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Sean Rad

CEO & Founder, Tinder

Like religion and Trump, Tinder is a topic often avoided at cocktail parties. To some, it’s the epitome of hookup culture—an app on which more than 50M users evaluate one another with the simple act of a swipe. But others—including cofounder and CEO Sean Rad, as well as several couples we know personally—view Tinder differently: as an enabler of relationships that would otherwise not have existed.

“You never really know how people will use your product,” Rad explains. “Companies launch with this specific idea of a problem they’re trying to solve, but sometimes the answer is bigger… What I can say is that success, as it relates to Tinder, is the number of connections we can inspire in the world.”

Rad isn’t what you’d expect from Tinder’s CEO. He’s quietly intelligent and even a little shy, chatting amicably with coworkers while we rearrange his West Hollywood office into a temporary film set. A child of Iranian immigrants, he attended USC with his childhood best friend and Tinder cofounder, Justin Mateen, until sophomore year when he left to pursue entrepreneurship full-time. And Tinder is actually Rad’s third founder credit: He previously started a web mail service called Orgoo and an adtech company called Adly, which sold to a private equity company.

Here’s what the 30-year-old had to say about Tinder’s founding and the misconceptions of being a CEO:

"It's not a CEO's job to be perfect"

“I cofounded Tinder four years ago after I’d sold my previous company. And the idea, at least for me, was pretty simple: Solve the hardest part in meeting someone, aka the introduction. No one wants to initiate contact. It’s terrifying. What if you get rejected? What if that person doesn’t want to meet you? We felt that in eliminating that barrier, we could fundamentally change the way people meet. Tinder is all about creating connections.”

So, what's the inspiration behind Tinder?

“One day I was at a coffee shop with my friends when a girl across the room caught my eye. I really wanted to talk to her, but couldn’t bring myself to make the initial introduction… I’ve always had trouble starting conversations—not just because I’m shy, but also because I’m polite. It feels rude to walk up and interrupt someone. So, of course, I did nothing. I realized that problem probably happens millions of times a minute and was inspired to find an elegant way of solving it.”

Was there an IRL moment when the idea came to you?

“Growing up, I was definitely shy—still am shy, which is funny because it’s the last thing people expect from the CEO [of Tinder]. I’ve always struggled with initiating conversations and getting comfortable in a connection… It takes me a while to warm up. The connections I do have, though, I hold very dearly.”

It's hard to imagine someone so successful being shy.

“Yeah, Justin and I have known each over for a very long time. And even as kids, we’d always kicked [startup] ideas around… Gosh, there were hundreds we didn’t pursue. And the primary reason we wouldn’t pursue an idea—even though many of them were great and had great potential—was because we weren’t passionate… didn’t empathize enough with the problem.

Starting a company is very, very difficult—both emotionally and physically. It takes a toll on you in every way… So, you should never become an entrepreneur because you like the lifestyle or because it sounds cool: You have to have passion. If you don’t, it’s going to be really difficult to survive.”

Is it true you met cofounder Justin Mateen when you were 14?

Know that your idea will change. Your product, your company, your employees, your users—they’re all constantly changing. It’s unrealistic to think the version Tinder we released four years ago was the best, final iteration of our product. It looks nothing like the platform today. And while change is exhausting, it’s also an incredible opportunity to learn and improve—it enables you to iterate at every step. Just ask yourself: ‘What did I learn this week? What problems did we have? How could we be better?’ Then iterate from there.”

What's your #1 piece of startup advice?

A lack of direction. I come across too many young entrepreneurs who don’t have it figured out and say, ‘It’s ok, we’re a startup. We don’t need to have it figured out.’ I don’t know about you, but I know exactly what I’m doing when I’m starting a company. Every phase, every hire—I know exactly what problem we were solving and who our customer is. And, sure, your plan will change 100 times. But you still need to have one at any given moment.”

What's the biggest mistake you see entrepreneurs making?

“That I have all the answers. [Laughs] It’s funny because CEOs often feel this need to be perfect, and that’s a lot of pressure. And while I can totally empathize with the feeling that, in order to justify your position, you need to have the perfect solution every time someone comes to you, that’s not what it means to be CEO. Great CEOs set a clear vision and then empower those around them to come up with their own answers.”

What's the biggest misconception people have about you?

“Unfortunately, no. [Laughs] But actually, it’s pretty fortunate because I have a great girl friend now. And if I’m lucky, I’ll get to leave work early tonight and have dinner with her.”




So, did you ever come back across that girl at the coffee shop?


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