Argue all you about whether Tinder CEO Sean Rad is an ignorant, douchetastic symbol of all that's wrong with the startup world, or just a guy who has been misunderstood, mischaracterized and misquoted.
None of that matters.
What is beyond doubt — and what a lot of folks in the business community have to act on now, this very day — is that he appears unfit to be an officer or integral part of a public company. In short, his second act as CEO of Tinder, a unit of Match Group, must come to an end.
At issue is Rad's expansive interview with the London Evening Standard. It's a credit to the journalist who wrote it, Charlotte Edwardes, that she seemed to capture an authentic Rad, who comes across as a committed believer and defender of the product it spawned. His passion was real.
But so was his ignorance. At one point, when trying to remember the word "sapiosexual," he goes down a different road altogether: “Apparently there’s a term for someone who gets turned on by intellectual stuff," he says. "You know, just talking. What’s the word? I want to say ‘sodomy’?"
No doubt he does. However, someone whose business is based so firmly on les affaires du coeur should know his art, as it were. Instead he comes across as a grocer who doesn't know the difference between chives and green onions.
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But even that gaffe, as awkward and uncomfortable as it is, can be forgiven. What is most troubling is Rad's attitude toward Vanity Fair journalist Nancy Jo Sales, who wrote a critical piece earlier this year of Tinder's role in promoting hookup culture in the country. That piece certainly is open to fair criticism, notably in that it suggests casual sex didn't occur in the world until we Neanderthals learned to swipe right. But what is not acceptable was the veiled, personal threat Rad made to Sales herself, based on what he called his "background research."
"(T)here’s some stuff about her as an individual that will make you think differently,” he is quoted by the London Evening Standard as saying.
That is out of bounds. Foul play. Awful. It is a suggestion that a journalist, doing her job, telling a story, bringing new perspectives to the world in which Tinder dominates, is open to personal criticism, exposure, shaming. Remember, he used the word "individual," which means he was not talking about her body of work. Coming from the CEO of Tinder, part of the Match Group, which owns a slew of sites that do nothing but collect personal information and behind-closed-door tastes of its users, the veiled threat of the "stuff" he knows seems even more ominous.
And that's why Match has to take action. The company is in the midst of a $500 million initial public offering, a carve out from parent IAC/InterActiveCorp. It seeks to be its own public company, with all public scrutiny and public accountability attached to that status. Rad, as CEO of a high-growth part of that family, is a key player.
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Yet, he should be forced to sit this one out. Rad cannot treat journalists with such disregard. The wealth he attains through going public — he mentioned an interest in starting an art collection, bless his heart — comes with the accountability to investors and also the press, namely the financial press that shine light on company practices and let people make sound investment decisions about individual stocks like Match. The kind of pettiness (though he would call it passion) that prompts one to engage in immature innuendo with a woman doing her job doesn't work in the executive suite, particularly for a public company.
That alone is enough to have him pack up his belongings, but there is more. Rad is in his second stint as CEO of Tinder. He was demoted by IAC amid a sexual-harassment lawsuit involving Rad and co-founder Justin Mateen, who served as chief marketing officer. Another co-founder, Whitney Wolfe, had accused both executives of harassing her. Rad's handling of the complaint from Wolfe, now CEO of rival dating app Bumble, was widely cited as the reason IAC lost confidence in him in the first place.
We are a nation of second chances, and Rad got his. And he stumbled, yet again. At a time when tech companies are derided for their "bro" culture — rightly or wrongly — having a CEO open himself to accusations he planned to retaliate against a woman reporter is unacceptable. Tempering that by noting your own sexual proclivities are more modest and tend to favor the intellectual over supermodel looks doesn't do a thing to make the situation better. It may make you seemed as a more evolved dude (by relative standards) but it still makes you too tone-deaf, dense and ill-suited to have an executive role at a public company.
Rad, to his credit, is smart and innovative. He built a disruptive company. He is a solid entrepreneur. That can guide his next steps. But it's clear that, as his new company matures — and he seemingly doesn't — he is a bad match.
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