BASED IN: NEW YORK
I graduated with a degree in Architecture from the University of Kentucky in 1996 and after 15 years of practicing architecture and design in NYC, I came up with an idea that I couldn’t stop thinking about so I decided to bring it to life… Architecture is the art, science and business of building and requires an extreme social awareness and understanding of social change as well as a strict attention to detail and design. These elements of my previous career have been crucial in my attempts to reverse engineer an existing industry by simply adding an element of human interaction to a seemingly saturated (online dating) market. My design background has also been extremely beneficial in giving me an innovative approach to building my business, designing the brand and marketing the product.
What id Cheekd?
Cheekd reimagines online dating with a new app that makes missed connections obsolete. Cheekd uses a cross-platform low energy Bluetooth technology, which fosters hyper local engagement. The app connects people in real time, versus virtual time. Connections begin in person; Cheekd helps you take the next step and continue the conversation online.
Cheekd ensures you 'Never Miss a Connection'; thanks to this new Bluetooth technology, the app works on the train; on a plane...anywhere—You'll get a notification if someone who meets your criteria is within 30 feet of you. If you're near a potential spark, Cheekd makes sure you know about it.
What fuels your passion for Cheekd?
Ultimately, Cheekd has been the most powerful thing that’s ever happened to me. Building this business has been an incredible learning experience. I’ve taken a major risk (both financially & mentally) and surrendered my career in architecture & design, 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 feel like I’m living the American Dream—I’ve given birth to an invention. I’m an architect turned entrepreneur and I’m no longer building structures. I’m now building relationships.
What is the most challenging aspect of starting your own business?
The financial struggles are definitely what I hate most about what I do. Coming from a career of making nearly $120K a year, living a pretty fabulous life traveling, dining out and shopping like it was my job in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I came up with an idea that I had to bring to life… In May of 2010, I launched Cheekd.com. After finishing off my savings from my 15-year career in architecture, I had to get extremely creative to continue funding my business and this is where the financial sacrifices began… I made nearly $75,000 by selling my designer clothes at consignment shops and on eBay, doing focus groups, secret shopping and by selling my electronics and other odds and ends around my apartment on Craigslist that all went straight back into my business. The biggest chunk of cash came from renting out my West Village Studio in NYC on AirBnB, while I couch surfed for 14 months, nearly got evicted and ultimately lost my lease of 5 years in my gorgeous apartment.
And finally, 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 last year, I found the missing links from years before. We’ve raised 5 times the amount I’d sought on the show and I’ve gotten a CTO on board who’s helped facilitate and finance the new face and technology behind the new Cheekd.
What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?
My best advice for others considering taking the entrepreneurial leap and overcoming fear of risk 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.