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Tinder swipes left on new CEO after just 5 months

Love, Tinder style. (Courtesy of Tinder)
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It’s been quite a flammable month for Tinder. (For readers of a certain age unfamiliar with Tinder: It’s a dating app for ye olde smartphone that allows users on-the-go to anonymously indicate whether they think other users are attractive. When a mutual admiration society forms, both users are alerted and then the app allows the two to message one another.)

First, Tinder was accused of bringing about a “dating apocalypse” — a world in which old-fashioned courting is rendered irrelevant by possibilities for instant gratification facilitated by the app and others like it — in Vanity Fair. Next, the company responded to the Vanity Fair takedown by going on a Twitter rant.

[Tinder’s Vanity Fair tweet-a-thon: The highlight reel]

But now Tinder is facing a crisis bigger than a social media controversy or a long-form journalism hit piece. After just five months on the job, its chief executive is saying goodbye — and will be replaced by its co-founder and former CEO, who stepped down in March after being pushed out.

It seems departing CEO Chris Payne’s relationship with Tinder — a company possibly worth $5.5 billion — was just as casual as the relationships between some of the app’s users.

“It became clear after a few months that it wasn’t going to become a long-term fit,” Tinder board member Matt Cohler told Re/Code.

Though Payne’s resume was sparking — he was a veteran of eBay and Microsoft — Tinder was looking for something different. Swipe left. (For readers of a certain age unfamiliar with Tinder: “swiping left” on ye olde smartphone is how a Tinder user indicates he/she does not find another user attractive. Thus, among the youth, “swiping left” has become a synonym for rejection.)

“It’s only been a few months, but everyone came to the realization, the board and Christopher, and all agreed it wouldn’t work out long-term,” Cohler said. “Given that, we thought we might as well take action on this sooner than later.”

This was no small Silicon Valley dust-up. The company offered these stats in November, as Forbes recounted: “Tinder, which has logged 600% growth over the past 12 months, has been downloaded 40 million times since it launched in 2012. The 30 million people who have registered collectively check out 1.2 billion prospective partners daily — that’s 14,000 per second. And they’re not just kicking the tires: Tinder is now facilitating almost 14 million romantic matches every 24 hours.”

That’s a lot of growth, a lot of downloads, a lot of hooking up, and a lot of possible revenue — especially after the app offered a premium pay version. Yet, after media conglomerate IAC bought into Tinder last year, the company seemed a child start-up playing dress up in an extra-large corporate suit. One of its executives, for example, filed a sexual harassment suit against its chief marketing officer last year after allegedly being stripped of her title as co-founder; though the case was settled out of court, the chief marketing officer departed, and co-founder Sean Rad was soon ousted by IAC in favor of the older, more experienced Payne.

“Working with your friends at a startup is amazing because it allows you to power through the hard times,” Rad told Forbes. “But the lines got blurred, the boundaries should have been stronger.”

But now, Payne is out and Rad is back. Where Rad will lead the company is not clear — but the upper-management swiping will stop for now.

“One of the things the board has to navigate is how much the company has to conform to the leader or vice versa. In this case, it became clear that both would have to contort themselves too much to make it really work,” board member Cohler told Re/Code. “And in this kind of a company that is growing so quickly, everything needs to happen quickly. I’m proud of the fact that everyone around the table had the maturity to look the situation in the eye and take action.”