Dating app Bumble wants to help you network professionally

Yahoo Style

Networking is a lot like dating: Present yourself as best you can, don’t reveal too many skeletons too early, and determine whether you’re interested in creating lifelong relationships. And Bumble, known as “her dating app” (as women are in charge of making the first move), is now making the case that the link between dating and networking goes even further.

A year after announcing its newest service, Bumble Bizz, the company launched it into the world in early October. It drew immediate accolades from Vogue, Fortune and Business Insider (which called the changes a “LinkedIn killer”). And while it may be a bit premature to mourn the death of digital networking standard bearers, Bumble Bizz seems eager to turn a cornerstone of career development on its head.

Like the original Bumble service, Bumble Bizz allows users — plus Bumble’s entire existing network of 21 million registered users — to swipe left (no) or right (yes) on other users who might become professional contacts.

When a match occurs between a man and a woman on Bumble Bizz (meaning both have swiped right on each other), the woman is required to initiate a chat within a 24-hour window or the match expires. If both users are men or women, either party can start the chat.

“We feel that professional networking is antiquated,” Bumble’s head of brand, Alex Williamson el-Effendi, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “On social networking professional apps and sites, you’re looking at dead-end connections. It’s just building a roster of people that makes you look more legit, whereas we’re facilitating networking connections that lead to conversations.”

Putting women in control

Bumble Bizz complements the reigning ethos at Bumble: Put women in control. “It’s our mission to end harassment and misogyny,” Williamson el-Effendi says. “All women experience this gray area when you meet with somebody in a professional setting, whether you’re looking for a mentor or looking for someone to hire you, and there’s a moment of that realization that someone might not be meeting with you for your mind. We’re trying to change that.”

Indeed, instances of sexual harassment and inappropriate messages on any number of relationship-focused sites and apps abound, including on LinkedIn. Whether that’s because there’s a seemingly infinite number of creeps ignoring boundaries between professional and personal platforms or because women aren’t the ones initiating contact is unclear.

Surely, there’s a bit of psychology that supports the notion that women should initiate conversations in new relationships, personal or otherwise. According to one study, societal expectations “encouraged [women] to resort to passivity or indirect strategies to shape their relationship outcomes, and many women developed a kind of learned helplessness or feeling of futility about changing the status quo.”

The study continues: “By giving women ‘permission’ to act first, all kinds of new relationships may emerge that would before have never materialized. And you don’t have to be hemmed in by society’s restrictions about who should ask and who should be asked.” That largely sounds like Bumble’s rationale, applied to either business or pleasure.

Using the app

Still, not everyone buys into those principles. “The girl messaging first thing might add a weird sexual tone to a business interaction,” says Sara, a 23-year-old paralegal from Detroit who shared her thoughts with Yahoo Lifestyle. “The reason Bumble works for dating is because it’s based on the idea that women are kind of in control and want to be able to filter their many suitors, but I think in the business world that’s very much not the case. It feels like it’s a too familiar narrative of women groveling to men in power.”

Others worry not about whose responsibility it is to initiate conversations, but about the fact that they might mix up who they’re chatting with on a platform that hosts professional, personal, and platonic matches in one space.

“I’m usually swiping around on Bumble when I’m with my friends, so I feel like I’d get my wires crossed and end up flirting with professionals in my network,” shares Soona, who works in tech and lives in San Francisco.

While the Bumble app keeps conversations from each of its three services in one spot, matches in a queue are distinguished by color: yellow for Bumble original, blue for Bumble BFF, and salmon for Bumble Bizz. Still, Williamson el-Effendi says you probably shouldn’t use Bumble with “tequila goggles” if you’re worried about messaging the wrong person.

While initial media coverage of Bumble Bizz has been positive (unlike the handful of first-person accounts that surfaced after the launch of Bumble BFF), some Twitter users are skeptical.

I decided to try Bumble Bizz for myself (full disclosure: I regularly use Bumble for its original dating service.) I created a basic profile, and included notes about my previous employers and experiences.

Screenshot of my profile and interactions on Bumble Bizz
Screenshot of my profile and interactions on Bumble Bizz

Then I began swiping. It took a moment for me to correct the habit of swiping quickly based on how I feel about a user’s profile photo. I forced myself to slow down and read each person’s blurbs. Many of the users I saw were young professionals or students, along with plenty of creatives (writers and media people), PR and marketing professionals, and a recruiter or two. Unexpectedly, I noticed an accountant who offers his services to others.

I made a point to swipe on nearly every media professional I saw. Of the few dozen swipes, I matched with five and initiated a conversation with my first match while waiting for others. (None of my other matches initiated a conversation with me before our 24-hour window expired.) Did I feel “in control?” Sure. But it was no empowering epiphany or anything.

Jury still out

To be sure, Bumble Bizz isn’t recreating the wheel when it comes to relationship-building apps, a space with more and more competition every day.

There’s Shapr, “the Tinder of professional networking,” Networkr, Let’s Lunch, and, surprisingly, Tinder itself (which some users use solely for making business connections.) Lest we forget, there’s also LinkedUp, a dating app that uses LinkedIn data to source matches, as does the League.

So far, Bumble has largely avoided the bad press that accompanies networking and dating apps. It’s also forged partnerships with a slew of multi-hyphenate power players, like InStyle editor-in-chief and social media savant Laura Brown, as well as actress-model-entrepreneur-activist types like Kate Hudson, Karlie Kloss, and Priyanka Chopra. So far, Brown is the only one to have made her partnership with Bumble Bizz public, via her Instagram, though Bumble confirmed that the latter three are working with the company.

Still, despite the big names it’s gotten on board, Bumble Bizz — currently available to iPhone users, and available to Android users come late October — may still have a way to go when it comes to how young professionals feel about joining its ranks.

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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Lifestyle. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.

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