Succeeding with Apps, How Tinder Did It

Man and woman kissing

Smartphone apps continue to be the most popular way for millennials to spend their digital media time. Users aged 18-24 years old spend more than three hours per day in apps.  With that much time spent in apps they have become lucrative businesses.  

For developers and organizations looking to launch an app or boost downloads generating strong word of mouth and featured status in the App Store are key priorities. According to a study by comScore, the most popular way people discover new apps is through a search of the App Store (20% of smartphone users), then via friends and family (15%) and then via a Featured/Top List in the App Store (13%). According to a study by Sensor Tower getting featured in the App Store can increase downloads by up to 800%. 29% of the apps that are featured in the app store are apps with less than 10,000 downloads.  This should give app developers confidence that even apps with smaller followings can get featured.

Tinder's Early Growth Story

Everyone has heard of Tinder but the story behind its early growth may not be widely known. In addition to having an app with a great product-market fit, one of first activities the founders took once the app was completed was to send a text message with a link to the app to all of their friends, approximately 500 people. Almost immediately 80% of the people they messaged downloaded the app.  

Similar to Facebook’s early growth strategy Tinder also focused on exploiting the positive network effects associated with a college campus. College students spend a lot of time online and tend to have wide social circles.  Tinder officially launched its app at the University of Southern Carolina.  It sponsored a birthday party and anyone who wanted to gain entry to the party had to download the app.  After the party which had about 500 students 400 people downloaded the app.  There were 4,000 downloads by the end of the week.  Afterwards Tinder continued to sponsor parties where the price of entry was downloading the app.

After the success of that event Tinder targeted sororities and fraternities encouraging members to download the app. They believed that every single sign up was important and would stop people on the street and in coffee shops to talk about the app.  

Tinder also tried “experiments” including one where a Tinder college rep entered a class of 200 students and pretended to be matched with the professor.  Word of mouth caused the stunt to go viral leading to an impact much farther than the 200 students in the class.  Then Tinder pulled the same stunt on many college campuses across the United States. 

Between the beginning and the end of January 2013 Tinder organically grew its user base from 20,000 to 500,000 users. Focusing on communities with powerful networks amplified by strong world of mouth boosted downloads and engagement with little financial investment. Tinder’s early growth underscores the importance of offline activities even for products where users spend all of their time online.


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Tricia McKinnon