Lifestyle 19 October 2017
When Coffee Meets Bagel launched in 2012, the mission was to create the best dating service for women. Since then, it made 2.5 billion introductions, kicked off 112 million chats, and created more than 50,000 happy couples in long-standing relations. Not bad, right?
Just recently, the three founders; Soo, Arum, and Dawoon Kang launched a completely new platform, one that put the control in a woman's hand. Originally, users would receive a match (Bagel) everyday at noon. If both parties expressed interest, they'd be set up in a private chat where they could get to know each other more. Their new experience, dubbed #LadiesChoice, works a little differently. At noon, male users receive up to 21 quality Bagels. They'll either like or pass on these matches and then Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB) will curate the best potential matches for women among the men who expressed interest. Basically, women choose which men get to talk to them.
The change came as a result of a lot of surveys that ultimately concluded men and women date differently; men like selection, while women are selective. Lightbulb! Seems so obvious. I sat down with the Dawoon Kang, one of the three founding sisters of Coffee Meets Bagel, for a fun Q&A:
When did you realize you wanted to start a dating app?
In 2012, my sisters and I decided to start a company together. While we were ideating ideas, we kept coming back to dating because we noticed that it was a growing pain point for this generation.
How did you come up with the idea of Coffee Meets Bagel?
We immediately noticed that women were particularly not excited about online dating. There were no brands that women could trust and feel safe about using. We decided to create a dating app experience that focuses on delivering on what women want.
What does the name mean?
We first launched in NYC and our target audience was NYC young professionals. Young professionals love their daily coffee breaks and Bagels are NYCers' favorite match for coffee! You are the Coffee and your potential matches are Bagels.
Dawoon Kang. Photo Courtesy of Miss Bish
Did all three sisters start together (from the beginning), or did one or two start and the others join later?
We all started together but joined full time at different stages. My sister Arum started full time. I joined a few months later, and then finally my older sister joined full time last.
What kinds of milestones did you meet that made you realize you were onto something great?
We built an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) and interviewed 50 of the initial users. Their feedback convinced us that we had something special.
What was the initial response to Coffee Meets Bagel? What is it like now?
Our members, particularly women, were delighted and excited check their Bagels. They shared that they really look forward to noon every day. Our biggest fan base still share the same sentiment.
Describe your appearance on Shark Tank, why you turned down the offer, if you're glad you did or if you regret it, and what the show did for Coffee Meets Bagel in terms of success?
It was one of the most fun and memorable experiences in my life! I remember walking into the tank thinking “Is this real life?"
Of course getting the $30 M buyout offer was a very flattering experience and a validation for the hard work we put into building this business. We turned it down because we are committed to our vision of building the number one dating app for millennials looking for real relationships. We want everyone in this generation to have a fulfilling relationship.
What kind of changes did you make to Coffee Meets Bagel since its conception and why? Have they worked?
The biggest change came just recently with the introduction of #LadiesChoice. We realized that men and women have such different approach to dating that there is no need to service them the exact same way.
Our model is described as: Guys make the first move, then it's #LadiesChoice! Every day at noon, men receive up to 21 quality matches aka “Bagels" curated by our smart algorithm. Women receive up to 6 potential matches among men who already liked them! That's right, it's like guys lining up to talk to you.
What is it like working as sisters?
It makes everything worth it. Startup is a tough business! I feel extremely lucky that I have them as my partners. It makes everything more fun and worthwhile.
Are you all in a relationship / married / single?
My two sisters are married. I was in a relationship with a Bagel but recently became single so am using the app again!
What are some goals for Coffee Meets Bagel in the future?
We will continue to work on our product so we could deliver a stunning, delightful experience to our members and deliver on our mission to find everyone in this generation a fulfilling relationship.
"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.
It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.
My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.
Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.
I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.
My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.
Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).
They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).
Fast forward to 2018...
While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.
In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.
Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.