Following a widely publicized sexual harassment suit that painted the company as a den of surreal tech-world misogyny, Tinder's 27-year-old CEO, Sean Rad, is being demoted, Steven Bertoni of Forbes reports. IAC, the dating app's majority owner, is searching for a new chief executive while Rad—who owns a 10 percent stake in the company—will stay on as president and keep his seat on the board. "We're looking for an Eric Schmidt–like person," Rad told the magazine; he will remain as CEO until his replacement is found. Translation: He's getting some adult supervision.
Former executive Whitney Wolfe sued Tinder in July, claiming that her boss and former boyfriend, Chief Marketing Officer Justin Mateen, verbally abused and harassed her with a slew of vile text messages (many of which were reproduced in the suit) after the couple broke up. In one incident, Wolfe alleged that Mateen called her a "whore" in front of Rad during a company party before one of the CEO's guests spat in her face. Later, she alleged, she was stripped of her title as co-founder because she was a woman.
Following the lawsuit, Mateen was suspended from Tinder, and eventually left the company. In his Forbes piece, Bertoni calls the suit "a giant 'he said, she said' that will likely forever remain cloudy"; the case was settled in September, with Wolfe reportedly getting "just over $1 million."
Regardless of its merits, the lawsuit and its fallout seem to have spurred Tinder's corporate handlers to action. Rad started Tinder while working as an employee of Hatch Labs, an incubator for mobile apps funded by IAC. While Rad seemed to enjoy playing the role of successful startup founder, IAC controls a 60 percent share of the company, meaning it is, as Gawker's Sam Biddle has pointed out, basically a subsidiary of Barry Diller's media conglomerate. As Bertoni writes:
IAC was not about to watch its new potential cash machine get derailed by more amateur mistakes. Rad had the title of founder, but he didn’t have control over his own fate at the company. ... “If the Whitney thing didn’t happen it would be difficult for IAC to demote Sean, because they’d have a lot to answer for,” says one insider. “But the lawsuit gave them an out.”
The quote from the "insider" is intriguing, because it suggests that the lawsuit might have been more of a pretext for IAC's decision to demote Rad than the actual cause. In any event, he will reportedly continue working on developing Tinder and figuring out ways to monetize the app, in which he obviously has a large financial stake. It will be intriguing to see which cheerfully dull suit IAC brings in to act as his babysitter.