Dating in college can be hard. It can be especially hard when, according to an analysis done by the dating application Coffee Meets Bagel, you attend an institution home to the most attractive girls and the pickiest guys—Boston College.
But in 2012, three sisters—Arum, Soo, and Dawoon Kang—set out to redefine and champion this dating experience for both men and women by honing in on safety, privacy, and quality through their dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel. Although the application was initially Harvard-based, drawing on the innovation and technology integral to the Boston technology scene, it has achieved the success that many local startups hope for by spreading into the rest of the U.S. and overseas.
Coffee Meets Bagel, a free app for all iPhones and Androids, requires all of its users to connect through their Facebook profiles, allowing users to more easily meet up with other individuals in their areas. The application also promotes reliability, as it reduces people’s ability to create fake profiles. A user’s basic profile includes a photo, in addition to his or her age, height, ethnicity, religious affiliation, employment, and education. Users are then given three categories that allow for further description: “I am…,” “I like…,” and “I appreciate when my date…,”
When a user opens Coffee Meets Bagel for the first time, they’re designated ‘Coffee,’ while the other users are ‘Bagel.’ Every day at noon, Coffee Meets Bagel provides the user with a list of other ‘Bagels’ in their area, after which they’re given 24 hours to either like or pass on ‘Bagel’s’ profile based on the picture and information provided. When someone likes a user’s profile, the user is immediately notified.
“We don’t reveal any personal information, including last name or first name, until you actually match through a mutual like,” Dawoon, one of the three founders, said. “This way, people can’t really stalk you. Even when you do actually match, we only reveal first names.”
The three sisters initially came up with the idea for Coffee Meets Bagel by searching for something that, while still occupying a large and viable market, would make a positive impact on people’s lives. According to Dawoon, the treacherous world of dating remained high on the sisters’ radar as they continued to observe their friends struggling to meet people that they felt truly compatible with.
The Kang sisters then decided to research the current industry for interactive dating programs, and found that being perpetually single has become a global phenomenon. In turn, this phenomenon further expanded the demand for a safe and genuine platform for people who were interested in meeting and interacting with other singles in their area. But according to Kang, the current industry has struggled to meet these demands.
“There is an extreme lack of programs that understand the way women want to date,” Kang said. “The industry has always had difficulty recruiting and retaining women.”
Coffee Meets Bagel attacks this persisting problem through creating an app that provides a safe and exciting dating opportunity. The app achieves reliable safety through its strict privacy settings, protection of each user’s first and last names, and requirement to connect through Facebook.
“We want to really champion the dating experience for women and a lot of that has to do with safety,” Kang said. “But it doesn’t stop there.”
The three categories provided in the profile offer space for each user to be genuine, honest, and open. The application’s website provides stories of couples who are engaged, in a year-long relationship, and newlyweds—all of whom met through Coffee Meets Bagel.
Despite Coffee Meets Bagel’s current success, the construction of the app was not without difficulty. The Kang sisters are not coders, and therefore had to go through an outsourcing company named Elance to find a developer. Dawoon noted this as one of the first struggles Coffee Meets Bagel faced.
“How do we bring somebody on board to join us when we are three sisters?” Dawoon said. “That fourth person joining obviously had to take a kind of leap of faith in terms of being able to trust and put faith in our product.”
The Kang sisters eventually found a developer in Asia who developed their MVP (model view presenter). They then decided to test the application on a number of their friends for a two-week period that allowed them to thoroughly understand the application’s strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately determine whether the product was worth pursuing.
The Kang sisters received positive feedback, so they continued with the production of Coffee Meets Bagel and brainstormed ways to spread the word. After moving the startup’s base from the Boston area to New York City, and acquiring approximately 1,600 email addresses of interested singles through friends and friends of friends, the Kang sisters sent an email blast that opened Coffee Meets Bagel to the public, and began spreading news of the app through word of mouth.
Coffee Meets Bagel has also appeared on Shark Tank, where the trio turned down a $30 million offer from billionaire Mark Cuban. Hopeful that Coffee Meets Bagel can expand to be as popular and as successful as Match.com, the Kang sisters were not willing to sell their creation. A long way from the Boston startup hub where it was born, the application has achieved the success that many Boston innovators dream of as it has spread beyond the U.S. to international levels including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Sydney, and Canada.
Featured Image by Coffee Meets Bagel