Catherine Cook

Catherine Cook Interview: myYearbook at $20 Million at 20

by Nick Scheidies and Nick Tart on June 26, 2010 · 33 comments

When Catherine Cook and her brother, David, were growing up in New Jersey, they used to set up little libraries in their house and rent out books to their parents for a small charge. By the time they were in high school, they had launched the social networking site myYearbook.com with a $250,000 investment from their older brother Geoff.

Today, Catherine is a 20-year-old junior at Georgetown University in Washington, DC and myYearbook.com has over 20 million members. Between studying marketing, operations and information management, and psychology, Catherine finds time to take the train up to myYearbook’s HQ in Pennsylvania a few times a month.

There, eighty employees are working hard to make myYearbook the premier way to meet new people online through ice-breaking games and features. It’s working: myYearbook is ranked in the top 25 most trafficked websites in the United States according to comScore and it pulls in 20 million dollars in yearly revenue.

As co-founder, Catherine Cook keeps busy developing new features and leading myYearbook into the future of social networking. She’s also an active myYearbook user and every new member’s first friend.

The following is a short excerpt from 50 Interviews: Young Entrepreneurs (Volume 1).

Q: What drove you above and beyond, towards entrepreneurship?

A: A big part of it was the way that my parents brought us up. We were always taught to be leaders. For instance, if we didn’t know what a word meant, we had to look it up in the dictionary. Our parents weren’t going to just tell us. It’s that kind of thing: do it yourself and find your own path.

Catherine, David and Geoff Cook

Catherine and her brothers, David and Geoff

One of the things that drove us directly to entrepreneurship was seeing our older brother do it. Geoff, who’s 11 years older than me, started a company at Harvard during his sophomore year.

At the time, Dave and I were 9 and 10. Seeing him have a company, watching it grow, and living with him over the summers in California – it was just such a different environment than our parents’ work. The energy was a lot cooler. It was just better. Later, Geoff became our first investor and he stepped in as CEO.

Q: How have people around you reacted to your success?

A: It’s not like I try to keep a cover, but I don’t really talk about it. If I bring it up in conversation, it becomes the conversation. Of course, I love to talk about it. But I don’t want to feel like I monopolize the conversation.

My freshman year of college, no one knew except for my best friend. She didn’t realize how many hours I put into the site every night. I’m on the site late at night and I also tend to be an early riser. So, when we started living together, she was like, “You never sleep!”

There’s a guy who works at our cafeteria, swiping students in. He sees me every day because I eat at the cafeteria. Somewhere around November, he’s like, “You’re the girl who created myYearbook, right?” Apparently he’s a member. It’s fun to meet people who use the site.

I made all of my friends in Georgetown get accounts. C’mon – they’re my friends, so they have to support what I do! Now they’re on the site all the time. The casual game section is really big with them and at least one of my friends gets on the high score list every week. I can never get onto the high score list! They’re really good at it.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: If you’re first idea doesn’t work out, just try something new. Tweak the idea a little bit and it could make a world of difference. Go for your goals. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Lots of people told us that we couldn’t: “Three million members? You’ll never get that.” Now, we have 22 million members. If you have a gigantic goal, you don’t have to get all of the way to it to be a major player.

This is an abridged version from Catherine’s interview in our latest project, 50 Interviews: Young Entrepreneurs. I told my entrepreneurship class full of high schoolers that I was going to be interviewing Catherine and they were like, “No way!” One girl preceded to tell all of her friends over the next week, and they were equally impressed. Catherine’s entrepreneurial journey is truly remarkable and it’s just the beginning. Find me on myYearbook!

Catherine Cook’s Top Quotes

“To any entrepreneur: if you want to do it, do it now. If you don’t, you’re going to regret it.”

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not making decisions.”

Want even more inspiration?

