After being rejected by every Shark on Shark Tank, you would think one would take a step back and rethink their future. That is NOT what Lori Cheek did! Instead, she reinvented herself, her brand, and got right back up from the Shark Tank knockout! Take a look for yourself in our Q&A together and get the scoop on Lori Cheek, founder of Cheekd. You’re without a doubt going to get inspired and maybe even make a connection!
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I was born and raised in a tiny, one stop light town in Kentucky, which I thought was the smallest place in the world. As early as I can remember, I knew there was something out there I had to find and it felt far, far away. I eventually stumbled into a bigger city and studied architecture at the State University.
During my studies, I interned at a New York City firm for a week and was immediately hooked on the magic, diversity and energy of the city. On Graduation Day, I packed up a U-haul, my cat and my two best girlfriends and drove to Manhattan. After many moves around Tribeca, the Financial District and the West Village, I now live in my favorite neighborhood in the city on the Lower East Side.
After all these years, I have a newfound appreciation of that tiny town in Kentucky where it all started out. I throw a major Mint Julep infused Kentucky Derby Party every year—hats and ascots required, of course. My 15th Annual is coming up in my neighborhood on Saturday, May 6th: https://cheekdderby.splashthat.com
Have you always had the entrepreneurship inside of you?
I’ve always had “the itch,” but it was kind of an accident that it happened so drastically. After working in architecture and design for 15 years, I came up with an idea that lead me into the NYC world of technology. Now I’m no longer building structures—I’m building relationships.
How did you come up with Cheekd?
Cheekd was born because of a lucky pickup. One night in February, 2008, I’d had dinner with a friend and colleague. As we walked out of the restaurant, my friend scribbled “Want to have dinner?” on the back of his business card and slipped it to a woman he found attractive. He landed a date. I landed the idea that transformed my life forever.
After nearly two years of brainstorming how to remove the “business” from the business card, I launched Cheekd—an intriguing and provocative set of business card-sized introductions used to engage a romantic prospect when feeling awkward or shy—or simply desiring a new approach.
Cheekd users could express their interest in someone by coyly handing them a small black card that contained a cheeky phrase such as “Act natural. We can get awkward later.” or “I just put all my drinks on your tab.” The recipient of the card would be invited to go online to check out your profile and decide whether he or she would like to make contact with you through the Cheekd internal messaging service (Personal information and privacy are protected).
A few months later, we popped up on the cover of the Styles Section of The New York Times: “Move over, Match.com, this is the next generation of online dating.” A couple of days later, I got a call from Oprah Winfrey’s Studio asking for an interview. I knew I had gold in my hands. I left my job and started working full time on Cheekd in November, 2010. Soon after, Cheekd went global with customers in 47 states in America and 28 countries internationally.
Can you tell our readers a little about Cheekd?
Cheekd reimagines online dating with a new app that makes missed connections obsolete. Cheekd uses a cross-platform low energy Bluetooth technology, which fosters hyper local engagement. The app connects people in real time, versus virtual time.
Cheekd sets its self apart from other apps because it gives you the option to interact with a match before starting a virtual relationship with the compatible user. After setting up your page and what you’re looking for, Cheekd will then send you notifications when a potential match is within 30 feet of you.
Instead of encouraging users to continue to hide behind a screen, Cheekd pushes you to engage in social settings while paying attention to potential matches in the area. Our new dating app gives us the power to light the spark face-to-face first and leave the talking for later.
What is Cheekd’s success rate?
I haven’t heard of any marriages yet, but we’re seeing loads of connections being made on the app all over the world every single day.
You were on Shark Tank, what was the most intimidating part?
By nature I am a very fun, brave, brash and incredibly confident gal, but there was something about the journey down that high-stakes hallway that freaked me right out. After all, my business and my passion were on the line…and I was throwing myself to the Sharks!
As I stood there waiting for the gigantic wooden doors to open, my heart was beating in my throat and suddenly panicked that my “numbers” were going to make me look like a total idiot for putting as much time and money into this business as I already had.
