The CEO of a startup that's raised R300 million gives the same piece of advice to every new entrepreneur he meets
- Hinge founder and CEO Justin McLeod tells new entrepreneurs to be both naive and flexible.
- It's important to stay true to your vision, while also taking into account criticisms of your business and changes in the market.
- McLeod learned this lesson firsthand: He believed in Hinge when no one else did, but he also had to make significant changes to the product years later.
When Justin McLeod was first pitching his idea for dating app Hinge, few people believed he'd be successful.
Instead, McLeod told Business Insider, they'd say to him, "This is never going to be a thing. Match.com owns the market. No one's ever going to be able to break into it."
This was more than seven years ago, back before dating apps had taken off (Tinder launched in 2012). But McLeod, Hinge's CEO, was relatively certain that the app - which initially matched users with people they were connected to through mutual Facebook friends - would be a hit.
Today, Hinge has raised more than $20 million (about R300 million) , according to Crunchbase, and is one of the most popular dating apps in the US.
When McLeod advises early stage entrepreneurs, he mentions his own determination to make Hinge work, even in the face of resistance. But he also cautions those founders to listen to their critics and to be willing to change course if necessary.
As an entrepreneur, McLeod said, you must have "this naiveté and belief that you're going to make this succeed no matter what. But, on the other hand, if you hold too closely to your vision, and you're not flexible, and you're not willing to change it, and you're not willing to evolve over time, then you can just hold onto some vision that's not working."
McLeod knows firsthand about the importance of flexibility. In 2016, he made the decision to "reboot" Hinge, most notably removing the swiping feature so the app could appeal more to users interested in serious relationships.
This decision, McLeod said, was based partly on the publication of a Vanity Fair article about the dating "apocalypse," and partly on McLeod's observation that Hinge had become too similar to other dating apps on the market.
"If you always listen to everyone else, then you'll never do anything new," McLeod said. "And if you never listen to anyone else, then you'll get to the point where you might do something crazy, or you're just banging your head against the wall."
He added that at Hinge, "Doing things the same way we've always done as the company continues to grow and the market continues to change is just a recipe for disaster."
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