On a “first date” with Mandy Ginsberg

On a “first date” with Mandy Ginsberg

Former CEO of Match.com, Mandy Ginsberg, talks about moving to Florence and her business accomplishments, including how she championed women’s rights in the tech world.

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Wed 30 Mar 2022 4:33 PM

Mandy Ginsberg spent 14 years at the $31 billion Match Group public company, ultimately becoming CEO and overseeing brands such as Tinder, Match, Hinge, OKCupid, Meetic and Plenty of Fish, before stepping down in January 2020 due to personal reasons. Having moved to Florence in August 2021, The Florentine interviewed the inspiring entrepreneur on moving to Italy and how she championed women’s rights in the business world. 

Mandy Ginsberg at Florence’s Caffè Gilli. Ph. @marcobadiani

We’re meeting today at Caffè Gilli, which strikes me as the perfect place for a first date. It seemed fitting to chat with you here, given your background.

Mandy Ginsberg: The number one place where people go on a first date is for coffee because there’s not a lot of commitment. You can just have a cup of coffee and see where things go. It could be one cup or two cups that lead to aperitivo. It really is one of those places where there’s no pressure. So, this is perfect for us to get to know each other, on our first date!

What made you move to Florence?

Like a lot of people I’ve met here, I was nose to the grindstone for 30 years. I had been a single mom earlier in my career and then worked really hard at Match Group for a long time. So, when I finally had a chance to put my head up, my husband and I would always talk about uprooting, moving somewhere magical that we both love for at least a year. We started talking about the places we loved most in the world and one of them was Italy. When I told someone I knew in the expat community that I was thinking about moving to Tuscany, she told me not to go anywhere else. She said that Florence was the most unbelievable city and that I would meet and interact with people that I wouldn’t have dreamed of elsewhere. She was right. Living here has exceeded my expectations.

Is there anything you find frustrating about living here?

I don’t find many things frustrating since I’m still in my honeymoon phase. I guess it’s the little things. For example, I must have about 1,000 euros worth of tickets from going into a bus lane that I didn’t realize was a bus lane. Also, I walk around with wet hair all the time. Every time I go outside with wet hair, you’d think I just killed a cat. There are these little things that aren’t frustrating, but just fun observations. Pleasure definitely outweighs any other subtle annoyances.

I never want to give up the learning part of this experience.

How’s learning Italian coming along?

It’s okay. Capisco, because I speak Spanish. I believe that in order to really understand a culture, you need to be able to speak the language. I lived in Israel and Spain for a while and learned to speak both Hebrew and Spanish. Every day I’m learning new words and phrases in Italian. Whenever people speak to me in English, I’m like No, I’m learning! I’ve found people here love it when you make the effort.

What does your daily routine look like now that you’ve got this new-found freedom?

Looking back at the last 20 years, my average day was just working 60-80 hours a week. In 2019, I was on a plane almost every week of the year because I was based in the middle of the US, but we also had offices in New York, LA, Paris, Belgium and Japan. Then I came here and I thought, Wow. My youngest daughter, who’s 13, is here at the International School, and I have a 23-year-old, who’s about to start medical school. So, a lot of my life revolves around my two daughters and being a parent in a much more hands-on way than before. For the first time, I’m taking them to school and picking them up from school. Plus, I continue to serve on the board for Uber and a couple of other companies. I love nature and the outdoors so much. I underestimated how green everything was. I’ve become addicted to tennis, which has allowed me to learn more Italian and meet Italian women that I never would have met otherwise.

That’s the joy of tennis. Nobody cares about where you come from or what you do. It’s all about what goes on in the court.

Exactly, and I’ve never had a bad time during that hour on the court, especially in a place where you look around and all you can see is beautiful hills and olive groves. There’s also so much history here, it’s mind boggling. Every week, my husband and I go with this lovely local guide to go and learn something new. I never want to give up the learning part of this experience. 

Mandy Ginsberg talks with The Florentine‘s Helen Farrell at Florence’s Caffè Gilli. Ph. @marcobadiani

Let’s talk about the apps. They’re so famous, we can’t not talk about them.

When I first started in 2005, two per cent of relationships and marriages combined in the US and Western Europe were from dating websites. It wasn’t even dating apps because there was no such thing. Today, over 50% of relationships are formed from dating apps. And by the way, it’s not just young people. It’s actually very popular among the second-time arounders, who are, say, 40, divorced with kids, but too busy to meet people. Of course, there’s no such thing as online dating: you actually have to go on a physical date. We can connect two people, but we can’t predict what’s going to happen on the coffee date or after the coffee date. But what these apps have done is allow people to meet in a way that they never would have met otherwise. Let’s say you’re a 70-year-old who’s just lost your wife, and you like to go to the theater, or you want someone nice to have dinner with once a week? Now, because everyone is on the apps, there’s a plethora of people to go and meet.

