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Photo Courtesy of Forbes

50,000 Couples Strong: Coffee Meets Bagel Co-Founder On Digital Matchmaking

Lifestyle

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.

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.