I love the show Shark Tank. Where else can you watch a reality show that is actually full of great ideas and helpful advice too?
Well, most of the time anyway. While I’ll admit Shark Tank has gotten a little bit “Hollywood-ish” in the past few years, its still a great show to watch if you’re interested in turning your Big Idea into a business. Outside of the over-the-top remarks by some of the investors, they do harbor a wealth of advice.
When I first heard from Lori Cheek, I was immediately intrigued when she said she made her way onto Shark Tank, and all 5 billionaire investors told her to quit her dream. I wanted to find out more, and to see what Lori’s Big Idea was all about.
I had an instant connection when I learned we shared more than just a first name – her personal motto has been a framed piece of artwork on my desk for years!
I know her creative ideas will inspire you as much as they did me.
Lori Cheek’s Story:
I am a NYC based architect turned entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of Cheekd.com the reverse engineered dating site, launched in May of 2010. After working in architecture, furniture and design for 15 years, I came up with an idea that lead me into the NYC World of Tech and am now solving missed connections. I completely threw away my design career and I’m no longer building structures, I’m now building relationships and it’s a lot more fun.
Six years ago, I was out to dinner with a friend & architectural colleague and I had excused myself from the table. When I returned, my handsome friend had scribbled on the back of his business card, “want to have dinner?” As we were leaving the restaurant, he slid that card to an attractive woman at a nearby table. He left with a pending date. I left with an idea… 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.
My solution to the problem would apply a personal approach to online dating by moving the initial encounter offline with a smooth physical introduction.
The Saturday afternoon after coming up with the idea of Cheekd, I gathered a group of friends at the Soho House, added many bottles of wine and we spent the day brainstorming about lines, designs and ideas for the (soon to be named) “Cheekd” cards. I continued this concept and branding process for a few months while working my full time job at Vitra, the Swiss/ German furniture/ design company.
I’d never started my own business and struggled with the actual “business” side of creating the company. I found myself walking around in circles with this great idea for almost a year until I was introduced to my now Co-Founder at a party, who suggested we sit down the following Monday morning and bring the idea to life. We met, as suggested, and by the end of the week had a Business Plan and started the process of incorporating, patenting, trademarking, sourcing vendors, building the site, etc. Nearly one year after my initial meeting with him, we launched in May of 2010.
A few months later, we popped up on the cover of the Styles Section of The New York Times… Move over, Match.com, this is the next generation of online dating. A couple of days later, I got a call from Oprah Winfrey’s Studio asking for an interview. I knew I had gold in my hands. I left my job and started working full time on Cheekd in November of 2010 and now Cheekd has gone global with customers in 47 states in America and 28 countries internationally.
Coming from a career of making $120K a year, I’ve bootstrapped my business for nearly five years and have had to get extremely creative in funding my startup. After finishing off my savings from my 15 year career in architecture, 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 all for the payoff, my favorite quote and my personal motto:
Entrepreneurship is living your life a few years like most people won’t so you can live your life like most people can’t.
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. 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. I’ve gone from 15 years of helping others build their dreams to a life finally dedicated to building my own.
Takeaways For You To Follow:
GET THE RIGHT TEAM ON BOARD!!!! As a trained architect, I had no idea what I was getting into building a business. After coming up with the idea, I walked around in circles for over a year trying to figure out how to build my business and 2 guys came on board to help me (I couldn’t have made a worse choice of a team in my life). They both had the same skill set, are no longer involved in my business and they owned nearly 20% equity. If I’d known what I know now… Team is EVERYTHING. I just wish someone had told me the importance of having the right team surrounding me.
The technical aspect of my business has been one of the bigger challenges I’ve faced and it’s the one thing I definitely would have approached differently from day one. I needed a CTO. Four years later and a little shuffling around equity, I’ve recently gotten a CTO on board who’s helped facilitate and finance the new face and technology behind the new Cheekd.
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.