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.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.