Episode 1: Hinge Founder: I don’t Believe in “the one”

Hinge founder Justin McLeod opens up about addiction, depression, and how his own epic love story fundamentally changed the mission of his company. Justin takes us along the roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship that led him to create one of the most popular dating apps, and gives insight into how the tech company is looking to code vulnerability into a tech-addicted world of swipes and scrolling. Is data the new matchmaker? And why doesn’t the founder of one of the world’s most popular dating apps believe in “the one?” First Contact explores the fine line between success and failure in Silicon Valley, and how leaning into risk and uncertainty helped a company discover its core values.

Justin McLeod: It didn’t look like the reboot was going to work in the beginning and i was, i was not in a good place

Laurie Segall: Like it what capacity?

Justin McLeod: Just depressed, and I think one of the most important things that entrepreuneurs and founders need is resilience i think you need to be able to like roll with the punches and i just felt like i had no shock absorbers and i was constantly in self doubt, and like constantly like yeah, that was like dark times. For sure

Laurie Segall: Let me set the stage for you, Terminal B JFK airport. I’m on my way to San Francisco to report on yet another tech story. I’ve made this trip many times in my career. 

I stop and go to hudson news where I look up and I see the founders of tech companies on the covers of these magazines lining the newsstands. And man does it all look so perfect. So easy. They look so successful. But I knew a lot of them before they were on the covers, i told the story of their companies right at the beginning. And i htink we do this thing when it comes to founders, we celebrate the wins without really truly understanding that there’s a real zig zag to success. It’s a myth that those wins don’t come without an extraordinary amount of resilience. A lot of pain, and also self doubt. It’s never just a straight line. I’ve stepped into low moments for founders, watched them become the people you see on the cover of those magazines. And so, fo rme, the backstory’s just much more interesting.

Which is why i appreciate our first guest, Justin Mcleod. He’s CEO of massively popular dating app Hinge. Some Hinge stats for you: they are literally setting up a date every four seconds in the US and the UK, their active user base has increased around 400% in the last year. But, it wasn’t always that way and there was a moment he thought he could lose everything. I mean not just his company, also the woman he loved. Ok i feel like this is sounding a little bit like a movie trailer but here’s what’s really interesting to me- Justin is this guy with a tremendous potential for both great success and also failure. I think there’s actually a fine line between the two. He knows the extremes, he has lived them. This is his path, the work he did and what he’s thinking about when it comes to the responsibility of solving the deeply personal problem of love in the tech era. 

I’m Laurie Segall and this is First Contact. 

Laurie Segall: We’re calling the show First Contact, and that’s because I go back and talk about like what was my first contact with the people I’m interviewing. And our first contact was, 2015, right? When I was at CNN, and I was like fascinated by the landscape of dating apps. they were coming up. And we did a whole series called Loving, and I interviewed you about dating apps in the future, and I- you know-

Justin McLeod: And here we are in the future.

Laurie Segall: And here we are in the future. I mean, but that was like certainly a crazy moment. We were both children then, like a lot happens in four years.

Justin McLeod: I know, we looked like children.

Laurie Segall: I know, that’s upsetting, I mean super upsetting. Um yeah we- we looked a lot- a lot younger, and especially in tech years. But, like 2015 was a fascinating year for you guys, right? 

Justin McLeod: 2015, 2016, yeah. So 2015 we, at the end of the year, we decided to completely essentially rip down the existing app. I had to let go of half the team because we really had to start over from scratch, and it was just- we were already 30 people, it was just too many people to bring along on the journey of starting something from scratch again. And wanted to build something that- you know at the time Hinge was another app with the swipe feature, and kind of felt a little bit casual, and I just don’t think it was really helping people connect, which is what I think people really wanted. You know they came onto these sites to find their person and to really connect, and I think the interface had become really gamified and kind of fun, but not really helping people meet their needs.

Laurie Segall: Why’d you want to do this in the first place? I mean like I’m looking at you and like I’m thinking like why love? Why was like love the problem you wanted to solve.

Justin McLeod: It’s the biggest problem i mean it’s- when you think about it it’s… the person that we choose for our partner, for our long term partner, is like the most important decision that we ever make in our lives. And most of us make it like with very little understanding, very little research, very little options, and we just- especially you know back in the day, and I think you know the idea that we could help design around that problem, and really help people make the best decision for them seemed like-

Laurie Segall: But like take me back to the early days.

Justin McLeod: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Because like, okay, I get it, okay you’re a founder and I totally get it.

Justin McLeod: I wanted a girlfriend, so (laughs)

Laurie Segall: Okay yeah, yeah, yeah, okay ’cause like that sounds great 

Justin McLeod: Okay so really, I mean that’s all true in retrospect. As I examine my deep motives.

Laurie Segall: No, no, no, by the way I buy that, like I buy what you’re selling there, I totally believe that, and I think you compared to some of the other tech founders- I know a lot of the tech founders, I genuinely believe that. But like, okay. Why’d you start it?

Justin McLeod: Well because my… so my college girlfriend, Kate, we dated all through college and then broke up. And I was just like, I was a hot mess during college.

Laurie Segall: In what sense?

Justin McLeod: Uh just like, I was getting sent to rehab every summer. I was like a bad kid, and like bad news, and she was like very prototypical, like showed up like never had a drink, like never kissed a boy and I was like teaching kids how to do drugs on my first day of college, so-

Laurie Segall: What?

Justin McLeod: (laughs) we were just, we were very-

Laurie Segall: Can we dig into that?

Justin McLeod: We were very opposite, and I was just in so much trouble, I literally wasn’t allowed to come back to my sophomore year of college without spending the summer in rehab. They were like if you’re gonna come back, you have to go to rehab, and-

Laurie Segall: But that’s like kind of astounding looking at you now, and I’ll just say this, because I think everyone looks at you now as like you’re the Hinge CEO and Hinge is doing great! And all this stuff, and like I think so and I only mean to dig into this a teeny bit because it’s like you talk about the college days, and I find that some of the people who are capable of like the coolest shit, and like the best stuff are also the people that  battle with like extreme whatever it is, you know you name it. So like I want to go back to the you in college that is capable of doing all this, but at the time was just like a hot mess, how do you-

Justin McLeod: I’ve always been an extremist you know? So like extreme hot mess, and then throwing myself into work. But,

Laurie Segall: What was it about you that was kind of attracted to the extremes? What did you struggle with?

Justin McLeod: Um. I mean really if I think about it it was lack of connection. I mean really when you think about what is addiction, it’s kind of just like a really sad and narrow way to try to meet our needs for feeling okay with ourselves, for feeling connected, and when we’re not good at feeling connected to people around us, to our work, to purpose, we go for the cheap alternative. And then the more that you spend time with the cheap alternative, the less that like the real stuff seems like an option anymore. And you just get stuck in this spiral, and I think that’s kind of how I felt. And I just didn’t have good tools.

Laurie Segall: And what changed for you?

Justin McLeod: Oh my god so much. I want on a-

Laurie Segall: Was there a turning point?

Justin McLeod: Well there were a number of turning points. I… you know there are a few things. One is when I went and did my study aborad at the end of college. I was gonna keep a journal of like all my exciting adventures, and what my journal ended up being was this like sad kind of like “I’m never gonna drink again” and then like the next day I’d be drinking again, and I had this experience where I always thought like, I love to party, but I didn’t think that- I always thought it was under my control, and if i didn’t want to do it anymore I wouldn’t. But then I noticed myself in the journal everyday writing you know, I’m never gonna do this again, and then like the next day doing it again and being like oh my god. Like there’s this piece of me that doesn’t want to, and there’s this piece of me that does, and like they’re battling it out in here, and I feel like a schizophrenic. Like I-

Justin McLeod: And it was a pretty scary moment for me, and I think that started to wake me up a little bit. And then losing Kate, and then not getting the job that I wanted, because I was convinced that I was like belonged to, you know, Goldman Sachs doing investment banking. Glad I didn’t end up there.

