Have you ever seen that show Shark Tank, which pairs entrepreneurs with potential celebrity investors? Tonight's episode features Kentucky native Lori Cheek, whose NYC-based startup Cheek'd is the next big thing in online dating. Lori graciously sat down for five questions with HerKentucky.
HK: Tell us a little about yourself.
LC:I was born and raised in a tiny, one stop light town in Taylorsville, 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 University of Kentucky. During my studies, I guest interned at a New York City firm for just one week and was immediately hooked on the magic, diversity and energy of the city. On Graduation Day, in May of 1996, I tossed my royal blue tasseled hat into the air, sped home to pack up my Ashland Avenue apartment into a U-Haul and without a job or much of anything lined up, I headed straight for the big city to start building my dreams.
After working in architecture, furniture and design for 15 years for companies such as Christian Dior, Goldman Sachs and Vitra, I came up with an idea that lead me into the NYC World of Love and Technology and am now solving missed connections one card at a time. I completely threw away my design career and am no longer building structures… I'm now building relationships.
HK: How does Cheek’d work?
LC: Cheek’d bridges the gap between online dating and real-world romance by providing members with physical cards that they can use to entice people from the real world to flirt with them in the virtual world. It’s the 2.0 version of “Call Me.” The cards offer a real purpose and advantage to other online dating sites and expand a subscriber’s dating opportunities beyond the pool of people registered with an online dating service. By bringing the social aspect back into dating and moving it from your computer to your everyday life, Cheek'd is giving its members an opportunity to leverage technology without completely depending on it, while promoting a safe and playful interaction in the physical world at a time when virtual interaction is growing and online privacy is scarce. Cheek'd, coined by The New York Times as “the next generation of online dating” has gone global with customers in 47 states in America and 28 countries internationally. And I know it works because after decades on my own relentless pursuit for love, one day a couple of summers ago, I was sitting solo at a Crab Shack in Montauk and with no AT&T signal, I decided to toss my best friend, “iPhone,” into my beach bag and when I looked up, a mysterious, gorgeous man in Ray Bans and a baseball cap sitting right next to me said, “Nice tattoos.” I handed him the Cheek’d card that reads, “let’s meet for a drink.” We met for that drink and now we're engaged!
HK: Cheek’d is such a great concept — it adds a personal edge to online dating. How did you come up with the idea?
LC: Six years ago, I was out to dinner with a friend & architectural colleague and I had excused myself from the table. When I returned, my handsome dinner date had scribbled on the back of his business card, “want to have dinner?” As we were leaving the restaurant, he slid that card to an attractive woman at a nearby table. He left with a pending date. I left with an idea... It had happened to me a thousand times during my NYC commute—spotting that intriguing stranger on a train, in a café, crossing the street, at baggage claim, etc. and nearly 999 of them got away. Handing a business card could have been one answer, but I was entranced by the mysterious gesture of handing it to the object of your affection and removing the personal details included on a typical business card, which is simply too much information to hand to a total stranger. A person’s name on a card, alone, could potentially lead you to their front door. My solution to the problem would apply a personal approach to online dating by moving the initial encounter offline with a smooth physical introduction. In May of 2010, I launched Cheekd.com —my solution to the 999 missed opportunities I’d personally experienced.
HK: What was it like to be on Shark Tank? It had to be so exciting and surreal.
LC:The journey leading up to the Shark Tank has been the most exciting year of my life. With 8.5 million viewers, I've finally been given the opportunity to share my million-dollar idea with the world. Deal or no deal, this experience has been life changing. For weeks leading up to my pitch, I suffered a lot of anxiety and panic. I’ve put everything I have into this business and the stakes are just about as high as they can get when you’re in front of the Sharks. I’d never been more nervous in my entire life as I walked down what seemed like an endless hallway into the Shark Tank. My heart was about to beat out of my body. You’ve only got one shot and you can trust that I gave it my all.
HK: Here at HerKentucky, our motto is “Follow Your Dreams.” What is your advice to female entrepreneurs, especially those who have been told that an idea is too quirky or “unique” to work?
LC: My advice for other women in the entrepreneurial world is if you truly believe in your idea, give up excuses & doubt, surround yourself by a trusted and talented team, bulldoze forward and DON’T. LOOK. BACK. And if you’re single, you might even just find yourself a husband while you’re at it. I did.
Thanks so much to Lori for taking the time to chat with us! Be sure to tune in to Shark Tank tonight at 9PM EST on ABC.