Ana Kirova was 'terrified' when she first heard that she would be the chief executive officer of Feeld dating app.
The year was 2021 and Ms. Kirova had worked at the company for 5 years. Dimo Trifonov was the founder of the app and Ms.Kirova's boyfriend. Ms. Kirova was a major force in the transformation of Feeld from a niche application to something more mainstream. She wondered, however, if hiring someone externally would be a better idea.
Ms. Kirova speculated, over dinner at Seamore's in Brooklyn, that her hesitation in accepting the job could be rooted in her insecurities, which might have been tied to her gender. The more she thought about it, it seemed like if she were a man, then it would be easy for her to accept the job and give it a try.
She accepted the role. There's no such thing a good C.E.O. 'There is no such thing as a good C.E.O.
Feeld began as 3nder, a dating application for couples and singles, in 2014. Under Ms. Kirova’s leadership, the app has become a destination for kinky, nonmonogamous and sex positive people of all sexualities.
It has also gained a reputation for being a place that promotes creativity.
Directness is a rare quality in the world of dating apps.
Amanda Miller, professor of sociology at University of Indianapolis said Feeld promotes itself as a site to "find your human". 'That gives the user a hint as to what type of people they are attracting, and which types would not be interested in joining', Dr. Miller explained.
There were stickers at the Feeld event to promote the wearer's interest, such as 'kink,' 'poly', and so on.
Mary Turner for The New York Times
According to the company, half of Feeld users in the United States are not heterosexual. Feeld offers at least 20 different classifications, such as GrayA for people who don't experience much sexual attraction and objectumsexual for people who feel sexual or romantic feelings towards inanimate objects. There are also many options when it comes down to gender (nonbinary, genderfluid, and 18 other options), and desires (texting and threesomes as well as watching, foreplay and friendships).
Having had fewer than a dozen employees for years, today the company has more than 100. About a third of them were hired in this year.
Feeld claims that since receiving a half-million dollars from an investor in 2016, it has been profitable without additional external support. Since 2015, Feeld has offered memberships with various benefits. These include the ability to see when someone last logged on to Feeld, and filtering other users based on their preferences. Memberships come in different lengths and prices -- 30 days, for example, costs $24.99. Feeld also recently made the jump to IRL. This year, they hosted 31 in-person events worldwide, with an average of 200 attendees.
Feeld refused to reveal how many users are active or how many downloads the app has received. Apple's App Store has around 60,000 reviews, while Bumble was founded in the same year that Feeld and has 1.4 millions, Hinge, 763,000, and Grindr, 295,000. Feeld's average weekly active user base grew 90 percent between 2021 and 2022. The app is expected to grow 65 percent in terms of weekly active users by this year.
According to an article, dating apps have shifted their focus from user growth to monetization.
Lexi Sydow is the head of insights for data.ai - a mobile analytics and data provider. She said that Feeld was doing "exceedingly" well in this regard. Ms. Sydow stated that the amount of money consumers spent on Feeld subscriptions and single purchases grew by 107 per cent between the first quarters 2022-2023.
The app could have an advantage that keeps users subscribed. Ms. Sydow stated that 'Field isn't necessarily about finding a partner to marry'. It's not Hinge which was 'designed to delete', as the company said in its advertising campaign. This bodes well for the monetization.
Sydow said that Feeld was a smaller player on the market than behemoths such as Bumble, Tinder and Grindr. Data.ai estimates Feeld's global share of spending on dating apps to be about 1 percent.
Feeld's Chief Executive, Ana Kirova.
Mary Turner for The New York Times
Feeld was founded by Ms. Kirova, who is not the official founder, but she was involved with the app's creation from its inception.
Ms. Kirova was born in Bulgaria shortly after the fall of the communist regime. After graduating from high school, Kirova enrolled in a graphic-design program at the University of Greenwich. At age 21, Ms. Kirova met Mr. Trifonov - a Bulgarian who was a 23-year old 3-D motion designer.