The truth is, I didn’t actually believe I’d walk out of there with a deal…really, I didn’t. What I did know was that if my episode got selected to air, 8 million people were going to know about Cheekd and how determined I was to see it succeed no matter what.
After you got rejected from all the Sharks, what was your next step?
The Sharks didn’t really offer any constructive criticism or suggestions other than to “quit my hobby.” Barbara Corcoran said I was the “right entrepreneur with the wrong idea.” I heard what they said and I moved forward. Whatever hole I’d crawled down, I fought twice as hard to come out above.
Since the Shark Tank aired, I found the missing link from years before. After shuffling around equity, I’ve gotten a CTO on board who’s helped facilitate and finance the face and technology behind the new Cheekd. I ended up raising over five times the amount I’d sought on the show.
Our newly-launched app allows users to solve missed connections with a technology that was not available when the patented Cheekd idea was launched in 2010. It was only a matter of time, and I’m thankful I didn’t take the Sharks advice to quit and move on.
How did you not get discouraged afterwards?
I’ve got a laser-focused vision to succeed and will do almost anything to keep this business flourishing. I’m actually not surprised by my determination because as long as I can remember, I’ve been extremely stubborn. When most people would have quit, I only hustled harder.
I think my personal approach, passion and dedication mixed with my relentless conviction that failure is not an option has been the recipe that has lead to my current success. I could be the poster child for the statement
“what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger.”
No matter what… in the end, I’m going to have a magical and cheeky story to tell.
What did you gain from the show once your episode aired?
My episode aired in February of 2014. And even though I had known the outcome since shooting in September, I decided to throw a huge bash to celebrate. Yes, I invited over 200 people to come watch Lori get eaten alive on national television.
In the 48 hours after the broadcast, Cheekd.com received a record breaking 100K unique visitors and our inbox filled up with thousands of emails insisting that the Sharks were “out of their minds” for not investing.
Did you expect to get all the praise that you did after your episode?
I was a little worried that the outcome of the show would tarnish my brand but knew there was no chance I was about to quit. I remember walking off the stage and straight up to the producers of my segment and telling them I’d hoped it was “bad enough for television.” Good or bad, I’d worked hard to get that coveted spot in the tank and I wanted it to air no matter what.
I knew there might be other interested investors and potential customers. I’ve always been a major proponent of all press is good press and that show gets nearly 8 million viewers. My episode has re-aired internationally well over 30 times. We get downloads to our app all over the world every time it airs.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who also got turned down from the Sharks?
In life, in love, in work, in passion, just like my hero, Steve Jobs, said,
“The ones, who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Not only did 5 multi-millionaire investors tell me to quit what I was doing, but I’ve also had naysayers from friends to investors to random entrepreneurs at networking events ask me when I was going to quit because my idea wasn’t going to work….
All of this fueled me to push harder, to keep building my dream. Not only have I been able to take my dating business to the next level, but my partner and I are also launching a new networking app that works similarly to Cheekd in the next couple of weeks.
What advice would you give to a beginner entrepreneur?
Nearly seven years into the entrepreneurial hustle, I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is being on a mission where nothing can stop you. It will take twice as long as you’d hoped, cost exceedingly more than you’d ever budgeted and will be more challenging than anything you’ll ever try. If you give it your all and refuse to give up, then you can trust it will be the ride of a lifetime. I could be the poster child for the saying,
“what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”
No matter what… this has been the most rewarding journey of my life and in the end, I’m going to have a magical story to tell. My advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is to be brave and follow your instincts. You can’t cheat the grind, but if you give it your all, you can trust that the payoff will be worth it.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Surround yourself with the people you want to become.
Have you found a connection on your app?
I’ve made tons of connections on my app. One of my favorites was with a guy about 5 rows up from me on a recent flight from California to NYC, but I haven’t found “the one” yet.
Finally, what is a quote you live by everyday?
“Entrepreneurship is living your life a few years like most people won’t so you can live your life like most people can’t.”
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