Whitney Wolfe, the co-founder and CEO of Bumble, has one simple goal: to make tech-based romance more inclusive and empathetic for the marginalized -- including people who identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender).

To that end, her dating app recently announced its investment (of a "significant" amount) in Chappy, a new gay dating service based in the U.K. The exact terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but Bumble, which has taken an equity stake in the company, confirmed that it is the sole investor. It's also offering to help out with marketing and product development.

Set to launch in February 2017, Chappy won't initially be generating revenue, but the co-founders say they plan to monetize by offering add-on services or features for a small fee. "We're more focused on meaningful connections, and we're not positioning our brand with hookups," explains Ollie Locke, Chappy's co-founder.

Locke, along with co-founder Jack Rogers, met Wolfe through a mutual friend earlier this year. The timing was fortuitous for Wolfe, who has recently been making a bigger effort to entice LGBT users onto Bumble. The entrepreneur says a significant percentage of her overall users are seeking matches of the same sex, but admits that the service could probably do a better job of serving them.

"We were thinking more about marketing to the LGBT community," she says, adding that since day one, her mission has been to reverse "hetero-normativity, because it's not normal at all."

How Chappy compares to its competitors

Wolfe says that unlike rival services, Chappy doesn't treat individuals as "objects." Competitors such as Grindr and Hornet -- which boast 6 million and 3 million monthly active users, respectively -- are often used to orchestrate more casual sexual encounters. Some have raised questions over the safety of these services; Grindr, for one, has been linked to multiple killings and rape allegations since it launched back in 2009.

Rogers, who has previously used Grindr, says the product made him feel forced to "stay in the closet." "The most striking thing about Grindr is that it's all so negative," he says. "I downloaded it once, and within about an hour I had d*** picks coming through."

By contrast, Chappy aims to create a safe space for users by allowing men to choose between "Mr. Right" and "Mr. Right Now." The default setting (if determining your level of commitment is still too much of a commitment) is "Mr. Who Knows." Chappy will only facilitate conversations between matches, whereas Grinder lets users receive messages from anyone else on the app.

The founders note that as society progresses in its perception of the LGBT community, startups that cater to them need to change the way they do business, too. That means creating a platform where men and women can be transparent, both about their sexual orientation and about what they're looking for.

"The way men feel about being openly gay on an app has changed a lot," Wolfe observes. "Gay marriage is legal now, thank God, and I think the dating landscape has not provided that same type of acceptance."

A long road to Bumble

Two years ago, Wolfe was ousted from Tinder, the dating app she co-founded in 2012 with former boyfriend Justin Mateen, and with Sean Rad. (Shortly thereafter, she sued Mateen, alleging sexual discrimination. The suit was settled in September 2014, without any admission of wrongdoing.) That experience ultimately led her to start Bumble, where women are the ones to make the first move. For non-heterosexual pairings, either party can send the first message.

While Bumble wouldn't disclose its revenues, the app recently surpassed 10 million users, and in August introduced its first-ever paid features. Starting at $9.99 per month -- with discounts available for purchasing multiple months at a time -- users can elect to extend the time frame for having a conversation with a match, say, or re-activate previous matches. Tinder, for reference, which is owned by parent company IAC, surpassed 1 million paying users this year, and counts more than 50 million users worldwide.

"I had been traumatized by the media response and a lot of the commentary," Wolfe says of the time she left the company. "It really opened my eyes to what digital bullying feels like, and the threat digital bullying is to the youth in our world."

Published on: Dec 15, 2016