Soon after Ms. Trifonov and her began dating, she fell in love with a woman. She thought that this would spell the end of her relationship. Trifonov wanted her to be free to explore. This experience led him to create 3nder, a dating app for couples and singles.
It was met with much judgment and ridicule', Ms.Kirova said. GQ
VentureBeat describes it as a "24/7 swingers' party".
"5 Reasons your threesome would be better off if you didn't use that stupid app." The press coverage was what attracted users.
Feeld was renamed after Tinder threatened legal action in 2016. Around the same period, Kirova was promoted to the position of head of product after she had been appointed Zen Master and led operations.
A researcher from the company noticed that around 2017, many users had said that they joined Feeld to go on dates with couples. But as time passed, it became apparent that they wanted to engage deeper self-exploration, such as to discover what it was like to date someone who is the same gender.
This observation was a real revelation for Ms. She and Mr. Trifonov started to consider intentionally scaling up or out. Feeld launched several new features, including paired profiles for couples looking to date, gender options and the option to browse profiles without committing to a decision.
This last option is in stark contrast to Tinder and Bumble's swiping mechanisms -- swipe left if you don't like the person that the app presents, or right if you do. Although this might seem like a small difference in functionality to some, Ms.Kirova said that it was a reflection of a larger philosophy.
'Most apps are yes-or-no because you can teach the algorithm that drives this with more certainty', Ms.Kirova said. "But it is a false certainty because I like it right now, it's as if you ask me again in 2 days."
She and Mr. Trifonov remain romantically involved. Ms. Kirov said that the work together wasn't as difficult as it may sound. Mr. Trifonov is now the chairman and has taken a step back from the day-to-day activities. Ms.Kirova said, 'It's stressful, but I have never experienced anything else.' I've never had such a long-term partnership with someone else who wasn't my business partner.
Feeld users say that even those who don't seek out anything unusual are attracted by the app's emphasis on clarity.
Attendees at the London event wore pins that indicated what type of arrangements they wanted.
Mary Turner for The New York Times
Adara Bryan, 36 of Weehawken in New Jersey, joined Feeld exclusively for monogamous and non-kinky dates -- something you could find on any other dating app, theoretically. She is a 'pretty bland' woman, but she says that communication on Feeld about desires, needs, and boundaries is better than any other dating app she's ever used.
She said that the majority of conversations begin with questions about why people are on Feeld. She said that on other apps it is coded. "On Feeld, the people's needs are pretty obvious."
Directness can sometimes cross the line and become aggressive or fetishistic.
Leia Slisberg, 31, is a technology project director who downloaded Feeld back in January. She said that while she found it to be a place for self-exploration and exploration, she had to deal with men who 'thought they were entitled to have sexual relations with you just because of their connection with you.
Kana Higuchi is a 26-year-old New Yorker, who uses Feeld. She says that while her experience with Feeld has helped her "awaken a portion of my sexuality," she's noticed something that's a big red flag for her: some people's profile mention an interest in Asian young women. People will ask me: "What is your ethnicity?" She said. "I tell them I'm Japanese and they immediately say, "That's exotic" or "That's hot."
'I suppose because it is a kink and fetish friendly app, some people are more likely than others to come out and talk about an identity-based sexual fetish, which can feel wrong,' said Ms. Higuchi.
The chat function in the app is also buggy. Users complain about duplicate messages being sent, the long loading time or the delay of message delivery. Feeld acknowledged that the company was aware of issues with the technology, and was working on a solution.
Ann Nguyen (28), who has been using the app for years, since 3nder was known, dislikes the read receipt feature. She said that she had been unmatched by people because she read their messages but didn't respond immediately. I don't like this increased sense of urgency.
There's also the universal problem of dating apps.
Ben Bar, 34 a data manager, who has used Feeld for two and a quarter years, said: "I expect to be ghosted more than 50% of the time, no matter what I'm doing." It's just part of the business.