cyPOP: The Story of an LA-Based Social Startup

LA’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.”