The rise of Sean Rad, who served as Tinder CEO twice and is now taking on Match Group and IAC in a $2 billion lawsuit
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Tinder/GLAAD
Tinder founder Sean Rad has had a tumultuous few years.
When Tinder launched in 2012, it was a near-instant success. The dating app made over a million matches in less than two months, became a sensation on college campuses, and gained recognition from tech's elite. Six years after launch, the company is valued around $3 billion and is one of the highest-grossing apps in the App Store.
But Tinder also had its share of troubles. One of its cofounders, Whitney Wolfe, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against another cofounder, Justin Mateen. Rad stepped down from his post as CEO, only to return to the helm six months later. Eventually, he switched stepped aside as CEO for good to become Tinder's chairman.
Here's how Rad got his start, helped build Tinder into a billion-dollar startup, and went to war with IAC.
Maya Kosoff contributed to an earlier version of this story.
Sean Rad, the son of Iranian immigrants who came to Los Angeles in the 1970s, grew up in the Persian community of Beverly Hills. His parents worked in the consumer tech industry.
He was initially drawn to show business, but a high school internship for an entertainment manager turned him off to the whole industry.
Rad's parents gave him his first cell phone when he was 13. Five years later, he started an integrated mobile messaging company called Orgoo.
Rad and Tinder cofounder Justin Mateen went to different Beverly Hills high schools, but met when they were 14.
Mateen and Rad connected again years later, when both attended the University of Southern California. The two enrolled in 2004. “Our eyes locked in a math class,” Rad jokes. Rad eventually dropped out two years later to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.
When Mateen and Rad launched Tinder along with cofounders Jonathan Badeen, Joe Munoz, Whitney Wolfe, and Chris Gylczynski, they marketed Tinder heavily at fraternities and sororities on college campuses. When it launched in 2012, Tinder made over a million matches in less than two months.
A year after it launched, Tinder won "best new startup of 2013" at TechCrunch's annual Crunchies awards. In 2014, Tinder was named the "breakout of the year" at the Webby awards.
Tinder was originally incubated at Hatch Labs, the startup "sandbox" of mega-sized media company InterActiveCorp (IAC). In 2014, IAC purchased another 10% of Tinder from former Facebooker and investor Chamath Palihapitiya.
Today, IAC and its subsidiary, Match Group, own the majority of Tinder.
In 2014, Whitney Wolfe Herd, a cofounder of Tinder and its VP of marketing, sued the company for sexual harassment. She alleged that Justin Mateen, who had been Wolfe's boyfriend, harassed her while she worked for the company.
After the lawsuit, Mateen left the company, and Rad stepped down from his CEO role, though he stayed on at the company. But Rad and Mateen stayed friends. "I still talk to Justin. He's my best friend," Rad said in 2014.
Rad was briefly replaced as CEO by Chris Payne, who had previously overseen eBay's North America business. But six months later, Rad was back at the helm.
Rad made headlines in 2015 when, on the eve of Match Group's initial public offering, he gave a candid interview discussing his sex life, among other topics.
By December 2016, Rad switched jobs again. He took over as chairman, and former Tinder chairman Greg Blatt was installed as CEO. Blatt also simultaneously served as CEO and chairman of Match Group.
By 2017, Tinder hit a valuation of $3 billion.
These days, Tinder is consistently one of the highest-grossing apps in Apple's App Store. The company says it has 81% year-over-year subscriber growth, and is on track to exceed $800 million in revenue in 2018.
"There are tens of millions of active users in over 196 countries," Rad said in an interview with Business Insider in 2017. "We've made 20 billion matches since we started."
In January 2018, Elie Seidman was named CEO of Tinder. Seidman was previously CEO of another Match Group dating company, OKCupid.
In August 2018, a group of 10 Tinder employees and former employees — including Rad, Mateen, and Badeen — filed a lawsuit against IAC.
Rad and his fellow plaintiffs are seeking $2 billion from IAC.
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