiped right. Had Sara swiped left, Ted could have assumed that she just never saw his profile, because Tinder never reveals a rejection to the rejected.

“[When] I walk into a room and I look at somebody across the room and they look at me back and we have that moment,” Rad said, sounding as much philosopher as businessman, “that person’s not the aggressor; I’m not the aggressor. We are sort of on equal ground.

“It’s always easier when you know that that person is interested. Your confidence level changes, everything changes. You are more yourself.”

The company’s number of users is one of its best-kept secrets, but Rad claims that every day, Tinder users swipe 1 billion times and make 12 million matches. 

Tinder is Rad’s third tech company; he dropped out early from USC’s undergraduate business program to focus on entrepreneurial ventures. In 2005, he founded Orgoo — a Web mail service that consolidates different email accounts and social networks — and followed that up four years later with Adly, a social media management site for brands and celebrities. 

Although Rad doesn’t want Tinder to be viewed exclusively as another dating or hookup app, he did use it successfully in meeting his girlfriend, Alexa Dell (daughter of computer company Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell.)

Mateen, a Brentwood High School graduate who also attended USC, has always been the more social of the two founders. In college, he hosted events with major performers, including Snoop Dogg. Mateen and Rad first met in high school, but they didn’t become close until they took the same mathematics class at USC, where they tested the app’s pilot version among college students.

Mateen is also the central figure in a discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Tinder earlier this summer by Whitney Wolfe, the company’s former vice president of marketing. She claims, among other things, that Mateen sent her abusive texts following the end of an on-and-off romantic relationship and that the company pushed her out, stripping her of her co-founder title. Mateen has been suspended by the company pending an internal investigation, and he said he could not comment on the lawsuit.

Tinder is free and has no advertisements, so although the company has plenty of users, it doesn’t yet produce any revenue. But, according to a report in The New York Times earlier this summer, the company has been valued at about $500 million by venture capital research firm CB Insights. 

Rad would not disclose Tinder’s “discovery” formula — how the app determines which users are presented as potential matches — but proximity, mutual friends, interests and potentially even past swiping activity all impact who the user sees and who sees the user. Rad said Tinder does not take religion into account when suggesting matches, but that it may reconsider that in the future.

One aspect of the app, the inability to retract an errant left swipe, led to the company’s coining the hashtag #YOSO —“You only swipe once” — a warning to users who have a quick trigger, or finger. Although both founders said they won’t budge on its #YOSO rule anytime soon, Rad stopped and thought for a few moments about where he would be had he accidentally swiped left on his current girlfriend.

“My life would probably be very different right now,” he said, contemplating. “Crazy.”

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