Zigzag of Success

Hinge Founder on the Roller Coaster of Success: Depression, Shock Waves and Coping with Uncertainty

In 2015, Justin McLeod rebooted his dating app Hinge with an uncertain outcome. Here’s how he coped.

Read an edited transcript with Justin below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

It was really hard. I mean really dark times.


Justin: Basically no one was on Hinge. I mean let’s be real…also what happened in 2015.. and 2016 is when we made the bet 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…for a year, it just was totally static and stable and…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 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: But like how do you sit with that? How do you sit with the discomfort of change? …What a lot of people don’t talk about in the startup world, and what I like to talk about, is that zig-zag of success….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 you had to probably sit, I’m assuming, with like a couple years of like, am I doing the right thing?

Justin: It’s stressful.

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

Justin: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean that’s a tough one. I definitely had my confidence shaken a couple times 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 not trusting myself, and I don’t think that was good for the company. … As you take risk, and as you succeed and as you fail a bunch of times, then you realize you know, failure doesn’t kill you. And you just get up and you show up the next day, and I think you just become a little bit less averse to risk because you become less averse to failure, ’cause you’re just like, wow, you know, okay… You just have to get over yourself a little bit and like move onto the next thing.

Justin: But certainly when there’s the pressure, and we have like, you know, 100 investors on our cap table and raise 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. You can’t be as flippant about it anymore and, 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, and I mean…I was not in a good place and…

Laurie: In what capacity?

Justin: Just depressed and having to drag myself into work every day… I think one of the most important things that entrepreneurs and founders need is resilience. I think you need to be able to 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? …I’d be having a good day, and then I’d get one piece of bad news and it …would like take all the wind out of my sails. And I was constantly in self-doubt and yeah, that was like dark times for sure.

Laurie: What did you do during that time to take care of yourself?

Justin: So one, I’ll say, practical tools like having a morning routine and like is so helpful, like ’cause it just like waking up, I make my little lemon water in the morning, I do my yoga, 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 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: The thing I think that gets overlooked most is community and friends, having other friends who are founders, having other friends…who I can really open up and share these moments with is so critical. Kate, my wife is amazing. If I’m having a bad time, she’ll secretly arrange a guys night out and have like eight people over and then like sneak out for the night. It’s things like that, that I think we’re losing… and we’re replacing with a cheap alternative of getting likes on our Instagram posts…

Laurie: Sure

Justin: We think 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 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.