Entrepreneurs Find Success Without the “Shark Tank”Brittany Dow
Entrepreneurship is living your life for a few years like most people won’t—so you can live your life like most people can’t,” says Lori Cheek, founder of the web site Cheek’d, which received harsh criticism from all five sharks in the “tank.”
In September of 2013, she found herself walking down that scary shark-infested hallway into a stare off with the investors after explaining the concept of her revolutionary dating and social networking web site.
To be a part of Cheek’d, subscribers would sign up through the website, and purchase a deck of cards emblazoned with “ice breakers” (think phrases like “I am totally cooler than your date” or “feel free to stalk me”), a link to their Cheek’d profile, and an online code. If they saw somebody out at a restaurant, event or in public that they want to get to know better, they could slip them a card. If the interest was mutual, the card recipients used the card’s unique code to reconnect easily with the person via a private online profile via Cheekd.com.
The point was to bridge the gap between online dating and in-person romance by providing members with physical cards that had a call-to-action to flirt with them in the virtual world. It’s like handing out your business card, but with an intriguing edge.
Lori first got the idea for Cheek’d in 2009 when she was a highly paid architect. She was out to dinner with a colleague when he 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. He left with a date, and she left with an idea. Two years later she launched Cheek’d, and soon thereafter The New York Times coined the web site as “the next generation of online dating.”
“Despite the soaring popularity of online dating, there’s one inherent flaw: You never really know whom (or what) you’re going to get,” explains Lori. “While we may use technology to stay “connected,” when it comes to meeting potential partners, the digital world obscures the thing that matters most: initial chemistry. People want to meet in the real world and I’m giving them a tool to make it happen.”
In the shark tank, Lori stated that she was going to change the population with her reverse engineered online dating business.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban rolled his eyes, called her delusional and immediately snapped, “I’m out.” Billionaire investor Kevin O’Leary demanded that she quit her “hobby” and shoot her business—her passion– like a rabid dog. The other female sharks told her she was the “right type of entrepreneur with the wrong idea.” After getting shot down by all five Sharks, she looked them in the eye and said, “Trust that you’ll all see me again.”
“Although those final bold words of mine ended up on the cutting room floor (adding insult to injury), in the 48 hours after the broadcast, Cheek’d.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,” says Lori. Around 50 of those emails were from interested investors, and while Lori doesn’t feel the sharks provided much constructive criticism, she embraced the challenges of continuing to improve her company.
“Soon after our segment aired on the Shark Tank, my partner suggested we rethink things. He’s a serial and tech savvy entrepreneur and I trusted his advice to take a look at things,” says Lori. “Within a few weeks, we were on the path to building the new Cheek’d.”
Besides challenges with technology, Lori has also had to face just as many challenges as a woman entrepreneur.
“The barriers only make me hustle harder. I take every opportunity to pitch my business [at events, on stage, in contests, etc.],” says Lori. “In the end, the few women in the room are usually the ones that stand out or get remembered and there’s rarely ever a line for the women’s restroom—more time for the hustle.”
“The new app uses a cross-platform low energy Bluetooth technology, which fosters hyper local engagement,” explains Lori. “The app will help people connect in real time, versus virtual time. You’ll get a notification if someone who meets your criteria is within 30 feet of you. In other words, connections begin in person, and the new app helps you take the next step.”
Before launching the new app in New York City—or even announcing it, for that matter—the new version of Cheek’d was downloaded more times than in the first four years of the first version. And Lori’s mission over the next 12 months is to make Cheek’d a household name for singles looking to make meaningful connections in the real world.
“It was only a matter of time, and I’m thankful I didn’t take the Sharks advice to quit and move on,” confirms Lori.
Besides the massive amounts of media coverage over the past few years, there’s an array of celebrities who have been Cheek’d, from Uma Thurman to Bono to Stephen Colbert.
But Cheek’d is only one of the many companies garnering a lot of attention that didn’t get a deal in the tank.
Take pickles, for example. Yes—pickles.