40 Entrepreneurship Quotes You've Never HeardDon’t miss 38 more inspirational quotes from crazy-young kids like Catherine:
40 Entrepreneurship Quotes You’ve Never Heard >>

{ 19 comments }

1 Chase Brumfield June 26, 2010 at 9:17 am

Great story. I like the fact that you rarely bring it up in conversation. I think people invest in people more than they do their products anyway. A humble individual doing something amazing is much more appealing than someone who can’t stop talking about what they’ve created.

Hard work will get the word out… and in a much more appealing way.

Give. Get. Give.
Chase Brumfield

2 Nick Scheidies June 26, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Yeah, Chase — it’s actually amazing how many of the young entrepreneurs who we interviewed said that they didn’t talk about their business success very much.

By the way, keep up the good work on The Give Project. I checked your out and I really like where you are coming from.

3 Chase Brumfield June 27, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Thanks so much for the kind words Nick… excited for yalls book release!

4 Craig Aitken July 19, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Great story, I wonder how they decided to use the seed money to get it kicked off?

5 Nick Tart July 19, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Hey Craig! I think most, if not all, of that first $250K went into web development. Unlike Facebook, myYearbook was a fairly robust site from the beginning. That’s how they were able to monetize so quickly (much, much faster than Facebook).

Then, like Facebook, Catherine and David were constantly surrounded by their target market at school. This is why it was kicked off so successfully.

6 Craig Aitken September 6, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I would imagine teens as a demographic would be the most “viral” of all groups, that has to help when your launching a quality product.

7 Nick Tart September 6, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Hey Craig! That’s a great point. Teens are very plugged into what other teens are doing. This is great for Catherine and she attributes some of her initial success to simply getting all of her friends in school to be brand evangelists.

8 Chris Flowers October 22, 2011 at 9:10 am

Warning! Be very careful when you become a member with “myYearbook” .Thy tell you it’s free but in fact they are removing all the time your profile until you will take a VIP membership. But when you go for the VIP membership, once they have all your personal information and bank card information thy delete your profile! They are just after your personal data! It happened to me personally. That moment they where even proposing to pay via PayPal but when you go there the option does not work! They will tell you to go for other pay option but at that time you will have to come out with all your personal information! You see PayPal in the pay modalities and get the feeling everything is safe! I made a complain to PayPal as also I declare them to MasterCard and the FTC (Bureau of Consumer Protection).
Several times I ask them to give me proper information, why my profile did vanish after they obtain all my personal data and on the day my VIP membership would start, they never responded me! Not even once !
They are so many questions about that site. They are claiming to have 20.milj.members but how many are real? How many fake profiles are present? People have the option to contribute their LM to causes but how many real money is given and to who? I can only say that I never see members manipulated and abused that much than with myYearbook. And they will show it to you, as a VIP virtual present you get from them a little bear dress up as a cop !
The intellectual level of the site is low! No respect for anything, members are numbers and it shows from the very top to the bottom! Help forums ,suppose to help you, instate giving you remarks.
Before in the beginning off myYearbook you will see how many members are on line, today that is all gone and there is a very good reason for! They see their members vanishing as snow for the sun!
It will not surprise me that soon you will read that Catherine C. and Dave C. have updated there story, if it will be positive that’s another question. I personally give them max. two more years and myYearbook will be gone forever, if not then they personally will be out of their own company!
When somebody is to popular or let say becomes too popular according to them not fitting in the top clan off their popularity pole they created, well you can say your profile good-by it is deleted! I think soon the top popularity of social networks will slide away for them, just like they did with their loyal members ! The sliding down is already in motion and it goes faster than they expected!
Before this site was more friendly to use and also the people behind had a good view. They started something up that a lot of people did like. But today there are more and more haters! Including myself. Over time my profile is deleted 4 times! And for what I still don’t know only that every time it’s been deleted when I entered the top 500 popularity list! So I think we know where the problem is. Do not become popular without the agreement of the management at myYearbook! If they have hackers on the profiles, well the first thing before everything ells is to keep your members! Especially the ones who want to pay for it! Secure those profiles!
The site is based on hypocrisy and manipulation ! They ask you to fill up poles but on thy other side thy tread you as you do not exist! In other words the traffic goes only one way, there way and they have the myYearbook cops to conduct it!

