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.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.