Wednesday, January 9, 2013

You’ve got a Friend in Me

My older son has 712 friends…according to Facebook.  He spends time with three of them.  He Skypes with a few that live further away, and prefers to text rather than talk on the phone.  I don’t think he’s shaken hands with 712 people in his life, but he does count them as friends, and, remarkably, they are from all over the world.  It seems easier than ever for people to make “friends,” yet developing real relationships can still be challenging.

When Catherine was fourteen and her brother, Dave, was fifteen, their family relocated to New Jersey.  They didn’t know anyone and wanted to make friends, but it was difficult, because many of the students at their new high school had known each other since kindergarten.  While flipping through a school yearbook, they realized it wasn’t a very useful tool for getting to know their new classmates, but it gave them the idea for an online yearbook that could show more of people’s personalities.

During lunches, Catherine and Dave drew up plans for how the online yearbook would work, look, and what types of games and activities it should include.  Once they had a basic idea, they approached their older brother, Geoff, for input.  Geoff was already a successful entrepreneur.  In college he started and sold two online businesses that edited résumés and college essays.  He liked the idea that his siblings had come up with, so in addition to providing advice, he made an investment to help launch the business. 

The young entrepreneurs found a group of developers in Mumbai to help build their online yearbook.  Barely sleeping many nights, Catherine and Dave would go to school at 7:30 AM, get home in the afternoon, and then stay up till 3:00 AM or later chatting with the programmers in India. They burned the candle at both ends, somehow managing to keep up with schoolwork while coordinating the development of their new website.

After a month, the first version of myYearbook was launched.  More than 400 people joined in the first week.  Catherine and Dave spread awareness by wearing t-shirts with catchy slogans and putting out fake press releases such as, “myYearbook gets 1,000,000 members and takes over the world!”  They also listened to their users, who would submit suggestions like using gold stars instead of "likes."  Catherine personally sent a friend request to each new user, which is how she eventually met her real-life best friend.

Just a few months after their initial launch, they opened myYearbook up to members of all schools nationwide.  Before they knew it, they really did have 1,000,000 members, and their plan had worked:  they had tons of friends. 

Catherine became the company’s spokesperson, and at 17 she spoke at a technology conference with a number of influential business and tech people, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Catherine pitched their company to a notable investor and had to follow MC Hammer, who was presenting his own company, DanceJam.  The investor picked myYearbook.

Through a series of investments and decisions to narrow their focus, the siblings were able to make themselves different from other social networks.  myYearbook became the place to meet new friends, rather than talk to the friends you already have.  The company was soon generating millions in revenue and ranked third among all social networking sites in the United States.

Making new friends is so important that a Latin social networking company called Quepasa bought myYearbook for 100 million dollars in cash and stock.  Catherine, Dave, and Geoff became multi-millionaires and remain with the company, which has since changed its name from myYearbook to MeetMe.

Last month, Catherine and Dave received a special award for young entrepreneurs. I was there to meet and honor them.  I listened carefully to their story, and realized once again the importance of relationships.  In the time it has taken to write this week’s story, my son has probably added half a dozen more Facebook friends…and maybe that’s a good thing, since friendship is the foundation of a happy life.

As you continue your journey to pursue your dreams, remember this quote:  “If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”  And rest assured that you will always have a friend in me.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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