Laurie Segall: (laughs)

Justin McLeod: And um- and I just, the day I walked across the stage at um… graduating from college, I just said that’s it, and I stopped drinking, I stopped doing drugs, and I was like I’m gonna put my life together, and I don’t really know what the point of living is if it’s not partying, but I’m gonna try to figure it out.

Laurie Segall: Why that day in college, what was so symbolic about that day for you?

Justin McLeod: Uh, you know I was leaving. I was going down to D.C. to take a job I didn’t really want, ’cause I- you know, it wasn’t my first choice job. And I don’t know, it just felt like this moment of like it’s time to turn it around, it’s time to grow up. Like if you keep doing this um… I don’t know, maybe I’m like an egomaniac or something, but I’ve always envisioned I was gonna do something bigger, and it just didn’t seem like I was on the path to do anything big.

Laurie Segall: Yeah. Have- you’ve always been this person that just like had grand ambition to do something you just didn’t know what it was?

Justin McLeod: Yeah I think I did. Only child syndrome? I don’t know.

Laurie Segall: And so- and so then Hinge was born in some capacity, and I think it’s interesting because I’ve interviewed founders my whole career and it’s like, in the rear view mirror there’s like this story of like “Yes, and then we went to here, and this happened.” And like-

Justin McLeod: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: With like the luxury of perspective when we look in like that-

Justin McLeod: So many of those are just totally like-

Laurie Segall: It’s like totally bullshit, right? I mean but no no no they’re based on some kind of truth, right?

Justin McLeod: Right.

Laurie Segall: But like when did it kind of come together that this was something that you were like oh man, like, I think I’m onto something real here?

Justin McLeod: Well, I mean the original genesis really was um, I was dating someone my second year of business school and it just- I just couldn’t- it was four years later, and everyone I dated I compared to Kate, like the one that got away from college.

Laurie Segall: Well what was it about Kate?

Justin McLeod: You know, uh, it was it was just one of the first people I ever really connected with, and I ever really let the walls down with, and I don’t know. But we just, we had this one, she sort of like, apparently she had a crush on me, and she came over to my dorm room one night ’cause my next door neighbors were having a party, and asked me to walk her home. And we- I walked her home, and we had this like kiss. And then every- like literally every day from then on to the rest of the year we’d like, we just spent together. I just, I don’t know. And there was just something… it just felt like home, it just instantly felt like home, and I’d never experienced that with anyone else, and hadn’t experienced it with anyone since. And-

Laurie Segall: Just like a certain level of comfort?

Justin McLeod: Yeah, I guess so. Comfort, affection, it was just magic, it was just totally magic and I just couldn’t get it out of my head, and I just couldn’t find it and I- and I was like this is really what I want. And so I broke up with the person I was dating from from business school, and I reached out to Kate four years later. And at that point she was living in London, she’d graduated, she actually transferred to Wellesely I think, went to cooking school in Italy, and then went to… uh then she worked at Goldman, she went and got the job that I wanted. Met a guy, moved with him to London, and then I reached out to her and she was like, listen I don’t know if I can really trust you, plus I just think it’s too late. Like you’ve changed, I’ve changed, and so I was so heartbroken.

Laurie Segall: How’d you- how’d you feel when you got- that was an email that came back?

Justin McLeod: No it was um I sent her an email. I sent her like an apology letter like can we see each other again kind of email, and then she called. And we had a conversation. And uh, we’d actually originally, she said okay well I’ll be back over the holidays, and maybe we can see each other. And then she called back two days later and she was like I can’t do it. Like, if I see you I don’t know what’s gonna happen, and honestly like I’ve got a good life and it’s stable and like um-

Laurie Segall: How’d you feel?

Justin McLeod: Oh my god I was like destroyed. Yeah like i didn’t leave my room for a week I was so sad. And, ’cause you know there’s this piece of me that just always felt like Kate and I were gonna end up together, and it just felt like I had like broken the universe or something. I know that sounds insane, but it just felt like I was- like we were meant to be together, and then all of a sudden it was like that whole vision of my future just kind of like shattered and I just felt really lost. And… uh… and so then like very shortly after that, Harvard Business School was throwing a last chance dance party, and uh… and I… and they needed to- everyone was gonna list their crushes, and if two people liked each other they would let you know. And then I found out from the- from the president of the student government that they weren’t gonna be- like, he’s like oh it’s 1,000 people in our class, and it’s too complicated, like we talked to PricewaterhouseCoopers to see if they could like manage the process. And I was like this is ridiculous.

Justin McLeod: And so I got together with uh- and there was this girl in one of my classes that I like was convinced was gonna list me. And so like I was- and I was so awkward at the time, because I- you know I had just stopped drinking, like I didn’t really know how to like interact with people in the real world.

Laurie Segall: Hey, and by the way, let me tell you. I stopped drinking a year and a half ago. And there is something to be said for like the first times you go out to like these social situations and you have to speak to people when everyone is drinking, and you just want to like hide in a corner and like not talk to anyone.

Justin McLeod: Exactly. Especially when you’re like mid 20’s and the whole culture was just around partying and I just felt like- and so I was like oh this is my- this is my chance. So I built this little app with a friend from google on Facebook that would allow people to list their crushes and then let you know. And then, I don’t know I just got like obsessed. I was like this, like why doesn’t this exist? Why doesn’t this exist all the time for all of us? And that was kind of the beginning of Hinge, because at the time I mean this is 2011, so you know, no dating apps, uh, Match.com existed, and OkCupid existed. But people my age, contemporaries like didn’t use online dating, and if you did you were like hush hush about it. And it was just a completely different world at the time.

Laurie Segall: But there was something, there’s something about, you know even that moment, and that need of like wanting to have something to kind of hold on to. so I think that’s really interesting that it kind of came out of you and this bad part of your life. You kind of turning- having the clarity to be able to be like oh well there’s kind of some need that I’m filling here.

Justin McLeod: Yeah, I mean it was. And it just felt like, I don’t know I’d had a couple other like startup ideas. I had an inkling that I wanted to work in the world of entrepreneurship and startups, although startups wasn’t even like a word people used a lot in 2011. 

Laurie Segall: Sure

Justin McLeod: Yeah it was kind of a different world. And, but I had an inkling that I wanted to do entrepreneurship, and once this idea came- like I’d worked on a couple other ideas, but I would have to like force myself to work on them, it felt like homework. And then once this idea came, it was just- I just wanted to work on it all the time.

Justin McLeod: Like the algorithm piece of it, the user interface, and like all this stuff, it just it just clicked with me.

Laurie Segall: How did you know it was gonna be something that was gonna catch on?

Justin McLeod: Well I just looked at the- I know all these single people who want to date and want to find someone but don’t. And then I- you just had to really figure out like why don’t people use dating sites like Match.com right now? And ultimately it’s because 1, they cost a lot of money, and 2, there were like these long complicated sign up processes that- where’d you fill out these very long profiles. And it was just kind of an awkward experience, and something that you’d only do if like you were really struggling in the real world, as a result. Like that’s why I think it had such a stigma around it back then. And the trick was to integrate it with your existing social profiles, and make it like a one click sign on experience.