9 Nicholas Tart October 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Hey Chris… Thanks for listing all of your concerns. I assure you that no matter what you experienced with myYearbook, the Cooks certainly don’t have malicious intent. It’s likely a matter of growing pains. Either way, I’m sure they appreciate all of your feedback because that’s the only way they can grow.

10 Chris Flowers October 24, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Hello Nicholas,
I want to believe you but ask myself why is it if I contact the myYearbook VIP help section thy just don’t respond me? It is giving me the wrong impression, if it is as you say they don’t have malicious intentions well I think they could have contact me and ask me about the problem, even telling me “no we are not the one who deleted your profile” but this message never came! They could have proposed me to solve ore trying to solve the situation. You understand deleting my account is not a pleasant thing for me personally, and especially when you started already all over again a few times!
I where asking them for VIP-black membership ,it is a certain amount the company is losing. Therefore in their interest to solve the situation. Today I got a mail from somebody telling me myYearbook has that problem that several hackers are on it, trying to hack profiles! Probably your account is hacked! If so, it would be great if myYearbook could give some back feed how to protect the profile, to avoid hackers to delete the profile… if they cannot provide the protection against hackers, I presume they working on it ?
Again I feel that myYearbook had to take contact with me personally. I write them several messages, all without any response from them? They could have proposed me a solution, new account, transfers on it for lost amounts, whatever, but proposing a solutions! They could thank me for my patience and for my losses from before for my feedback, with rewarding me with a free black-vip card. Is it not from loyal members who can bind several others to their profile that this site can become bigger and also because of my intense presents on the site more publicity income for them? It works both ways!

11 Nicholas Tart November 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Hey Chris,

Man, I am sorry that you’ve had to go through all of that. myYearbook was acquired by another company earlier this year and it’s my guess that your messages have fallen through the cracks as everyone is becoming accustomed to their new jobs. Yes, they should’ve responded to you by now. But from my original interview with Catherine, I know they have the best intentions with their business.

I hope everything gets straightened out.
Nick

12 Chris Flowers November 3, 2011 at 5:10 am

Hello Nick,
Yes I did read the information that a Latino group “Quepasa” both them for 100 million dollars.
But according my information ,Catherine Cook is still the CEO at myYearbook so after your first reaction a wrote her a email on her personal email address at myYearbook (26 October 2011).
I explain her everything again from A to Z and ask her to do something about it and to understand that people don’t put up endless with this. She will lose her most loyal members. Accounts deleting, programs hacked and so much more, the service for there VIP-members is not existing! They don’t answer you! But also CEO Miss Catherine Cook did not answer me on my message! It’s not professional and the least you can say unfriendly.
So to answer your mail, I don’t see how this will be solved fast if they don’t respond me. more if as you say Miss Catherine Cook cares about her company she stops all the malpractice going on! Because I strongly believe that hackers would have been stop already a long time ago if thy where the one deleting all those profiles! But instead nothing is done, therefore I always said, the deleting is done by myYearbook and nobody ells. They also did never confirm it when I ask them time ago and on several occasions if thy where the one deleting my account.
It’s not only me who is unhappy, lots of members are losing their profile, are telling me settings are changing on their profile without them doing it ! Some people told me not all is functional anymore on their page, they do not have access anymore to everything! For me it is all done to let free users go over to the VIP membership. If not well as I said all these problems would have been solved already a long time ago but nothing is done!
I’m from the “old generation” of manager directors but what I learn is you don’t sell your company, your creation, but only out of necessity! Involvement of other parties can destroy your company, what went easy suddenly becomes impossible! I really hope for the Cook’s it is not in their case. I see so many company’s before flourishing until thy where proposed a lot of money and stay on as CEO a few years later everything where gone, including themselves! Personally I will never stay as a CEO, but I sell and I go! That’s what I did with my company in 2000. As the CEO everything what they the new partners do wrong is falling on your head and your good name from before is also gone in no time! It takes longer to make a good name than a bad one!
Before myYearbook has been sold I where a member and I personally as many others experienced the site as a good place to be, that is no longer the case today! I’m sorry but I think they are on the wrong pad.

