Written by Stephanie Taylor Christensen Tuesday, May 31 2011
Snapshot Catherine Cook
While social networks like Facebook and Twitter tend to grab most headlines regarding social networking, another site, myYearbook, is quickly gaining ground, especially among teens and ’tweens. Featuring a gaming platform that allows users to meet through shared gaming interests, virtual goods, social applications, and a robust virtual gifts and currency program in which non-physical items are bought and exchanged with online friends, the site is among the top 30 most trafficked sites in the United States, according to comScore data. Unlike other social networks, the site focuses on introducing users to new friends, as opposed to existing networks.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the site is not who’s on it, but rather, who is behind it. Catherine Cook, myYearbook’s founder, was a high school student when she launched the site with the help of her brother in November 2005. Today, the company reports a revenue run rate (an extrapolation of current results over a period of time) of $30 million, is profitable, and has earned Cook the title of the “female Mark Zuckerberg.” At press time, Cook was preparing for her weekend graduation ceremony from Georgetown University.
Womenetics: What females have been your greatest sources of business advice and support?
Catherine Cook: My mom has definitely been one of my main sources of support and advice. She is an electrical engineer working in a male-dominated field. It helps me a lot when we talk about her experiences with that. Additionally, one of my professors at Georgetown, Betsy Page Sigman, has been enormously helpful and is always willing to and excited to talk about myYearbook and the direction we’re headed.
Womenetics: Do you feel you have additional challenges being a young female entrepreneur, particularly in the IT industry? How do you overcome them?
Cook: Yes, definitely. People generally do not think about IT and entrepreneurship as areas that women are active and interested in, which makes it harder to be taken seriously in those fields. For example, at a young entrepreneur competition recently, my award for being a finalist was a man’s watch and cologne. However, I laugh at those types of things off because I know that as more women enter those fields, mistakes like that will not be made.
Womenetics: What gave you the confidence to dive into an entrepreneurial venture?
Cook: It was something I always wanted to do. My older brother, Geoff, had already had success with another website when I was 8 or 9 years old, and his entrepreneurial spirit was inspiring to me, even at a young age. So when we had the idea for myYearbook, I knew it was possible to make it a reality.
Womenetics: You “came of age” in the MySpace and Facebook era. What needs did/do those sites not address that myYearbook does?
Cook: In 2005, Facebook wasn’t in high schools, but Facebook has always been about connecting with people you know in real life. Our goal was to make myYearbook the best place to meet people you want to know, not just the people you already know. Our features (including online games, location-based feed, and live video chat) are very conducive to meeting new people.
Womenetics: You’ve been called the “female Mark Zuckerberg.” How does one handle that kind of pressure as a college student?
Cook: I just focus on working with our amazing team to provide the best experience for our own members, and good things come as a result. My daily routine is fairly normal – except when normal students are doing homework, I'm working on the website! When I first started college, it was tougher to balance the work load, but I quickly got the hang of it. Luckily, I could schedule my classes to have a lenient schedule.
Womenetics: ’tweens and teens are notoriously fickle and demanding in their expectations. How do you stay on the pulse of their changing needs?
Cook: We make it a priority to listen to our members. In fact, many of our top features are created and improved upon based on what members tell us.
Womenetics: What is your long-term vision for the company and brand?
Cook: Our vision is to make myYearbook.com the No. 1 site to meet new people.
Womenetics: What is your dream job?
Cook: I graduate this May and am very excited to have my dream job already lined up. I’ll be working full time at myYearbook and focusing on our mobile products.
Womenetics: What would you tell other teenage girls about starting their own company, based on what you now know?
Cook: The main thing is the idea and the ability to persevere to actually make your idea become reality because there are tons of roadblocks. It’s incredibly competitive, so you have to be able to have an idea and see it through, but also to realize that the market changes and to stay very, very flexible with your thinking and be creative.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen has more than a decade of experience in marketing communications and writes regularly on personal finance, consumer interest, lifestyle, and business news for clients like Mint, Investopedia, Minyanville, and SheKnows. She is the founder of the "Wellness On Less" blog, and she appears monthly on FOX 28 GoodDay Columbus! in Columbus, Ohio.