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How Justin made millions from dating

Anastasia Santoreneos
·5-min read
How Justin McLeod made millions from dating. Source: Getty
How Justin McLeod made millions from dating. Source: Getty

Thirty-five-year-old Justin McLeod is a romantic - and he’s made a lucrative profession out of it.

McLeod is the CEO and founder of the popular dating app, Hinge, which launched in Australia back in 2013, after the then-college business student found himself single, and wanting to meet a new partner.

“The idea originated back in 2011 when I tried to reach out to my college girlfriend and get her back, and she said no,” McLeod told Yahoo Finance.

“And so I was heartbroken over the fact that we weren’t going to end up together, which I always thought we would.”

McLeod’s college sweetheart, Kate, ended it with him over his partying antics, which led him to clean up his act. But giving up partying and staying in had its own downfalls.

“After that I wasn’t going out to bars, I wasn’t doing that stuff. So it was hard for me to meet people,” he said.

“I looked at the options at the time, and nothing really appealed to me. Again it was 2011, so this was pre-dating apps, and I just wanted to build something that I would use as a young person.”

And with a knack for coding - and a love for romance - McLeod had the perfect background to do it.

“I was always a romantic, and always embarrassingly obsessed with The Bachelor back in high school. And I used to code, so the ingredients were there in a way.”

But there’s no recipe to creating an app, McLeod soon found.

“I did really have to learn from scratch. I didn’t know how to start a software company - I had to learn every step of the way.”

In 2012, McLeod launched Hinge for the first time - which he admits didn’t garner a lot of traction.

The first Hinge dating app was free to use and had a similar function to Tinder which offered swipeable profiles of prospective partners.

But with Tinder also launching in 2012, and Bumble launching soon after, McLeod’s Hinge finished its first year with just a few thousand users and US$32,000 in bank, leading him to make a change with a point of difference.

“What became really clear to me was that while I was creating this fun, lightweight experience, what people were really starting to need in the market was something that was accessible to people my age, but also something that was more serious,” he said.

“It just seemed like the services out there weren’t really designed for that, so I rebooted Hinge and started from scratch. I let go of half the team, threw out the code base, threw out the user-base, and really started from scratch.”

‘Designed to be deleted’

Fast forward nine years and one rebrand, Hinge prides itself on its ability to find you your most compatible partner, and lives by the motto “designed to be deleted”.

It’s now $30.99 for one month, $61.99 for three months of $92.99 for six months, and requires you to go through a lengthy vetting process at signup to ensure you’re matched with the best possible partner.

The app’s revenue increased four times between 2018 and 2019, and downloads increased 87 per cent year on year (January 2020 vs January 2019).

And while the transition to Hinge 2.0 was “terrifying”, McLeod admits it’s the reason Hinge really “took off” - in fact, in 2019, it became the fastest growing dating app in the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

“I just felt like I had built something that I couldn’t really stand behind anymore,” he admits.

“I ultimately realised that I had gotten so wrapped around growth and engagement and these kinds of things that we lost sight of what customers really came to us for, which is great dates.”

Now, Hinge measures whether its users actually went on a date or not, and whether or not that date was any good. It claims to set up one date every four seconds, and three out of four times, users want to go on a second date.

“Everything we do is designed around the belief that, if we align ourselves with our users’ deepest needs, which is to get on great dates and get off our dating app, then they would tell their friends and it would spread like that,” McLeod said.

“That’s why we say we’re designed to be deleted.”

One of Hinge’s spokespeople was actually a US Democratic presidential candidate: Pete Buttigieg, who met his partner via Hinge.

What sets it apart

Hinge is known for being a little more serious than apps like Tinder and Bumble, and McLeod credits that to a longer signup process.

“If we lose 20 per cent of users during that signup process, that’s a good thing,” McLeod said.

“If you don’t have that much time or intention, then you’re probably not the right person for the community, and that’s a really great thing.”

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