Guest: Lori Cheek
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone. Welcome to one more episode of the agile entrepreneur podcast and video cast. And this is your host Ramesh Dontha. Today I have an exciting guest. Her name is Lori Cheek. She's a New York city based architect turned entrepreneur and she's the CEO and founder of Cheeked. It's a hyper speed Bluetooth enabled mobile dating app. I know what you guys are thinking and I'm also very, very curious to know more about Cheekd and Lori Cheek. Lori, welcome.
Ramesh: All right, so now you picked our curiosity. So what is Cheekd hyper speed Bluetooth enabled mobile dating app. Can you please go over what Cheekd is?
Lori: Well, yes, we are an app that helps people connect in the real world. So we are leveraging technology to try to get people off their phones. So if you walk into a crowded bar, a gym, a cafe, and anyone else with the Cheekd app and their Bluetooth turned on, you'll get an immediate notification that that person is single and potentially ready to mingle in that moment. So you can either walk up to them and say hello, which is what people used to do back in the olden days and it seemed to work. Instead of swiping through strangers from the comfort of your home online, so you can spark a conversation face to face and hopefully take it from there.
01:50 Ramesh: I see. And do these people need, both of them need to be on the Cheekd app for them to.
Lori: Yes. I mean, I'd love if there was a way to connect with people that weren't on the app, but that starts to get a tiny bit creepy.
Ramesh: Let's see how we could you know not get creepy, so and then people registered on Cheekd and then you'll find, it seems pretty, pretty exciting. So, Lori, let's say go through how could you, I mean, when did you think about this app?
And so let's talk about the journey.
Lori: I mean, it's been a pretty long journey and Cheekd has been through several different iterations, but I was an architect in New York for 16 years. Just walking around thinking, how do you find love in a city of 8 million people? I mean, everybody in New York is like crossing each other's paths, but no one really speaks to each other. Like it was just so difficult for me to understand what was missing here. And one night I was out to dinner with a colleague and he slipped his business card to a woman and he'd written on the back of it, want to have dinner and he left with a date and I left with this idea of sort of handing notes to people. So I started this business soon after called Cheekd and it was dating cards and they had a code on them. And a funny pickup line and the recipient of that card could go to our website and type in the code and find that person's profile. So we called it online dating and reverse. So you actually saw the person and then you connected online. That's how it started.
Ramesh: Okay. So then, I mean how did you actually launch it? How did people come to know about it? You had a website and all that stuff. But then what happened?
Lori: Yeah. So I mean, I came up with that idea one night and I could not stop thinking about it, you know, just still running around the streets of New York city. I thought, I want these cards. You know, I realized it was something I was missing and really wished I'd had. So I just went around talking to everybody I could possibly talk to about it. I mean hundreds and hundreds of people and then, you know, weeks later some of these people were like, that's a great idea. There was some woman on the subway, I wish I'd had one of your cards that you told me about. So I decided there's one shot in life and I’ve always wanted to start my own business. So I took the leap and I found a couple of guys that help startups get started. You know, I did not have a business degree, no technology background at all. I was a designer and got two partners on board one day and we sat down like a week after we met and started building what I own to this day of which is 12 years later.
04:39 Ramesh: Okay. So then very quickly by reading your bio, so you incorporated, so can you just go through that process of, you know, how did you get into the actual business piece of its ones you had the idea and then you found the partners.
Lori: So, you know, I didn't know. I didn't even know I needed to incorporate, I mean, of course you eventually have to do that, but I knew absolutely nothing. Like I just thought, you know, I'm going to build this business. I'm going to have a website and everybody in the world's going to want my product, but it doesn't work like that. Then I realized I had an invention that needed to be patented. So with those guys, they were both had business backgrounds and they had started businesses before. So they sort of guided me on the journey. But yes, we immediately applied for an incorporation. We did a C Corp to start out and applied for the patent, which ultimately took over four years to receive the patent. So that took forever. But we did right out of the gate, sort of apply for the patent. Got the URL, changed it a couple of times. I mean, coming up with a business name was sort of challenging. But in the end, I realized that I had a cheeky last name. So Cheek became the name of my business. You've been cheeked. Yeah so that was sort of the out of the gate movements that we made to start the business. And it took forever to sort of get a proper website up and working with this code base process. And we had a physical product too, which was the cards. So we had all these, we hired people from all over the world. You know, we didn't just go to New York city developers because it was so expensive. So we had a UX designer in Bolivia. Our web developer was in Belgium. We had somebody working on it in London. So we'd have these conference calls just at the craziest hours of the day. And I don't know, people all over the world were trying to put the pieces together to bring my business to life. It took a year, but we launched in May of 2010.
