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.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.