Justin McLeod: And then it’s so easy, it’s like why wouldn’t you do it.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Justin McLeod: And that is really what transformed. And that’s what a lot of these dating apps I think to really explode and take over that whole generation of people in their 20s.

Laurie Segall: Fast forward all these years, like things got really complicated. you know it’s like the infinite scroll is the issue with like the internet. And like the infinite scroll of people becoming pixels and there being so many different options, so now we’re in like a whole different scenario. And you guys have emerged as- answer to that, or at least trying- if I’m reading it right.

Justin McLeod: Definitely.

Laurie Segall: Are trying to be that answer to that, and that was because of decisions you made back in 2015 the last time we had our first contact, right? Like the last time we met. It almost feels like the last time we met, you were- like you didn’t tell me, but you were probably really struggling with like the idea of this company, what you guys were, right?

Justin McLeod: Yeah there was a moment, I don’t remember exactly when we met in 2015, but I think it was around Thanksgiving that year that I really kind of had moment to step back, and I was home with my family for Thanksgiving, and it just- I just had a moment to reflect and realize like this isn’t what I wanted to build. And I don’t think we’re headed for success. 

We have to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors but when we come back justin tells us how his own epic love story led to a chang of heart that completely transformed his company.

Justin McLeod: I mean one, our growth was strong but it was starting to level off a little bit. Tinder and Bumble were in the market, and they were sort of very strong, and our products looked very similar. So one I think ther was it was like a market thing, it was like okay, like our product looks like theirs, they’re bigger than us, it’s gonna be really hard for us at this point to really catch them using the same strategy.

Justin McLeod: Um but I think even bigger than that- so that was true. The other market thing that I think was happening was that we were just noticing people were like getting dejected with these dating app experiences, and the initial promise of them was like now people just coming in to hook up culture, and people were unhappy with it, and all these people that were using it initially were in their early 20s now were like in their mid 20s to late 20s, and they’re starting to look for something more serious, and these products are like clearly not designed for that. So the opportunity’s really seen there, and finally I just- I just wasn’t in line with my values. And I think that gets in line with the fact that- and 2015 by the way was when I- when uh when Kate and I got back together, so that’s a whole nother story, but Kate the college girlfriend that rejected me in 2011 and was the genesis of Hinge, then came back in my life in 2015.

Laurie Segall: I feel like it always comes back to Kate, so should we take a beat to go into like you went back and got Kate?

Justin McLeod: So a New York Times reporter reached out to me because she had downloaded Hinge, and like the very first person that came up on her screen she matched with. And they met, and they fell in love, and she’s like how- like how did you know?like  How did you know, the first person that showed up on my screen. And- you know, I have to admit, it was probably dumb luck but. But but we had the interview, and at the end of the interview she asked have you ever been in love?

Justin McLeod: And I was like, well, once a long time ago. But I didn’t realize it until it was too late. And this- at this point it had been almost eight years since I had last seen Kate.

Justin McLeod: And she asked me to tell her the story, and I told her the story and she paused the tape recorder and she’s like. Listen, I have to tell you a story, and she had this very reciprocal um parallel story where she had this like incredible romance with this person that she met, and she was a photographer at the time, she was a war photographer over in Afghanistan, and on her way back uh she was supposed to rendezvous with him in Paris, and he came to Paris, but then he lost the her number. And this is like the 80s so you can’t just like Facebook them. And they didn’t meet, and she ended up marrying the next guy she dated, and he ended up marrying the next girl he dated. And fast forward 20 years and they um- she’s doing a- researching a story and comes across him. And reaches out, and they um connected and it made her realize, I think it made him realize that he wanted to double down on his marriage, but it made her realize that like she put everything she could into her marriage and it was time to move on, and that’s when she downloaded Hinge.

Justin McLeod: And she’s like, don’t make the same mistake that I did. Like don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my life, I love my kids but like, um, but like you can still go back and be with the one.

Laurie Segall: Wow.

Justin McLeod: I know it was a pretty like- and I’m like listen-

Laurie Segall: Where were you, you guys were in like café or something?

Justin McLeod: We were out in- we were actually in Madison Square Park, we were sitting in madison square park and I’m like lady you are crazy. Like, you know, it’s like been seven years, she’s engaged, she’s getting married in a few months, and really like trust me it’s too late like I’ve moved on, she’s moved on. She’s like I really think you’re making a mistake, like you won’t know until you put yourself out there. And I’m like, whatever. And then Hinge was throwing the- our launch party in London uh a couple months later, so I… I sent one last email. Because I would email Kate every- once a year on her birthday after that. But I never got a response back from 2011. And-

Laurie Segall: What would you say? 

Justin McLeod: Well sometimes it would be like hey, you know, I’m ready to be friends now if you want to be friends, and then the next year it would be like I’ll come over with an engagement ring like whatever it takes and I probably sounded like… I’m probably nuts. So I sent a last email, ’cause after my most recent email, the engagement one, she’d sort of like blocked me on all- on most social medias. I’m like okay, I’m probably turning into a stalker.

Laurie Segall: Wait I’m sorry, so she blocked you?

Justin McLeod: Yeah she, well she- I mean I think-

Laurie Segall: Sounds like she had good boundaries.

Justin McLeod: I later found out that it was more her fiance that was the blocker, but-

Justin McLeod: so anyway, I sent this one last email, and I just said hey, gonna be in London. Would love fifteen minutes. It’s like weird to think I’m never going to see you again. Would love 15 minutes to just say hi and goodbye. And I woke up the next morning and I get an email back. And she’s like hey listen, can’t really chat, but I can talk this weekend if you want. And by the way, you’re a terrible stalker because I moved to South Africa, and then to Paris, and now I’m living in Zurich (laughs) and so I’m not in London anymore, but I can chat with you on the phone if you want to chat on the phone this weekend. And so I um drove to the airport, and got on the next flight, and flew to Zurich.

Laurie Segall: You like literally- I mean hold on- like, because we’re just like going over all this so you like actually just like after you got that email you just like drove to the airport?

Justin McLeod: Yeah, basically. I- I had a therapist appointment that morning and (laughs) with like the therapist, it was my first time, it was like our first appointment. He’s like, I just like to do whatever- you know

Laurie Segall: What did your therapist say?

Justin McLeod: I was like, well I’m thinking about flying over to Switzerland to try to get my college girlfriend back who I haven’t seen in eight years, I think he was just… I think he was a little overwhelmed. I didn’t see him again as a client. (laughs) and that was my one and only appointment with this guy, he was really nice though. And uh I left there, and he helped me talk through it, and I’m just like yeah you know what? Like, I’m just- like, what’s the harm? Like I’m gonna do it. And so yeah I did. I literally like, I went to work for like an hour, and I bought the plane ticket, and then I just and then i went home got a bag, and then drove to the airport, got on a red eye flight, and then the next morning she texted me she’s like okay like, you know I can chat on the phone later today if you want. And I said cool, because I’m going through customs in Zurich right now, and I sound crazy, I probably sound insane, but I- there’s just this magic that we both, like that I knew that we had. And we saw each other that day, and by the end of the day she’s like- she was getting married in about another month. And she-

Laurie Segall: What was it like when you saw her? 

Justin McLeod: like 50% of me thought, like had this big romantic idea in mind. The other 50% of me was like, listen, it really has been 8 years like you’ve changed so much in this period, I’m sure she’s changed so much. Like we’re gonna see each other and laugh this off, but at least we’re gonna get closure.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Justin McLeod: Yeah, that was probably like 70% of me honestly. But then there was this 30% that was like maybe this will like, you know.

