How Whitney Wolfe Herd Mastered Bumble’s Branding

Her Austin HQ is a temple to all things Bumble. In collaboration with Bumble.

By: Laurel Pantin
Photography: Jake Rosenberg

Remember that time we visited Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd at her brand-spankin-new Austin HQ, and we gave you a tiny sneak peek of the 1,000-percent customized space? We promised a more in-depth look, and ta-da! Here it is.

If you think housing your groundbreaking tech company (in case you haven’t heard, the app that revolutionized online dating to empower women just recently also launched a business networking arm, Bumble Bizz, and an extension for people just looking to make friends, Bumble BFF) in Austin, Texas, instead of, say, Silicon Valley is unheard of, that choice was deliberate. “I really believe that there’s something to be said for race horses wearing blinders. You can’t win a race if you don’t keep your blinders on. If you’re looking over your shoulder asking, ‘What are they doing?’ You’re going to fall, and you’re going to lose. [Being in Austin,] we have our blinders on, and we’re not affected by outside opinions or any of that stuff.”

In fact, every single aspect of the office space is deliberate. From Wolfe Herd’s custom-built hive bookcase in her Bumble-yellow office to the light switches, every inch of the building is intended to be friendly, upbeat, and to encourage creativity and collaboration. “It’s always enjoyable to restore a structure to its original roots, especially one with elements dating back to 1960s architectural trends,” said Mark Odom, founder and principal of Mark Odom Studio. “My team and I were inspired to build on that foundation while making the Bumble team’s vision of a lifestyle-focused company headquarters come to life. The Hive will surely live on in Austin infamy as one of the most stylish, vibrant and collaborative office spaces in the city.”

Take a tour and read about how Wolfe Herd created an empowering office culture below.

“Austin was kind of an accidental place to launch. Everything takes a backseat when you’re starting a company. Where you land is where you land. But my first hires—they were all based here. It just took flight. We were originally working out of my first hire’s parents’ house in their spare bedroom, and then we moved into a tiny WeWork. The problem was, our company was kind of well-known by then. We didn’t have the budget to be a big company, but people knew about us. So we were having the BBC come to the WeWork, and we were having all of these people come shoot it. I unfortunately, for better or for worse, ended up in the media the summer before. It was this surreal time because I was a nobody, but the internet made me this topic of conversation, if that makes sense, but I was like some random nobody. We were in over our skis, but we didn’t really have the skis to support that.”

“I wanted the office to feel cozy and happy, and I wanted it to be a place where you’re not sitting around going, ‘I wish I was on my couch at home.’ I wanted this to be a place where you’re at home on your couch saying, ‘I wish I was at my desk at Bumble,’ because it’s inviting, it’s welcoming, the energy is great. It’s warm, it’s kind. People are collaborative and inclusive. I didn’t want to make a space that was so big that you felt alienated from your team. I wanted it to just be like a warm home away from home. I wanted it to feel like what I want the app to feel like for our users—just like a welcoming, great place.”

“We worked with JEI Design. I love them. We worked with them on our home, and they’re the type of firm that’s so OK with your vision. You have a vision; they’ll help you bring it to life. They’re not there to tell you ‘It should be black and white,’ or, ‘It should be this.’ I told them this is how I want it to be. I want Bumble to be ingrained in every little detail from the stairs to the bathroom lights, and I want open-space seating with velvet couches. And they’re like, ‘Here’s seven choices for velvet.’ But they also were there to be like, ‘No, Whitney. That’s not cute.’ [laughs]”

“I would say I’m about 80-90 percent of the kind of driving force of the details and the overarching aesthetic. And then they also brought a lot of great things to the table that I just didn’t know about from design perspectives. I would definitely say that this was kind of my baby, this project. It was really fun, and I worked really closely with Caroline Ellis, who was my first hire. She’s our head of operations. She was amazing in just bringing it to life. That’s how we work. I think of it, and then she executes on it. It couldn’t exist without her.”

“We chose this neighborhood by chance. I’m kind of a foodie, I love to cook. My favorite grocery store is right across the street. [laughs] So when this property came up, to be honest, we were so desperate to get out of our space. We had outgrown it by so much that it was a problem. So when this property came up, we kind of looked around at what the surroundings were and the drive time. But it ended up being the best place. We absolutely love this place. It’s funny—we’re taking over the space next door now. The whole block will be Bumble, which is kind of cool. [laughs]”

“We wanted you to come in here and get the full 360 experience. We wanted you to come in and leave with merchandise, but not just go into a merch closet and pick something out. We wanted you to have to kind of fight for it and get it and have a fun experience doing it! We wanted this to be a place that you came to see us, and we wanted to leave you with memories, and we wanted it to be a fun, rewarding experience.”

