In 2005, when Catherine and David Cook were still students at Montgomery High School, the sister-brother team created a website called MyYearbook.com. The Cooks were flipping through their yearbook and thought it would be a good idea to make a digital version of one.
So it was. The siblings raised $17 million in financing in a little more than six years and used it to build a website that claims 70 million users and receives 1.2 billion page views per month.
The Cooks hired their brother, Geoff, as CEO and together built a company that employs 100 around the world.
On July 20 the Cooks sold MyYearbook.com to Quepasa, a publicly traded Latino social network, for $100 million — $82 million in common stock, and $18 million in cash. According to Quepasa, the acquisition doubles its number of users.
Even before their 20th birthdays, Catherine and Dave Cook had a million-dollar idea. In 2007, just two years after founding the site, MyYearbook, based in New Hope, pulled in $4.1 million from two venture capital firms, U.S. Venture Partners and First Round Capital (U.S. 1, February 28, 2007). The Cooks used the money to purchase new servers, change the site’s infrastructure, and launch new features.
As a senior at Montgomery High School, Catherine Cook, the firm’s president, oversaw 17 employees in New Hope and five in Romania. She spent about 30 hours a week on the business, after school let out for the day.
These days she is studying OPIM (operations and inventory management) and marketing at Georgetown University. Dave is pursuing a bachelor’s in economics from the University of Colorado-Boulder; and Geoff, the eldest Cook, has a bachelor’s in economics from Harvard.
While the Cooks might have gotten a grounding in hard work from their parents, Bill and Linda, who both are electrical workers, getting a start in entrepreneurship began with Geoff, who founded and sold two companies — EssayEdge.com and ResumeEdge.com — while he was a Harvard undergraduate. He made the initial investment of $250,000 for MyYearbook.com.
MyYearbook’s original vision was to be more than just a digital re-tread of print yearbooks, which Catherine says offer little more than tiny headshots and group photos of school clubs. She wanted “to help people better know their classmates — to bring social life online and then back to school and then from school back online.”
The Cooks achieved this by introducing selected and somewhat edgy elements of the high school experience to the Internet: flirting, secret admirers, favorite music and movies, Cliff’s Notes, and even lockers. Photos, club affiliations, and honors came along too. Conversations with members generated most features on the site.
As for advice, Catherine offers the following to entrepreneurs of any age: “If you have an idea, go forward and do it. Lots of people have good ideas, but actually taking that first step toward implementing the idea is the most important.”