Laurie Segall: Sure.

Justin McLeod: And, yeah and we saw each other. Little did I know, for her she was already like, I mean- I think she, if she were here she would say like she still thought about me like all the time, and once she decided to respond to that email she knew that she would be like calling off the wedding. And so we met, and it was wild we sat in this coffee shop and we talked for like 7 hours straight without even getting up to get like water (laughs).

Laurie Segall: Like how did it feel when you saw her for the first time after all those years?

Justin McLeod: It was… I mean within 5 minutes I was like, I just had this feeling of like what have I been doing without her? Like, it just… I don’t know i just felt incomplete, I don’t know how to um… and that goes against all the good love wisdom that’s like be complete and then find your person. 

Laurie Segall: Was there like a moment during that talk that you guys were both like well, this is gonna get weird because you’re gonna call off your engagement, a lot of logistics have to go into- like because again-

Justin McLeod: I mean, well it started- the conversation started she’s like well obviously I’m not calling off my wedding or anything. And we were like chatting and then like 4 hours in she’s like well if I were gonna call off the wedding, and then I think by the end of it it was like, okay well I think I might be calling off the wedding. And So I stayed over for- in Zurich for a couple days, and then I flew to London for the launch party for Hinge.

Laurie Segall: I’m sure you were happy, I mean like how does one feel when like the love of their life just like says they’re gonna call off the wedding and you’re going to your launch party of Hinge, like I’m sure you’re like walking on water or something?

Justin McLeod: Yeah it was it was pretty wild, also a little stressful. ’cause I mean there was a lot of logistics, and a lot of, yeah.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Justin McLeod: And also like a holy you know crap what did I just do. Like one minute, living the bachelor life in New York, and then the next minute like she’s moving back into my 350 square foot studio apartment in The West Village. And I’m like, am I sure I wanted to do this? You know it’s kind of almost moment like wait what, like what just happened. That was like such a whirlwind. And uh anyway she moved back the next week, and yeah. And it’s been a- that’s been a- we can talk about this forever-

Laurie Segall: Yeah sure, we don’t-

Justin McLeod: But married, I just had a baby, we have an 8 week old baby-

Laurie Segall: Yeah, good that’s great. You’re all in love and stuff so that’s awesome.

Justin McLeod: And this takes us back to- yeah okay sorry so we’ll go back.

Laurie Segall: Now that- I love that I think that’s great-

Justin McLeod: And I think the thesis between back to your original question where we departed this in the first place is that my idea of what, and this is gonna sound kind of ironic after this story but, my idea of what love is all about is not about a volume game, and I think that that’s kind of the way that Hinge was originally designed, it’s like oh you just got to find your perfect puzzle piece, so just like keep swiping until like you find your perfect person who has no flaws and like you have no flaws then just like you just fit perfectly and you have no problems.

Justin McLeod: Like that is kind of I feel like the mentality that these things create, because it really flattens people, makes them feel kind of like objects, that they’re kind of disposable and you can always get the next one. And what I wanted to create with the reboot of hinge was to really slow people down and to humanize and like  create depth in each of the profiles, that people really felt like people. To create ins for people to actually have meaningful conversations and connections, for people to be thoughtful about the likes they send. So that’s why you have to choose something that you like on a profile as opposed to just like swiping people left and right, and it’s much more about opening people up to be vulnerable, and slowing people down and that’s what helps cause connection, not finding your perfect puzzle piece.

Laurie Segall: It’s like once you met Kate, and it sounds like you were happy in kind of your own personal life you changed the ethos of the app in a way, and this is where we get into the geeky tech stuff that I find really fascinating though, like you talk about like coding vulnerability, uh and how you make tech feel really human, and how do you use technology to create these human feelings, or you know, because it can go both ways as we both know.

Justin McLeod: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: and so How does Hinge actually code vulnerability?

Justin McLeod: Well, it’s pretty … I think we made one really important decision early on, which is that we are gonna make the …in the early days of Hinge, and I think a lot of these other apps, they- their engineers, and their growth people, and their- and their product people are all focused on like, how do we grow this thing faster, how do we get more engagement, how do we get more retention, and so, every time they introduce a new feature, or they introduce, uh, something, it’s like that’s- that’s their measure of success. Did it create more engagement or retention? And what we decided to do is we’re gonna take an alternative tack and we were going to, uh, optimize around great first dates. Like every feature that we release, did it create more great first dates, or less great first dates? And we had start measuring … Dating apps aren’t even asking, did you go on a date with this person-

Laurie Segall: Right-

Justin McLeod: How was it? So, we like starting to measure that and optimize towards that, and so, everything we release, we ask it, does it create more great dates or not? And that’s why our tagline designed to be deleted just sort of raises that sort of question for people-

Justin McLeod: you came to us to feel connected and to have a great date, and what if we were like, spent all our engineering talent and design talent around designing around the need that you’re trying to meet versus the need we’re trying to meet, and I think that led to a slower growth at first, ’cause it’s not as viral and crazy-

Laurie Segall: Yeah-

Justin McLeod: But our bet is that over the long-term, we’ll win, right? We’ll win in the market because, uh, ultimately … In all forms of entertainment, I think we’re out, but the- but if we’re like truly like the utility if we’re the thing that’s actually excellent at helping you get out on great dates, then that, then like that is what leads to success. And we find that everytime we make the product source more successful we actually grow faster

Laurie Segall: So it’s these promptsI mean how do you guys do that? Like do you guys have like a psychologist who comes in as like, this will do? I- I don’t know, like- are there certain prompts that get you to be more human in some capacity?

Justin McLeod: We decided … I mean we certainly want to be available for what research is out there, but we take a really sort of like engineering approach to it, which is that we started by, honestly, we just like sat around the office like guessing, so we just like threw a bunch of ideas up on the wall, and just- and- and- and those were the original prompts, and then what we did is over time we learned, um, which prompts lead to great conversations and dates, and which ones lead to dead ends. And so, like my go to karaoke song, right, like Dead End, right, whereas, uh, other things that really get you to open up a little bit more, like qualities I’m looking for in a plus one wedding date or, um, especially interactive ones-

Laurie Segall: I mean I have that one on mine.

Justin McLeod: Cool-

Laurie Segall: It like gets the most responses. I feel like my answers are great-

Justin McLeod: Because they- because they get the conversation going, they get you to share a little bit more about yourself-

Laurie Segall: Yeah-

Justin McLeod: Even more than maybe you would share in initial first date, like, and if you met in the real world. So that’s, uh-

Laurie Segall: Hmm-

Justin McLeod: And so, we’ve optimized over time, we pulled the ones that don’t work, we learned from the ones that are working and we develop more that are like that, and that’s why, um, I think it- it works pretty well now.

Laurie Segall: And how … Are you finding like the numbers are good compa- like compared to what it was before because it certainly seems … I mean part of why I’m excited to sit here with you too is like, it certainly seems like Hinge is kinda coming up above some of the other ones, and- and in a way that it wasn’t before. I think there was a moment … I mean not to be … I feel like awkward 

Justin McLeod: No, go ah- Yeah, go ahead.

Laurie Segall: Okay, um (laughs).

Justin McLeod: (laughs).

Laurie Segall: You found love and you’re very happy, so I feel like I can like-

Justin McLeod: No, no go for it. We- we’re real, we can be real.

