The Download: Recent Georgetown graduate sells company for $100M


Entrepreneurship runs in the family with Geoff, Dave and Catherine Cook of myYearbook.com. They recently sold the startup for $100 million. (Courtesy of the Cook family)
August 14, 2011

Catherine Cook and her brother, David, quickly became accustomed to the long hours that entrepreneurs must log to get a startup off the ground when they launched myYearbook.com in 2005.

“Before we came up with the idea for our site, our bedtime was like 11 at night...Then as soon as we had this idea, that was basically gone,” Cook said. “We were up to 3 or 4 a.m. every night communicating with developers.”

She was 15 at the time.

Cook, now 21, holds a freshly embossed bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and an agreement signed last month to sell the company she co-founded for $100 million to Quepasa, a Latin American social network.

The tech crowd is known for young entrepreneurs. But even in the era of Mark Zuckerburg wunderkinds, the idea of a 15-year-old faxing Web site design plans to developers in Mumbai might turn a few heads.

Cook said her age has rarely been a detriment, though it does pose unique challenges.

During freshman year at Georgetown, for example, she had to ask an international business professor to reschedule a midterm so she could speak at the World Knowledge Forum in South Korea. Colin Powell anchored the annual event that year.

“You remember your age and you think, ‘Wait a second, what am I doing here?’ ” Cook said. “But you have to believe in yourself and make it happen.”

MyYearbook.com took shape when Catherine and David struggled to make friends after relocating to a new high school in Skillman, N.J. The site began as a network within the high school and nabbed 400 users in its first week.

Unlike Facebook, which connects you to existing friends, myYearbook helps users meet people they don’t yet know through games, video chats and other features. The site has since shed its high school focus and counts 32.7 million users in North America.

Cook attributes the entrepreneurial bug to her eldest brother, Geoff, 33, who created two Web sites while in college and later sold them to the Thompson Corp. Their parents work as electrical engineers.

“Watching Geoff build his two companies made Dave and I want to be entrepreneurs,” Cook said. “When we would compare it to our parents’ bring your child to work day, it was just so much cooler.”

But Geoff became more than just an older brother when he funneled $250,000 into myYearbook and took on the role of chief executive. With his slightly older image and experience, he helped raise $16.9 million from investors.

The deal with Quepasa, which includes $18 million in cash and $82 million worth of stock, is expected to close in the fourth quarter. The siblings will remain part of the combined company, which will count more than 70 million users.

“We have a vision that there’s going to be a giant brand, a billion-dollar brand, about meeting new people,” Cook said. “We didn’t think that myYearbook could scale that quickly on its own.”

LUNCH 2.0

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema offers his take on the best business dining spots in the region in this week’s Capital Business. One startup coming to the District this month wants to fill the seat across from you.

LetsLunch, a Silicon Valley creation, connects you with another diner in the same area based on a questionnaire and information from LinkedIn profiles. Think blind dates but without the hug, kiss or handshake dilemma at the end of the meal.

Steven Overly is a national reporter covering federal technology and energy policy with a focus on Capitol Hill. He previously covered the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital.
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