How Tinder got their first 15,000 customers

This week’s issue needs no introduction. Our case study is about Tinder, yet another startup that started in the dorm rooms! What you may not know is that if it wasn’t for Apple’s strict app store guidelines, Tinder would have never happened. You see, the founding team at Tinder ( I won’t go into naming names as there has been a lot of dispute about who is a founder and who is not..among other things), students at USC at the time were working full time in an incubator/venture studio on a credit card loyalty app called Cardify. Cardify’s release has been delayed by App Store’s approval process so the team spent sometime flushing out a hackathon concept a bit further:Matchbox…which we now know as Tinder.

Tinder hit 15k users within a week from launching! Let’s jump right into how they got those first 15k users.

😴 The boring Stuff:

It sounds trivial now, but back in 2012 having FB as your only sign up option was one the main reasons for Tinder’s steadfast growth trajectory. Most dating apps would require users to fill in long questionnaires about themselves and their habits, losing customers before even getting the chance for them to explore your product. A lot of people are not willing to spend 20min to try a new app, but those same people may be able to spare 10sec to get started and see what the hype is all about.

🧐 The more interesting stuff:

  • Tinder as the guest list for sister sorority parties.

    So here is how that went down. The team at Tinder (who a bunch of them were in sororities) would go around campus and pitch all the women sororities on hosting parties for the sorority. There was no official guest list, but rather everyone needed to download the Tinder app and show it to the bouncer before they can enter the party. Of course these sponsored parties were done in collabration with coolest frat on campus

  • Pitching brother fraternities

    The cofounders of Tinder would then go pitch the other half of the greek system. They’d go to the corresponding brother fraternity—they’d open the app and see all these cute girls..they were onboard!

  • More promoters, more pitches parties, more girls, more guys!

    Thats all they focused on. With limited resources and scarce time, one of the best decisions Tinder made early on was focusing on a single acquisition channel. Once the strategy was working, they hired a few people across different campuses on a contract basis, trained them on how to pitch sorority and let the flywheel spin hard.

When did they know it was really gonna be big?

"It happened around January. We had been picking up on college campuses, then everyone went home and told their cousins and older brothers and friends about it, and all of a sudden Tinder started growing like a virus."

🚀 The journey from here

Once Tinder showed traction in certain markets, they would then go on to start targeting famous people and celebrities in order to mimic the growth at college campuses except on a larger scale. This strategy of targeting key influencers helped them grow quickly and allowed them to create self-sustaining networks before it gradually was introduced naturally to other demographics.

Tinder did not take out ads on Facebook and they did not use the mass email lists of college students that people offered them. They understood that there is a huge difference between someone who downloads the app because they found it on an ad and then never uses it again, versus someone who downloaded the app because their friend had a great experience on it and told them about it. This helped them get the “right” people using Tinder. The one time they actually tried to enter a market through paid advertising was in Turkey, which ended up largely being a dud because their users were quote on quote “different” from users obtained organically. Additionally, focusing on organic growth also helped them stay focused on their core users and refine their product so that it was one people would like enough to share with their friends.

It’s not a lottery!

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Ali Abouelatta