Laurie Segall: Yeah, I want to be real. I mean there was like kind of like a moment where Hinge was like not the one, not the one you’d go on-

Justin McLeod: Definitely not the one-

Laurie Segall: Yeah-

Justin McLeod: It was kinda the one for a minute, like 2014-

Laurie Segall: It was totally, and then 

Justin McLeod: And then it just got like trampled-

Laurie Segall: And then like no one was … But then it was like no … Not as many people  I mean I don’t want to say-

Justin McLeod: Yeah-

Laurie Segall: No one was on Hinge, that’s awkward to say across from you, but like it wasn’t like-

Justin McLeod: No, basically no one was on Hinge-

Laurie Segall: Okay.

Justin McLeod: I mean let’s be real, like it was-

Laurie Segall: (laughs).

Justin McLeod: And- and ’cause also what happened in 2015 is when we- when we … and 2016 is when we made the bet to- to move over to the new platform, we kinda just were like this is gonna be painful, but we’re just gonna leave the app alone, like we’re not gonna do any … Like for a year, it just was totally static and stable and like, not like, you know, it was- it was not a great experience, and then we released a new version, and then even the new version had some like kinks in it at the beginning, and so, it wasn’t until, um, you know 2018 was a really great year. This has been a really great year for us, but we’re really starting to grow fast, and I think all the hard work is paying off for sure.

Laurie Segall: But like how do you sit with that? How do you sit with the discomfort of like change? I- I know that this, now it’s cool that we can sit here and talk about how you guys are kind of on the app, not kind of, you guys are on the app. You guys are really emerging as the one that- that people are using because you’ve been coding these human experiences and all, and we’re at this moment. Um, what a lot of people don’t talk about in the startup world, and what I like to talk about is like that zig-zag of success, how like-

Justin McLeod: Yeah (laughs). 

Laurie Segall: How like it’s-

Justin McLeod: So many-

Laurie Segall: It’s really, really hard, and you have to trust your instinct, and everyone is like you’re wrong, why aren’t you doing this, and you have investor money, and like I … Like you had to probably sit, I’m assuming, with like a couple years of like, am I doing the right thing? Like how do you-

Justin McLeod: Yeah-

Laurie Segall: Like how do you sit and-

Justin McLeod: It’s stressful.

Laurie Segall: It’s like, yeah, and you … I mean you look pretty like good right now, so like I’m assuming (laughs) like you took care of yourself, like how do you sit with that, you know? what-

Justin McLeod: Some days are better than others. I, um-

Laurie Segall: Or how do you even trust yourself that you’re making the right decision?

Justin McLeod: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean that’s a tough one. I- I definitely had my confidence shaken a couple times, uh, during this process pretty badly, and it was hard … It was honestly hard to trust myself again, and I think I went through a period of- of not trusting myself, and um, I don’t think that was good for the company. Uh, I really tried to get like … It’s, yeah, I- I mean that is such a long journey. I’ll say the high level … One, I’ve just taken a lot … I mean you can get a sense of like taking a lot of risks (laughs). I’m- I’m definitely not a risk-averse person. And um, as you take risk, and as you- as you succeed and as you fail a bunch of times, then you realize like, you know, eh, like failure doesn’t kill you, and you just get up and you like show up the next day, and I think you just become a little bit less, um, averse to like risk because you become less averse to failure, ’cause you’re just like, wow, you know, okay, the … You just have to get over yourself a little bit and like move onto the next thing.

Justin McLeod: But um, certainly when- when there’s the pressure and we have like, you know, 100 investors on our cap table and raised lots of many millions of dollars and there’s, uh, you know many people that work for you whose livelihood are depending upon you, then it gets a little bit more intense for sure. It’s not as, uh, it’s not as like … You can’t be as flippant about it anymore and um, that was hard. It was really hard. I mean really dark times. I mean really depressed at certain points, like it didn’t look like the- the reboot was gonna work in the beginning, uh, and I mean r- like you can talk to Kate, but I was- I was not in a good place and-

Laurie Segall: Like in what capacity?

Justin McLeod: Um, just like, um, just depressed and- and having to drag myself into work every day and feeling like the … I think one of the most important things that entrepreneurs and founders need is resilience. I think you need to be able to like roll with the punches, and I just felt like for like six to nine months, like I had no shock absorbers, you know what I mean? Like it’s just every like bad, like I’d be having a good day, and then I’d get one piece of bad news and it was just like, pff, it would like take all the wind out of my sails. And- and I was constantly in self-doubt and con- and like, yeah, that was like dark times for sure.

We have to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors but whenw e come back Justin’s going to open up about how he worked through some real self doubt and dpression and also the practical tools he uses to take care of himself durin hard times

Laurie Segall: I remember talking to the Lyft founder who talked ab- about depression too. Like about I think it’s really lonely at the top too-

Justin McLeod: Yeah, sole founder for, you know,eight and a half years now, nine years, so

Laurie Segall: Yeah, like who do you talk to when … Because I think probably for you, you have all these people who are looking to you to be optimistic, and this and that, um, and so, thank god you have Kate, right-

Justin McLeod: Yeah-

Laurie Segall: But like what, you know, what did you do during that time, uh, to take care of yourself? Like what do you do to like get out of bed? Like how do you even do it-

Justin McLeod: Yeah-

Laurie Segall: That’s a basic question.

Justin McLeod: Um, I mean there’s the practical tools. I think the- the biggest tool … I mean I … So one, I’ll say, practical tools like having a morning routine and like is so helpful, like ’cause it just like waking up, making my … You know I make- I make my little lemon water in the morning, I do my yoga like sit for 20 minutes in meditation, I do my morning pages or I journal, and that just like really helps me reset and like listing things I’m grateful for. There’s like some things that I’ve learned over time that really can help change my mindset so that I go into the day really clear and have perspective, ’cause you start losing that perspective and you start getting reactive, and you wake up in the morning, grab your phone first thing, you start checking your email and jump in the shower and like, then you’re just like, whoo, spiraling, and um, taking a moment every morning I think to reset is really like totally critical, so I think that’s on the practical side.

Justin McLeod: The thing I think that gets overlooked the most is community and friends, like- like having other friends who are founders, having other friends, um, just period, who I can really open up and like share these like- like moments with is so critical, and like Kate, my wife is amazing. Like she’ll … If I’m like having a bad time, she’ll like secretly arrange like a guys night out and have like eight people over, um, and then like sneak out for the night. And she’s just like, um, I … It’s things like that, that I think we- we’re losing b- and- and again, like the … we’re replacing with a cheap alternative of- of face- like in getting likes on our Instagram post-

Laurie Segall: Sure-

Justin McLeod: That is like, we think that, that’s … Like that social validation is a form of connection, but it’s not a form of connection. And we think that we’re like staying in touch with our friends, but it’s- we’re so out of touch. And that is something I’ve been trying to so conscious about and something that I think really helps, frankly.

