May 12, 2022
Three AAPI Founders Build App Store Apps That Cultivate Community
The founders of Coffee Meets Bagel, HmongPhrases and Weee! reflect on how their personal experiences have shaped their app vision and envision the next generation of app makers
Many of today’s most influential creators combine the power of technology with their personal experiences to give users valuable spaces to learn, share and connect on 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 goods needed to cook some of their favorite dishes. . Wanting to provide a party venue and provide widespread access to Asian and Hispanic food, he turned to the App Store to launch the grocery delivery app Weee! People would no longer have to limit themselves to the small “ethnic” section of mainstream grocery stores.
As great advocates of human connection, Dawoon Kang and his twin sister Arum teamed up to found Coffee Meets Bagel, a dating app with an intentionally “slower” approach. Their algorithm is not about getting the most likes from users, but about guiding them to meaningful conversations. As one of the most popular dating apps, Coffee Meets Bagel has facilitated over 150 million matches to date.
2021 Apple Entrepreneur Camp participant Annie Vang created HmongPhrases to help preserve the Hmong dialect for future generations. Although the Hmong people have been in the United States for more than 40 years, they are widely considered to be one of the most marginalized Asian groups. His 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 labor of love, Annie not only does the coding of the app herself, but she even records the phrases in her own voice.
Liu, Kang, and Vang share how they’ve used technology to turn their ideas into powerful platforms, how their apps are uplifting their communities, and how they’re influencing positive change.
Why do you feel like the world needed your app?
Annie Vang (Founder, HmongPhrases): When Apple said, “There’s an app for that,” I knew I had to make one for the Hmong people. I wanted us 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 no one else was doing: documenting my language using Apple’s 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 my app will be useful to anyone who wants to learn the Hmong dialect.
Dawoon Kang (Co-Founder and Meetings Director, Coffee Meets Bagel): Love is the reason we are here, and love with our romantic partner is one of the most important loves of all. We saw the need for a dating app that wasn’t just about casual dates, but gave everyone a chance to love.
How does your app support and uplift your community?
A V: Few people know who the Hmong are because we don’t have a country of our own. My vision for HmongPhrases is to serve as a digital footprint to preserve the language for future generations and anyone who wants 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 is about a shared culture, community and identity, and a celebration of life. Changing grocery shopping from a rote chore into something fun and shareable is a crucial part of Weee!. Consumers are rewarded for sharing their thoughts and recommendations with the shopping community. pee ! also creates a sense of home and being seen, especially for immigrants, but also for second and third generation consumers who can access the ingredients to make mom’s congee, or whatever their favorite comfort food or snack.
What challenges do 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 people have never even set foot in an Asian or Hispanic grocery store and find it hard to grasp the idea that food could be a source of comfort, nostalgia and family connection. I had to provide deeper context for why food can be so meaningful.
A V: It’s been hard not to see a lot of Asian American women in the digital app space. Sometimes I feel like I had to work twice as hard to prove my worth. I 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’m learning that I’m as valuable as anyone.
How did your experiences influence the way you built your app and the way you run your business?
LL: When I immigrated to the US and couldn’t find the Chinese foods I was missing, I went on a chat app to network with neighbors and try to find some of these items. I saw the impact of fostering a community and how excited people were to connect about food and recipes. This influenced the way we designed Weee! as a social commerce platform. I also wanted Weee! be inclusive and accessible for all ages, generations and languages, so everyone can benefit from what our app offers.
DK: I knew from the very beginning that dating is a cultural phenomenon, and it was important to have diverse representation in our workforce and our search to date. I can empathize with others through my upbringing as a minority, but my perspective is also limited to my own experiences. I knew I needed people from different backgrounds who can better serve different types of daters. Ultimately, we want to get to a point where dating becomes so personalized that we don’t have to make blanket assumptions about a dater based on their identity group. But we are not there yet.
A V: When I was young, I was ashamed of being 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 mother tongue. I didn’t have many role models who looked like me, and it wasn’t until I was 20 that I fully accepted being an American Hmong. I wanted to be proud of my heritage and my culture. I love our food, our language and our cultures, and this growing love has helped me strive to create tools to bring us closer together as a community.
What feedback have you received from users?
DK: The AAPI community represents over 45% of the Coffee Meets Bagel user base, which is huge! They send 1.6 times more chat messages per day and 1.3 times more chat messages per connection than any other dater community in the United States. When we ask Asian American daters what they love about Coffee Meets Bagel, they always mention how much they appreciate the quality of the people on the platform and the focus on long-lasting relationships. term.
LL: It’s very gratifying to hear from customers across the country, whether they’re in an ethnic Midwestern food desert or in a metropolitan city with limited access to ethnic grocery stores. We have strived to find a product line that some customers have not been able to enjoy in the United States for years, even decades, and our customers resonate with the belief that food should be shared and explored together.
A V: Many HmongPhrases users appreciate how the app represents both dialects for Green Hmong and White Hmong speakers. Many have told me that with the help of my app, they were able to learn phrases to talk to their grandparents and family members. When people hear that I’m a solo show and that I’m the only developer, designer, sound editor and creator of my app, they tell me they feel inspired and I hope I can encourage young budding creators to pursue paths in technology.
What advice do you have for those looking to start their own business or build their own app?
A V: 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 mentors who can inspire you, keep you motivated, and help you achieve your goal.
LL: Try to solve a problem that is close to your heart. Find out if the problem and the solution are related to big changes in society. Then find out how you are ideally placed to solve it.
DK: Know that starting a business is fundamentally different from starting any other job. Make sure it’s a mission you think is worth dedicating more than 10 years of your life to! Yes, you might not work on it for 10 years, but you could.
What do you hope for the next generation of AAPI founders, entrepreneurs and creators?
LL: I hope we can take advantage of our understanding of various cultures. In a rapidly globalizing world, this can be a huge asset.
A V: I hope we can continue to support and uplift 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 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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