Courtesy of Badoo, Jude Edginton
Russian entrepreneur Andrey Andreev is as close to a modern-day cupid as it gets, but instead of shooting bows and arrows he’s employing geolocation tools and facial recognition software.
He has helped build five successful online dating apps, including Badoo, the largest such app in the world, with 380 million users and counting. His developers built and manage the infrastructure for Chappy, a dating app for gay men, and Huggle, an app that matches people based on the locations they frequent – in exchange for a cut of those apps’ profits. Andreev also has a 79% stake in Bumble, America’s fastest-growing online dating app, which puts the courtship in the hands of women, since only Bumble’s female users can make the first contact with a potential date.
All of this is enough to earn Andreev, age 44, a spot among the world’s richest for the first time. Forbes estimates his fortune at $1.5 billion.
For someone who built his career around interactions and connections, Andreev kept a very low profile for years and was rarely written about in the press. Forbes Russia once called him “the most mysterious businessman in the West.” But Andreev refutes that description.
“Any Russian who achieves anything outside of Russia, it’s a big deal,” he tells Forbes, calling from London, where he lives and works. “This is why they called me mysterious. I’m not mysterious. I live in London and people see me every day — nothing mysterious here.”
He’s come a long way from Moscow, where he was born. His real name is Andrey Ogandzhantyants, and both his parents were scientists. He later switched his last name to his mother’s maiden name, which is easier to spell and pronounce. “My passion for technology has been since day one,” he said. “My dad was involved in technology, so in our Moscow flat I had a million toys around me.”
He attended University of Moscow briefly before dropping out in 1992 at age 18 to move to Spain. “I wanted to travel and see the world,” he said. He took out a loan from his parents to support his travels around Europe before starting Virus, an online store that sold computers and computer accessories to internet users in Russia in 1995. He sold it “for a few hundred thousand” dollars in 1997, enough to pay his parents back in full.
Then in 1999 he founded SpyLog, a software tool that webmasters could use to track visitors to their sites. “It is the grandfather of Google Analytics,” Andreev boasts. He doesn’t claim that Google copied him, but he does believe Google was inspired by his project. Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google in September 1998; Google Analytics launched in 2005. Andreev exited his position in SpyLog in December 2001 for an undisclosed sum.
A year later in 2002, he built contextual ads company Begun. Finam Holdings, a Russian investment firm, had a majority stake in Begun in 2008 when Google expressed interest in acquiring it. “We almost closed the deal for $140 million, but unfortunately the deal never happened,” Andreev said. It was reported that Russia’s competition agency blocked the deal. “We had an issue,” Andreev began to explain, before stopping himself. “Whatever, you will find what you find in the news. It’s a long story, but it was a little bit about politics.” Begun still exists but Andreev exited in January 2004 and is no longer affiliated with the company.
It’s been 10 years since he last visited Moscow, Andreev says. His father passed away and his mother now lives in Paris. He became a British citizen “in 2008 or 2009.” Has he given up his Russian citizenship? “I would rather not comment on that.”
Badoo, founded in 2006 from Spain but launched in 2009 (almost three years before Tinder), is headquartered in London with an office in Moscow. Today it employs 300 developers, 80 of whom are women, who run Badoo and also provide support to Huggle, Chappy and Bumble.
“We build these apps together,” Andreev said. “There’s a million different apps in the app store and it’s difficult to be successful. But with Bumble, Huggle, Chappy — they don’t need to worry about money or developers. We have that. We can build the wireframes [prototypes] and design everything together. We just need the idea, direction, vision, and a strong person who will defend the idea and make this idea massive.”
In Bumble’s case, that person is its founder, Whitney Wolfe, a former cofounder and marketing executive at Tinder. Wolfe had sued her ex-boss and ex-boyfriend Justin Mateen for sexual harassment in June 2014 and settled later that year. Andreev, who had met Wolfe while she was at Tinder, convinced her to work with him on her next venture. “I told her, you have huge potential and I have the best infrastructure,” Andreev recalled. “Let’s do something.”
That something began in August 2014 on a Greek island. “We flew to Mykonos with a few of the original Tinder designers,” he said. Why Mykonos? “I don’t know, we just decided to go somewhere and not be distracted by phones and things, and we thought Mykonos would be good for inspiration.” Three months later Bumble was born.
“Thanks for taking the chance on me when no one else would,” Wolfe wrote in a birthday message to Andreev on Instagram in February. “Without you, the @bumble journey wouldn’t have been possible.”
A month earlier, it was reported that Andreev was looking to sell his Bumble stake for an estimated $1.2 billion. He denies those reports.
Valerie Stark, cofounder and CEO of Huggle, who now also runs communications for Andreev, describes his contribution to her company. “I drew my project literally on a piece of paper and he perfected it and made it real,” she said. “There were moments where I would argue and try to defend my vision regarding some features, but he by adding some tweaks and showing some [A/B testing] results would make it even better.”
Andreev’s biggest business continues to be his flagship Badoo, which launched a facial recognition feature in late 2017. The feature allows users to upload an image of a person they like and find other Badoo users who look similar. “People really love it,” Andreev said.
He refuses to share revenue figures for Badoo, which is privately held, but said that Match Group, the publicly traded American company that operates online dating sites including OkCupid and Tinder, was a good comparison. Match Group, which has a $12.2 billion market cap, reported $1.3 billion in revenue for 2017. “We are smaller,” Andreev said. “But we are still a pretty big player.”
Andreev, who has a girlfriend but didn’t meet her on any of these apps, is also mum about his next apps or features other than to say that whatever it is will enhance human connection. “I sound like a product guy, I know, but what we’re really doing is creating strong tools to facilitate people interaction,” he said. “This is all about connecting people. It always has been.”
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