Last Updated on September 8, 2021
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About Lori Cheek
After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1996, I moved to New York City and started as a sales assistant at a furniture company. Over the next 15 years, I climbed corporate ladders in architecture, furniture, and design firms, making my way to a six-figure income. I worked for firms such as Goldman Sachs, Vitra and Christian Dior. For an architect, I managed to land some pretty fabulous, high profile positions that flew me all over the world. This allowed me a life of shopping, dining out, and traveling—like it was actually my job—but it never led to happiness. During my career, I was constantly coming up with ideas to build my own business, but none of them were powerful enough to ultimately take the leap. Until one night at dinner with a colleague, I came up with an idea that took online dating to a new level.
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 app that gives singles the ability to never miss a real-life potential “love connection.”
How Did You Get Your First Several Customers Or Users? How Many Users Or Customers Do You Have Now?
After launching my website in May of 2010, I had to figure out how to tell the world about our reverse engineered dating service. Knowing it wasn’t just going to go international on it’s own, I got extremely creative about how to market my business on a shoestring budget. I decided to target 20 major lifestyle journalists in New York City by hand messengering a lone Cheek’d card (our product at the time) that read, “this card could change your life.” in a mysteriously packaged shiny black bubbled envelope. Several weeks later we found ourselves on the cover of the Style section of The New York Times coined as “the next generation of online dating.” A few days after that, I found this message in my inbox: “Hello, I am a producer at The Oprah Winfrey Show. I am looking to talk to Lori Cheek about Cheekd.com. I can be reached at 312.633.**** Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.” We never made it on to the Oprah show, but I knew I was onto something big. Within the next six months we had gone worldwide with customers in 47 American states and 28 countries internationally.
How Does Your Company Grow And Acquire New Customers?
The growth of my startup has been solely dependent on PR and marketing alone. I’d hired a PR firm several months before our initial launch in May of 2010 and paid nearly $10,000. The firm claimed to have reached out to more than 300 bloggers, resulting in a couple of articles of little consequence. But I soon realized I had more passion for my company than any agency could and decided to take on the task of PR on my own. I’ve been doing my own PR for the past 11 years. Ten thousand dollars lighter and many years wiser, I’ve been covered in just about everything from The New York Times to Tech Crunch, Inc., Entrepreneur, WSJ, Fast Company, Inc, Entrepreneur, Elle Magazine, Forbes, Crain’s NY, CNN and equivalents all over the world.
What Actionable Tips And Tricks Do You Have For New Founders Who Are Looking To Get Their First Thousand Users Or Dollars?
When it comes to marketing, stand out from the crowd. I discovered early on that in a very saturated startup space, it’s crucial to make a splash. Creative marketing quickly became my forte. Not only has it paid off tremendously, it’s been loads of fun. I’ve managed to land myself in The New York Times, The Washington Post, TechCrunch, Fast Company, Inc., Shark Tank, Forbes and many many more publications all over the world. One of my favorite stories was from Dublin’s Web Summit when over 800 startups were exhibiting (90% of them were men) and I decided to stand out by wearing Angel Wings throughout the conference (I have a dating business). When I was checking out of my hotel, I looked down at Judy Dench on the cover of the Irish Times and there I was right next to her (me on my laptop with my Angel Wings— inside there was another 1/4 page picture mentioning my business)…. Ireland knew about Cheekd.com.
What Is Something You’ve Learned That Would Not Be Obvious To Somebody Who Hasn’t Worked In Your Space Before?
It’s less about the destination and more about the journey… Eleven 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 but if you give it your all and refuse to give up, 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’s The Craziest Thing That’s Happened To You (Good Or Bad) On Your Founder Journey?
After four tumultuous years of building my startup with the wrong partners, lots of bad decisions and some major rookie mistakes, I was determined to find a way to take my business to the next level … and what better way than to apply to ABC’s Shark Tank. In September of 2013, I found myself walking down that scary shark infested hallway into a stare off with 5 of the harshest millionaire investors in the world. I’d never been more nervous in my entire life. When I proclaimed I was going to change the population with my reverse engineered online dating business, serial entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, rolled his eyes, called me delusional and immediately snapped, “I’m out.” Billionaire investor, Kevin O’Leary, demanded that I quit my “hobby” and shoot my business—my passion– like a rabid dog. After getting shot down by all five Sharks, I 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, 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. A little under 50 of those emails were from interested investors. Since the Shark Tank aired in February of 2014, I found the missing links from years before. We raised 5 times the amount I’d sought on the show and I got a CTO on board who helped facilitate and finance the new face and technology behind the new Cheekd. The new Cheekd app allows users to solve missed connections with a technology that wasn’t 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.
What Are Your Favorite Books?
As an avid guerrilla and creative startup marketer, my favorite business book is The Purple Cow by Seth Godin. It’s all about standing out from the masses and transforming your business by being remarkable. One of my favorite quotes out of this book::: “You must design a product that is remarkable enough to attract the early adopters – but is flexible enough and attractive enough that those adopters will have an easy time spreading the idea.”
Anything You’d Like To Plug?
A New Yorker of 25 years, I recently relocated to my home state of Kentucky and am working on a new app idea inspired by my own struggles trying to network, meet and date new people in a new city during an extremely unsocial time of purposefully distancing. My solution will allow users to have a more organic, yet virtual way, of making connections for anything from business, networking, fitness, friendship, hobbies or anything with anyone all over the world!
- Becoming A Detective With Tracie Yamauchi of Tracie Investigations
- Learning To Launch A Company With Eden Bitton of Crowds Trivia
- Launching A Business With Cold Calling With Shane Neman of EZ Texting & Neman Ventures
Book summaries, notes, interviews, and more!
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