The Jay Kim Show #59: Dawoon Kang (Transcript)
Jay: Today’s show guest is Dawoon Kang, cofounder of the popular dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel. Dawoon cofounded Coffee Meets Bagel along with her sisters, and as CEO and head of marketing, she oversees the company’s overall vision, strategy, branding, and marketing. She’s given a number of talks about dating, tech, and entrepreneurship to groups such as Women 2.0, the Commonwealth Club, and a recent TED Talk with her sister in San Francisco on the theme the beautiful truth about online dating.
We had a pretty good time talking about her app and, actually, about dating in general on today’s episode. I think you guys are going to enjoy this. Let’s get on to the show.
Alright, Dawoon. Thank you so much for joining us on the Jay Kim Show, and we’re very happy to have you on board today.
Dawoon: Great. Thanks for having me, Jay.
Jay: For the audience listening in from around the world, maybe you could have us a little quick introduction on who you are and what you do for a living.
Dawoon: My name is Dawoon. I am the cofounder of Coffee Meets Bagel. Coffee Meets Bagel is a dating app designed with women in mind by a woman. I started this company a few years ago with my sisters, my two sisters in New York City.
Jay: This is quite a hot space right now, I think. I haven’t used any sort of dating apps myself because I’ve been married for a long time, long before these apps came about. But imagine… I’ve seen friends using them, and there are a lot out there. So maybe you can tell us specifically how Coffee Meets Bagel differs from maybe some of the other ones like Tinder that most people know about.
Dawoon: Sure. When we started Coffee Meets Bagel, what we noticed that was interesting about this industry is that there are no shortage of dating services. You mentioned, Jay, that the space is very hot. It’s always been very hot in that, on any given day, there are tons of options that people can choose from. But what was interesting is that there really was no service, in our mind, that women could feel excited about using.
When we looked into the space a little more, what was more interesting is that this industry has always had difficulty recruiting and retaining women users, females users, I guess I should say. The gender ratio among the online dating participants is typically 65 to 35%, but if you take into consideration that men are twice as actively, typically, than women, the gender ration could be as lopsided as 85% and 15% women. You can only imagine, in that scenario, what the experience is like for both men and women. Men are typically frustrated because they hear back, and women are frustrated because they feel overwhelmed.
So we said let’s create a brand and product experience that really speaks to women. What matters most to women when it comes to dating it’s quality. Surprise — we just couldn’t find Millennial dating apps out there that really put a lot of emphasis on quality and safety. So that’s why we decided to start Coffee Meets Bagel. Everything that we do, starting with our branding and any kind of product innovation, we do it with a woman’s experience in mind.
Jay: That’s a very novel approach. I think that, again, I don’t have that much experience with these apps, but I know that, like you said, online dating and matchmaking and just finding love in general, has always been a very hot topic, so to speak, for everyone. There’s a big market for that. A lot of people will pay a lot of money to find their match or a partner. Having come up with something that is specifically focused with the woman in mind is pretty unique, and I think it’s a great idea because you hear about these horror stories all the time. I read about them probably once every couple of months where someone has a bad experience with someone else that they’ve met on Tinder and this sort of thing.
So Coffee Meets Bagel, where did the name come from? How did you guys come up with that?
Dawoon: What was interesting is that when we were thinking about our name and branding, we did a lot of testing. The overall feel that we were experimenting in between was, do we want to go for more friendly, next-door-neighbor kind of feel? Or do we want to go with nightclub, exclusive feel of a brand? What was funny is that when we asked the men, they said, “I like the nightclub feel, because I feel like I could meet models.”
And when we asked the ladies, we heard, “Oh, I hate that because I feel like I need to compete with models.” And what they really wanted was something that feels more comfortable and friendly. So we decided to go with the concept of coffee. What good perfectly with coffee? Bagel, because it’s such a staple food in New York City, which is the city where we started. Coffee Meets Bagel.
Jay: It’s like, “Oh, let’s go grab a coffee,” as opposed to approaching a girl in a nightclub, that sort of thing.
Dawoon: You could think of it that way.
