Where Are They Now? – Lori Cheek, Cheekd

Hustle until you no longer have to introduce yourself.

By Sarah Achler July 20, 2015

Architect turned Entrepreneur, Lori Cheek, is the Founder and CEO of Cheekd—a mobile dating app that makes missed connections obsolete. Following her debut on Shark Tank, Lori was recently listed as “The Digital Dating Disruptor” and “One of the Top 10 CEOs to Watch.” Graduating from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Architecture, Lori is no longer building structures—she’s now building relationships.

We catch up with Lori to find out how her entrepreneurial journey has evolved in our latest installment of “Where Are They Now?”.

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What’s the biggest challenge you have faced since being featured on Trep Life: Season 2?

My Trep Life episode aired the same day as my epic Shark Tank blood bath and my life has been turned inside out ever since. After getting brutally shot down by five of the harshest billionaire investors in the world, I still knew there was no stopping me. Before walking off the set, I looked them all in the eye one by one 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. Nearly 50 of those emails were from interested investors. I knew I still had gold in my hands, but something had to change. The biggest challenge was rising above the dark clouds hovering over my business and finding a way to successfully rebrand, rebuild and revive our initial concept.

How has the Grind evolved since then?

The Grind is equally as intense but seems to have greater payoff these days. I’ve been asked to speak at conferences, panels and startup events all over the US and have been recognized as a tech influencer amongst other entrepreneurs/ investors whom I’ve admired for years.  I’ve recently been listed as one of 12 “Inspirational Women in Tech to Follow,” one of AlleyWatch’s “20 Most Awesome People to Know in the NYC Tech Scene,” and one of “100 NYC Tech Influencers You Need to Know.” I was even asked to deliver a TEDx Talk in NYC about my favorite subject… “making real life connections.”

How has the Hustle evolved? Where were you spending your time then vs now…

The hustle has remained at about the same decibel but has only gotten more fun. People haven’t stopped asking me when I sleep, so I clearly never stop working. Years ago, I had no idea what it took to build a business, but I’ve taken a crash course by building one. I’ve made so many mistakes that I’ve only gotten smarter while building Cheekd. This time around, I know what I’m doing and the reality is that working like a maniac still brings me such joy because I love what I’m doing every waking moment.

BIG Picture: What are you Hustling to make happen right now?

Our app has just graduated from Beta on the app store, so hustling to get users/ downloads is my main focus.  We’ve started hosting happy hours around NYC where attendees must have the app downloaded for entry (and a free cocktail). Connections on the app are immediate once inside the event. One of our main user acquisition strategies is to obtain alcohol industry partners and venues to join our marketing incentive program– when Cheekd users make connections a.k.a “get cheeky” with each other inside an official Cheekd location, they can redeem their connection for a free drink together.

We can also do all kinds of cool stuff on down the line like creating a central meeting area (beacons) that can store all the encounters for the day effectively time shifting passes. Further mitigating “missed connections,” we can remove time from the fate equation. While one in five relationships begin online, Cheekd is for the other four. We want to make Cheekd the new heat-seeking missile app which leverages the power of the virtual in the real world, letting you find other single people whom you may be missing on your daily commute or anywhere else. In addition, we plan on building an Android version of Cheekd and also implement a solution where any wearable device can also help make connections between Cheekd users.

What’s the biggest Payoff you’ve experienced since being featured?

After four tumultuous years of building my startup with the wrong partners, lots of bad decisions and some major rookie mistakes, I’ve since found the missing link from years before. I’ve gotten a CTO on board who’s helped facilitate and finance the new face and technology behind the new Cheekd. While still in Beta, we’ve been covered in The New York Observer, on ABC News and have already won several awards and recognition for the new Cheekd. We’re at a ramp right now and we’re ready to FLY!

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What’s the biggest change/evolution that’s occurred (both personally and professionally)?

My life has taken an interesting twist both personally and professionally since my Trep Life episode aired last February. I was engaged back then to a man who seemingly wanted me to either fail or choose my relationship over my business. Even in my episode, I’d mentioned how he’d put a curfew on me using my laptop in the evenings. My gut saw our union rocketing into a downward spiral. I chose to continue building my dream, which leads to my exciting new professional pivot… I’m conveniently single now and able to use my own new dating app!

We’ve recently re-launched Cheekd utilizing a new technology that wasn’t available when our patented idea initially launched in May of 2010. Previously, with the Cheekd Version 1, users would use a set of clever cards to introduce themselves to individuals they encounter in the offline world who sparked their interest. If the interest was mutual, the card recipients used the card’s unique code to reconnect easily with  the person via a private online profile viewable at Cheekd.com. While the physical cards worked anywhere in the world and were a perfect way to break the ice, we found a few barriers; the main one being that our users were still quite intimidated to walk up and slip a card to a total stranger. Looking into alternative ways we could change the platform, we discovered a way to make these IRL encounters much easier and less intimidating via a mobile solution. The new 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. 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.

Who inspires you and why?

I don’t get star struck by many entrepreneurs but Richard Branson is an absolute phenomenon. He did what he loved and money followed. Worth billions of dollars, he started his first magazine at the age of 16 and now his Virgin brand covers everything from telecommunications to space tourism. I spotted Mr. Branson while working from the Soho House a couple of years back and slipped him the Cheek’d card that read, “Didn’t you used to work for me?” I hope he got the joke.

If you were a character on Silicon Valley or Game of Thrones who would you be and why?

I have given birth to a few dragons but who’s got time for TV?!!!! I’ve got a dating empire to build!

What’s your current theme song?

Well “I’m currently in an elevator headed to the moon…” and my theme song is Ballin’ by FYÜTCH (Future The Artist).

Recent/favorite quote (Words of Wisdom):

“Hustle until you no longer have to introduce yourself.”