Most — if not all — of the dating apps on your phone are owned by the same parent company, Match Group.
That does not mean they’re all the same.
Hinge, which at one point called itself “the relationship app,” is one of the many apps now owned by the Match Group but still strives to set itself apart. Its founder, Justin McLeod, set out to make an app less shallow than Tinder — but with a younger demographic than eHarmony and Match. McLeod made headlines over the years in his own right due to a that was spun off into an episode of the new .
While Hinge was founded in 2012, the same year as Tinder, it’s gone through several major iterations over the years. Hinge did away with swiping in 2016 and charged seven dollars for the app to weed out non-serious users. By 2017, the mandated membership fee was gone, but they did not go back to the swipe model.
I spoke to McLeod at Hinge’s New York City office last month to discuss where Hinge is, currently, and where it’s going in 2020.
Since Match’s full acquisition — — McLeod said he and his team had been focused on optimizing the app. He also said he did not see the recent redesign as a rebrand, more of a “better articulation of what we’re all about.”
Hinge has been fine-tuning their algorithm over the years and figuring out which prompts, for example, lead to better matches and better dates. While McLeod does not think this version is the last evolution Hinge will go through, he said, “I’m prouder of the app than I’ve ever been by leaps and bounds.”
What made me interested in talking to McLeod is my own experience with Hinge. For professional and personal reasons, I frequently peruse what I think of as the “big three” apps: Hinge, Tinder, and Bumble. If users have tried all three, they’d realize quickly that they are not carbon copies of each other and have different objectives — and Hinge is the one that stands out.
One way it sets itself apart is through filters. Tinder barely has any, just about gender, age, and location preferences. Seeing as Tinder is known as “the hook-up app,” its barebones filter system makes sense.
Bumble, on the other hand, has many filters like Hinge. Some overlap, such as whether someone drinks, smokes, religion, and whether they plan to have children — all factors that people think about when choosing a lifelong partner. But Hinge has a filter that Bumble does not, one that’s proved to be much more controversial: the race and ethnicity filter.
McLeod defended the filter when I asked about it, saying that minority Hinge users use it. “We’ve actually taken a little bit of flack for having an ethnicity filter,” he said. “But on the other hand, we find that minorities are the ones who use those — because otherwise it’s a wash, they’re in the majority culture.”
“Those kinds of things really are there to protect and help minority groups,” he added.
According to McLeod, features such as the ethnicity filter emphasize that Hinge is for people looking for relationships and not one-night flings. From our conversation, it seemed that the goal was not just to get people out on first dates, but specifically a first date that will lead to a second date. Nathan Roth, Hinge’s CMO, told It’s Nice That earlier this year that the app created a date every four seconds — and three out of four first dates turned into second dates. What’s striking is both the statistic and that Hinge’s team is measuring that statistic.
Using data to help users get into relationships is partially the inspiration behind , the app’s new data department. McLeod compared Hinge Lab to personal trainers at the gym. “Hinge has really great machines and really well laid out and it’s really beautiful. But ultimately, [what’s] going to take it to the next level of effectiveness is having the personal trainers around,” he said. These “personal trainers” would, for example, remind you to come back to the app, “high five” users for small wins, and teach users how to better use the app.
“Hinge Lab is essentially going around looking at the buff people in the gym and being like, ‘Okay, well what are they doing differently than the guys and how do we share those learnings with everyone so that everyone can enjoy that success,’” McLeod said.
Going into 2020, McLeod said Hinge is focusing on harnessing that data. “This is such a fundamentally important, critical decision in our lives, who we choose as a partner, and most of us do it with virtually zero data,” he said. He wants that to change; he wants Hinge to help users find a partner and get off the app utilizing research and data.
The thought of needing data to find a mate does sound a bit dystopian, almost too on-the-nose for how we live in 2019. I’m no hater of dating apps — I’m on several, and have met great people through them — but considering the ongoing battle for privacy in the face of data vampires, I’m going to take it with a grain of salt.
McLeod did compare how Hinge uses data to how Facebook does. “If you think about Facebook Dating and Hinge dating,” McLeod said, “They make money by selling your data and keeping you on their app longer looking at ads. We don’t do either, right?” He said that unlike Facebook and their new dating site (, and a better dating site than Tinder, in 2014 emails), Hinge attempts to get its users off the app and into “the real world.”
McLeod also does not see Facebook Dating as a real competitor for Hinge. “We track usage among our competitors because we’re curious about which of our users are using which apps,” he said, “And we haven’t really seen any meaningful or increasing adoption of that [Facebook Dating].”
As for what makes the ideal Hinge profile?
“One that people spend a bit of time on,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something that you can rush. You’re going to get out of it what you put into it.” He said something that shows your vulnerability and uniqueness — no one loves the profile with six selfies and sarcastic responses to prompts.
“Giving people a sense of your values, and your foibles and all of these things really ensures that by the time you get on the first date, it’s going to lead to a second date,” McLeod added, “Because that person already has a good sense of you.”