What does your role look like in the Connect US scheme implemented by US Consul in Florence, Ragini Gupta, which joins together American businesspeople living in Tuscany with young Tuscan entrepreneurs?

The reality is, what we accomplished, we got there with a lot of mistakes. When I work with young companies and entrepreneurs, it’s not about telling them what to do next, but helping them to avoid the mistakes that I made, which took up a lot of time and energy. 

You’re a role model, Mandy. I’d like to focus on what you’ve done for women, championing equal pay for equal work?

When I first started at Match, we were only 250 people and $250 million in revenue. When I left, there were almost 2,000 people. But what we found was some of the most capable women at the company would never bang their fists on the table and ask for more pay. I grew up in a house where my mother was very much like, Just ask. The worst thing they can say is no. There was something holding these women back from asking for more. So, my colleague Shar and I made a commitment to make sure we took care of incredible talent, including the women that never asked for more. Just because they don’t ask for more doesn’t mean they don’t deserve it. We wanted to make sure that the best people never had a reason to leave. The reality is that there’s not enough women at the top, especially in technology businesses. Women are underpaid, often for two reasons. One, because what I just told you about the cultural barriers. Two, there are generally more men in engineering positions, not because companies don’t want to hire women, but because not enough women are in STEM. The truth is, it’s a war out there for talent. People don’t just work for companies, they work for people. At the end of the day, whether you’re a man or a woman, you have to inspire, and you have to want people to come to work for you every day.

Today, over 50% of relationships are formed from dating apps. And by the way, it’s not just young people.

With the apps, you were determined to protect the woman’s experience. You introduced a One Strike and You’re Out policy. How did you go about that?  

First of all, there’s a lot more discussion about the #MeToo movement, which is important for talking about how to treat people and how men should treat women. But the thing is, because these dating apps are so big, they start to become more of a reflection of society and, sadly, there’s a lot of bad people out there. The worst days I ever had as CEO was hearing from police or law enforcement, or reading a headline that something bad happened to someone. You can’t change society, but you can elevate the discussions. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t tolerate unacceptable behavior by putting different processes in place, allowing the community to have the opportunity to speak out if someone is acting inappropriately. I used to get daily messages from men on LinkedIn and Facebook begging me to let them back on the apps because they’d been kicked off for bad behavior. Nineteen times out of twenty, we went and checked, and the behavior was bad. I was actually really happy to get those notes because at least I knew that people were getting knocked off that shouldn’t be on these apps. Look, it’s not perfect and I’m sure the bigger the apps get and the more people who use them, it will become a bigger reflection of society. The priority is to make it a forefront for women. Unfortunately, women do have to be more careful. Sadly, in any culture or any country, they just can’t put their guards down.

You speak publicly about your reasons for stepping down as CEO of Match because of your health situation. 

No woman in my family lived past 61. My mom and aunt, who both died of ovarian cancer, tested positive for a genetic defect called the BRCA gene. It really shaped me because I was a young single mom working my tail off and I had to watch them both die. With the BRCA gene, you’ve got a 80-90% chance of breast cancer and over 50% chance of ovarian cancer. I’m the first of my generation in the family to find out that I had this mutation. After my mom passed away, I started the job in 2005 and I had a great boss. He told me that his best friend’s wife had just had breast cancer and she also tested positive for the BRCA gene. He kept saying to me, You have to take care of it. You’re better off alive to me than you are dead. So, I just told the team I was going to have preventive surgery and I’d be back in a couple of weeks. I lasted about a week because I was so bored. I had to get out of bed because I was feeling sorry for myself. I’d rather feel terrible doing something than feel terrible sitting in bed. That’s how I set the precedent for being more transparent about my life. Twenty to thirty years ago, no one ever talked about things like this. I wanted to normalize these discussions because you spend all your time with your work colleagues, so you have to be transparent. In the end, I had a hysterectomy, an oophorectomy and multiple breast surgeries. I actually had precancerous cells, which means that I was just on the path to having cancer. Given that I decided to be so open in my letter about stepping down as CEO of Match, I had two or three women from the Tinder office in LA reach out to me to say that they’d read my story and that they went to take a test and were positive. In a way, it felt so good because it was like I was the catalyst to them getting checked out.

With thanks to Caffè Gilli (via Roma 1R) for hosting us and providing the coffee.

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