How I started it: Tinder co-founder Sean Rad on creating the app that's changed how we date

It was almost called something else.

By Jessica Chandra
Sean Rad Tinder co-founder and chairman

Tinder is synonymous with dating these days. Even if you were in a committed relationship before the app became massive, you know how it works, and have probably even done a few swiping sprees on your single friends’ accounts.

How did such a simple concept – meeting new people – become a massive, global phenomenon, and completely change the way we date?

To answer that question, we went straight to the source: Sean Rad, one of Tinder’s six co-founders, who is now chairman of the company. Sean was in Sydney last week for the Cosmopolitan and Tinder Bachelor of the Year winner announcement and party, where he was on hand to present Ryan Anderson with his prize.

We sat down with Sean to ask him how the idea started, the biggest challenges getting the app off the ground, and what he thinks about competing apps.

What was your first job and did it teach you any valuable lessons?

My first job was an intern at an entertainment company, Handprint Entertainment. I guess the biggest thing that I learned from that job was don’t wait to be called on to help. Raise your hand – I started fixing something that no one asked me to fix, and then I got a promotion in like a week. There was someone else who was working in the agency and was an intern for a year, who didn’t get a promotion. And it was only because I offered to help. I didn’t wait for someone to ask me.

How long did it take to get the idea of Tinder off the ground?

We built it within a month. It’s pretty fast, but we had a really experienced team. And it wasn’t the thing that can scale – an example would be like building a shell of a car with no engine, is sort of what we built in a month. It couldn’t really get you that far. Then over time, still to this day, we’re still putting the parts of the engine together.

Where did the initial idea come from?

I was always frustrated. I was always very shy, and I felt scared to walk up to someone I was interested in, and say hello. When I realised that if I knew that they liked me, it would take all the fear away – that was when the idea started. How can we figure out who likes who, or who around me likes me, without having them put themselves out there? You save yourself from an awkward moment.

Where did the name come from, and was it almost called something else?

It was originally called Match Box. The name Tinder came from that because Match Box was literally because we wanted to spark a match, so that’s why we called it Match Box. Tinder is the material that helps create a flame, so it carried over the flame connotation.

What were the biggest challenges at the start, and what was surprisingly easy?

The biggest challenges were finding the right people to create the vision, or help realise the vision. It’s still the biggest challenge, at every stage in the game – recruiting great people and great talent is the number one challenge. What was surprisingly easy, which was the result of finding great people, was building the app.

What does an average day look like for you?

It depends, but it’s probably: wake up; meditate; stuck in meetings all day; go home; eat; and go to sleep. And then do it all over again! Oh, and work out in between, at some point there.

What do you think of competing apps that follow the same format?

There’s a lot of niche apps out there that do little things that we don’t. But Tinder’s the only global app, and we’re the largest platform in history for meeting new people, and we’re the only global platform. I think it’s great that there are other options out there, and there are specific things that people are looking for that we might not do for a reason. So you can go get that elsewhere.

Are you surprised or do you think it’s normal if you find out someone has four apps, or a lot of them?

I mean… I think that person is a little too excited. It’s OK – people go to multiple restaurants and bars and whatnot, so I think it’s fine. But I think what you’ll find is the most variety exists on Tinder. And typically most of the users on the other apps are on Tinder, but the reverse is obviously not true. I think you don’t need the other apps, but it’s fine.

What are your other most-used apps?

Calendar, iMessage, email, Spotify, Uber, Slack, Instagram, Snapchat, Trello, Feedly, my news app, Headspace – my meditation app. Books. Oh and I have a Backgammon app – I love Backgammon. I’ll play probably five games before I go to bed. I highly recommend.

How do you unwind?

Play Backgammon.

What is your top piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Number one biggest piece of advice is in order to go big, and do something meaningful and impactful, you can start very small. Think about what is the small problem that’s in front of you that you can solve today, and then go from there and see where that leads you. I think people work backwards from some huge problem that they don’t really feel, but they think they want to intellectually solve – which is great, but you should focus on the variety of problems in front of you that can be solved.

What would you say to people who get over Tinder to get them back on it?

I would say take a daybreak, and then try again! But keep swiping – if you keep swiping and make your profile better, and continuously add more about yourself and show more, I think success will go up.