Blog Post

What does the future of Tinder hold without CEO Sean Rad at the helm?

Tinder’s CEO and founder Sean Rad is stepping down from the position and not by choice, according to a new report from Forbes. Tinder majority owner and dating conglomerate IAC — which counts OkCupid and Match.com in its company portfolio — has forced his hand following the sexual harassment lawsuit levied by former employee Whitney Wolfe. Rad will move into a product advisory role and will remain president and on the board, for now.

Although Rad wasn’t the one accused of harassment — that was his best friend and co-founder Justin Mateen, who resigned in September — Rad was running the company when the alleged harassment occurred. According to an in-depth feature story on Rad’s departure, IAC felt the scandal showed that Rad didn’t have enough experience or chops to scale Tinder into a mature company.

The Forbes story also suggested that IAC had been looking for an excuse to kick Rad out anyways, so they could install someone more amenable to the dating conglomerate’s priorities, namely: Making money off Tinder, sooner rather than later. Although Rad had started to exploring revenue options and in fact announced Tinder’s first ever premium subscription the day he was fired, his bigger focus was on building out the product.

Rad had bigger dreams for Tinder’s future than just dating, and wanted to develop more elaborate location-based features. The goal is familiar to any reporter who has covered Tinder for awhile. For as long as I can remember, Rad has corrected anyone who tried to label Tinder as a dating app, saying it’s for any kind of networking, whether meeting new friends or professional contacts.

But the Forbes story suggests that IAC had other ideas. “We can grow beyond our current core,” IAC executive Yagan told Forbes. “But I would think long and hard before diluting dating.”

Rad out as Tinder CEO does not bode well for one of the more socially innovative companies currently on the market. Tinder transformed the nature of online dating because it wasn’t afraid to try a totally new mobile-first technique, breaking from the near identical look and feel of the Match.coms, OkCupids and eHarmonys of the world. So the fact that the company that owns a huge stake in it has decided to start asserting its control, and that company is the definitive status quo in online dating, means we’re likely to see Tinder’s creative product evolution halt.

It’s comparable to if Dell had owned a majority stake in Apple, and after Apple released its iPod Dell came in and said, “Ok let’s remove Steve Jobs. We built a product that works so we’ll just stick with that.” I’m not saying Tinder is any equivalent to Apple, but it is a company that managed to disrupt an age-old web process (awful buzzword alert, but it’s fitting here), and add users rapidly in the process. Its future product developments would have been compelling to watch, if only to see whether Rad could keep innovating.

IAC’s concern with keeping Rad in place makes sense from a corporate standpoint. By his own admission, Rad allowed boundaries to be crossed in the sexual harassment situation. His business judgment, in this regard, was a lot closer to that of a nascent startup founder with no sense of professional repercussions then it was of a seasoned CEO.

But were his missteps really grounds for him to be ousted as the leader of the company?

 

For more on Rad’s experience building Tinder, here’s our interview with him last year at Gigaom’s design conference Roadmap:

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