Ramesh: Fantastic. So now, no tech background, you are able to find the partners and then incorporated trademark, patented. You learned everything about the business and then you got going. And then when you, something happened in the publicity in terms of a lot of people started calling you to come on the TV show. So can you talk a little bit about that.
Lori: Well, you know, one thing I did do right starting out was I was very creative. As an artist and an architect my brain just thought really creatively. So thinking about marketing, my first marketing tool was to put one of those cheeks cards in a blank envelope and I mailed them to 20 of the top editors that I thought might be interested in my new product. And one of them was this great journalist from the New York times. And seems like a couple months after we launched, we were on the cover of the style section of the New York times and it said www.moveovermatch.com this is the next generation of online dating. I mean I
couldn't believe my little card idea was on the cover of the South section in the New York times and that crashed our website. So you know, there were enough people that had read that article that my website just disappeared off the face of the internet for, I thought it was just gone. We had to get more servers ramped up.
Ramesh: Yeah. So then there was, was there Oprah as well somewhere in the picture?
Lori: So the few days after the New York times article, one of Oprah Winfrey's producers called, emailed me and wanted a phone call interview, wanted a deck of these cards. I mean that's like the hugest thing you can ever get cause the Oprah effect just takes off and you're golden. So I had that interview but never ended up on the show. But not everybody gets that phone call from Orpah’s studio. But that was pretty cool.
Ramesh: Okay, so good. I mean, you had an almost a dream launch of your business, but things did not go as well as the launch went. So can you talk about the journey since then?
Lori: Yeah, so I mean, I was already designing my jet after the New York times, you know, I thought I was going to become a billionaire within the next year. That was it. That was exciting for the one week that I thought that was going to happen. But I don't know, we ended up this, the press went viral. We ended up all over the world. So, you know, I rode that wave for I guess six months, maybe two a year. Like news channels were flying from all over the world, coming to New York to video me talking about this business. It was pretty cool. But then, yeah, our website kept breaking, I don't even know what was going wrong with it, but you know, these people all over the world were working on my website. I wasn't there in front of them seeing what was happening. I didn't know the first thing about web development in the first place. So I don't know, I just kept feeding money into fixing this website over and over and over again. And then I ran out of money. And I woke up one day and I thought, I'm not going to be able to pay my rent. So I rented out my apartment on Airbnb. I started couch surfing while these people were coming to stay in my apartment. I mean, I was like borderline homeless. I was just living anywhere I could possibly find to sleep, but still I had my eye on the prize, didn't want to give up and I was going to do anything to keep this business alive. And then a friend of mine sent me a link to apply for ABC shark
tank and I'm like, sure, I pop open my laptop one day, fill out this application and closed my computer. Pretty much forgot I'd done it. And then a few months later I get the phone call from LA and they were interested in me and my business. I couldn't even believe it. But then you know, you keep going through these phone calls month after month after month and you're getting into the final stages. I mean, 60,000 people I think applied for that show to like, get on the show. I think there were 86 that get phone out there to film the thing. And I think maybe less than that actually even air. So there's a very slim chance you get on that show. But about a year later I was walking down the scariest hallway I’ve ever walked down in my life and to ABC shark tank.
Ramesh: Wow. I mean you are very creative in marketing all this stuff. This is the dream exposure that people just can only dream of you have. But on the business side of the things you are having troubles, whether the website or the technology and all that stuff. And then so you went through this trough of the business then how did it pick back up?
Lori: Well, I didn't do too well on the show and in fact, I mean I refer to it as a brutal bloodbath. They all pretty much told me to quit what I was doing and go back and get my job in architecture. And I just remember thinking these millionaire investors don't know what it's like to be single and don't know the challenges of the single person running around the streets of New York city. I wasn't a millionaire and they're a lot older. Times were different when they were single and dating. I just don't think they understood what they were missing out on with my product. And plus I'm super stubborn so I wasn't going to give up, but soon after the shark tank, someone I had worked with previously ended up buying out my original business partners, came on board and finance the new technology behind Cheeks. So within a month after the shark tank, he and I were on to the next thing, which was developing this Bluetooth version of Cheekd, so I call it like an ecofriendly version of the Cheekd cards. We got rid of the paper and now it's all Bluetooth.
