How Kang sisters’ ride to success attracted millions with Coffee Meets Bagel

February 25, 2015
The Kang sisters on ABC's "Shark Tank" (YouTube screen capture)

Sisters and co-founders of Coffee Meets Bagel, Dawoon, left, Soo and Arum Kang were recently featured on an episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank” where they generated buzz by turning down $30 million from billionaire Mark Cuban. (YouTube screen capture)

By Brian Han

In the trendy yet overpopulated world of dating apps, the three Kang sisters managed to set themselves apart with Coffee Meets Bagel (CMB).

Their vision revolved around creating a dating app catered solely to women — an approach that might seem strange considering that the user base needs to draw in men as well.

The logic is simple if not slightly humorous.

“We kind of joke around about this, but it’s true,” explains Stanford Business grad COO Dawoon Kang. “Where there are women, men will just come.”

Instead of inundating users with hundreds of profiles, the app tries to find a quality match once per day and presents it at noon. If both parties approve of each other, they can begin chatting and the rest is history.

Dawoon’s twin sister, Arum, 32, is a Harvard Business grad and CEO.  Soo, 34, is the head of design and has worked with clients such as Samsung and Belvedere Vodka.

“Our plan was to put a stick in the ground and say we’re going to approach this differently and go in the opposite direction,” Dawoon said.

It’s easier said than done, but their bold efforts caught the public eye when American billionaire Mark Cuban posed a question on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

“If I offered you $30 million for the company would you take it?” Cuban asked.

It was the largest proposal in the show’s five year history.

Viewers could see that each sister exhibited different reactions.

Soo held back a smile and Dawoon looked shocked, but Arum didn’t change her expression at all.

From the left, Arum, Dawoon and Soo Kang (Courtesy of Coffee Meets Bagel)

From the left, Arum, Dawoon and Soo Kang (Courtesy of Coffee Meets Bagel)

“No,” Arum said flatly after a moment of silence.

And that’s when the true buzz around the company began to spread as many began to wonder how much potential CMB actually had.

“Being on ‘Shark Tank’ really put us on the mainstream map,” Dawoon said. “With eight million people watching how could it not?”

Although the company prefers to be secretive about how many more users signed up for the app since then, Dawoon revealed that the “spike was significant.”

It took a few years for the company to get to this point.

The idea for CMB was born and launched in 2012.

The Kang sisters led successful careers at established companies beforehand, but felt it was time to tap into the entrepreunerial spirit that runs in their family.

“Starting a business is something we always thought about and talked about,” Dawoon said. “My father started his own recycling company in [South] Korea and we always grew up watching him and learning from him. He was so passionate and he’s been an inspiration for us.”

They felt as though they were at a crossroads in their lives and if they didn’t pull the trigger soon, the opportunity might never present itself again.

Screenshot from the Coffee Meets Bagel app (Courtesy of CMB)

Screenshot from the Coffee Meets Bagel app (Courtesy of CMB)

So they sat down until they came up with something that felt right.

“We considered a lot of different industries, but once we all agreed on dating, it all took off from there,” Dawoon said.

As a tech startup, the entire team is made up of mostly software engineers and even though the company is led by women, there’s sometimes a sense of gender disparity amid San Francisco’s progressive atmosphere.

“The great thing about tech is that it is very diverse in terms of ethnicity,” Dawoon said. “To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like because I’m an Asian American I feel left out or don’t have a place because there are so many of us here. I am more reminded of my gender though because there is a very large gender imbalance here and maybe even more so than most other industries.”

The statistics don’t lie.

Well-known tech companies like Dropbox and Mozilla have hundreds of software engineers on staff and the percentage of women is in the single digits according to Business Insider.

Dawoon proposes that it’s not about females in the applicant pool being left in the dust. It’s just that they’re not there. In fact, most of CMB’s engineers are male.

“There are a few things that we can do to fix this,” she said. ” There needs to be more of a push for women to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. I think the need for them will grow especially for products that are developed specifically for women.”

The opportunity to seek out the best female talent may be on the horizon especially since CMB just secured $7.8 million Series A financing from DCM Ventures — a symbol of faith as well as promise for the company.

With the whirlwind of media exposure and a significant amount of capital flowing, the sisters are grateful to be working with family.

“One of the huge advantages we have as a family business is that we never have to question each other’s intentions and our ability to understand each other,” Dawoon said. “There are times when one of us does something that’s difficult to understand at first, but you learn to trust them even if you don’t agree on certain things. That’s where other startups implode or fall apart.”

The sisters grew up together in Daejeon, South Korea, moved to Hawaii together without their parents before entering high school and are now working together on a blossoming business, so it only makes sense that they’ve developed a deep familial bond that has fortunately translated well to the business world.

One Comment

  1. Lucy

    February 25, 2015 at 10:33 AM