Laurie Segall: As someone who, um, has kind of- who has an extreme personality, and I totally relate to that, I’m very extreme, right, in- in everything I do. I don’t really half-ass anything. I’m like, I have like the best days and the worst days, I can be a tornado, right? Um, I- I think … I thought it was really interesting that you really have a found a way to like regulate your technology use, as a tech founder, I know there is this larger conversation about tech and addiction, um, and you know looking at this through the lens of addiction, like social media obviously so addicting, like how do you- you … Did I read like you don’t even have, um, a social media on your phone or something or like-

Justin McLeod: Yeah-

Laurie Segall: Email, like-

Justin McLeod: I don’t have social media period, and I don’t have Slack or email on my phone, and um-

Laurie Segall: Why was there a certain-

Justin McLeod: ‘Cause I’m not strong enough to fight it. Like honestly, and I’m like … You know, you’re talking to someone who like escaped like drug and alcohol addiction, right? Like I’m not strong enough to fight the- the, uh, those tools, they’re so- they’re- they pull us in, and they’re so addicting and I know what that feels like because of my experience and I don’t want that. You know I didn’t come out of … I didn’t like, uh, like free myself from addiction from drugs and alcohol just to be like a slave to my phone, and uh, and- and just, you know I- I like make the analogy to, uh, let’s say like fast-food. Food that’s kind of unnaturally good, ’cause it’s- it’s very … They’re using mechanisms that we all appreciate, social validation, like that’s something that we- that we work for and we want, um, but they take it and they concentrate it in a way that’s just like so overstimulating, right? It’s like the difference between, you know, we’re designed to like sugar, but then you like create candy bars and it’s like, whoo-

Laurie Segall: Yeah-

Justin McLeod: It’s like our- our systems don’t even know what to do with that, and then like fruit doesn’t taste as good anymore, and so, uh, and if you think about like the fast food analogy, uh, you know, it’s food that’s- that is way overstimulating, and then imagine if they could just put french fries in your back pocket, and not only that, but monitor like how many you ate each today and if they could like tweak like of the bit more salt, and maybe like a little bit less fat, then like that would get you to eat them even faster and like, just like that is … That, I mean that’s the reality that we’re living in, like how many french fries would you be eating per day if it was in your back pocket, and they could constantly monitor your like biometrics to figure out whether this is like even better tasting to you.

Laurie Segall: Well, I mean I also think it’s probably a lot of responsibility in you, as someone who’s creating an app that, um, that is kind of at the center of these conversations, right? Because Tinder, Bumble, you know Hinge, like all fall into this idea of, you know the people becoming pixels thing, and- and I think like you guys I think you guys are better than the other ones. It’s still hard, right?

Justin McLeod: Yeah-

Laurie Segall: Like It’s still hard. I’m gonna show you mine. I like … And I’m, and I think you’re gonna notice like that probably has some similar personality traits of like-

Justin McLeod: Sure-

Laurie Segall: You know like extreme-

Justin McLeod: Yeah-

Laurie Segall: Like I have a lot of like your turns, right-

Justin McLeod: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: In my thing and I like, and it’s hard for me to keep up with- with, um, I mean I sound like such an a jerk in saying this, like maybe we can cut this out

Justin McLeod: All the people that are interested in you, and (laughs).

Laurie Segall: Well, I mean by the way, are they even really that interested or are they just pressing, you know, I don’t- I don’t really … You know like, um, but yeah, I- I kind of struggle with that. You know and I think Hinge does a better job of it, but it’s still kind of an- an issue. so I’d be curious to know like about the future

Justin McLeod: The- the difference is that you feel from Hinge because we’re- we’re literally designed around getting you out on- on great dates, and so, there’s a lot of nuances that I can talk about-

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Justin McLeod: In terms of the way the algorithm is designed in a way that, um, the interface is designed to make sure that you’re not feeling overwhelmed with the number of people and the amount of choices and that you’re able to focus, and that you’re able to, um, slow down, but we can only do-   

Laurie Segall: Yeah-

Justin McLeod: So much, right? I mean ultimately there are- there are options out there.

Laurie Segall: What are like … Not to geek out, like what are some of the like … Can you give us like one or two examples of like the product t- eh, like that you make sure that people don’t move as fast, or like some of the product decisions that you guys made to make sure that we don’t e go through-

Justin McLeod: Yeah-

Laurie Segall: Go to the worst of our human impulses.

Justin McLeod: So a big piece of it is helping people separate, um, signal from noise, right? Are you familiar with like signal versus noise? It’s kind of like, when you get a ton of matches, um, you don’t really know where to spend your time, but that’s good for engagement retention, right? ‘Cause you’re like all these, like it’s a new notification and you’re-

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Justin McLeod: Like coming into check your phone. And on Hinge, by having people, um, like in individual piece of content versus just swipe left and right, the people selectivity is like 5X as selective, right? Because they have- there’s just that extra overload of like, okay, if I like them, I really have to decide like what I like about them and what I want to say, and so, unless you’re really interested in someone, you just pass on them. And so, there’s way fewer matches on Hinge then there are on these other apps, because people are way more selective. And as a result of that, our algorithm gets much better information because when you’re selective, we actually really start to learn who your type is, and who isn’t-

Laurie Segall: Mmm.

Justin McLeod: Versus if you just swipe right on 70% of the people, which some guys do on- on these other apps,

Justin McLeod: And the other thing that’s really important about Hinge is we don’t, um, hide who likes you, you see each individual person that likes you, you get a notification. we’d get be so careful about how we show you to, whom 

Laurie Segall: I think this idea of like a data driven approach to dating is really interesting, um, how do you … We talk about like we use data in every aspect of our lives to make all these decisions, but when it comes to love, we like go with our gut and our-

Justin McLeod: Yeah-

Laurie Segall: Instincts, and so like, I’m, you know, so I think the future and correct me if I’m wrong, because I totally could be, but could the future for some of these dating apps be like really trying to go back to old school matchmaking, but in a data driven way, like you’re gonna try to be more of a matchmaker at Hinge, but based on like hardcore data analytics.

Justin McLeod: I think … Here’s what I’ve learned over time being in the dating market is that, um, everyone concentrates on the- the problem of getting matched up with the right person.

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Justin McLeod: I don’t think that’s the most fundamental problem, like finding the right person, and I know this is gonna sound ironic with like my whole love story and everything, but um, I’m not sure that there’s like one person that’s like gonna be perfect for you, and then we land you on that person, and like everything is gonna be rainbows forever. It’s, um, it’s really helping people approach dating in a way that allows them to open up, um, be vulnerable, and then take those kinds of lessons that they learn into the relationship going into the future, and I think if there’s any role for technology to really help us, it’s to change our mindset and to help us learn how to be good, thoughtful daters than not how to match us up with the the exact right person. 

Laurie Segall: So, but why when I’m on Hinge-

Justin McLeod: (laughs).

Laurie Segall: Like why does it say, “You’re most compatible with this person.” Like give me some like, come on, give me the juice.

Justin McLeod: Okay-

Laurie Segall: So what- what’s behind that? And by the way, it’s not just me, as a tech reporter who wants to know this, because I was sitting at a table with like my normal friends, and they all wanted to know that too.

Justin McLeod: So compatibility is- is- is real-

Laurie Segall: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Justin McLeod: And um, most compatible is designed like you said, I think people can feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice that they have on these apps, and so, um, we try to help you really focus. So  really you’re the … Everyone you see on Hinge is sort of, uh, is i- in that ethos of most compatible, someone you’re like- likely to like, but who’s also likely to like you

Laurie Segall: Why am I like- why am I likely to like them? ‘Cause of how they look?

Justin McLeod: Well, well it’s based on, actually, it’s based on your past behavior of who you’ve liked-

Laurie Segall: Okay-

Justin McLeod: And who you passed on, so if you’re purely basing it your decisions that you make on Hinge on looks, then it will be based on looks, but if you’re making it-

Justin McLeod: But if you’re making it based on their prompts, or on their school or whatever it is, like we’re gonna-

Laurie Segall: Yeah-

Justin McLeod: Start to learn those patterns that that matter to you, and we’re also gonna learn the patterns that matter to everyone else, and at the end of every day, we basically take every single person and we go through them and we rank order for- for like you say, um, every person on Hinge that’s eligible for you from the most- you’re most likely to like them all the way down to your least likely to like them-

Laurie Segall: Oh.

