The Sean Rad Story: How Tinder’s CEO Turned Mistakes Into Millions

In recent profiles of Sean Rad, the controversial CEO fashions himself another dunce cap. But this time, he actually teaches us a few good lessons along the way.

January 20, 2016

Sean Rad — at once Tinder’s poster child and its greatest liability — had an incredibly impressive, albeit tense, year. He got ousted as Tinder’s CEO in March 2015, was reinstated just five months later, gave a disastrous press interview on the eve of his parent company’s IPO, and left many with the question: How is a 29-year-old Angeleno with a frat boy ego and a sexual harassment suit in his wake fit to run a company worth an estimated $1 billion, with 9.6 million daily users?

Well, that’s just it — he’s not a traditional fit. And arguably, that’s why it works.

In two recent magazine profiles of Rad, it’s revealed that he somehow manages to be both an apprentice and a master in leadership.

It all comes down to the fact that the millennial community he’s commanding really doesn’t mind a leader who makes the same mistakes they do. In fact, there’s insight that Rad has — as an attractive, single 20-something who’s creating a service for attractive, single 20-somethings — that simply can’t be replicated by a seasoned CEO.

Sure, his brash comments and candid remarks (“Yes, I sext on Snapchat,” Rad laughs) are far from that of the typical CEO. But with his workhorse mentality, he runs a growing team of (mostly male) engineers and designers who execute his big ideas on a global scale.

“It’s jolting to hear the CEO of a major company speak so bluntly, but Rad is always this unfiltered. In some ways, it’s what makes him a perfect ambassador for Tinder: his youth, his energy, his intuitive grasp of the app’s core audience,” writes Fast Company’s Austin Carr.

There’s a lot we can learn about Rad’s private life from the profiles that reveal a side of the CEO his critics likely didn’t expect to connect with. He recently took his mom on a lavish trip to Rome, he was an aspiring musician as a teen, and he attended USC for two years before dropping out to found a startup. And he lives with his Iranian-born Jewish parents who own a successful electronics company.

Here are three takeaways from Rad’s interviews, where he teaches us a few lessons about millennial entrepreneurship.

Give the competition something to talk about

“We have the potential to grab a massive audience as big as Instagram’s or Snapchat’s, but the value we’re giving is so much greater than any of these social apps,’” Rad told Fast Company. “The matches made on Tinder can change lives. The Snapchat photo from two hours ago — who gives a fuck?”

Rad knows that his company is up against the biggest players in tech, but he also knows that what he’s producing at Tinder is helping people find love and make connections.

“On Instagram, you’re providing people entertainment. Tinder is bigger. Imagine life without your partner? It’s fundamentally different.”

Personify your product

No one believes in the power of Tinder more than Rad. “Every time I get a story about somebody’s life being changed by Tinder, it never gets old. I can’t get enough,” he told The California Sunday Magazine.

Rad is the typecast of Tinder culture. He radiates energy, youth, and sex appeal. In short, he’s Tinder personified. It’s not easy to sell yourself confidently, but Rad has it pegged and that’s part of why Tinder is so successful — he lives by the service he’s selling. At the time of his interview with Fast Company, his Tinder profile read “founder and CEO of Tinder — yes, the app you’re using.”

Never compromise your integrity

In November, the day before Match Group’s IPO, Rad infamously made several off-color remarks that sent the media into a frenzy. He humble-bragged about the number of people he’s slept with and the supermodels that are begging him for sex. Both Fast Company and Cal Sunday’s interviews took place during the time of this interview, and to each magazine Rad claimed remorse, said it was “irresponsible” of him, and vowed to never put himself or his company in that position again.

“It’s fucked up, because I’m dealing with all of these stereotypes,” Rad told Fast Company, who reported that he was physically upset after days of media backlash. “Because I’m a successful guy in tech I must be a douche bag. Because I run a dating app I must be a womanizer. At the same time, I fucked up. I should know better as a CEO.”

Rad said he’s working on becoming a stronger and clearer communicator but thinks he shouldn’t have to alter his character in the process. And he’s right.

“It’s not that I’m ever going to stop being myself. It’s that I’ve got to get better at framing what I’m trying to say. My responsibility as a CEO — and to myself — is to continue being myself. I’ve got to do better.”


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