Lori Cheek hasn't lost the confidence she exuded when she walked into the Shark Tank to pitch her offline dating idea, Cheekd. Although she didn't get a deal, and was given some rather harsh criticism from Mark Cuban, Cheek hasn't abandoned her dating app idea, which she believes can change the way people looking for love interact. The founder and CEO is looking to the future thanks to an updated platform that utilizes low energy Bluetooth technology to help the user connect with someone that caught his or her eye in real life. According to Cheek, her newest application, which takes away the need for the calling card she pitched during her Shark Tank appearance, will allow for a more natural match than an online-based algorithm.
Lori has been through it all since launching Cheekd - a mobile dating app that makes the whole experience way more personal (ahem, no more swiping left and right) in 2010 including battling it out with the sharks on ABC’s Shark Tank. She is truly an inspiration for everyone, especially starting out a fresh new year.
Can you tell us a little bit about Cheekd and what drove you to launch this business?
In February of 2008, I was out to dinner with an architectural colleague. He’d spotted an attractive woman at a nearby table and scribbled, “want to have dinner?” on the back of his business card and slipped it to her as we were leaving the restaurant. He left with a date. I left with an idea. After over two years of brainstorming how to remove the “business” out of the business card, I launched Cheekd-- a deck of ice-breaking dating cards with a unique code that lead the recipient to the privacy protected online dating profile of the mysterious stranger who slipped them the card where the two could start communicating online. It was like online dating but backwards. We’ve since pivoted Cheekd into a hyper-speed mobile dating app that gives users the ability to never miss a real-life potential “love connection” thanks to a cross-platform low energy Bluetooth technology, which sends users an immediate notification when someone (within their criteria) comes within a 30-foot radius of them. It’s real-time and works on a subway or a plane without any cellular connection.
Do you have a dream mentor?
I don’t get star struck by many entrepreneurs but Richard Branson is an absolute phenomenon to me. He did what he loved and money followed. Worth billions of dollars, he started his first magazine at the age of 16 and now his Virgin brand covers everything from telecommunications to space tourism. As I’ve been building my dream for over six years, I feel like there’s so much to learn from other successful entrepreneurs. Richard Branson is one of the greatest tech & business minds of our time and I believe that even at this stage of my business, he’d have some powerful guidance and advice to potentially push us to the next level. And now that our dating app works in flight (via Bluetooth), I’ve got high hopes of partnering up with Virgin Airlines to help Cheekd users join each other’s Mile High Clubs.
What was the best and worst business advice you've ever received?
Several years ago, I heard Jim Carrey's Commencement speech at The Maharishi University of Management in Iowa and this powerful quote has fueled me through all the ups and downs I've been through building my business: -“You can fail at what you don’t want so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.”
The worst? Soon after our launch in May of 2010, I had a potential advisor that kept trying to nail the power of saying “no” into my head to just about everything. I agreed with the sentiment to a point, but saying “yes” is how I’ve gotten this far in my venture. I could write a book about how many things I've said "yes" to that's lead me to so many amazing opportunities and if it didn't lead to an opportunity, it lead to a new friendship.
“You can fail at what you don’t want so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.”
What is the biggest business lesson you've learned so far?
The biggest business less I've learned is that your team is everything. Having brought the wrong team on board when I first started building my business nearly seven years ago. If I'd known what I know now... I wish someone had told me the importance of having a technical co-founder on board when I started out. I had a team, but the two gentlemen I brought on had the same exact background. I didn't need two of the same skill sets. The technical aspect of my business has been one of the bigger challenges I've faced and it's the one thing I definitely would have approached differently from day one.
Do you have a particular morning routine that helps kick off your day?
As soon as I wake up, I start the coffee maker then I roll out my yoga mat and do 30 pushups, 100 sit-ups and 3 rounds of one minute planks followed by a quick stretch. It takes less than 20 minutes and not only does it get my heart pumping and immediately wake me up, it gives me a calm start to the day! Then I grab my coffee, crack open my laptop and begin the entrepreneurial grind already 200 calories lighter!
Could you tell us about any future plans for Cheekd?
Now that we’ve emerged with a new heat-seeking missile app which leverages the power of the virtual in the real world, letting you find other single people whom you may be missing on your daily commute or anywhere else, we have high hopes of turning the world of GPS apps and online dating on their heads! While most dating apps have their users completely engaged on the app, Cheekd, will alert you to “look up” and pay attention what could be the love of your life potentially standing right in front of you. We hope that Cheekd becomes “the IRL dating app”-- the app that makes real life connections.
We can also do all kinds of cool stuff on down the line like creating a central meeting area (beacons) that can store all the encounters for the day effectively time shifting passes. Further mitigating “missed connections,” we can remove time from the fate equation. In addition, we plan on building an Android version of Cheekd and also implement a solution where any wearable device can also help make connections between Cheekd users.
And in the next few months, my partner and I are launching a new Bluetooth based business networking app that works similarly to our existing dating app, Cheekd. The way that people currently network at both small and large events is a disaster. We’ve both attended hundreds of events and no one knows who's who. As a speaker, you have no idea who is in the audience. As an attendee you have no idea who is sitting next to you and the networking opportunities are never that fruitful. We plan on changing the game. Our new app will allow attendees to make real life connections at events when someone within your interest (whether it be an investor, a developer or simply just for a networking opportunity) comes within 30 feet of you. It’s going to be a bit like LinkedIn but in the real world.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."