Justin McLeod: And then we take all that information and we run this thing called, the Gale–Shapley algorithm, which it solves the stable marriage problems like this Nobel prize-winning algorithm, and we essentially try to figure out how can we pair everyone up so that no one would want to trade, so that, um, it’s basically just the person that you’re mostly li- likely to like, ’cause most like to like you back, ’cause we could show you that number one person, and you’d think they were super hot, but maybe they’re like aren’t gonna be back like into you as well, and so

Laurie Segall: I did want to know why you guys thought I would be compatible with Clement over here-

Justin McLeod: Who’s Clement?

Laurie Segall: I don’t know-

Justin McLeod: (laughs).

Laurie Segall: But like, so, okay, and this maybe I’m doing something wrong. I, uh, I di- I just took screenshots, so like-

Justin McLeod: Oh, okay-

Laurie Segall: I’ll show you-

Justin McLeod: We can’t- I can’t scroll through his, uh, .

Laurie Segall: Well, I- I- I just didn’t understand … Hold on. He says he’s Buddhist, Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, spiritual, and other. My Jewish mother’s gonna be like, “What?”

Justin McLeod: Oh, man.

Justin McLeod: How do you feel about like-

Laurie Segall: All of those things?

Laurie Segall: Well-

Justin McLeod: Is it about your … Is it your mom’s preferences or your preferences?

Laurie Segall: Well, okay, it’s my preferences, um, well, my mom, I’m sure at some point would love to, just you know, she’s probably I think her bar’s lower now. Um, but- but I do think, First of all, good-looking guy, right-

Justin McLeod: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: But I am … For some reason it’s matching except for what is that over there?

Justin McLeod: He’s creative.

Laurie Segall: I mean are you as equally upset by Clement’s sandcastle as I am?

Justin McLeod: Oh, that’s Clement.

Laurie Segall: Yeah.

Justin McLeod: Oh-

Laurie Segall: And that’s Clement’s sandcastle, and that’s not even a castle I think that’s a man he made out of the sand, a large one, anyways, so I want to know why I’m compatible with Clement?

Justin McLeod: Um, well-

Laurie Segall: Is that my future

Justin McLeod: Over time we learn your preferences better, we learn other people’s preferences better and um, maybe we get it closer.

Laurie Segall: And is it that I’m liking too many people, so that’s why Clement?

Justin McLeod: It- it could be. Are you liking too many people?

Laurie Segall: I might be, like-

Justin McLeod: Hmm-

Laurie Segall: This could be my issue. 

Justin McLeod: Or you’re liking too few people.

Laurie Segall: Or I’m liking too few people. Also-

Laurie Segall: How about Matthew. I mean am I most compatible with that guy? Is that my future husband?

Justin McLeod: You’re not a burning man guy?

Laurie Segall: No.

Justin McLeod: Mmm.

Laurie Segall: Are you bur- a burning man person?

Justin McLeod: Well, I’ve been before, but, um-

Laurie Segall: Would you wear that neck scarf shirtless?

Justin McLeod: At burning man, yes.

Laurie Segall: Okay-

Justin McLeod: Is he wearing a snake around his neck-

Laurie Segall: I wasn’t sure if it was ammo or a snake (laughs). Anyways, so I’m very curious to know why.

Justin McLeod: Maybe you should meet up with him in real life, and then decide.

Laurie Segall: I can’t wait to build sand castles with Clement, but no, I do- I- I 

Justin McLeod: I’m in a … Uh, yeah, maybe you end up with Clement in the end 

Laurie Segall: And Clement and I can have a love story like you and Kate?

Justin McLeod: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Do you think Clement would flight to Zurich for me?. Well so it looks like i don’t have any problems with my Hinge profile. I just don’t respond. 

Laurie Segall: I mean Do you think this is like an addictive personality trait, or do you think it’s-

Justin McLeod: I mean, well what’s going on, like what’s going on for you here that-

Laurie Segall: It’s just a lot to like have to- And, and it’s like I can’t really, um, I don’t know. It’s just like, there’s a lot of people here, and how do you really know? And like, and then once there are a lot of people, it’s just like, then it just feels like a lot.

Justin McLeod: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: You know?

Justin McLeod: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: I mean, do you know? You’re with Kate. How do you know?

Justin McLeod: Do you find that when you actually meet up with people you start to click with them?

Laurie Segall: You know i think time is hard and you know there’s nothin um for me truthfully i’m not a person who just loves goign out for dinner and i talk to people a lot fo r aliving and i’m actually a closet introvert and i have a small group of people who i feel really comfortable wtih and who i really like and i think fo r me i don’t want to go out on a date every night i don’t know guess i struggle with so many people but i don’t know about the connection

Justin McLeod: But these are like seem like a lot of pretty cool eligible guys who are interested in you and want to talk but you just want to talk back or you don’t know which one to focus on

Laurie Segall: It just feels like a lot at once so then i just go to no one

Justin McLeod: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Laurie Segall: Do you believe in the one?

Justin McLeod: Uh, no. I don’t. I know that sounds crazy after everything I just said, but, um, I believe that you can work and make someone the one. You know what I mean? I think that you can- um, I think it’s, like I said, I think- I used to believe in the one.

Justin McLeod: Right? I used to believe in the idea that there was only one person out there for us. And that’s why I flew over to Switzerland. And what I learned through that experience is that, it- what made Kate the one wasn’t that like she was just like this magical person, although she’s a pretty magical person. It was, um, we, I think we both learned how to be, like, vulnerable with each other, and how to like- and for me it was a commitment thing. For me, I was in that mode of where I was always moving onto the next thing as soon as I found a flaw, or as soon as things got uncomfortable, I would just like drop and run. And the magical thing about what happened with Kate is that I like couldn’t do that. You know? She moved back from Switzerland for me, like, left a whole life. And I wasn’t just gonna be like as soon as things got a little rough be like, “Uh, like never mind.”

Justin McLeod: And so I stuck it out. And what I found by sticking it out with someone, and learning how to like share my needs and share my vulnerabilities and share my fears and listen to hers, and like imperfections, and it’s very possible to have an amazing relationship with anyone if you have the right skills. And if you approach it with the right attitude and that’s i think the ethos that gets built into hinge and thats been the journey that i’ve been on.

Laurie Segall: How has, I mean, I guess this is maybe probably one of your first interviews you’ve done since you had a baby-

Justin McLeod: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: What’s the biggest change, um, like what’ the biggest change post having a baby? Like, how has it changed you?

Justin McLeod: Uh, it’s cool, it’s brought Kate and me closer together. Um, which a lot of people have the opposite experience. They find like babies are stress. And, uh, it hasn’t been stressful for us. I think we got really lucky. We have like- Kate did a home birth, she like delivered in our living room. Uh-

Laurie Segall: Whoa.

Justin McLeod: Yeah. It was-

Laurie Segall: That’s so crazy. Were you scared?

Justin McLeod: Um, yeah, a little scared. I mean it’s definitely a wild experience. You definitely feel like you’re just animals. 

Justin McLeod: But it really starts to change your perspective in terms of like I don’t know, it feels like the lion king and the circle of life you know? It just feels like, “Oh, this isn’t about me,” you know, it’s like so much bigger. And i was like jokingly said like this is the first step on a three step path to death. It’s like father, grandfather, dead. And he’s like edging me out. And, but no i mean it’s cool to um see the like this whole path just continues on. 

