Dawoon Kang: “I Want to Make the World a More Loving Place”
The cofounder of an online matchmaking service discusses the value of teamwork, rapid iteration, and perseverance.
Dawoon Kang is COO of Coffee Meets Bagel, an online matchmaking service she cofounded with her two sisters, Arum and Soo. The site launched in April 2012, and the mobile app launched in August 2013. Since then, San Francisco-based Coffee Meets Bagel has made 20 million matches, including 10,000 couples and 120 marriages. Kang graduated from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2009. Kang, who is single, is also a customer of Coffee Meets Bagel. “It’s the only way I get to meet new people!” she says.
Dawoon Kang | Courtesy
Dawoon Kang | Courtesy
In 10 words or fewer, what is the big idea behind your business?
Bringing curation and personalization to online dating. Online dating has become just a numbers game, where users are bombarded with countless profiles in one sitting — and in this model people just end up making superficial decisions based on looks and are quickly jaded. Coffee Meets Bagel brings quality and thoughtfulness back into dating. We only give you one match a day, but someone who is personalized and curated just for you.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A few years ago I was working at JPMorgan in a cushy, lucrative job. I told my dad I was thinking about leaving. He is an entrepreneur who built a metal recycling company, but he is also a traditional Asian parent. I worried that he was not going to be supportive. He responded with a Korean proverb: “Still water rots.” He said if you sit still and do not change, you will rot. He said he was happy I was going to challenge myself.
What was the most difficult lesson you have learned on the job?
I’ve been working on learning to trust myself in the face of uncertainty. This is something a lot of entrepreneurs — especially women — struggle with. When you doubt yourself, it’s easy to fall into a trap of paralysis, going back and forth about whether it’s the right thing. As your company gets larger, you have more to lose and it gets harder.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs on how to build a great business?
Iterate fast. A classmate and entrepreneur put it to me like this: If there are two competitors of similar caliber but one company can iterate 15 times in the same time that it takes the other to iterate 50 times, the second one is guaranteed to be the winner. You can’t come up with the answer just sitting and thinking about it.
If there was one thing that has enabled you to be successful as an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Having my sisters as my cofounders has helped me persevere. Without two partners I admire, respect, trust, and get so much comfort from, I would have given up a long time ago.
What is your greatest achievement?
Our team. I feel so proud of having built this team from nothing. I still remember recruiting our first employee, our CTO. To join a company with three sisters requires a huge leap of faith! Now we are 17 people.
What do you consider your biggest failure?
One of the regrets I have is not fundraising more when we did our first seed. We took the first offer we got — a month into the fundraising process — and we stopped raising more because we thought $600,000 was a good amount. What we should have done is taken that momentum and raised as much as we could. Making sure your company has enough cash to weather the storms is one of the most important jobs of a founder.
What values are important to you in business?
Going above and beyond what is expected of you and taking pride in your work.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
I want to make the world a more loving place. I want to spread more love.
Why are you an entrepreneur?
This desire to make an impact. I don’t think I could have made a mark at JPMorgan. This business transforms the lives of so many people, including customers and teammates.
Do you think there is such a thing as balance? How do you achieve balance in your life?
I’m working on balancing my identity in and outside of Coffee Meets Bagel. We are a consumer app, so our personal founding story and being the face of the company is an essential part of our brand. A couple of months ago I realized I need an identity outside the company. It’s something I am still working on.
What is the best business book you have read?
Lean In. Learning that someone as successful as Sheryl Sandberg struggles with Imposter Syndrome and had to “fake it till you make it” was an “aha” moment for me. I learned to embrace it and be aware of it. I also learned some new techniques in how to be a strong woman in the workplace.
What businessperson do you most admire?
My dad. In Silicon Valley I see a lot of people with a “quick-stint-with-startup” mentality. My dad has dedicated 30-plus years to building his business. He’s seen it all. He was on the verge of bankruptcy at one point and he brought it back to life. Even after all these years, he is just as passionate and committed today as he was in the beginning. I hope I am in the same place 20 years from now.
What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Stanford?
My friendships. They inspire and encourage me.
What do you think is the greatest innovation in the past decade?
The rise of the smartphone.
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