Skip to main
March 15, 2024

Hinge Founder & CEO Justin McLeod Takes SXSW Mainstage to Talk About Culturally Confronting Loneliness

Justin McLeod
Hinge's Founder and CEO Justin McLeod is challenging the stigma around loneliness.

NEW YORK, March 14, 2024: Hinge brought its mission – to create a less lonely world – to life at SXSW this week. Loneliness, an issue historically laced with stigma, was thrust into public conversation when U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released his landmark advisory warning about our “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” last year. Building on that moment, Founder and CEO Justin McLeod joined CEO Ann Shoket on the main stage to challenge the stigma around loneliness. During Culturally Confronting Loneliness, Justin and Ann opened up about their personal experiences with loneliness, examined social media’s role in fostering addiction rather than connection, and explored the possibilities for technology, like AI, to help build relationships. Read through the key takeaways below:

Connection & Belonging Cannot be Overlooked
Part of the issue is that modern society values individualism over collectivism. Justin notes, “Individualism and achievement are so baked into our culture that we don’t even register connection and belonging as an important barometer.” Justin explained how our always-on culture is exacerbated by digital technology, referencing research from Virginia Tech University that found the mere presence of a phone lowers the quality of a conversation.

Creating a High-Trust Corporate Culture Fosters High-Performing Teams
Connection is a core tenant of Hinge’s culture and integral to the company’s mission to create a less lonely world. At Hinge, one of our key principles is to tend to trust.You have to build the trust before you can get the work done. Otherwise, you waste time worrying about politics and projection,” Justin said. This principle starts at the top with leaders across the organization – one way Justin cultivates a high-trust environment within his executive team is by conducting ‘temperature checks’ where team members share their gratitudes, anxieties, and hopes.

Part of the Crisis is Not Taking the Time to Maintain Our Relationships
In the constant race for productivity and material success, we rarely pause to reflect on the opportunities for connection right in front of us. “We are all floating on a freshwater lake, dying of thirst. You just need to reach for that glass of water and make a connection, but we don’t take the time to do that,” noted Justin. A few daily micro-habits can change your life, Justin said, whether you are sharing daily highs and lows with friends or blocking out time for personal check-ins. At, members share their ‘wins’ to celebrate each other. According to Ann, wins can be as big as a project launch or as small as making it to the weekend.

We Went From Bowling Alone to Scrolling Alone
When Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone about the decline of community groups over 20 years ago, he hoped it would be the treatise to reverse society’s course. Instead, the advent of social media plummeted us further into isolation than ever before. “We’ve almost completely displaced time spent together with time spent staring at screens. Young people spend 1000 hours less a year connecting together. That’s down 70% from 20 years ago,” said Justin. Those figures demonstrate an evolution from ‘social networks’ created to connect us to ‘social media’ keeping us isolated.

Tech Leaders Need to Get the Core Business Right
When Justin first founded Hinge, he adopted the same business mindset of many tech founders – chasing short-term engagement over long-term sustainable growth. After intense introspection, he rebooted Hinge around a different North Star metric: great dates. “After starting Hinge, we created a gamified app that was driven by engagement and retention metrics. But it wasn’t helping people to get on great dates and create connections, so we rebooted the company and changed our North Star metric to Great Dates Per User.” In the future, he hopes to see social media replaced by a ‘social wellness industry’ built by entrepreneurs with goals of connection and community. To this end, Justin called on leaders to “get the core business right. You must ensure your product is doing good in the world before anything else,'' adding that “connection and belonging are some of our most human needs.”

Leveraging AI to Create Authentic Connections
Justin touched on AI’s dual potential to both help us forge more intentional and authentic connections and to further entrench technology addiction and the displacement of in-person connection. Reflecting on AI innovation, Justin noted, “We are at a precipice with AI. AI can stand behind us, helping us become better connected and more relational, or it can come between us and be something we interact with instead of other people.”

Inspiring Connection Among Gen Z – One Hour at a Time
Justin and Ann concluded the conversation by discussing Hinge’s efforts to alleviate loneliness and foster IRL communities through its One More Hour program, which encourages Gen Z to incorporate one more hour of connection into their daily lives. Through a $1M fund, Hinge is providing grants to social groups and organizations helping Gen Z find belonging and community in person. Additionally, the company recently launched pocket-sized Phonebooks filled with 100 pages of activities to inspire IRL connection rather than mindless scrolling. 

The entire SXSW Mainstage conversation between Justin and Ann can be accessed here.

About Hinge

The Dating App Designed To Be Deleted®: Hinge is on a mission to create a less lonely world by inspiring intimate, in-person connections. Through in-depth and personalized profiles, daters have unique conversations that get them off the app and out on great dates. And it’s resonating. Hinge is setting up a date every two seconds. Hinge was acquired by Match Group (NASDAQ:MTCH) in 2018.