How a Shark Tank Rejection Inspired One Female Entrepreneur to Bite Back
Lori Cheek had never been more nervous in her life.
She walked down the low-lit, shark-lined hallway and into a stare-down with the five harshest investors in the world. Determined to take her business idea to the next level, she told them her invention would change the population.
“You’re delusional. I’m out,” said Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
“Quit this hobby and shoot it like a rabid dog,” said billionaire investor Kevin O’Leary.
“Trust that you’ll see me again,” said the determined entrepreneur as she was quickly dismissed from the bright lights of the Shark Tank stage.
Lori didn’t let her dream die there. While she headed home without a business deal, she was armed with a renewed commitment to building her startup.
Immediately following the airing of the show, Cheekd.com received a record-breaking 100,000 unique visitors and Lori’s inbox filled with thousands of emails insisting that the “Sharks” were out of their minds. Investors made offers and Lori found the capital she needed to create the technology that now powers Cheekd.
The idea for the business came to her back in 2008 while out to dinner with an architectural colleague. He’d spotted an attractive woman at a nearby table, scrawled “Want to have dinner?” on the back of his business card, and slipped it to her as they were leaving the restaurant. While he left with a date, Lori left with an idea. For two years she brainstormed how to remove the business out of the business card and create a way for people to make modern-day connections.
Cheekd.com began as a deck of ice-breaking dating cards with a unique code that lead the recipient to the privacy-protected online dating profile of the mysterious stranger who slipped them the card. Now a mobile dating app with bluetooth technology, Cheekd sends users an immediate notification when someone within their criteria comes within a 30-foot radius of them.
Used by thousands of people all over the world, Cheekd is more than just a brand or a service—it’s a way to forge real-life, meaningful love connections. “I’ve never been more dedicated to anything. I feel like I’m living the American Dream—I’ve given birth to an invention,” shares Lori. “I’ve gone from 15 years of helping others build their dreams to a life finally dedicated to building my own.”
Though she admits that men still dominate the entrepreneurial world, Lori acknowledges the strides women are making and the invaluable support they give to one another. “NYC’s startup scene is booming and there’s never been a better time to be an entrepreneur,” Lori says. If you’re a female in the startup world, “it’s easy to stand out at events and you never have to wait in line for the restroom,” she laughs.
Her strongest advice to fellow female entrepreneurs? Take the leap if you truly believe in your idea, give up your excuses and doubt, surround yourself with a trusted and talented team, bulldoze forward, and don’t look back.
“I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve failed building my business over the past few years. I’ve learned to welcome the mistakes and even joke that I’ve learned so much from them that I’m going to keep making more of them on purpose,” says Lori. “I’ve taken a crash course in building a business and failing has probably been the greatest lesson of all.”
October is National Women’s Small Business Month and a great opportunity to understand the positive impact that women make in the business world. Check back as we highlight the unique perspectives and experiences of women in small business throughout the month; you can read even more inspiring stories and insights from Lendio’s CEO and founder Brock Blake on Forbes.com.