Jay: So when you go inside the app, I guess it’s set up like the other apps where you get your profile information. But you have some sort of restrictions, or, I guess, some scarcity when it comes to the way your app works. Maybe you can explain that a little bit for the audience.
Dawoon: The way Coffee Meets Bagel works is every day at noon, you receive a handful of curated matches, which we call bagels. Bagels are curated by our smart algorithm which takes into consideration many different things, like your background, your education, your job, your demographic, of course, your interests, as well as your friend network. We try to prioritize introducing you to somebody who you don’t know but you have a few common friends with. And also your [inaudible 0:07:32]. So all these things go into consideration, and we curate you a selection of people.
What’s interesting is that because we’ve observed so many different ways, different behaviors, that are exhibited by men and women, what we’ve decided to do was — at least for a straight community, straight women — we try to prioritize or show to the ladies all the guys who already “liked.” The women don’t have to waste time on guys who might not have “liked” them. Whenever they feel like talking to somebody, they can actually connect with them and start talking right away. And the reason why we do this is because, what we observed is that, like I said, quality and curation is such an important factor to women. And we wanted to find a way to save time for ladies as much as possible and give more control over their dating experience.
Jay: Let’s just walk through it quickly. Let’s say myself, a straight male, goes on to the app. I download it. Enter all my information, like you said. And then basically, you mentioned if a guy likes you. So how does that actual process work if I’m just registered?
Dawoon: If you’re guy, then you just receive up to 21 quality bagels that we curate for you. And then you kind of go through them. If there are any women you find interesting, you just “like,” or if you’re not interested in somebody, you “pass.”
Then what happens is, among the guys who already “liked” you, for the ladies we curate the bagels on people who already “liked” you.
Jay: So the 21 come to the guy at the very beginning. You just get that upfront.
Jay: So what happens if I’m picky, and I don’t like any of the 21? Is that it?
Dawoon: Then the next day…you just wait for the next day.
Jay: It’s every day. Okay. I see. Interesting. So on the woman’s side, she logs in, sets up her account, and she just waits, basically, until guys get curated for her? Or is there a liking process on her said as well?
Dawoon: She can. There are different sections in the app where you can do that. But the main section is reserved for curing guys who already liked her.
Jay: That’s pretty cool. I like how you guys use the one-off, friend of a friend, or connection of a connection because that oftentimes is… It’s like real life. When you meet people, you get set up on a date or something like that. It’s someone that you know, and they know someone. So it’s one degree away.
What’s the revenue model? Let’s talk on the business side now. How do you make your money?
Dawoon: We have a freemium model which is the app is completely free to download and sign up. But if you want more matches, more bagels, or there is some other premium services that you can unlock, then you can purchase coffee beans, the virtual currency coffee beans, in order to access them. So that’s our business model.
Jay: And that gives you just more matches quantity wise.
Dawoon: That’s one of the things that you could do by purchasing beans. There are some other features that you could access such as unlocking the identity of mutual friends that you and your bagel have in common or re-opening chats or checking if the activity level of the bagels that you’re interested in checking out, things like that. So access to more information, definitely is included.
Jay: That makes sense. On a whole, is the demographic of your user base, is it more women on the app than men because of how you targeted it?
Jay: I guess that makes sense. And finally, is it a global app? Is it available in all countries or is there any stuff over in Asia that’s available for specific markets here?
Dawoon: We haven’t launched, officially, everywhere in the world. But you can download and sign up for CMB — a shortened version of Coffee Meets Bagel. You can download CMB anywhere in the world, and we’ve actually officially launched in Hong Kong and Singapore as far as Asia is concerned.
Jay: Cool. I can see it taking off pretty much globally. It’s a great concept, I think.
Let’s take a step back now and talk a little bit about your entrepreneurial journey because that’s another thing that we like to talk about on the show and just running through some successful entrepreneur’s background and how they came about it. So maybe you could give us a little bit of background first of what you did before you launched Coffee Meets Bagel.
Dawoon: What I did before CMB, it was a random collection of different things. I started my career on Avon products, which is what used to be — I don’t think it is any longer — but one of the top ten cosmetic companies globally. So I was doing internal consulting for Avon US, in New York City. Then I decided to go to business school. Then out of that, worked in investing for few years, actually, out of Hong Kong doing special situation type of investing for a while before starting Coffee Meets Bagel.
