PaperCity Magazine

May 2019- Dallas

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was something she, too, once considered a non-option. "In college, Whitney was always sending the first text," she says. "She'd ask guys out. I was guilty of telling her, 'You can't do that. It makes you look desperate or crazy." She admits that she spent a lot of her time at SMU sitting by the phone, waiting for a guy to call her. "It's this archaic behavior, and Whitney was the only one I knew challenging it." The four spent long days and nights together, endlessly brainstorming and psyching themselves up to face another day of skeptics as they spread the word about Bumble. "It got to the point that we were way closer than family," Fulgham says. "It literally turned into what our bones were made of." The small but mighty team worked with whatever they had to fan the Bumble flame — and the first spark lit in Dallas. Taking a shout-it-from-the-rooftops grassroots approach, the girls wore Bumble gear to Dallas bars, handed out stickers at SMU's football tailgates, and bribed fraternities with cookies in exchange for downloading the app. Soon their college ambassador program that began at SMU was replicated at universities across the country, becoming the foundation for what is now a national effort with a team of more than 3,000 women. W hen the app launched in 2014 and the media heralded it as 'feminist,' the team worried the label would be their downfall. "I didn't think I was a feminist," Williamson says. "Because my definition of feminism was not the correct definition of feminism. It had a stigma — even in my mind." Their perception of the word soon shifted — as it has for many in the years since, following efforts surrounding the #metoo movement and other feminist activism. Now, everyone on the early Bumble team had a heightened awareness of the many preconditioned societal norms their app could work to dismantle. But there is still a long way to go. Two years ago, Roche's personal phone number was released online by an alt-right "anti- women" group. "I woke up and had a million missed calls and voicemails and text messages. The most graphic, scary things you've ever seen in your life," she says. After that, Bumble worked with the Anti-Defamation League to compile a comprehensive list of hate words and symbols in an effort to ban hate speech. "They actually said we were the experts in misogyny," Williamson says. In addition to moderating hate speech on the app, Bumble has implemented numerous features for the safety and well- being of its users, including user verification (to end catfishing) and banning "shirtless mirror selfies" and photos of guns. Since its founding, Bumble's identity has evolved from an app that helps people find romantic connection into a company at the epicenter of societal change. At the time this story went to press in mid-April, Herd had just testified before the Texas House of Representatives in support of a bill that would criminalize sending unsolicited lewd photos online — something she says happens to one in three women. Today, the Austin-headquartered company has more than 55 million users, nearly one billion instances of women making the first move on the app, and is active in 150 countries, including India, where they ambitiously launched at the end of 2018 with the support of actress Priyanka Chopra. The team receives success stories regularly, including Bumble weddings and Bumble babies, but is most gratified when users tell them that making the first move on the app gave them the confidence to do other things, such as asking their boss for a raise. "It's become a motto for people: Make the first move in life," Williamson says. Fulgham adds, "We're retraining their brains. By one simple act of messaging the opposite sex first, it's changing the way they think they can do things. It changes the way I think about things every day." Alexandra Williamson Samantha Fulgham Caroline Ellis Roche 35

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