After seeing the toxicity of other dating services, Dawoon Kang created Coffee Meets Bagel as a safer, friendlier alternative. We talked to her about solving the fundamental problem of many straight dating services, and how she manages her company in a way consistent with CMB’s values. Dawoon also shared a dating tip that no app can teach you.
Current gig: CEO of Coffee Meets Bagel Location: SF Current computer: MacBook Air Current mobile device: iPhone 8 One word that best describes how you work: Intensely
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I’m originally from Korea, where I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My dad started a recycling metal business in Korea with his brother, and my mum owned and operated a small shop.
My two sisters and I grew up watching my parents put so much of their hope, dreams, and passion into their businesses. Sometimes there was disappointment, self-doubt, and anxiety, too. But they were so resilient. They wanted to leave a legacy.
In 2012 my twin sister graduated from business school. I was working at JP Morgan. It felt like perfect timing for us to start something. Dating was one of the many ideas we considered. It just kept coming up among our friends.
It’s a very interesting problem, a meaningful problem. We looked into the industry, and we found some interesting dynamics. When you start using dating apps, you get confused. The experience can be seedy, it can be overwhelming. Every single platform we used, I had the same experience.
[Straight] dating apps have always had a huge imbalance in gender ratio. There are a lot more guys than women using dating apps, they’re almost twice as active. Because of that, guys get really frustrated and engage in behaviours that turn off women even more, and the vicious cycle continues. So we wanted to create a great experience for everyone, and make a platform and experience that appealed to women. We care about safety and quality. And that was the genesis of Coffee Meets Bagel.
Take us through a recent workday.
I woke up at 7 AM, and I meditated for 10 min. Then I took a hot shower (which is seriously one of my favourite parts of the day), and afterward, I did some yoga and stretching. After I made my morning coffee, I headed to work.
At work, I opened my calendar, and I religiously followed whatever it said. I spent the first 1-2 hours of my workday focusing on long-term strategic projects and prepping for our leadership off-site. The rest of the day was packed with meetings, where I collaborated with my team to make a lot of decisions. Here’s a snapshot of what some of those meetings looked like:
Product-Design Meeting: Discussed what the flow of one of our new features should be. On CMB we have a subscription package, and we’ve gotten feedback that it’s good but it needs to be better, in terms of getting the real connection with other people. So in our product design meeting, there are some ideas we’re testing, and we reviewed the mock-ups, and evaluate what it’s like to have these experiences on a daily basis. Even a tiny friction is exacerbated when you’re using it every day.
Weekly Staff Meeting: Listened to and shared updates on our weekly performance. This is where executives talk about things that affect the rest of the team. There’s a budget proposal that we needed to make decisions on, and we needed to finalise our quarter-one one-pagers: Summaries of each group’s objectives and priorities.
1:1 With My CFO: Exchanged candid feedback on each other’s communication styles. When your company is hiring a lot of people in a very short time, you need to be vigilant about the culture changes that could happen from the new influx of people. We’ve had quite an influx of people, especially at the very senior level, and they have a huge experience on their respective organisations.
At CMB we have very distinctive values that we emphasise: Ownership, accountability, collaboration, continuous learning, and candor. I have this conversation a lot, and it’s important for me to talk about it when I don’t see it being demonstrated. Not to call anybody out! Behavioural change takes time.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I have two monitors: A large one and a laptop, and I have an ergonomic keyboard and mouse. On my right, I have a small succulent, and I keep a vision board with some of my top company priorities for the quarter. I also have a book I’ve been reading: Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp. And tea, I always have tea.
What’s your best hack or shortcut?
My biggest “hack” is to put everything important on the calendar and to follow it to the teeth. Once I put something on my calendar, I rarely change plans. By following this method, I don’t have to do as much decision-making about my priorities for the day, and I find there’s less room for procrastination.
What hacks went into Coffee Meets Bagel?
Manpower. In the beginning, everything on Coffee Meets Bagel was done manually. Manual matching. Manual approval.
Matching was something that we quickly automated. Manual matching takes a ton of time, you have to look over the entire pool, it’s just too much. We just did that when we were testing with about 50 of our friends. And we would just sit there and pick and guess—they were our friends, so we obviously knew them and could match them. And we’d send them an email. We would call them and ask them “Hey, what was today’s match and what did you think?”
Manual approving actually went on for quite a while, which was a real pain. It was the three of us looking over everyone making sure they were safe.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
We’re a really transparent company. Everything is shared openly, including our fiscal matters. Most everyone at CMB knows exactly what’s being done and why, even if it doesn’t always concern the team they work most closely with. I really do think this openness is fundamental team fulfillment and productivity at CMB.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
Everyone on my team, of course! It’s a rare day that I don’t collaborate.
I’ve also started outsourcing more things that I know aren’t my strengths, or that I simply don’t enjoy doing. I have an assistant at work, a personal assistant, a cleaner for my home, etc. It’s really helped me be more efficient and focused with my time.
Do you have any dating hacks of your own?
Oh, so many...this is a topic I’m obviously really passionate about!
I think the best advice I can give when it comes to dating is to start by self-reflecting. No dating apps, even Coffee Meets Bagel, can help you save time or find the “right” match if you aren’t sure what you want. We end up wasting a ton of time on the wrong people because we don’t know what we want.
Start with a blank sheet of paper, and write down what an amazing relationship looks like for you. Be as detailed as possible. For me, one might be, “I work around the clock, and I don’t have to apologise for it.” Or, “We try new activities once a quarter.” Once you’re done, use this list to pick out which qualities you think are the most important for your partner to have.
Then, strive to become this person. I know, it sounds kind of backward, but I honestly believe that we attract people who are just like us.
Additionally, learn how to communicate. We aren’t taught this (and we usually just end up adopting the communication styles our parents had). But it’s so important. Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg has really helped me communicate clearly, respectfully, and empathetically with my partner.
For example, it taught me that anger is never a result of what others say or do. Its cause lies in my blaming and judging others around my unmet needs. Once I understood this, it was much easier to express what I need from my partner versus lashing out at him.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
My calendar. I also used to make to-do lists, but I noticed the lists were piling up and just taking up cognitive space.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Exercise, meditation, and travel. I do quarterly getaways with my S.O.
What’s your favourite side project?
Pole dancing. When I started Coffee Meets Bagel, I was working 24/7. I thought, to keep my sanity, that I should include some kind of exercise or sport into my routine. Going to the gym was monotonous, but then I saw a photo on Facebook of my friend in a pole costume on the pole. She looked so toned and fabulous (and she was the mum of a 3-year-old)!
I was like, I have to do this. After my first class, I was hooked.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I just read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a GREAT leadership book. I also just started reading The All-or-Nothing Marriage by Eli J. Finkel. I heard Finkel speak on NPR, and his theories really captivated me.
I used to believe that today’s concept of marriage is doomed to fail because we put “impossible” expectations on it. But the book argues that while an amazing marriage is more difficult to obtain today, it isn’t impossible. Because all of our “survival needs” are satisfied for many of us, we look to marriages to satisfy “higher needs,” like self-actualization.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
My friend Jessica Mah — the founder of Indinero. She is a hack-master! The amount of things she gets done within such little time is insane. She inspired me to outsource more non-core things in life.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
If you do whatever you said you are going to do every day, you will get whatever you said you are going to get.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
I’m still trying to ensure that all singles out there get to experience connections that inspire them! I think what’s so powerful about human connections is that they can empower you to reach outside of yourself: to grow, to discover, to learn, to be more than what you thought was possible. It’s an amazing feeling, and I want this for everyone in the world.