Jay: That’s very diverse but also a deep business types background. So what was the trigger point that made you want to pack up the corporate life and actually pursue something entrepreneurial, with your sisters nonetheless, not just going out and starting a company on your on or with other business partners but with your sisters? Maybe you could tell us a little bit about that.
Dawoon: I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My dad started his one company with his brother, my uncle, and has dedicated all his life to building out his company back in Korea. So we grew up watching him just always putting so much passion and ideas and dedication to his building his business. That was very inspiring to see. So the three of us always talked about starting something together, and a few years ago, we decided it was the right time for us to actually start something.
Having worked in finance for a couple of years and other things, what I came to realize is that, for me at least, the biggest, the most impactful way to [inaudible 0:15:54] in this world is to create and build something. So we decided to embark on our own entrepreneur journey. We knew that we wanted to do something in the consumer space because we want to make a tangible impact to the lives of millions of people. We knew we wanted to do something in technology because we really believe in the power of tech and the power of the internet. So that was the beginning of the journey.
We landed on dating because we thought it was an interesting problem. There has been so many studies about how the biggest predictor of human happiness is a quality relationship that you have with people in your life. And what is more important in relationship than your relationship with a significant other? So we feel very gratified to have played such an important role in so many people’s lives in a positive way.
Jay: It’s amazing. You guys have built a household name within that sector. So I think it’s fascinating, and it’s very admirable, what you guys have done.
You said your father was an entrepreneur. That certainly helps, I think. One of the topics that comes up lot on my podcast is being based in Asia. Entrepreneurs have to deal with parents that might not be as supportive. I know my parents were definitely not supportive. They were first-generation immigrants to the US, but their view was completely different. Their view was “we were the entrepreneurs that came and had to make our way and fight for survival, so why would you guys do something that’s so risky?” Why not just go plug into a corporate job, which I’m sure you can relate to a little bit.
Your parents, obviously, I guess, were fine with it, supporting that all three of their daughters went off. How is it working with your sisters on a day-to-day basis?
Dawoon: I love it. In the very beginning, it took us time to figure out a way to work together in a way that wouldn’t damage our sisterhood, because obviously, we have a lot of history. And trying to work together, giving feedback to each other as a sister, can be challenging. But now I feel so lucky to be able to work with two people that I trust and respect so much. The fact that I get to spend so much time at work, but at the same time, it’s quality family time, I feel very lucky to able to, I guess, kill two birds with one stone, if you will.
Jay: That’s pretty nice, and it’s something that most people don’t have the luxury of experiencing. What are the different roles that you guys share or specific roles that each of the three sisters do?
Dawoon: My older sister is a designer, so she is the one who designed everything from the app experience to the product, initially. Now we obviously have a team. My twin sister did product management, and I didn’t marketing and business dev.
Jay: I see. I think it’s a good combination you guys have. I don’t know how these apps are, but I love the scarcity that you build in, that you’re focused on quality, because I think that that is definitely a separating point. A lot of people, I think, when they begin the online dating thing, obviously the biggest deterrent is you don’t know what you’re actually getting, or there’s always some risk or fear of the unknown, which also makes it exciting. But I think the scarcity of the the cadence of matches that you curate definitely helps raise that level.
Before we look to wrap up, I have to ask you about your infamous, famous Shark Tank story where Mark Cuban actually offered you guys a large amount of money to buy your company out, which you guys turned down. Maybe you can tell our audience, remind our audience about that story, because I think it’s really cool
Dawoon: Sure. We were on Shark Tank. Now it’s been a few years, but we were very flattered to have received what, at the time, I think it was the largest offer that was made in the show’s history, which was a takeover offer at $30 million. We were, obviously, very flattered to have received that offer for our achievement. It was very, very tech savvy.
Jay: So what was your initial reaction? Was like like, let me think about that for a second? Or was it an immediate, you guys all knew, on the same page? It wasn’t even a discussion that needed to be had?
Dawoon: No. We knew that there was no discussion necessary because we weren’t there to sell our company.
