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.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.