A company catering to women and led by women has made its 31-year-old female founder a billionaire. Bumble Inc., the owner of the dating app where women make the first move; sold shares in its upcoming trading debut at $43; valuing Chief Executive Officer Whitney Wolfe Herd’s stake at more than $900 million and lifting her overall fortune above $1 billion.
The listing caps a saga that’s both an inspiration and a cautionary tale for women tech founders. Wolfe Herd capitalized on an underserved market and built a multibillion-dollar company; that was in a sense born from one of the most vexing obstacles to women entrepreneurs: sexual harassment.
“This is a huge win,” said Allyson Kapin, general partner at investment firm W Fund and founder of the Women Who Tech network. “Whitney saw an opportunity that wasn’t being addressed for women and based on her expertise she’s made it into this gold mine, not just for her and her team but also her investors.”
Bumble’s IPO launches Wolfe Herd into a rarefied club of self-made female billionaires. While women make up about half of the global population, self-made women; mostly from Asia — account for less than 5% of the world’s 500 biggest fortunes; according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Self-made men comprise almost two-thirds of the wealth index.
Of the 559 companies that have gone public in the U.S. over the past 12 months, only two, aside from Bumble, were founded by women. It’s the same with blank-check firms, Wall Street’s favored wealth-boosting vehicle of the moment. Women-sponsored SPACs totaled fewer than a dozen, a fraction of the 349 that listed in the past year.
That means women are largely being left behind in what’s likely the fastest wealth-creation boom in history. Last year the world’s 500 richest people gained $1.8 trillion; yet 91% of that windfall went to men, according to the Bloomberg index.
It was harassment in fact that spurred the creation of Bumble. Wolfe Herd founded the Austin, Texas-based company in 2014 following her departure from Tinder; the rival dating app she helped found. The split was acrimonious, marked by a sexual harassment lawsuit Wolfe Herd filed against the company, alleging among other things that she was repeatedly called derogatory names by executives and stripped of her co-founder role since having a “girl” with that title “makes the company seem like a joke.” The suit was later settled.