Lori Cheek. Architect turned Entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of Cheekd.com. What’s Cheekd.com? It’s the reverse engineered dating site coined by the New York Times as “the next generation of online dating.”
Q: Who inspires you?
A: I recently heard Jennifer Gilbert, Founder of SavetheDate.com and Author of “I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag,” speak at a Marie Claire Magazine Power Lunch. I left pretty floored by her shocking, yet encouraging story. She turned an appalling catastrophe into motivation, determination and inspiration. When most people would have completely given up on life, her desire to rise above the tragedy is what propelled her to work harder than ever before. She’s a glowing symbol of success in my eyes.
Q: Why are you an entrepreneur?
A: I’ve always had “the itch,” but it was kind of an accident that it happened so drastically. After working in architecture, furniture and design for 15 years for companies such as Christian Dior, Vitra & Karkula, I came up with an idea that lead me into the NYC World of Tech and am now solving missed connections one card at a time.
Q: What was a defining moment in your career?
A: The most memorable story to date would probably be the call from Oprah Winfrey’s studio after they’d read about my business in the New York Times. They asked for a deck of cards and a photo of me followed by a short phone interview. I cried for nearly an hour. I called my parents to tell them and they couldn’t even understand what I was trying to say, then my mom couldn’t stop crying which made me start crying all over again. I couldn’t believe my “little” dating card idea had lead to a call from Oprah. My life has pretty much been turned inside out (in the most amazing way) from that day forward.
Q: How is your company different from your competitors?
A: Despite the soaring popularity of online dating, there’s one inherent flaw: You never really know whom (or what) you’re going to get. There are 96 million single adults in America. Nearly 40 million of those are looking for love on the internet. After spending hours at work behind a computer, the millions of online shoppers head home to get behind yet another computer to spend the evening looking for love in solitude.
Cheek’d introduces real-life spontaneity to online dating and 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 it’s 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. You get to pick who you want to date in person.
Q: Where do you see your company in the next five years?
A: I hope to have built some solid partnerships—my targets are a few heavy hitters in the airline, hotel and alcohol industry with huge existing communities. I’d ultimately love to have grown my team and work under an umbrella of another giant in the world of dating— like Match.com.
Q: What’s next for your company?
A: We just signed on a developer to create the mobile Cheek’d experience where users can “flick” a virtual Cheek’d card to an intriguing stranger they spot nearby, which will officially launch at SXSW Interactive 2013. In addition, we plan on upgrading our shopping cart so that users can purchase coded clothing, pins, stickers and more that will lead to your Cheek’d Profile online.
Q: How did you finance your business when it was at the early stage? (Self-funded, crowd-funded, Angel Investor, VC)
A: Bootstrapped from Day 1.
Q: Tell me something about yourself that we don’t know already.
A: I’m a magician and my specialty is card tricks, which came in very handy when I started carrying around a deck of black Cheek’d Cards around with me all the time. Oh, the places these cards can go…
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
A: Brick Oven Pizza and Sancerre (both in large doses).
Q: Describe a time you failed. What did you learn from that experience?
A: I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve failed building my business over the past few years. I’ve learned to welcome the mistakes and even joke that I’ve learned so much from them that I’m going to keep making more of them on purpose. I’ve taken a crash course in building a business and failing has probably been the greatest lesson of all.
Q: What is your favorite mobile app?
A: I’m pretty obsessed with FourSquare. I use it as an alternative to Google Maps and the recommendations have replaced my use of Yelp. I love the incentives offered with check-ins and Mayorships. And lastly, like Cheek’d, it’s an online & real world collision.
Q: What do you do to help focus?
A: Daily Extreme Cardio Workouts at Equinox help clear the clutter in my head, shake off the stress and burn off the Brick Oven Pizza and Sancerre.
Q: What’s your cause?
A: Supposedly, one in five relationships begin online. My startup, Cheek’d, is for the other four. I’m a trained architect no longer building structures, I’m now building relationships.
Q: Any words of advice for entrepreneurs who are trying to get their ventures launched?
A: 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.
Q: Where can people find out more?