cyPOP: The Story of an LA-Based Social Startup

Josie BaikLA’s Tech scene is growing and, along with it, the number of LA-based social media sites. One of the most recent additions is cyPOP – a new type of social media platform which connects people through common interests.

Co-founder and president Josie Baik started the company when she was a student at the University of Washington. Now, an MBA student at the University of Southern California, Baik continues to learn, as her company – which relocated to Los Angeles earlier this year  –  grows. Like many passion projects, cyPOP, still in beta, grew out of the founder’s need: she took her childhood loneliness and attraction to social media communities and build a business.

Baik was born in the states but moved to South Korea at age nine, when her father, who was in the Korean military, was called back.

“When we moved to South Korea, there was this new type of social media community that was called Cafes,” Baik explains. “So, my fourth grade friends and I would make a community for our class. We would talk about who likes who, what are we going to do for recess, all these different things… “

At age 13, Baik moved back to the states to continue her education. She stayed with her uncle and his family in San Diego, since her parents had to stay, due to her father’s position in the army.

“I got really, really lonely,” Baik admits. “During that time there was MySpace and the MySpace equivalent in South Korea called Cyworld. … One of the problems that I had was that I couldn’t really express myself. I couldn’t really talk about how lonely I was or how I missed my family, because I didn’t want my friends and family to know.

“I maintained this “fake persona” on MySpace and on Cyworld about how wonderful everything was. Then I would go to the communities, the Cafes that I talked about, where everybody got together based on a common interest. I would go to this cosmetic cafe. …. They didn’t really know who I was, because the site kind of aggregates you and splits you up into your interests. So, I’m not Josie Baik, the girl who’s lonely, I’m just Josie Baik, a girl who likes cosmetics. … It was really easy to talk to these people because, even though they’re complete strangers, we have this bond: our love, our passion for cosmetics. “

Since Baik grew up with the start of MySpace and Facebook, she noticed right away how these sites went from being really cool to really noisy.

“I would share an article about something, and in the beginning, people would respond and be like, “I love this thing. I really think this is cool.” As these sites got more and more populated and people thought it was okay to get more friends, people who you barely know.”

With more friends, you get more noise.

“Something that I thought was really important, that I wanted to share, would get ignored as noise as well.”

That was something Baik saw as a problem. She combined the experience she had with the Cafes and created a site that would “de-noise social media, along with providing people a different basis to get together.”

Baik came up with the idea for cyPOP as an undergrad and approached entrepreneur Glenn Walker, who became the company’s co-founder and CEO.

“I showed him the Korean version of it,” Baik recalls. “Asian sites are designed a lot differently than American ones – they’re very text-based. Asian people love reading things, so we don’t use a lot of pictures.”

Walker wasn’t immediately convinced, but got onboard after more discussion. Walker introduced Baik to Eric Sheckler, a talented UI/UX designer and the third co-founder/Chief Strategy Officer. Although the company started in Seattle, they moved it down to Los Angeles in January. Walker moved to LA, while Sheckler remained in Seattle … at least for now.

“I actually didn’t decide to go to business school until two months after we moved the company,” Baik adds. “Originally I really wanted to go to medical school, which is one of the reasons that I moved to the States. I wanted to be an American doctor.”

So, why Los Angeles?

“Los Angeles we felt had everything that a social media platform needed,” she explains. “It had the technical talent, it had the investor community, and all the other industries that are really prominent in Los Angeles – you have the entertainment industry and everything that goes with it. We, as a content site, thought that was really important.”

One way cyPOP is gaining users is by forming partnerships with companies.

“On Facebook or any of the kind of popular platforms, corporations tend to shout out or make announcements like, “Our new product is out. Do you like this new color that we made for you?” It didn’t seem very meaningful to me. So, what we implemented is corporations are equal to users and they can go around and comment on other things that other users talk about. … It’s a more interactive platform for firms and users.”

CyPOP is growing rapidly.

“We’re projecting to reach over a million users by the end of this year,” Baik adds. “We hope by the end of five years that we’ve established a large community. [It’s important] for me personally, so that everybody else can have the experience that I had. I understand that you kind of have to reach a certain critical mass to recreate that experience, but I think we’re getting there.”

Baik has learned a lot along the way.

“My advice for someone thinking about starting a social network: Do your market research before getting too attached to an idea,” Baik says. “Don’t be discouraged if what you thought of is already being done, just do it better!  Many times, the second generation of a concept is the one that really makes it.”