Leigh Isaacson built her start-up to address a stigma. Handsome men, she says, have been "ripped to shreds" on dating apps, all because of something they love: cats.
Isaacson is the co-founder and CEO of Tabby, a dating app for cat-lovers that launched in August 2020. It's Isaacson's second such venture: Three years ago, she also launched Dig, a dating app for dog-lovers that's grown past 100,000 users, she said on Friday's episode of ABC's "Shark Tank."
Data backs up her premise. Last year, Colorado State University and Boise State University asked 1,388 heterosexual American women between the ages of 18 and 24 to rate a group of men's photographs — some holding cats or dogs. The study found that men pictured holding their cats were viewed as "less dateable."
"I don't get this cat shame," said Shark Lori Greiner, a self-professed cat person.
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Greiner didn't invest in Tabby, but one of her cohorts did: Kevin O'Leary, who agreed to a deal worth $300,000 in exchange for a 30% stake in the company. "I have become a cat-lover because it has a lot of cash-flow" O'Leary said.
He'd know: O'Leary also owns a stake in Basepaws, a company that sells at-home cat DNA tests. He told Isaacson that he helped scale Basepaws to a $40 million valuation, up from just $2 million when he first invested. Part of that, O'Leary said, involved building a massive database of cat owners — which could be useful for Tabby.
The start-up might need it. At the time of taping, Tabby only had 31,000 users, translating to $43,000 in annual revenue: The company charges subscribers $19.99 per month. Platforms like Tinder and Bumble offer their premium services for $29.99 and $22.99 per month, respectively.
One potential reason for the company's lack of traction: It was initially built for the web, not mobile. When Tabby switched to mobile, Isaacson said, it essentially had to start from scratch — and suffered another setback when the developers she'd contracted "terminated our contract early."
Tabby did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment on why the partnership was terminated.
Still, Isaacson said on Friday's episode, her experience with Dig gave her faith in Tabby: "We learned that there aren't places like dog parks for cat people to go out and meet each other, and there's a stigma around cat people."
That stigma, she said, includes comments on other dating apps like, "My friend said you have four cats, that's four red flags," and "Ugh, do you sleep with that thing?"
On Tabby, subscribers can filter their potential matches by pet size or hypoallergenic status. They're prompted with cat-specific questions like, "How much do you spend on your cat a month," or "Does he/she sleep in the bed with you at night?"
"I think you're really going to help her" Shark Robert Herjavec told O'Leary. "What I see is you promoting the app with a picture of you, with a hairless cat."
O'Leary laughed, referencing his budding cat empire: "I'm the king of the litter."
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