“The gallery wall was a process. That was inspired from the Soho House Malibu. I just love their wall—it’s so cool. Most of those objects were chosen by the designers, and we basically sifted through what would have meaning or what would be somewhat sentimental. Some of it is artwork from the old office. Some of it is people’s personal things. We’ve kind of tried to fill it with sentimental items, but as we’re here longer, I think it will kind of amass more of a sentimental kind of history.”

What she looks for in new hires: “Are they passionate about Bumble? Do they care about our mission? Are they deeply attached to contributing to the social mission that we really do care about, which is empowering both parties, men and women, to be kind to each other and to connect in an empowered way? Do they want to bring the world closer together, but in a way that’s good and not negative? Are they willing to get crafty when they hear the word ‘no’? I’m almost allergic to the word ‘no.’ Are they willing to find a yes in a no? And also, kindness. You can tell when someone is nice, and you can tell really quickly, usually. I look for people that speak kindly about others, and we’re all guilty of being negative from time to time. I try to catch myself when I participate in that. So just genuine people that are willing to work hard and that are dedicated to the mission.”

“I’ve been to fifty tech offices at this point, and they all feel the same. They feel like techy bro office. Cold, stark, clean, pool tables, ping pong, which is great. Ping pong is fun. I like it, but...I always wondered, why do fashion boutiques feel so feminine and warm and inviting? I could hang out in Emilia Wickstead’s boutique in London for my whole life because it’s so cozy and warm and beautiful and chic. It’s like, ‘Why am I not allowed to have that?’ I am a woman in tech, but that’s my taste. You can combine them, and so I think we’re probably one of the first tech companies to make such a feminine and woman-friendly space. It’s like, very glam. I think we’re probably one of the first people to do that.”

“This is custom de Gournay wallpaper. I always loved de Gournay, and we’re going to put it in our home as well. But I thought it was such an interesting opportunity to showcase bees in kind of a flamboyant but elegant way. How better to do it than this wallpaper? They customized it by adding in the bees and making it a perfect yellow.”

“I think my office [is my favorite space in the building]. It’s just so welcoming, and I love that it’s not just my office. Anyone can come in here at any time, as long as someone’s not using this for a private meeting. I want this to be a collaborative space where the employees can get to know me and have secure one-on-ones with me, and I see myself as a 100-percent equal to even a day-one intern. I want this to be a place where we can all get to know each other and speak candidly and brainstorm. It’s like a magic little kind of happy box.”

“I actually wanted to seize any customizable opportunity. You have to build bookshelves, you don’t go [buying] them when it’s for a custom space. I thought, if we’re going to customize them, might as well do something a little out-there, and that’s why we did hives.”

“This is interesting, I think women should just own the fact that sometimes we like to get our hair washed, or if you have a meeting and you have to have a blowout—why would I want to restrict the team from taking care of themselves? If you’re going to put your time and effort into this, you might as well be compensated for it. You might as well not have to sacrifice anything. That was where the washing station came from.”

“I knew we wanted to do custom tile [for the bathrooms] and take an opportunity to literally spell it out. We wanted to say something, kind of make it be super Instagramable and super branded—and what better way than to have some fun in a bathroom? And so that’s why they each have their own unique vibes. That was the driving force behind it. And I really wanted a pink bathroom, so I got one. I love it.”

Her vision for Bumble’s HQ in ten years: “I think it’s not much bigger than this, and there’s just lots of them. I think keeping them really happy, inclusive hives is important. I never want to be on a campus where you wouldn’t see one of your coworkers for three weeks because they’re on the other end, or they’re on the 19th floor and you’re on the 3rd. I want Bumble to always stay true to our roots, which is family, close-knit, personal, and kind—not too big for anybody. I would love to see something like this in multiple cities to accommodate our teams. And just expanding from here, so more thoughtful add-ons versus some crazy headquarters. We want to keep this vibe forever.”

“This is great advice for anyone trying to start a company: Don’t get hung up on a name. Get hung up on the problem that you’re trying to solve, and let the branding evolve from there. Branding is so much more than a color, so much more than a name. It’s how it all comes together, and that’s how it tells a story. I hated the name ‘Bumble’ originally. Somebody came up with it—it was like thrown out during a naming competition because we were all going crazy trying to find a non-trademarked name. Michelle Kennedy, who started Peanut, who I used to work with, was like, ‘What about Bumble? I was talking to my husband this morning, and I called him a bumbling idiot—what do you think about Bumble?’ I was like, ‘Well, no because people will think they’re like bumbling or fumbling into dating. This isn’t going to work.’ And then Alex, her mom, was like ‘Oh, I kind of like Bumble. It’s like, “Be the queen of Bumble. Find your honey on Bumble.”’ And we’re like, Bingo! ‘Honey.’ And then yellow, and it all just came together. That is what makes a great brand, when it tells a story beyond just a name or a color.”