Startup Lowdown: Cheek’d

Cheekd w URL

It’s no surprise to anyone when I say the world has gone online. From communicating and working, to shopping and entertaining, happens on this great thing we call the internet. And while there isn’t much you can’t do online nowadays, there are still some things worth doing offline. This week, Startup Lowdown had the chance to interview Lori Cheek, founder and CEO of Cheek’d. Cheek’d puts a twist on traditional online dating by taking the initial meet offline.

As a member of Cheek’d, you’d receive sleek black cards (roughly the size of a business card), each with a different flirty message on it – “parents love me”, “your move”, “we’ll laugh about this a year from now” – and a code that leads to your online dating profile. You would then hand these cards out to whoever catches your eye: the cute guy on the subway every morning, that girl in your fitness class you haven’t made a move on yet, etc. Once the recipient receives the card, they’d check out your online profile, and potentially begin a new relationship. In this interview, Lori shares about her experiences as a founder and insights on dating.

StartupLowdown: Lori, thanks for taking the time to speak with Startup Lowdown! To start, could you explain what Cheek’d is for our readers who don’t already know?

Lori: 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.”

StartupLowdown: What led you to this idea?

Lori: Nearly four years ago, I was out to dinner with a friend and architectural colleague — I had excused myself from the table and when I returned, he had scribbled on the back of his business card, “want to have dinner?” and slipped it to an attractive woman at an adjacent table as he and I were leaving the restaurant. There was an immediate light bulb above my head.

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.

StartupLowdown: I have a couple buddies that have tried some other online dating services and received mixed results (let’s just say the endings aren’t always as happy as the commercials make them seem). What makes Cheek’d a better alternative?

Lori: 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.

StartupLowdown: Can you tell us a bit about your startup’s history and how it’s grown?

Lori: After initially coming up with the concept of Cheek’d, it took me an entire year to realize I couldn’t make it happen on my own. I was chatting about my idea over Mardi Gras drinks with a couple of friends exactly three years ago and they suggested we sit down the next week and make it happen. We did. One year later, we launched Cheekd.com, which was soon after coined as “the next generation of online dating” by The New York Times. We’ve since acquired customers in 47 states in America and 27 countries internationally.

As for plans for the near future, we’ve signed on an Austin-based 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.

StartupLowdown: Definitely sounds like you’ve got some cool projects coming up. What has been the most rewarding aspect of founding a startup?

Lori: Building Cheek’d has been an incredible learning experience. I’ve taken a major risk (both financially & mentally), but my heart and mind are in this project every waking moment. I’ve never been more dedicated to anything. Despite the occasional
overwhelming stress, it’s been loads of fun. I spend a lot of my time guerilla marketing and slipping Cheek’d Cards into pockets, hoods, bags, etc. My favorite story to date would be the personal Lori Cheek’ng of Hip Hop Mogul, Russell Simmons: http://www.observer.com/2010/style/russell-simmons-gets-cheekd-chanel-soho-opening.

I’ve built a brand and a company and thousands of people are using the service all over the world. It’s the most rewarding feeling.

StartupLowdown: What’s been the most unexpected challenge in running Cheek’d?

Lori: The most unexpected challenge would probably be my decision to continue bootstrapping instead of seeking funding. It’s cost 20 times more than I ever initially imagined and It’s definitely been an intense struggle, but my gut tells me I’ll be successful without it because I know exactly who I’m investing in— “ME.”

StartupLowdown: I imagine you must hear a ton of awesome success stories from your users; are there any favorites you can share?

Lori: Clearly my favorite story to date: After decades on my own relentless pursuit for love, one day last summer, 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 we’re engaged to get married this year.

StartupLowdown: That’s awesome! Congratulations on the engagement! Have you noticed any trends in the online dating landscape, or have you gained any insights on dating & love in general while running Cheek’d?

Lori: Living nearly half of my adult years as a single New Yorker searching for “Mr. Right,” I saw something missing in the seemingly saturated online dating market—a human touch. One in five relationships supposedly start online. What about the other four?

-USA Today dubbed 2010 as “the year we stopped talking to one another.”

Technology is replacing social interaction, which was formerly the crux of human communication. With nearly 93% of Americans toting cell phones (44% of those being smart phones), not only are most of us are walking around all day with our noses
buried into our phones, but we’re also unengaged with those in the same room and completely tuning out those right across from us. In a time where it seems like we’re more connected than ever, we’re actually losing the physical connection that counts.

In the midst of seeking for love in the digital age, I believe the new trend will be finding love by simply looking up, making eye contact and maybe even saying something as simple as, “hello.”

StartupLowdown: What would you say to the person on the fence about trying Cheek’d out?

Lori: From the words of one of our favorite Canadian customers, “These little cards put the fate of your dating life back into your own hands. See what I did there? Into your own hands. Get it? Cheek’d cards that you hand out, with your own hands. Stop the
madness.”

I’d love to offer your readers a 50% discount on all Cheek’d card orders with the code word “TECH” at http://cheekd.com.

They can also follow us here:
Facebook: http://facebook.com/cheekd
Twitter: http://twitter.com/cheekd
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/CheekdNYC

StartupLowdown: Lori, thanks again so much for spending some time with Startup Lowdown! It’s been a blast chatting with you and hearing about all that’s going on at Cheek’d. We wish you, your soon-to-be husband, and Cheek’d all the best!

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