“Be Nice or Leave” — that’s one of the unofficial mottos of Bumble, the hugely successful dating app commonly referred to as “feminist Tinder.”
But many residents of the Bowie, the ultra-luxury Austin high-rise where the company had its headquarters until earlier this month, say employees of the company treated the building like their dedicated campus with little regard for the people who lived there and the staff who worked there — even though only three Bumble employees were on the residential lease and no one lived in the unit.
BuzzFeed News has learned that over the past year, as the company swelled in size, the two-bedroom apartment on the 31st floor that it had repurposed into a plush startup office became the focus of a cold war between Bumble employees, building staff, and residents who felt the company was unfairly dominating the luxury building’s amenities, including common spaces, a rooftop pool, and paid parking.
“The Bumble folks are generally obnoxious, entitled, and treat the Bowie like their corporate office,” said one resident, who spoke to BuzzFeed on the condition that he not be named.
The Bowie, a three-year-old, 37-story gleaming glass tower rising above downtown Austin, was in many ways a fitting location for Bumble, a company that has amassed 12.5 million users and risen to second in the lifestyle category in the App Store since being started by Tinder cofounder Whitney Wolfe after her acrimonious split from that company. Indeed, the company hosted the New York Times there for an interview ahead of a glowing story in March. The 380-unit building boasts the kind of luxuries you’d expect to find in a prosperous city’s finest rental building: a 24-hour concierge service, multiple fire pits, a dog grooming room, a coffee bar, and electric vehicle charging stations.
The only problem? According to an Austin code department spokesperson, the office, located in a building approved for use as a multifamily residential property, was a code violation. And the thriving startup was using facilities intended for Bowie residents as its own.
A copy of a code complaint filed with the Austin city government by a resident describes a company that could not be contained within the 1,200-square-foot apartment that Bumble referred to as “The Hive.”
“Issue?” the complaint reads. “Bumble headquarters in apartment building! This is a residential building ... and this illegal corporate headquarters has been causing Havoc ... They’re located on the 31st floor, have about 15 or 20 employees, therefore they use all the common spaces as a secondary office ... One is supposed to be on a lease to use common areas, but they do not care ... This is a very large company and they should have a real office instead of a code violating office.”
Over the past year, a former member of the building staff said, the front desk — staffed by a local concierge company — received multiple complaints a day about Bumble employees, often related to company employees using the 31st-floor common space for meetings and presentations.
In a statement, a Bumble spokesman wrote, "The 31st floor is where it all started and we throughly enjoyed our relationship with the residents. The building management was fully aware of our operations and never once issued us a complaint of any kind. And while it was never brought to our attention by management, we deeply regret any disturbance we may have caused at the building."
Pinnacle Property Management Services, which currently owns the Bowie, declined to comment on this story. An inspection carried out by James Paxton, an Austin city code inspector, revealed that Bumble is owned by an LLC called Beehive Interests, which was registered by Whitney Wolfe in August 2014, with a corporate mailing address of 311 Bowie St., Apt. 3107 — the Bowie.
“They were using the whole floor like it was an office space,” said Lane Helveston, a Bowie resident who lived on the 31st floor. “They would be in my hallways. There were people roaming around the building who didn’t live there.”
Making matters worse, according to five Bowie residents, was the demeanor of the Bumble staff. One resident reported seeing a Bumble employee — on a conference call in the hallway — shush another resident who was showing her mother the building.
According to several residents, the deluge of complaints put Steve Hunt, then the building’s concierge, in the awkward position of enforcing rules about non-residents’ use of common areas, and acting as Bumble’s de facto doorman.
Since each apartment only came with two key fobs, Hunt had to let Bumble employees into the elevators on a daily basis. According to Hunt, new Bumble employees sometimes turned hostile in the Bowie lobby when he asked them what business they had in the building.
At times, according to multiple sources, the lobby seemed to belong to Bumble, with vendors ferrying Topo Chico mineral water and green juice up to the 31st floor and employees testing out new Snapchat filters on residents.
One Bowie resident described an incident in which a Bumble employee asked for his assistance while he was walking through the lobby. As he approached the Bumble employee, she held up her phone and informed him that he was on the “Bumble Kiss Cam,” at which point a second Bumble employee tried to kiss him.
“I said, 'that’s assault,'” the resident recalled. “That’s completely inappropriate. I’m in a private residence.”
Still another source of tension was the parking lot, where residents paid a monthly fee of more than $100 for a space. According to multiple sources, Bumble employees would frequently follow each other into the lot and take paid spots. Hunt, frustrated by having to run interference, started leaving signs in the lot reading “No Bumble Parking” and “Top Code Violators Under 30” with a picture of Wolfe — a mocking reference to the CEO's inclusion on the Forbes 2017 30 Under 30.
"Management never once issued us a complaint about Bumble team members parking in paid spots that were reserved for residents," a Bumble spokesperson wrote. "As our demand for parking increased, we paid management the daily rate for the visitor lot and instructed our team to park there."
Earlier this month, the conflict between residents, staff, and Bumble spilled out of the building when a former resident enlisted a friend in the notorious and deliberately offensive internet troll group GNAA to fight back. Last Monday, Twitter users reported that the Wikipedia pages for Amazon, Google, and Walmart redirected to a GNAA press release entitled “GNAA Reveals Cause to Evict Bumble from their Corporate Headquarters,” stating that Bumble’s Bowie office was in violation of its lease.
Nevertheless, two weeks ago Bumble moved out of the Bowie. The GNAA claimed credit, though according to Paxton, the code inspector, building management said that Bumble had voluntarily moved out at the end of its lease.
Bumble recently sent out invitations to an office-warming party, which will feature paddleboarding and yoga.
Wednesday, Wolfe offered Hunt, who left the building after it was sold to new management, a sizable gift on behalf of Bumble.
In an Instagram message reviewed by BuzzFeed News, Wolfe wrote to Hunt, “We will be sending you … $1,000 as a thank you for being our front desk manager.”
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
Contact Joseph Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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