13 Nicholas Tart November 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Hey Chris… First off, Catherine Cook’s brother, Geoff, is and always has been the CEO of myYearbook. Catherine founded the company with her other brother, David. As far as I know, Catherine is still a full-time student who travels the world representing myYearbook at various events and conferences. She’s very busy. It’s not an excuse to not answer your email (if she received it), but I’d say it’s a pretty darn good reason. Again, I’m sorry you’ve had to go through all of that. I’ll see if I can get Ms. Cook to respond here.

14 Chris Flowers November 5, 2011 at 1:30 am

Hello Nick,

I start to understand now why I never get response from her. The information you are giving me is made me clear I probably needed to write to her brother Geoff. I did not have that information. If you can contact Catherine ore Geoff to solve my problem and get me a response that would be great. Today, I will send Catherine the mail again as a reminder. I think a lot of things went the wrong way, supposedly also because new people filling in new jobs as you already mention. Thanks in advance for helping out!

15 Nicholas Tart November 5, 2011 at 11:19 am

Sure thing, Chris! I asked Catherine about it and she said she received your email and forwarded it to someone who can help you. She also said that she would re-bump the email to move it to the top of the list. I imagine they’ll get back to you in the next couple of days. I appreciate you taking the time to understand where Catherine is coming from. Have a great weekend!

16 Chris Flowers November 6, 2011 at 1:46 am

Hello Nick,
Thanks for contacting Catherine Cook. It is a fact that I also had once before to much coming to me, so I understand, it takes time to organize. What I don’t understand is that messages are left without an answer in her company by the VIP help section. I think thy need better organization on that point this to avoid misunderstanding from members. It is as you said when you grow fast you come from far with the positive but also negative factors. I hope to be able to send you my next message soon, telling you my problem is solved. In that case it will be because of your intervention. Let’s first see the outcome. Have a good weekend as well!

17 Chris Flowers November 18, 2011 at 2:51 am

Hello Nick,

Sadly until today nothing has resulted out of your contact with Catherine Cook.
Until today, the person who can help me according your last mail never contacted me. Again I also did send Catherine C. a reminder on November 11, but as always no answer. As I said before, I never encounter a large company with this kind of service!
You told me in the beginning of our conversation that there are only good intentions from the Cook’s. I only can say that my problem is never heart nothing is done to solve; instead even lies are told to you! I feel very sorry for the people with good intentions, my lost friends at myYearbook. I think I did everything possible to get answers from them to solve this ongoing problem of deleting my profile over and over! Anyway want to thank you personally for trying to help in this matter, have a good weekend!

18 Nicholas Tart November 23, 2011 at 12:19 am

Hey Chris… Thanks for updating us. Be sure to let us know if and when they get to your support ticket. I’ll be glad to know how it turns out. Until then, take care!

19 Chris Flowers November 23, 2011 at 4:47 am

Hello Nick,
The problem is I never did get a support ticket from myYearbook!
That is also the reason I have been searching the help from the CEO!
I know I suppose to have a support ticket from there VIP-help section, I repeated the email for help several times, have prove of that, but as I said never get the confirmation, number of a support ticket! I think the person in charge knows very well why he did not send me anything back! Say also hi to Catherine Cook from me, if she does not want to respond me, help me in this, its here decision. At some point I offer them to help in return for looking in my problem. It never happened. There are social networks enough and it’s better to propose the ones who really respond and have support. It’s not a joke; I have information that can change a company for ever, coming out much stronger than before! I do have prove of that, company’s who did! I can not go in details here you will understand that. Take care, yes sure will let you know of any developments, once again thanks for your help.

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