Nov 25, 2023
Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder and CEO of the dating app Bumble and the youngest woman ever to take a company public, launched Bumble’s 2021 IPO with her baby son, Bobby, on her hip. Since then, she and her husband have welcomed another baby boy, Henry, making her one of a very small number of billionaire CEOs who is also the mother of two kids under the age of 4. She has tons of advice on kiddie gadgets (you need a baby shusher for the stroller, she insists), wipes (she swears by the all-water ones), and sleep. (Move the nap earlier to hit the “sweet spot” of exhaustion before it becomes adrenaline. And yes, she briefly hired a sleep consultant.)
On a recent afternoon, Wolfe Herd watched Henry (nine months) and Bobby (3) nap on the baby monitor, and I parked Rosie in front of Sesame Street in the next room (the letter of the day was M), so we could catch up about what she had learned from being a mom.
I’m not scared of anyone in business. But I’m scared of my 3-year-old. He will win every negotiation. And then I have an absolute little angel, which is Henry. It’s so interesting, the different experiences I’ve had now with having two kids. I was in such a big postpartum depression place at nine months with Bobby. Nine months with Bobby was very different than nine months with Henry.
Can you tell me a little bit about your postpartum depression?
I had Bobby in Dec. 2019. Right when Bobby was being born, we finalized the deal with Blackstone [which made Wolfe Herd CEO of Bumble.] And within a few days of him being born, the Bobby he was named after passed away. My husband was grieving his grandfather while we were trying to celebrate this new soul. And in that meantime, I got extremely sick five days postpartum with postpartum preeclampsia. Basically, my blood pressure was at stroke level, and it was undetected, so I was back in the hospital. And then the world shut down.
It was just a series of events that were tough to navigate. And so it just sent me into postpartum depression, but I didn’t realize I had it. Postpartum depression is this sneaky thing. It’s like: you know you’re not okay, but you don’t know that you’re not okay.
I know exactly what you mean. I experienced something really similar. How did becoming a mom change your approach to your work?
It made me want to lean in further to Bumble. The world that I had been so busy trying to improve or fix or change was for the women around me, but then I realized there’s this next generation. It gave me a whole new level of purpose. My two children are my reason and what makes me want to do better and what makes me want to lean in more at work.
Also, I personally love the idea of having some separation. I want to spend all my time and energy with them, but I do like being able to use my mind in different ways. It’s actually made me love some of the things I used to be exhausted by at work.
How do you deal with that exhaustion? How do you run a multi-billion-dollar company on two hours of sleep?
You can have three nights where Bobby will sleep from eight to seven through the night, but then you’ll have two nights where he wakes up every 15 minutes looking for me. So you just never know what you’re gonna get. It’s tricky, because you need so much of your brain during the day to be a CEO. You need a rational, rested mind to function. Everyone says: “One day at a time.” I actually prefer one hour at a time.
I don’t judge any other mom, but I personally can’t do the “cry it out.” It’s just not for me. I have friends that have the best life ever because they did “cry it out.” And their children are incredible. It’s not in me. I wish it was; I don’t have it.
Listen, there’s days I feel like a superwoman, and there’s days that I feel like crying all day long.
What is your childcare situation?
I actually don’t have extremely structured childcare as it pertains to Bobby because of his age. So today I took him to preschool. I try to do the drive to preschool with no calls so I can pay attention to him. And then the minute I drop him off, literally as I’m giving him a hug out the door, I have to dial into something. But I’ve structured it so that that call on the way home is totally sequenced perfectly to get back to my computer to then pick up another two things on Zoom. And then I can go back and pick him up and do the call on the way there. No call on the way home, so he can be with me. I’m trying my best and I’m failing at it.
Wait, you don’t have a nanny?
We do have a nanny. But she has been in New York for the last 10 days. I’ve only been talking about Bobby. I do have a nine-month-old. So that’s a whole different schedule.
So who’s taking care of the nine-month old?
The nine-month old is with a separate caregiver right now.
Everybody has these things they totally suck at. Is there an aspect of parenting you feel like you totally suck at?
I feel like I am not great at discipline. I’m really struggling with effective boundaries. And I’m working on it. But that’s my biggest struggle. And mom guilt.
How does your mom guilt manifest itself?
I have mom guilt right now being on the phone with you instead of sitting and staring at my kids. What are you gonna do? You can’t escape it. It’s permanent. Do you not have any mom guilt?
I just heard her crying. So…yes.
What I try to remind myself is: I don’t think we’re meant to lose ourselves. I think we’re just meant to evolve and grow and expand, but not shrink. I can’t feel guilty for doing the things that brought me joy pre-baby, or was part of who I was as an individual. When you think about it that way, for me at least, it helps reframe that guilt.
Did you take a maternity leave?
With my first child, we were signing deals quite literally days leading up to birth. I checked email from the hospital, which I’m not proud of.
The second time around, I was gonna make a really conscious decision to disconnect. The Ukraine war broke out in the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy. So we were moving all of our Russian developers out of Russia to Dubai as I was going into labor. So it was a very complex and difficult moment that I really needed to be present for. I couldn’t just say, “See you later.” I did try to go offline for the first 10 days. And then I was checking in periodically, and my team was feeding me weekly updates. I would try to get myself an hour on a Friday, where I would allow myself to really dig in to the updates. But yeah, Henry literally came to earnings with me as a five week-old baby.
We have a six-month paid family leave [at Bumble]. It’s very important to me that our team really gets that time with their child. And I think part of that came from not having it and regretting it, and wishing I had had it.
What’s your most valuable piece of parenting advice?
Everything is a phase. The good and the bad. The cutest baby cuddles, you think it’s there forever, and it’s gone. But then the nights of endless “Mommy, Mommy, where are you, come help me?” That’s not gone yet, but I know it will be gone. Everything feels like it’s forever, but it’s not. And: they’ll eat when they’re hungry, they’ll sleep when they’re tired, and we’re all doing the best we can.
Can you tell me about a time when you felt like a total parenting failure?
Um, last night at one in the morning? Not being able to get him to sleep, and then at one in the morning putting my head in my hands on his toddler bed, like: What do I do? What have I done wrong? Why am I so bad at this?
I really don’t like the term “working mom.” I think every mother is a “working mom.” There is not a mom out there that is not working. It is a full time job keeping a child or multiple children healthy, happy, and thriving.
What surprised you most about being a mom?
Nobody tells you that they come out their own person, no matter what you do. You can follow every book, you can talk to 20 different mom groups, but every child is so individual, and they come out who they are. They give everyone the same tear sheet at the hospital, the same five books to read. It’s almost like they send you to a very bad, unstructured micro-university before you have kids where everyone has the same curriculum. But no two children are the same.
So how has this experience shaped you?
I’m present for the first time in my life. When you’re out there building a career, you’re looking over different shoulders, you’re looking backwards and forwards, it’s like you’re driving 20 cars at once. When I’m in the presence of my children, I’m actually for the first time a present human being. They just taught me how to be.