The second-largest dating app by audience size, Bumble, released its S-1 this week ahead of its IPO, and there's plenty to be excited about. But how does this company's fast-growing, women-first approach fare against the online dating conglomerate Match Group (NASDAQ: MTCH)? Here's a look at both.

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Bumble

Bumble was founded in 2014 by Whitney Wolfe Herd after her unpleasant departure as an early employee at Tinder. Six years later, Bumble now operates two primary dating apps -- Bumble and Badoo. Bumble is a fast-growing female-centric dating app that requires women to message first, whereas Badoo is a much older and more mature business that helped originally pioneer the online dating market. A merger in 2020 brought the two apps together under the "Bumble" brand; they now tout more than 40 million combined users and 2.4 million paying users. Yet, contrary to its namesake, most of the free and paid users are actually attributed to Badoo.

For the full 2019 fiscal year, the combined entity grew revenue 36% to $489 million. Despite contributing less to user count, the Bumble app generates the majority of the combined revenue and continues growing at a much faster rate. The Bumble app grew revenue by 70% from 2018 to 2019, compared to just 8% growth from Badoo and other apps. Of the $489 million in revenue from 2019, Bumble and Badoo would have combined for $92 million in free cash flow and $86 million in net income. 

However, over the first nine months of 2020, growth slowed significantly across the board for the combined company. Between both Bumble and Badoo, revenue grew just 15%, and the costs of reorganizing and restructuring into a holding company, the combined entity transitioned from profitable to unprofitable. 

Match Group

Match Group (NASDAQ:MTCH), whose brands include Tinder, Hinge, Match.com, OkCupid, and plenty more, clearly dwarfs Bumble. In its most recent quarter, Match reported 10.8 million total average subscribers, with 61% of them attributed to its most popular app Tinder. In the first nine months of 2020, Match delivered 318% more revenue than Bumble and roughly $500 million more in free cash flow. There is however one number that really sticks out in Bumble's favor, or so it looks. 

Bumble reported $18.48 in average-revenue-per-user (ARPU) for the first nine months of 2020, compared to a seemingly minuscule $0.62 in ARPU for Match! But there's one big caveat to that seemingly massive difference: Bumble and Match don't report users the same way.

Along with subscriptions, both of these companies offer small in-app purchases across their respective services categorized as "à la carte" features. Bumble classifies a "paying user" as anyone who has purchased a subscription or has bought any à la carte feature during the assessed period. Conversely, Match reports only the average number of users who have purchased subscriptions. This means the true difference in paying users is likely even larger than it looks, in Match's favor. 

Who's the better buy? 

While it's enticing to try to pin down a winner and loser between the two, online dating is most likely a rising tide that will lift all boats. Both Bumble and Match seem to be on a sustainable growth trajectory as more and more individuals take to the internet to find their significant others. With that said, if I had to choose one, Match currently feels like a much safer bet. 

Dating apps live and die by their viral nature. They go through cycles of favor much like video games, and if there aren't many people already on an app then there's less incentive for others to join. Bumble is seeing plenty of growth right now, but Match is a far more diversified business, which tends to eliminate the big ebbs and flows that the online dating market can provide. Instead of betting on one horse to win the race, with Match, shareholders own most of the horses. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.