A nasty court fight unfolding between Texas-based dating apps Tinder and Bumble has all of the elements of a soap opera drama – romance, unfaithfulness, intrigue and, of course, revenge. The mess began just four years ago with a bitter breakup of a workplace romance between two Tinder execs that resulted in visionary cofounder Whitney Wolfe Herd filing a sexual harassment lawsuit and leaving the company after a settlement.
She relocated to Austin and created Bumble, a rival app that distinguished itself by its ability to empower female users to control the introductions with potential suitors. After Bumble took off and began gobbling marketshare, humbled Tinder execs approached with a series of acquisition overtures in 2017, reportedly offering as much as $1 billion.
The negotiations turned ugly quite suddenly earlier this year with Tinder suing Bumble for violating its patents and trademarks, and for a misuse of trade secrets. Four days later, Bumble purchased full-page ads in the New York Times and the Dallas Morning News calling out Tinder’s actions. “We swipe left on your attempted scare tactics, and on these endless games. We swipe left on your assumption that a baseless lawsuit would intimidate us. Given your enduring interest in our company, we expected you to know us a bit better by now,” the ad read.
Bumble then filed its own lawsuit, charging that Tinder’s claims were an attempt to damage the startup’s value in the eyes of potential investors and that the acquisition talks were only a pretext for tricking Bumble into sharing its trade secrets.
Here we have Exhibit A for why workplace romances are generally a bad idea. Cupid may be blind, but this is rarely – if ever – a good idea and almost always results in complications, sometimes in ways the parties could never anticipate. In situations involving executives, startups and highly competitive personalities, it’s not uncommon to see romances break up and confidential information being taken. In this case, the breakup almost certainly colored some of the actions that formed the basis of the lawsuit and the counterclaim, and what would have been a delicate acquisition between two rivals became exponentially more difficult.
With Facebook now promising to enter the online dating space, perhaps these two unicorns will soon be irrelevant.