Ramesh: Wow. It's a very fascinating journey that we're walking through. And then how about the funding piece of it? So of course you're doing Airbnb and all that stuff, and you said you almost exhausted your savings, but you still kept your eye on the prize. How did you meet this other new partner who bought the old ones and then basically brought back? So is that person, a technology person or what is?
Lori: He is a serial entrepreneur. And he's my CTO, so he's very tech savvy, great businessperson. I mean sort of like a dream come true partner. And he had all the missing things that I didn't have, you know, this tech background and some money to help finance the new technology behind the new Cheekd. And that was pretty amazing. But he had done some web development for me back in the day when my website was breaking. So it's funny how this all comes full circle and he's been, I call him an angel in more than one way. Like he's the kind with the halo and also helped fund and finance our new version of Cheekd.
Ramesh: Okay. So now let's talk a little bit about how you get paid. So this app is there and then people download and start using, but I mean where the finance is coming from?
Lori: Who cares about money?
Ramesh: That is right, who cares about money? By the way, how is the money coming into the business?
Lori: Well, it's a free app, so you can't really compete with a lot of these other free dating apps when you're charging. So right now we're just trying to get enough users to get on board and then we can do some premium upgrades and do advertising on the app.
Ramesh: I see. Okay. So basically, you're doing the, what's called a freemium, kind of a business model. You'd give the app free and then afterwards upgrades in the app and then some premium features and all that stuff. Okay. So excellent. So it's a very fascinating journey. We talked about how you got incorporated and how you, I mean, resurfaced with this a Bluetooth enabled thing. So let's talk a little bit about you as a person, as a stubborn entrepreneur, as you want to call. So I mean, you worked as an architect in architecture as an architect and designer artists and all that stuff. Did you have, I mean, were you thinking about business entrepreneur like at when you came out of college or like how was your entrepreneurial journey as a person like from you? Like how it started?
Lori: I think I’ve always had the itch to take the leap. And even when I was in college as a side job, I started a jewelry company, so I was making hair accessories and jewelry and selling them to local gift shops. So that was sort of my first business that I think I started when I was about 17. I didn't incorporate that. I was just doing that as like a side thing. But yeah, I think that gave me a vision into the possibilities. And I kept coming up with ideas over and over and over again. But none of them were as passionate as this one that I finally left my 15, 16-year career to build. So I just, it was something I couldn't stop thinking about and I absolutely just thought, I’ve got one shot and I'm going to take it.
Ramesh: Okay. So during this tough times like were there mentors who are supporting you as a family member. Like how you dealt with the, you know, I would call them the depressing downtimes. So where you really want to give up and, but somehow you find the courage to keep going.
Lori: You know, I think you've got to be a little crazy to be a successful entrepreneur because even one of my best friends, I’ll never forget her saying, when I was having one of these downtimes when are you going to pull the plug on this thing? And I mean, I was just so confused. I was like, do you even know who I am? Yeah, I didn't take the sleep and to entrepreneurship to just go halfway off the mountain. You know, I wanted to go all the way and I’ve done everything in my life I can to keep this thing alive. So for me, I look at it like my first born, I mean I don't have any kids. This is like my child. It's like my 10-year-old. And just because your 10-year-old is sick doesn't mean you just throw it out into the street. That's how much I love this thing.
Ramesh: Wow. It's a good analogy. I like what you're saying. It's basically growing child. So probably not completely healthy right now, but yeah. And then from, your journey itself is inspiring. I think already we talked about some of the things that you could have done if maybe you had a technology partner in the beginning. Some of these problems would have been fixed, like anything that you think you could have done as you thought of this business.
Lori: Yeah. You know, I think one of the biggest mistakes I made was getting these two partners on board out of the gate because they were both business guys and I gave them both equity. So why did I need two of the same skillsets? That was just the most ridiculous thing. But when I had this idea, I was just excited that there
were two guys that wanted to get on board with me that believed in its enough to work for equity. So I was just like, come on board, let's make this thing happen. So I learned a lot from that. I learned another lesson from hiring these people scattered all over the world trying to build one thing together. I mean I think that's a lot easier to do now just because of the changes in technology, like the way you can communicate. It just wasn't working that well back 12 years ago. So I don't know, I guess those were two of the biggest lessons. And now having a CTO on board, it made me realize what I should've done many, many years ago.
