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Nothing Says “MeetMe” Like New Hope’s myYearbook
The movie “The Social Network” tells the story of the rise of social media site Facebook –a story marked by sharky and snarky frenemies, high stakes risk taking and lawsuits, and an elite mix of Harvard Yard concept hatchers and Silicon Valley movers and shakers.
A story slightly less widely known is that of myYearbook. Back-stabbing? Contentious? Exotic locations? Hardly. Headquartered in tranquil New Hope, PA and conceived over the family dinner table in 2005 by then 15 year-old Catherine Cook and her high school junior brother, David, (with initial funding from older brother, Geoff) as a byproduct of her not liking her school yearbook photo, myyearbook.com is the anti-Facebook story.
“Anti,” except that, with tens of millions of users between the ages of 13-17, myYearbook is the top teen social discovery site, a social “world” where teens go to meet and interact (introduce themselves, chat, play games, support causes, date, and more – in a community fueled by its own virtual currency) with those peers they want to meet, more so than people they already know.
And for most teens, there are a lot more people they want to know than people they know. With this purpose, the site is fittingly being rebranded to “MeetMe” this summer, as it increases its engagement of the global market of teens and as teens around the globe increasingly engage each other.
This focus on meeting others, coupled with a mix of “always new” reasons to come back to the site (often), helps explain why, while Facebook’s freshness and “grab” seems to be waning a bit among teens, myYearbook is going strong. For many teens, myYearbook has proven to be a more fun, more compelling complement to Facebook, and more on-target than Google+, while more relevant and entertaining than sites like Glancee – and more mobile-driven than the others too.
All of this, even after myYearbook was purchased for $100 million dollars by Latin social site Quepasa last summer.
I caught up with co-founders Catherine (briefly home between trips to conferences) and Dave Cook at myYearbook’s cool, newly renovated, old paper factory headquarters in New Hope this week to talk about how she and her brothers made it through high school, found a way to lead this market, and where they see the social media world moving.
Q: With teen siblings are known more for starting fights with each other than starting $100 million companies with each other, how did you manage to be so productive together?
David: Catherine and I are fifteen months apart, so we are a lot alike and rarely fight. I have a similar relationship with my older brother, Geoff. We all have complementary talents, so we work really well together. Before working with myYearbook, Geoff was working with other websites, and we were really glad to incorporate his skillset and his experience into the development of myYearbook.
Catherine: We are both also extremely detail-oriented, but, we also like to keep things light. Last week when I was in Switzerland, David flipped everything on my desk upside-down, even my computer monitor. We love sharing laughs here. Sure, we’ve hit problems along the way, but we talk everything out and handle the issues professionally.
Q: Most teens have trouble handling AP homework and a few extra-curricular activities. How did you balance and prioritize to get myYearbook off the ground while you were in high school?
David: We just really wanted it. We were so into it. Many of our original developers were scattered all over the world, so I remember staying up until 4 AM talking with developers in Mumbai. But the biggest thing was staying motivated and, ultimately, achieving success.
Catherine: We always wanted to do it. I remember almost not getting credit for a class in my senior year because I simply didn’t show up. I also remember holding a 78% in AP Environmental Science, and my teacher telling me, “You used to be getting A’s.” To which I responded, “Yeah, I should probably start doing my homework again…”
Q: How did you come up with the site’s mix of content - the games, introductions and dating, “celebrity” and location-based feeds, “cause” features - that would get teens coming back, often – the way adults check the weather all the time because it is always changing?
David: A lot of our ideas came from brainstorming, but we also incorporate the feedback we get. Our biggest goal is to engage users and to motivate them to use myYearbook as often as they can. We decided that the key to achieving this would be to create competitions, so we instituted things like image contests, and lunch money contests. We found that users were engaged the most when they had a link with “money.”
This virtual currency can be “won” on myYearbook, and can be donated to causes, can be “won” and “lost.” Virtual currency allowed us to award “credits” and to monetize our new users. Virtual currency made new features possible.
Catherine: We always listen to comments that we get about the site, and always ask why he or she did not particularly like a specific feature on myYearbook. We have to read between the lines a lot, because no critic is going to gift-wrap a new, refined idea for us. That’s our job. We also take suggestions from industry trends, because, if something is popular, we’ll definitely at least try it out.
Q: Now that myyearbook.com has been acquired by a Quepasa, other than rebranding to MeetMe, do you see the site or the day-to-day changing much?
Catherine: “With “MeetMe,” our company gets a new name. With “myYearbook,” people automatically think that we are some high school yearbook agency, connecting you with your past, current and future classmates. “MeetMe” really redefines our brand.
We are also driving mobile users. In 2010, 2% of our product was mobile, and now 60% is. Our location-based feeds are helping this along, too, because users understand a “location feed” is more accurate when there is a GPS device in your hand, versus in your computer. We also are looking into internationalization, because 86% of our users are American. That needs to change. Quepasa has a big foothold in Latin and South America, so we want to capitalize on that. We always say that meeting new people is a billion-dollar opportunity.”
At myYearbook, it’s a happy place based in sibling revelry not sibling rivalry – a perfect place for teens to “MeetMe.”