Six years ago, at age 15, Catherine Cook and her brother Dave came up with the idea for myYearbook—a new way to meet classmates at her new high school. myYearbook has grown into one of the most popular teen websites in the world. Today Catherine is 21 years old, recently graduated from Georgetown and just sold her company for $100 million! I had the opportunity to ask Catherine a few questions about myYearbook, her success, and the advantage and disadvantages that young entrepreneurs have to deal with. Check out my interview with Catherine below.
Megan at Social Times: How did you come up with the idea for MyYearbook?
Catherine Cook: I came up with the idea for myYearbook when I was 15. My brother, Dave, and I had just moved to a new school and had some trouble making friends since most people had been at the school since kindergarten! One day, we were flipping through our yearbook in Dave’s room and realized it was a terrible tool for meeting new people, and we could make a much better tool by putting it online. We wanted myYearbook to make meeting new people fun!
ST: How did you bring MyYearbook to life?
Catherine: At the time, neither Dave nor I knew how to program. We found a team of developers in Mumbai and sent them hundreds of spec sheets and pen-on-paper wireframes. We then would stay up until 3:00 or 400 in the morning chatting via email and AIM with the developers working to get the site up and running. It made being on time for 7:30am homeroom difficult, but we were able to launch in our high school in April 2005.
ST: Have you been surprised by the success of myYearbok?
Catherine: When we first started the site, we put up a few fake press releases for fun. One was “myYearbook gets 1,000,000 members and takes over the world!” At the time 1M members seemed impossible, we couldn’t imagine that many people—but then we got 1 million members within the first year. At that point we realized that myYearbook was going to be a great success—and now we have 32.7M members.
ST: As a young, pre-college entrepreneur, what advantages and disadvantages do you think you had over older entrepreneurs?
Catherine: One of the main advantages was that there was no risk to starting a company—I was still in high school and living at my mom’s house. The worst thing that could happen was that we couldn’t get anyone to join and that we would fail, but then we’d still have a pretty cool college application essay to write anyway.
One of the main disadvantages was that it was hard to be taken seriously at first because we looked so young. Also, balancing school was difficult. I almost lost credit for a class senior year because I kept having to leave school early to go to the office.
ST: What was the biggest struggle you faced in building your business and how did you overcome it?
Catherine: One of the main struggles is making a site that’s fun to use for a person with no friends on the network and a person with 150+ friends. To solve this problem we took a different approach to our feed and features. Instead of showing people their friends’ posts, we organize our feed around location so members see people near them and near their age that are relevant to them and could become a new friend.
We want to give a big shout out to Catherine and her brother Dave and congratulate them on their success. Let us know what you think about myYearbook, Catherine’s experience, and young entrepreneurs in the comments below.
Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times. Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.