Tinder’s first year user growth strategy

Tags: , , , Product Strategy
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The dating application Tinder achieved over 1 million monthly active users in less than a year from product launch. Within 30 months, it reached 24 million monthly active users. This article explores the strategies, tactics, and marketing materials used during Tinder’s first year.

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The Challenge

“An idea is just an idea. When and how you execute that idea is what will define the outcome.” Justin Mateen

In order to gain user traction, Tinder had to overcome two core challenges:

1. Social Stigma — dating applications have historically had a social stigma attached to their use. Tinder had to remove this social stigma or, as Sean Rad refers to it, the “psychological barrier.”

2. Geographic concentration — people usually date within close proximity to where they live. It was critical to the platform’s success to onboard enough male and female users within a given area for the product to have value.

Growth Strategy

Tinder addressed these challenges by implementing “hyper local saturation campaigns,” targeting select college campuses. Tinder’s first year growth strategy is usually summarized as the “college by college” growth technique used by Facebook. While this is technically true, the success of this approach hinged upon achieving saturation within college sub-communities.
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Target people that don’t need dating help

Both Chief Marketing Officer Justin Mateen (USC 2008-Alpha Epsilon Pi) and Vice President of Marketing Whitney Wolfe (SMU 2011-Kappa Kappa Gamma) had been active members within the “Greek” college community.

“You need to identify social influencers in small areas, see who the influencers are, and target them…That’s how we spread throughout college campuses and other social scenes.” – Whitney Wolfe

The initial Tinder outreach focused on the most popular organizations within the college Greek-letter system. Rolling Stone calls this a “Targeted VIP” group “including presidents of sororities, celebutantes, models, and other ‘high-quality people.'”

Getting campus VIPs on board neutralized the potential risk for social stigma in using the app. It also had the effect of seeding the application with highly attractive initial users.

Aspirational marketing

Tinder marketing materials leveraged the existing sorority image styles. In the video below, the Tinder press kit image is compared to USC Kappa Kappa Gamma Tumblr photo site. There is a remarkable similarity in subject, composition, and tone between them.

The marketing materials “coached” the usage of the tool in a way that mirrored the ways this community was using existing social image-sharing behaviors on their mobile devices.

Building concentration

With the influencers “bought in,” the marketing team could begin to address the larger Greek-letter community on campus. This formula uses social proof to progressively build out the community at each campus. At each stage, the user segment is “saturated” when a functional majority of that group have joined the platform.

Tinder Launch party September 2012

Tinder Launch party September 2012

Personal outreach

The Tinder team used personal approaches at popular campus bars and events to get 10 people from that college to sign up for the app. This allowed them to control the first impression of users during later demos. It would enable someone to conduct a second product demo, swiping through user profiles “with other attractive” people already in the tool.


Tinder approached a sorority with the request for a group presentation. After getting the sorority on board, they then presented to a corresponding “brother” fraternity. It made it much easier to onboard the fraternity members since the app already had a sufficient number of people to interest them within their geographic and social space.

Launch parties

Tinder also conducted launch parties with the requirement to display the installed app on a mobile device to gain admission to the party. This pattern was developed at USC and then exported to other campuses. Justin Mateen held the original “launch party” at his parents’ house in Beverly Hills.

Growth Results

Tinder’s concentrated college marketing efforts developed a community of engaged users required to make a dating application successful. The success that early users found with the tool created authentic success stories that spread within the 18-23 community. Tinder had over a half million monthly active users within the first six months of launch.

Analysis methodology

All Tinder accounts require an active Facebook account for identity verification. This analysis uses Facebook application data to chart Tinder user growth. There are known issues with this data, but it does provide a useful approximation of user growth trends.

Shifting tactics

The early college marketing campaigns helped seed the tool and create word of mouth buzz surrounding Tinder. These techniques, however, have a limit to their effectiveness. To grow beyond the US college base, Tinder would need to adjust its marketing approach.

“City by City” Launch Parties

Tinder shifted its marketing tactics in late 2013 to begin expansion into the 25-34 demographic. The team accomplished this through a series of “city by city” launch parties held at exclusive night clubs. The video below is from October 2013.

Demographic Impact

“In early months, over 85% of our user base was between the ages of 18-24, but now that age demo only makes up about 57% of our user base. We are seeing a huge upswing in both 25-34 year old demographic and 35-44 year old demographic.” – Justin Mateen, October 2013.

Building the fire

Tinder’s marketing team employed tactics appropriate for each developmental stage. Early successes were crucial for creating traction needed to develop an enthusiastic and engaged initial user base. Starting from zero, early campaigns saw hundreds or thousands new users. Tinder would not be growing en mass today now if they had not hustled to bring in users personally in the first year.

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