Scott: When Catherine Cook was fifteen she thought her yearbook picture was terrible.
Catherine Cook: This is me with my braces and everything.
Scott: She says other students in the Montgomery High School yearbook were barely recognizable. So, Catherine and her brothers had an idea to create their own yearbook online. They called it My Yearbook. We first met up with Catherine as the site was just taking off back in 2007.
Catherine: Yearbook pics are notoriously bad. Now you can upload 100 showing everything about you; your favorite music, movies, TV shows, all the groups you are in.
Scott: The idea caught on like wildfire and now it has millions of members.
How did Catherine go from being what she describes as a geeky high school student to a successful business owner, or entrepreneur? To find out, we took her back to her New Jersey high school, where it all began.
The lessons Catherine learned while setting up her company apply to many people who want to start a business. After Catherine and her brother dreamed up My Yearbook, the first thing they needed to do was raise money to make their idea come to life. So, they decided to explain their plan to their older brother Geoff who had founded his own successful company. Geoff was impressed.
Catherine: And so, Jeff made a show of writing us a check right at the dinner table.
Scott: You mean to tell me you were sitting at the dinner talbe and your brother said, ‘love the idea, yes, sold,’ and he wrote a check for a quarter of a million dollars?
Catherine: Yes. He is a great older brother.
Scott: Great big brother!
Once they had money to start the business, it was time to make the product. Catherine and her brother hired programers in India to set up the site, often working with them until late into the night.
Catherine: We started only getting two or three hours of sleep every night. My mom wasn’t too pleased about that. Before that, we were supposed to be in bed by 11 but then it went until we were done.
Scott: When the My Yearbook site was ready, their next step was marketing to get the word out. Catherine found a cool and cheap way to do it.
Catherine: We decided to order lots of t-shirts and wear them every single day. The t-shirts got a little attention, and we gave a few to our friends and it really generated a lot of buzz.
Scott: The marketing paid off. When they launched the site, they had 400 users within the first week, mostly from Catherine’s high school. Within nine months, membership skyrocketed to a million users from across the country.
So, with this explosion of growth, Catherine and her brother needed to hire new employees and set up this new office, which means they had to raise money. So, they reached out to people who specialize in starting new companies. These people are called venture capitalists.
When Catherine was a junior in high school, venture capitalists thought My Yearbook looked so promising, they gave them $4.1 million in exchange for part of the company. Catherine’s classmates were pumped.
Catherine: A lot of people thought, ‘hey these people are millionaires, lets go ask them for money.’ And we were like, ‘that is not how it works. We have to use this money for the company.’
Scott: As they made new features for the site, it grew into a place to meet new people online. And membership soared, especially among teens.
Catherine: My Yearbook is actually growing faster everyday. We set new records every week, so right now, we are adding about 25,000 new members a day.
My Yearbook has a total of 33 million users and the company raked in $24 million last year. Those numbers caught the attention of potential buyers. Six years after setting up My Yearbook, Catherine and her brothers achieved what many entrepreneurs can only dream about: they sold the company.
Catherine: Over the summer, another social networking site with a worldwide Latino audience called Que Pasa bought My Yearbook for $100 million. That is a real number.
How amazing goes it feel knowing something you started when you were fifteen is now worth $100 million?
Catherine: It’s surreal. It’s cool to know that something we started from the ground up has been able to be worth so much.
Scott: I asked Catherine if she had any advice for teens who have ideas for their own companies.
Catherine: I say, just go for it. Ideas are a dime a dozen. So many people have great ideas actually making them come to life and putting the work in it is definitely the hard part. When my brother and I started the company, we didn’t know anything about developing anything about website design, anything. We Googled a lot of things to start out and then learned as we went.
Scott: What do you know! Googled a lot of things as you went. That is really very cool!
Scott Evans, Channel One News.