Does online dating ever make you want to claw your damn face off? For every OkCupid marriage or Tinder triumph, there’s horror story after horror story of enragingly endless back-and-forth messaging, and wildly mismatched intentions. So three super-smart Korea-born, San Francisco-based sisters—the twins, marketing and business development maven Dawoon Kang (Stanford Business!) and CEO and product manager Arum Kang (Harvard Business!), and design head Soo Kang (Parsons!)—bravely ventured into the dude-dominated app space to launch Coffee Meets Bagel to try and solve some of the biggest online dating headaches.
The Kangs are currently killing it: they turned down $30-million from Mark Cuban on Shark Tank earlier this year; they’re operating all over the U.S., Sydney and Hong Kong; and have so far made 25 million introductions worldwide and kickstarted 10,000 successful relationships (including more than 120 marriages!). Coffee Meets Bagel has just launched in Toronto, and the sisters Kang plan on rolling it out in Vancouver this fall.
So how does Coffee Meets Bagel work? You sign in through your Facebook account—a la Tinder—and set up your profile (it’s free), adding some of your Facebook profile pics and writing a little bit about yourself. Then the app sends you one match—called a bagel—every day at noon. You have 24 hours to accept the bagel or not. If both you and your bagel are into each other, a chat window opens where you can talk to your bagel. It only stays open for seven days, though, to encourage actually meeting up IRL. You can also purchase coffee beans that give you perks like rematching with someone after the 24-hour window closes.
We sat down with Dawoon—who’s dated two dudes off Coffee Meets Bagel so far, including her current BF—to chat about how Coffee Meets Bagel works, the sexist blowback from their huge Shark Tank moment and the secret habits of ladies dating online.
What makes Coffee Meets Bagel different from all the other dating apps?
It helps you find real relationships. We focus on young professionals—especially young professional women. Safety is one of our biggest concerns, because it’s very important to women, so all the identifiable information (like your name) remains private until you get connected.
The profiles list your occupation and employer up top. Why is that important?
We did some primary survey research on what factors are important to women when it comes to finding a partner, and things like job and age and education matter a lot for women, which is why we actually put that on. We try to match you with somebody with a similar social background, so in order to do that, we need to know what you do. The app is a very young-professional-geared crowd, so that is the information that they want to know, right?
Once you have your bagel, why does the chat window expire after seven days?
The reason behind that is we don’t want you to just sit there and chat forever: this app is for actually meeting up. We remind them, “Okay, it’s gonna expire so you should exchange phone numbers” so hopefully they’ll meet up. We really focused on [this idea of] how do we get people to not treat this app as a popularity contest like other apps. How do we actually get them to meet up? Which is why we are so upfront and honest about the fact that is a dating app for real relationships, so we attract that kind of people and then move it forward through the user experience of really focusing on getting people to meet.
How is Coffee Meets Bagel safer?
This industry is so lopsided towards guys: it’s 65 percent guys versus 35 percent women, generally. Which creates a really big problem because men are already a lot more active on dating apps so even if you had 50/50, there’s just gonna be a lot more activity from guys than girls. The guys are frustrated because they don’t hear back and woman are frustrated because they get bombarded. We wanted to create a brand that feels really safe and comfortable, which is why we thought about logging in through Facebook so we can actually force people to use their real identity and match through friends of friends because that’s how we meet people through real life. We found that when you share mutual friends with your bagel, there’s a 37 percent greater likelihood that you actually end up connecting.
What if I want to game the system a bit—how much do the beans cost?
$1.99 USD for 100 beans (so a rematch may be 265 beans, say). You can also earn beans by inviting your friends, completing your profile or uploading more photos.
It must be fascinating having all that back-end dating data. What are some surprising things you’ve found?
What surprised me a lot is how different men and women are when it comes to dating. Our member base is a very, very educated, very progressive, young professional base. But when it comes to dating, they’re super-conservative in terms of who initiates the first chat: like, no woman does it. When we surveyed our members, we asked “Do you like it when women initiate?” and 96 percent of guys are, like, “Yeah, I love it.” But when you look at the stats, we only see about 25 percent of our chat lines initiated by a woman. Most women just wait until somebody messages them. There is also a feature called “Take” where after you get your own bagel, we actually give you 10 more for you to see that you can give to your friends—or you can actually take it for yourself. Very rarely do women use that feature versus the men. That actually surprised me because I thought that it’s the 21st century, but there are just very obvious gender differences.
Dating in the 21st century seems harder than ever!
Millennials—all of us—find dating very difficult. Everybody thinks their city is the worst. Everyone finds dating very difficult and I think it’s because we don’t have a lot of time anymore because we dedicate so much of our time to career and our friends and ourselves that we don’t have time to dedicate to new relationships, but we expect to still have it, which is why there’s a disconnect we find frustrating. Despite the hook-up culture that has been highlighted for this generation, if you ask them “What are you looking for in online dating?”, most people say relationships. Even though they are so busy, everyone just wants to use technology to find meaningful relationships.
Was it important to you to differentiate your app by stating upfront that it is for finding legit relationships?
That is the main differentiation point with most other dating apps. Now it’s become super-easy to sign up with online dating apps, it’s very unclear—with, for example, Tinder—how you end up using the app. I’m sure there are a lot of people who find relationships through Tinder as well, but it gets frustrating for people when you’re being connected with somebody who’s not looking for the same thing.
What was your experience on Shark Tank like?
It’s very nerve-wracking. And we were very thrown off in the very beginning because—and this didn’t air—Mark Cuban immediately was, like, “You guys are golddiggers,” which means that he thought we were just there for the PR. Because he knew that we had access to capital, he was like “You don’t need our money. Why are you here?” But then, as we took him through the business and why we actually wanted to raise $500,000, particularly from them, he turned around and later on he said “You know, I thought you guys were golddiggers but you’re not” and somebody else was like “Why don’t you ask for a 20 percent stake of the company instead of a 5 percent stake for the same money?” And then he ended up saying, “No, I’m not going to do that. I have too much respect for these ladies. I can’t do that,” which was nice to hear. And the fact that he benchmarked us as $30-million versus the $10-million we were actually valuing ourselves at was a huge validation for the hard work that we put into the company. The way people reacted to this $30-million thing… We’ve been called “greedy,” “stupid,” “crazy”: I wonder if we were guys, we would have been called, like, “Oh, they’re so bold!,” “confident,” “visionary.” Not that we took them seriously, but it was interesting to see people’s reaction.
What is it like getting into the tech start-up industry as a woman?
It was hard for me because I don’t fit into the mold in two ways: I don’t have a tech background and I’m a woman. And I have to say—and I almost hesitate to say even say this because I don’t want to come across like this whiny, complaining bitch, which I think a lot of women end up being perceived as when you actually don’t say good things about what is going on in the industry—so much of tech, especially in the early stage, is about chemistry. When you pitch to the VCs [venture capitalists], it is about the connection you establish with them. When you hire your first recruit, again, it’s about connections you establish and when you look different, feel different, it’s harder to make those connections so I think it is a challenge.
Things are definitely changing, there are more entrepreneurs, but I think where we need more women is actually on the investors side. The lack of women there is just extreme. And it’s hard because you need more capital in order to fund your business, and so I think a lot of women find it difficult to raise money from the Valley because of this extreme lack of diversity.