Laurie Segall: What do you think the future of love’s gonna look like for that, for that little-

Justin McLeod: For Oliver? For Ollie?

Laurie Segall: Yeah, for little Oliver. Is he gonna be like finding love in the virtual world? What’s it gonna look like? What does Oliver have to look forward to? Don’t, don’t screw this up man. Don’t screw it up for Oliver.

Justin McLeod: Yeah. I- that’s my hope. I mean, I think there are some pretty dark images of where we could go in the future, and um, my hope is that I think we learn to use technology to like find how to meet our needs more deeply, and not just easier and more shallow-ly. Right? I mean I think it’s, how do we use tech  to enhance human connection. How do we like deepen it? How do we use this to deepen it, not how do we use it to, um, manipulate people into spending time on our platforms and looking at ads. And so like, if that’s where the future goes, and if that’s where we start to put our time and attention I think the possibilities in the future are amazing. Um, and so that’s- I’m trying to do my small piece to make that a reality.

Laurie Segall: Do you feel like you have a responsibility?

Justin McLeod: Huge responsibility. Yeah, like I think all of us as creators in tech whose platforms touch millions of people’s lives every single day, like, that’s a huge responsibility.

Justin McLeod: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: I think tech has an extraordinary responsibility. I think for me having been there from the second wave and interviewing a lot of these people early on, it feels like a moment where you want people to take a step back. And I know there’s a lot of lip service about it, and I know there are a lot of people talking about it, um-

Justin McLeod: There’s not a lot of, not a lot of like people who are actually operating companies talking about it, or doing anything meaningful about it. You see a lot of people like, just like you see in the senate, like people are resigning and then they’re like “Oh, now I’m going to speak out against all the bad things in the senate.”

Laurie Segall: Right.

Justin McLeod: Like, thanks Jeff Flake.

Laurie Segall: (laughs)

Justin McLeod: But like, you know, it’s like, what are the people who are doing, or are in the inside of it. And um, and so I think that that’s what I’m trying- I like, that’s what I’m trying to do. Is like how do we show a way forward? That’s also by the way like profitable and fun and great. Like, I- the business model isn’t unprofitable, it just is a little bit slower and a little bit like counterintuitive.

Laurie Segall: hopefully that’ll- that will change things, you know? Like, I’ve interviewed everyone from like- sitting across from Mark Zuckerberg during Cambridge Analytica and looking at the issues and the problems that we’re facing, um- this stuff is so human. I think people don’t realize, like. And I think tech founders sometimes have a tough time realizing it, you know, ’cause there are-

Justin McLeod: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: Surrounded by these filter bubbles. Like, the impact of this is so visceral and so human. Um, there’s an extraordinary responsibility, and not just to get the line down. Um, the PR line down to the media and whatnot. Like, there’s an extraordinary responsibility to us and the way we find love, and the way our mental health goes, and like, um, we’ve gotta find a better way in some capacity. I don’t-

Justin McLeod: Yeah.

Laurie Segall: I don’t know what the answer is, you know?

Justin McLeod: I mean, it’s gotta be- I think we’ve really gotta start thinking about how we- you know, ’cause a lot of people are like, “Oh, like, the way we’re moral as a company is we all like do community service once a year, and we like-“. You know, it’s just like, the way- I try to always direct people at my company back to like, the way that we really do good in the world is to like do good through the work that we do. And, um, and I think that that’s like being really thoughtful about that. And I think it’s hard. It’s hard when you’ve- especially, like, I can’t imagine what- I mean, I’m not a sympathizer with Mark Zuckerberg, but like, I, you know, who can fathom like a billion people using this thing in all these different ways every day, and like the impact that each of your little design decisions make. But that’s why I think it’s important to have like a really strong ethos of like how you define what your morality is, and what your north star as a company is. And that for us is design around the deeper need that people are coming to you for, and not around your need to get them to engage and retain. And you’ll still be profitable.

Laurie Segall: Do you think Face- well, Facebook just launched a dating service, what do you think?

Justin McLeod: (scoff) I mean, based on the same- how are they gonna make money through that, right? Getting you to spend more time in it looking at ads. So how do you think that that’s gonna be designed? Right? Like-

Laurie Segall: You tell me.

Justin McLeod: Uh, it’s, uh- I really, like Hinge’s, Hinge’s business model- and by the way, this is also true even for the other ones- that they make almost all their money through subscriptions, not through advertising. So, it doesn’t really serve them to keep you stuck on the app. And, um, but that’s not true in social media, and I don’t think that’ll be true in an ad supported model for, for Facebook, so. It’ll be fun and engaging, probably, but um, like, it’s, yeah-

Laurie Segall: It’s a bandaid, you think? It’s not the larger-

Justin McLeod: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. It’s- I honestly don’t even really think about it that much, because the- like, our users aren’t using Facebook period, much less using Facebook for dating, especially in the wake of everything that’s happening right now. So, um, it’s not something I think about.

Laurie Segall: So, to end it. What’s your advice for me? As a Hinge user, as, uh, as someone’s who’s addicted to tech, whatever. What, what’s your advice to me? You seem to have it together in the love department, so as the Hinge CEO I would, I would like your advice.

Justin McLeod: Um. From what I know about you, um, I think- I wanna answer this thoughtfully. I think you’re doing a lot right. I mean, I think that you- I mean I do think you’re doing a lot right. I wonder, this idea of like slowing down a little bit, right? It’s, it’s this- in our dating lives, and our like day-to-day likes, checking in with ourselves and figuring out- um, ’cause I think sometimes it’s really easy to get caught up in like, good witty banter, and like, we’re like running a million miles per hour, right? But I think it’s those moments when you really do get to slow down and like recharge. And it sounds like you’re- you called yourself a closet introvert, so maybe it’s uh, it’s taking those moments to really like, slow down, and to like- it’s really easy to look at your match drawer and just like be like “Oh, I’m overwhelmed and I don’t know what do.” As opposed to like really consider, and just like- you just have to, like, when you’re overwhelmed you just take baby steps one at a time, slowly. And you figure out like what do you, like- who do you actually want to meet up with, and who do you now, and, and, uh, and I think getting offline is like the number one way to really figure it out. So focus on who you want to spend a little bit of time with.

LS: ok i’ll take it, I appreciate that

I like justin’s takeawya for me: slow down. We move a million miles an hour. You can apply that concept to the dating apps but really it applies to just about everything else in the tech era. Some of us pick up our phones before we even open our eyes int he morning. I might be guilty of that. We scroll through instagram befor we even check in with ourselves. Also i might be guilgy of that. So i’ll leave you with what i htink justin was trying to say to me, slow down today. Take a moment that might actually create some space to connect with someoene. Maybe most important? Connecting with yourself. I promise it will be worth it. 

I’m Laurie Segall and this is First Contact.

Sign up for our newsletter, go to firstcontactpodcast.com to subscribe and follow us on social. I’m @lauriesegall on instagram and twitter and the show is @firstcontact. I’d love to hear your thoughts and of course, if you like the show you know these are our early episodes and we want to hear from you. Please leave us a review on the apple podcast app or wherever you listend and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. We have plenty more where this came from. Subscribe to first contact on the iheart radio app or on apple podcast or wherevery ou get your podcasts.

First contact is a product of Dot Dot Dot Media executive produced by Laurie Segall and Derek Dodge. This episode was produced and edited by Luis Gallo, our engineer was Derek Clemens, original theme music by Xander Singh.

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