Arum Kang came up with the idea for Coffee Meets Bagel during an MBA at Harvard Business School. She was one of a handful of students from the HBS MBA class of 2011 to go on to start their own business.
Today, Coffee Meets Bagel services globally. The Tinder-like dating app has made over one billion introductions to date, responsible for 100,000-plus couples in happy relationships.
Arum runs the app—targeted at millennials—with her twin sister Dawoon and older sister Soo. In 2015, they even pitched to a panel of high-profile investors on US reality TV show Shark Tank.
“I didn’t go to HBS thinking I was going to start a business, but being there definitely exposed me more to entrepreneurship,” Arum recalls.
“In so many ways, my MBA experience allowed me to be an entrepreneur. I don’t think I could have gotten started at all if I didn’t have that network of people I could tap into, that were so willing to help.”
Originally from South Korea, the Kang sisters come from a family of entrepreneurs. Their father ran his own scrap iron business; their mother managed a series of bars and restaurants.
Dawoon has always had entrepreneurship in her mind. While Arum went for Harvard, she chose Stanford for her MBA.
After completing her MBA at Stanford in 2009, Dawoon spent several years at JP Morgan until, when Arum graduated from Harvard, she joined forces with her sisters to start her first business.
“We wanted to do something that directly impacts peoples’ lives,” Dawoon recalls. “Dating came up as a common pain point.
“There’s a lot of exhaustion and frustration with modern dating—I think it’s become really complicated,” she continues. “I’m interested in using Coffee Meets Bagel as a vehicle to change the conversation; to get this generation to share and connect more authentically.
“When you think about major millennial dating apps now, there’s Tinder, Bumble, and Coffee Meets Bagel.”
On Coffee Meets Bagel, users are paired through a smart algorithm, choosing to either ‘like’ or ‘pass’ a profile to find the best potential match.
In September 2017, the San Francisco-based company analyzed thousands of matches to determine the ‘most liked’ singles at business schools across the United States. There was controversy among the b-school community when women MBAs from Harvard were reported as the most attractive (most liked on the app), while the most liked men came from Stanford GSB.
“There were a lot of attractive people at Stanford!” Dawoon laughs. “With so many like-minded people, there was a ton of dating going on. In a class of 300 people, there were like 30 couples! I certainly had my fair share of dating.”
When Dawoon talks women in tech, she takes a more serious tone. She’s keen to use her position as a female tech entrepreneur to promote the role of women in an industry still dominated by men.
“I remember taking computer science class in college and thinking, I do not belong here,” she says. “I struggled and I immediately thought; I’m not good at this. I think if there had been more women represented in the class, I wouldn’t have jumped to the same conclusions so quickly.
“It makes a huge difference for young people to see representation of their own kind working in a particular industry,” she continues. “If we really want equality, we have to get everyone equally represented on the table.”
Do you need an MBA to be an entrepreneur? “No,” Dawoon concludes. “But it’s been incredibly valuable for me.
“One of the things you leverage is your network. Hiring the right talent; getting good partnerships; all that boils down to people we know through the MBA.”