May 12, 2022
Three AAPI founders building apps on the App Store that cultivate the community
The founders of Coffee Meet Bagel, HmongPhrases, and Weee! reflect on how your personal experiences have shaped the vision for your apps, and look forward to the next generation of app creators
Many of today’s most impactful creators combine the power of technology with their personal experiences to provide valuable spaces for users to learn, share and connect in the App Store.
When Larry Liu first immigrated to the United States, he realized that there was no easy way for the Asian community to buy the products needed to make some of their favorite dishes. Wanting to provide a place to celebrate and bring widespread access to Asian and Hispanic food, she turned to the App Store to launch the Weee spice shipping app! People should no longer be limited to the small “ethnic” corridor in the main shops.
As big advocates of human connection, Dawoon Kang and his twin sister Arum have teamed up to found Coffee Meets Bagel, a dating app with an intentionally “slower” approach. Its algorithm does not focus on getting the most users liked, but on guiding them towards meaningful conversations. As one of the most popular dating apps, Coffee Meets Bagel has facilitated more than 150 million games to date.
Annie Vang, a participant in Apple Entrepreneur Camp in 2021, created HmongPhrases to help preserve the Hmong dialect for future generations. Although the Hmong population has been in the United States for more than 40 years, it is widely considered one of the most marginalized Asian groups. Its app allows users to search for a phrase in Hmong, hear what it sounds like, and then practice saying it out loud. As a true love job, Annie not only does the coding for the app, but also records the phrases in her own voice.
Liu, Kang, and Vang discuss how they used technology to turn their ideas into powerful platforms, how their apps elevate their communities, and how they positively influence change.
Why do you feel the world needs your app?
Annie Vang (founder, HmongPhrases): When Apple said, “There’s an app for this,” I knew I had to make one for the Hmong people. He wanted to have a presence on the world stage. So I bought an iPhone and took a course. It was a monumental moment for me because I was building an app and doing something that no one else did – documenting my language using the Apple platform. Building HmongPhrases is a celebration of my Hmong identity. We are on the verge of losing our spoken language in future generations, and I hope that my app will be useful to anyone who wants to learn the Hmong dialect.
Dawoon Kang (co-founder and Chief Dating Officer, Coffee Meets Bagel): Love is the reason why we are here, and love with our romantic partner is one of the most important loves of all. We see a need for a dating app that is not just about casual dates, but about giving everyone a chance to love.
How does your app support and elevate your community?
AV: Few people know who the Hmong people are because we do not have a proper country. My vision for HmongPhrases is to serve as a fingerprint to preserve the language for future generations and all those who want to learn Hmong. I also hope the app can help bridge the language gap.
Larry Liu (founder and CEO, Weee!): Food brings people together. It’s about culture, community and common identities, and a celebration of life. Turning buying food from a working memory into something fun and sharing is a crucial part of Weee !. Consumers are rewarded for sharing their thoughts and advice with the shopping community. Weee! it also creates a sense of being at home and being seen, especially by immigrants, but also by second- and third-generation consumers who can access the ingredients to make their mother’s congee, or whatever their comfort food or favorite snack.
What are some challenges you face as a creator and entrepreneur? How did you overcome these challenges?
LL: It was a huge challenge to gain support and raise funds in the early days of Weee !. Some have never even set foot in an Asian or Hispanic store, and have a hard time understanding the idea that food could be a source of comfort, nostalgia, and family connection. I had to provide a deeper context because the food can be so meaningful.
AV: It’s been hard not to see a lot of Asian American women in the digital app space. Sometimes, I feel like I have to work twice as hard to prove my worth. I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone to show people what I can create outside of the social norms of being an Asian woman, and I’ve learned that I’m as precious as anyone.
How have your experiences influenced how you created your app and how you manage your business?
LL: When I immigrated to the United States and couldn’t find the food I was missing from China, I went into a chat app to network with neighbors and try to source some of these items. I saw the impact of fostering a community and how excited people were to connect with food and recipes. This influenced how we conceived Weee! as a social trading platform. I also wanted Weee! to be inclusive and accessible for all ages, generations, and in all languages, so that everyone can benefit from what our app provides.
DK: I knew from the beginning that dating is a cultural phenomenon, and it was important to have a different representation in our workforce and our search for data. I can empathize with others thanks to my education as a minority, but my perspective is also limited to my experiences. I knew I needed people from different backgrounds who could better serve different types of dating. Ultimately, we want to get to a point where the appointment becomes so personalized that we don’t need general assumptions about a date based on their identity group. But we’re not even here.
AV: When I was young, I was ashamed to be Asian. I was not born in the United States; I was born in a refugee camp. As a foreigner, I tried to assimilate, but all at the cost of losing my native language. I didn’t have many models that I looked like, and it wasn’t until my 20s that I fully embraced being an American Hmong. I wanted to be proud of my heritage and culture. I love our food, our language, and our cultures, and this growing love has helped me make the effort to build tools to reach out as a community.
What feedback did you receive from users?
DK: The AAPI community makes up more than 45 percent of the Coffee Meets Bagel user base, which is huge! They send 1.6 times as many chat messages per day and 1.3 times as many chat messages per connection as any other dating community in the United States. they always say how much they value the quality of people on the platform and the focus on long-term relationships.
LL: It’s more rewarding to hear from customers across the country, whether they’re in an ethnic food desert in the Midwest or in a metropolitan city with limited access to ethnic grocery stores. We have made efforts to provide a variety of products that some customers have not been able to enjoy in the States for years or even decades, and our customers resonate with the belief that food is meant to be shared and explored together.
AV: Many HmongPhrases users like how the app represents both dialects for Green Hmong and White Hmong speakers. Many told me that with the help of my app, they were able to learn phrases to speak to their grandparents and family members. When people learn that I’m a woman show and the sole developer, designer, sound editor and creator of my app, they tell me they feel inspired, and I hope I can encourage young aspiring creators to pursue paths in technology. .
What advice would you have for those looking to start their own company or create their own app?
AV: Find your spark. Even if no one believes in you, you have to believe in yourself. Write down your vision and how you plan to achieve it. Look for advocates and support mentors who can help inspire you, keep you motivated, and help you reach your goal.
LL: Try to solve a problem that is important to you. Find out if the problem and the solution are about big changes in society. So find out how unique you are to solve it.
DK: You know that starting a business is fundamentally different from starting another job. Make sure it’s a mission you think is worth dedicating more than 10 years of your life to! Yes, you can work on this for 10 years, but you can only.
What do you hope for the next generation of AAPI founders, entrepreneurs and creators?
LL: I hope we can tap into our knowledge of different cultures. In a rapidly globalizing world, it can be a great asset.
AV: I hope we can continue to support and elevate each other. I feel so inspired when others share their story, even though we are all on different journeys and come from different places.
DK: Celebrate and be proud of the unique perspective that our heritage and experiences have given us. When there are negative stories about our communities, we have the power to try to change that narrative.
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