Ramesh: Okay. So, I mean that is actually basically what you're saying is trying to look for people with complimentary skills. If your side then get technical side, if you are the technology side get a business partner. That makes sense.
Lori: Yeah, no brainer. But I’ve made that mistake.
Ramesh: Enthusiastic, you know, the idea itself. If somebody believes in you or you want to really, you know, work with them. I think, I don't know if I want to call that a mistake, but that is something, you know, we are naturally inclined to do. So that's fine Lori. So what's next for Cheekd? I mean, you're trying to improve or, increase your subscriber base. Are there any things that you're focusing on?
Lori: Well, my partner and I did do a spinoff of Cheekd, it's called networkd with another gentleman too. So it's like a Bluetooth networking app. It's so, it's a little bit like LinkedIn live. And I have another idea for a dating app that I'd like to build, and it's called a wing mom. So your mother's can actually swipe for you. I mean there's so many people that don't want to get on the apps, don't have time to get on the apps. And I just let my mom swipe through some dating apps for me one night and I just thought it was so cute. Like mothers know best. Maybe she'd actually swipe on somebody that makes more sense than me swiping on somebody.
Ramesh: Oh, I see. Basically. So they are, it's essentially a matchmaking site, but for the parents, for the kids, is that what it is.
Ramesh: That's very fascinating and interesting. And then so you have this spinoffs that are happening and then, because from a basic idea, what is the competition like people saying that the dating, you know, this industry is the only few companies dominate. What have you discovered about the competition?
Lori: I mean, I wouldn't even know how many dating apps are out there. There's a dating app for everything right now. But I feel like they're all sort of focusing on getting people on technology. And I just, you know, in a bar in New York city, I’ll see people sitting at the bar swiping on Tinder when they could be talking to the person right next to them. The love of their life could be sitting across the table from them and they're not even looking up, paying attention to what's in the real world. So I still think this is that niche that I'm trying to bang down the door on. So I still think there's room for improvement on all of these apps. There's just a fatigue with dating online.
Ramesh: So Lori, I think you've got a lot of accolades and you are called what? Digital disruptor.
21:40 Lori: The digital dating disruptor.
21:44 Ramesh: And what is it like, all this fame without the fortune, It's not the fame and fortune, first fame, but the fortune was not coming. I think this is a classic, I don't know if it's a mistake I want people focused on, Hey, how many more likes I can get on Facebook? Or, you know, how many people are watching my video or how many people are coming to the website, but all of them do not translate into business. Can you talk a little bit about the dichotomy that goes on between the fame and then does not translate into fortune and then anything that you've learned that you could share?
Lori: Well, you know, I feel like I had been through every single struggle and obstacle imaginable in the world of entrepreneurship. I mean, I can't even imagine what else can happen to me. But you know, in the end I realized I don't have that billion dollars, but this 12-year journey I’ve been on has been the most magical ride I would have ever dreamt in my life. Like I absolutely have zero regrets. You know, those moments where I'm without an apartment, again, like I had my eye on
the prize and I’ve built something that people all over the world know about. I don't know, there's something about this journey for me that's been really more important than the money. And I know those sharks, if they heard me saying this right now, five years after the shark tank, they'd still be like that girl, I don't know what's wrong with her, but you know, again, we got one shot and I’ve loved every minute of it.
Ramesh: Exactly. I mean, I know exactly what you are talking about. My journey has been ups and downs, but somehow, it's your passion. The way I want to think about it is, if I die tomorrow, I’ll be dying happily because I have done what I wanted to do.
Lori: Exactly. I say this is like living a lifestyle and not living a job.
Ramesh: Yeah, fantastic. So Lori anything else that you would like to share with the audience, any of the topics?
Lori: I would just say if you believe in your idea enough to give up doubts, give up excuses and surround yourself by some positive and pelleted people, bulldoze forward and don't look back because it could be the journey of a lifetime.
Ramesh: Fantastic. I strongly believe in your business. And that actually more than that, I strongly believe in you and your resilience and your grit that you're showing here. And unfortunately, I'm not in the dating, happily married so I'm not really there. But if I were to be there, I think this seems a fantastic application.
Lori: Well, maybe one day your wife can be swiping for your kids on the new app wing mom.
Ramesh: Hey, that is so that's fantastic. That's actually, so that way you're crossing generations, which is really good thing though. Yeah, it's really good. So very nice talking to you, Lori. Thank you very much for coming on the show.
Lori: Thank you for having me.