“Hell on earth”.
This is how Darwoon Kang, co-founder of Coffee Meets Bagel, a new US-based dating app to recently hit Sydney, explains living with her two other sisters while they tried to save money for their startup.
The sisters, Soo, 34, and twins Arum and Dawoon, 32, with degrees from Harvard Business School, Stanford Business School, and Parsons School of Design, left jobs paying six figures to found the company.
In fact in the early days of the business, not only did the women live together in a six hundred-square foot (55 square metres) apartment, they also shared one queen-sized bed for three long months.
“It was technically a one-bedroom, but there was no living area,” Kang explains.
“This went on for three months. You can imagine you’re not sleeping right, we were not taking care of ourselves.”
And while she said it was a “good bonding experience”, she said they would do it differently if they had the chance again.
“You have three people crammed into a very small space, doing something for the first time was very, very stressful,” she said.
“I think the one thing you realise when you first start working as an entrepreneur is that you don’t know when to stop.
“All three of us were pulling all-nighters… so we were very tired all the time and cranky.
“It was a perfect storm… you would probably want to avoid if possible.
“If I were to start again I would do it differently. I don’t think it was a good idea to live together and work together.”
She said her and her sisters had to implement rules that may seem trivial to outsiders but were a saving grace at the time.
“We developed little rules to keep us sane, like learning when to stop,” she said, which was the golden rule.
“When you come home you want to unwind but it’s hard when your other two colleagues are there and you can’t stop talking about work. You can’t turn off.
“At one point we said for 30 minutes after we walk in the door, no one is allowed to say anything.”
Reserving time to socialise and do other stuff as sisters was critical.
“I think a lot of the time co-founders used to be friends or whatever, but they stop being friends because all they do is work, work, work, and the relationship starts deteriorating when you don’t work on it,” Kang said.
“Looking back it was a fun time, but at the time it was hard.”
The sisters even had set sleeping hours because they were all in the same room. They had to make a rule that instead of going to sleep at 5am and waking up at 10am, they would go to sleep at 2am and get to work at 9am — the life of an entrepreneur.
Kang said if the sisters had not set out boundaries their relationships, and ultimately the business, would have suffered.
“There were some issues that built up, which later on we had to spend some time on to unwind, but you’re so busy trying to run your company that… feelings get ignored, emotions get ignored.
“I think it was good that we had that crazy experience up front.
“A lot of startups fail… because entrepreneurs give up. Why do you become an entrepreneur? Because you’re passionate about something, right? You just have to look after yourself and your co-founders. If you don’t you’re going to lose that passion and that fun and you’re going to end up giving up.”
But it all paid off. The sisters launched the app — where users (the coffee) are provided with one quality match each day at noon (the bagel) — in the US in 2012, with $US50,000 of their own money.
Just this year they turned down a $US30 million ($AU38.37 million) takeover by US businessman Mark Cuban on the TV series Shark Tank — one of the largest offers in the show’s history.
They have raised $US11 million in capital from a range of investors, including Match.com, Quest Venture Partners and DCM Ventures, and expanded to Hong Kong and Sydney.
While the founders remain tight-lipped about their overall user numbers, Kang revealed the platform has a daily active user to monthly active user ratio of 60%, close to that of Facebook, and has made over 25 million matches.
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