Coffee Meets Bagel started as a slow and steady alternative to the often superficial, swipe-happy world of online dating. But as the company enters its seventh year in operation, it’s been grappling with ways to attract new customers as well as convince existing ones to upgrade to its premium offerings.
After revamping its subscription services and raising $12 million in its Series B, CMB doubled its number of users in 2018, co-founder and co-CEO Dawoon Kang told Yahoo Finance on Wednesday. The company would not specify the exact amount of subscribers but said it’s in the millions.
Kang and her co-founder sisters appeared on “Shark Tank” in 2015, epically turning down Mark Cuban’s $30 million offer to buy the company outright. Kang said she has absolutely no regrets.
“When my sisters and I started this company, we started with a big vision. We wanted to change the way singles experience dating. Dating feels really hard, and if you ask anyone, online dating, particularly, is such an exhausting, disappointing, almost jaded experience. And a few years later, it still is. So we actually haven’t solved the problem that we set out to solve.”
A subscription model sparked ‘internal debate’
Here’s how its service works: Every day at noon, users get a limited number of “bagels,” or potential matches. If you don’t like any of your bagels, you can use CMB’s in-app currency, fittingly called “coffee beans,” to get new bagels. It differs from other popular dating sites that offer an endless supply of potential matches.
Kang said they’re still finessing a $40 monthly subscription package, which offers you the ability to “like” as many people as you want in the Discover section, and a feature that promotes users to more potential matches, which the company claims leads to 2.5 times more connections.
“Our model is limited number of quality matches, but if you’re actually somebody who’s super committed enough to pay, we want to give you more,” she said.
This approach seems counterintuitive to the original value proposition — to make sure people aren’t just viewing humans like commodities.
“There was a lot of internal debate about this issue as well because our core is creating real connections that matter to our users. We think the best approach is that slow dating. Is this counter to what we’re actually trying to achieve? We’re not offering unlimited likes to every user. Then we would just become Tinder.”
She elaborated on why the company isn’t like Tinder, which is owned by Match Group (MTCH). “Subscribers [on Coffee Meets Bagel] are actually really committed enough to prioritize dating. They’re going to spend time, thoughtfully browsing and looking at each profile and not treat it like another swipe.”
Tinder, for its part, has been the golden child of Match Group, which also owns Hinge, Match, PlentyOfFish, Meetic, OkCupid, OurTime, and Pairs. Tinder, which makes up 55% of Match Group’s total subscribers, added 384,000 paying members last quarter, further proving that singles are willing to invest into the pursuit of their future partner.
“Almost every week, we see a New York Times wedding announcement of couples meeting through Coffee Meets Bagel. We kind of lost track at this point because there are so many marriages and even children — we call them bagel bites — but there are hundreds of thousands,” she said.
Kang herself met her two previous boyfriends on the platform. While she’s still single now, she said it’s funny to see how people react when they find out she created the platform they’re connecting on. “Sometimes people are like ‘Oh my God, that’s so exciting.’ Sometimes they just disappear.’”
Interestingly enough, the series B round of funding Kang secured last year is to invest into live events — to move online connection into the real world. While online dating doesn’t have as much of a stigma anymore, meeting someone organically or at a bar seems like the counterculture thing to do in 2019.
Melody Hahm is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm. She hosts Breakouts, a monthly interview series for Yahoo Finance featuring up-close and intimate conversations with today’s most innovative business leaders.