Jay: It could have been $100 million or whatever. It wouldn’t have need a difference. That wasn’t the purpose of it.
Dawoon: Yeah. I’m sure that would have been an amount where we would have been like, hmm… But we weren’t there to sell the company.
Jay: Was it still a very skeleton crew, just the three of you and maybe a couple of other people on your team?
Dawoon: I can’t remember at the time. I think it was around 10 of us.
Jay: Thanks for your time today. Just a couple more questions. We’re looking to wrap here. I want to ask you, as a startup founder that’s achieved somewhat of a degree of success, what sort of advice would you have for aspiring entrepreneurs that might be in a similar situation that you went on, maybe had worked at a couple of different jobs, at large corporations, maybe had spent some time in finance. And maybe their parents are somewhat supportive of them, but they’re not sure exactly what to do or maybe how to get started. What advice would you give to that sort of aspiring entrepreneur?
Dawoon: I think one advice that I give out to people who are starting off for the first time… Sometimes it can feel very daunting to think about starting a company. And sometimes it can feel very overwhelming like you don’t even know where to start. And I think it’s really important that you dream big but you set up small milestones. That’s going to really keep you moving. Instead of thinking I’m going to build a company, think of small milestones that you can achieve in the next week, next two weeks, next three weeks. Those are the things that are going to get you started moving. Unless you actually start going, nothing is going to be done. So whatever small milestones that you think are necessary to start moving…
You don’t have to feel like you have to have everything figured out. You might know, after you’ve done one, two, three things, where you’re going to be left at. At that time, you might have to figure something out again as to what the next step should be, but that’s okay. No one starts with the perfect answer, already figured out.
And then the other thing is it’s important to have small milestones, but that dream big piece, of course, is going to be very critical in terms of getting you to be able to inspire yourself. A startup is a long journey. So you better have a very inspiring mission and vision that you feel truly, truly passionate about, that is going to keep you going when there are obstacles — and there will be —that is going to be the thing that is going to inspire other people to join your journey. Because, obviously, you’re not going to be able to do this on your own. You’re going to need a lot of team. You’re going to need a lot of partners. You’re going to need a lot of advisors who are going to be willing to help you. So make sure, in the very beginning, you spend a lot more time than you think honing down on what is the thing that I really want to achieve through this company that I’m trying to build.
Jay: I think that’s right. It’s fun when you come up with entrepreneurial ideas, startup ideas, and pursue them. The first few months is always sort of the honeymoon period where you’re super excited about whatever idea you’re on, and you’re getting everyone involved. But are you still going to be excited three months, six months, 12 months, years down the line, which is what it often takes to build a successful startup? I think people don’t realize how difficult it actually is to build a company and how long it takes and how much work it takes. So you’re absolutely right, though. We have to have this sort of mentality that you just have to love it to the point where, and be passionate to the point what every day, you could just consistently show up, whether you feel like it or not. And that’s a lot easier said than done. I appreciate that. I think our audience will appreciate that piece of advice.
Finally, you mentioned dreaming big, and we’ve just gone over how you turned down Mark Cuban’s offer a few years ago for $30 million. What are you and your team’s big picture goal for Coffee Meets Bagel?
Dawoon: I really want CMB to be the enabler of authentic, honest connections for this generation and for many, many generations to come. I think we’re at an influx point as to how we form new relationships. Online dating has been around for a very long time, but it’s only today’s generation, the mobile generation, that has completely embraced, in a mainstream manner, using dating apps to meet new people. So I think we have a very unique opportunity to be able to shape what that looks like for many, many years to come. I don’t really like bashing on other dating companies, but I think it would suck, to be honest, to look like Tinder or anything that is based on something where you just swipe. I really want Coffee Meets Bagel to be able to shape and help, enable, like I said, this generation to form authentic, honest connection using technology.
Jay: So last question is where can our audience members find you, follow you, connect with you, and maybe learn a little bit more about CMB?
Dawoon: Coffee Meets Bagel is completely free to download on the app store or Google Play, depending on your device. I can be found on my social media channels @DawoonKang — on Instagram and Twitter.
Jay: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate hearing about your story and your insights and advice.
Jay: Take care.
Dawoon: Thank you so much.
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