What Everyone Got Wrong About This Controversial App

This story was first published on LinkedIn Pulse.

In less than a month from today, The League turns one and I turn 31. As I reflect back on my first year as a single founder (yes, the pun is intended), my biggest regret is that for nearly a year, I’ve held my tongue on voicing the mission behind The League and instead, let the press write their own story about a dating app exclusively for good-looking rich kids. I told myself I was just obeying wise adages: "Ignore the critics," "Focus on your users and your product," and "No press is bad press," but by refusing to respond, I essentially let the media go on to corrupt our concept into one so superficial and optimized for clickbait that it’s nearly unrecognizable to me now.

Why did I hold back? Truthfully, I was worried that if I shared my real vision behind The League, I would alienate some of our user base — particularly the men — which a dating app clearly needs to survive. This, in turn, could further segment our already-smaller-than-Tinder addressable market, and could hurt our chances at getting traction and raising funding. But ironically, by downplaying my mission, I was actually suffering from the very same type of complex I am determined to eradicate. And at 31, it’s time for me to stop worrying about what other people think and start worrying about moving the needle. So if you’ll bear with me while I get on my soapbox for a few minutes, I’d like to finally explain why I started The League.

When I got an academic scholarship to Carnegie Mellon to study computer science, I never thought twice about how education and career would affect my dating life. I worked incredibly hard to graduate early and build my résumé, network, and pedigree, working in all-male teams at name-brand tech companies. After finishing it all off with an MBA, I started to realize that with every promotion or degree I collected, I embodied more and more the definition of "alpha female." (The fact that women who are able to compete successfully with men in the workplace warrants us a special label is ludicrous to me, but I embraced it, because it meant I was succeeding.)

I started to realize that with every promotion or degree I collected, I embodied more and more the definition of 'alpha female.'

After business school, I entered back into the world of singledom after the end of a 5-year relationship. It became clear that I had effectively disqualified a large pool of guys who were simply not interested in dating an alpha female; I was an overeducated, career-obsessed, wannabe tech executive with little interest in playing the “traditional” doting girlfriend. And to be fair, I disqualified guys who didn’t share my same drive to achieve, level of intellect, or desire to be in a relationship where our careers and social lives were of equal importance. It only took me a few dates in the wild to realize that the typical online dating sites were a waste of my — and my date's — time. And when you’re $200,000 in debt after business school, you tend to place a high dollar value on your time.

It became clear to me that as far as women have come in the workplace to redefine our role, there is much work left to do in our relationships. In 2015, there are many men who will claim they want a "smart, ambitious woman," but I’ve noticed it often doesn’t play out that way in reality — and there are plenty of studies to corroborate my anecdotal evidence. It also doesn’t mean men expect their "ambitious" wife to stay that way after marriage. An HBR study finds that 50% of millennial men expect their wife’s career to take a backseat to theirs (versus equal priority) and nearly 70% expect the wife to be the primary caretaker of their children (versus equal responsibility). Even more daunting for some men are progressive relationships — where the female may have a busier schedule, a more powerful network, and achieve more career success than her male partner. A University of Chicago study shows a woman and man are much less likely to pair up if her income exceeds his. All of this points to why it’s not uncommon for women to say they feel the need to "tone down [our] intelligence, opinions, and career ambition as to not scare the guys off."

This awful, cringe-inducing expression is what drove me to create The League. I wanted to build a community where smart, outspoken, high-achieving women are celebrated and encouraged to progress in their career full-time. I wanted to never EVER hear a woman be worried that her educational achievements or career ambition would be a turn-off. As Sheryl Sandberg wisely advised us: "The most important career choice you'll make is who you marry. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner." I wanted to build a community where this type of relationship is the rule, not the exception.

The media has slammed The League for our "exclusive" model and labeled us an elitist app for trust fund kids and Ivy League grads. My inbox flooded with dozens of reality-show production companies pitching us to create the next Millionaire Matchmaker, typecasting me as the millennial's Patti Stanger, whose goal is to match up rich, successful men with gorgeous women desiring financial security. These stereotypes make my blood boil and couldn’t be more wrong.

The women in The League have chosen to prioritize their education and career trajectory: 99% have college degrees; 9% PhDs; 30% have advanced degrees; 16% are director-level or higher; 15% are managers; 12% are CEOs, founders, co-founders, or owners; and over 39% are estimated to be making six-figure salaries. And this is all with an average (and median) female age of 29. These are high-achieving women who are likely to continue working post-marriage and post-children (if they choose to have them). The men they (okay, we) want to be matched up with on The League are educated, ambitious, accomplished, and confident enough in themselves to desire a female partner who has the drive and intellect to reach high levels of professional success, even if it eclipses his own.

The women in The League have chosen to prioritize their education and career trajectory.

What at first glance is easy to label as elitism is actually efficacy of this broader mission. The League’s heavily scrutinized admissions-based model is our attempt to create a founding community of high-achieving, diverse, and influential members who will serve as trailblazers to help change the conventional gender views still prevalent in our society. Yes, we’re selective — we believe the research that correlates education and professional achievement with ambition, and weigh these data heavily in our screening algorithms. It’s a slow process and far from perfect. If we open the gates too wide too fast, we risk becoming like every other dating app out there, where the men judge women on their looks and the women struggle to find men who value their intelligence and support their ambition. And then, our mission has failed. The couples who we create, even if small in absolute numbers right now, will ideally successfully demonstrate that dual-career relationships are not only possible, they are preferable. These power couples can serve as the role models sorely lacking in our society today.

My hope is that The League promotes higher education, career ambition, and, most importantly, cultivates the desire for an egalitarian relationship in both sexes. Our generation has the unique opportunity to weed out the antiquated social norms that stem from decades ago, yet still manage to profoundly influence how we define relationships today. If, as a founder, I can point to even a small increase in the number of equal partnerships that result from the curated community we’re building, then I’m okay being labeled an elitist — or whatever anyone wants to call me. Because if we can help move the needle of society even a tiny bit towards equality, that is much more important to me than my own Google search results. #endofsoapbox #micdrop #getmeoffTinder #neversettle

Amanda Bradford is the founder & CEO of The League.

Opener photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images.


More from Work & Money


R29 Original Series