Tech entrepreneur Catherine Cook cofounded the social network MeetMe with her brother Dave Cook back in high school and has grown the platform over the last decade.

Catherine Cook On ‘Meet Me’

“We like to think of ourselves as the mobile version of the bar or coffee house where you can go and meet new friends and connect with new people,” Cook told uInterview exclusively, defining MeetMe. “MeetMe actually started under a different name, MyYearbook, back in 2005. My brother and I were actually flipping through a normal high school yearbook and we were new in our high school, and really it was a way for us to make new friends.”

At first, the Cook siblings started off small, launching it solely at their New Jersey high school “using gorilla marketing strategy to get people to join.” What did that look like? “Wearing t-shirts that said things like ‘Answering the questions that matter most,’ ‘Who are your friends’ friends and are they hot?” Cook explained. “We got maybe 400 people to join in the first week and we were like, ‘This is amazing!’ But then nine months later we have a million people join.”

Now that MeetMe has branched out, location has become crucial to their business model. For practical reasons, it’s important for MeetMe to link people up who are in the same general geographical area. It’s also important that the users that are paired for a chat are active.

“The main way that we connect people is based on where they are, so it’s very location-based,” Cook said. “And we also do age and gender matching, so people can find people near them that are ready to chat right now. Recent activity is very important because you don’t want to send a chat to someone and have them not be an engaged user. Then, what’s the point? They’re not going to respond.”

As for advice Cook has for other young entrepreneurs looking to carve out a niche in web and mobile tech, she believes it’s important to find failure as something constructive and to not be discouraged by the sheer volume of tough decisions that need to be made.

“The most important thing for any entrepreneur really is being able to embrace failure and realizing that you’re probably going to fail. Not every feature launch you have is going to be a success. Not every change is going to have game-changing results, so when you do launch something, fail fast,” Cook shared, “But really the most important is being able to make those decisions, because it’s hard when there isn’t necessarily a clear way to go.”

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Q: What is MeetMe and how were you involved in founding it? -

MeetMe is a social network for meeting new people. We like to think of ourselves as the mobile version of the bar or coffee house where you can go and meet new friends and connect with new people. MeetMe actually started under a different name, Myyearbook, back in 2005. My brother and I were actually flipping through a normal high school yearbook and we were new in our high school, and really it was a way for us to make new friends.

Q: How did you take MeetMe from an idea to what it is today? -

When my brother Dave and I had the idea, the first step really was, “OK, well neither of us have experience with coding or how we would build this.” So we actually drew out hundreds of pages of spec sheets and pen on paper wire frames detailing exactly what the site would do and how it would operate, and we found some developers on Elance and ended up just launching it in our high school – in Montgomery High School in Skillman, New Jersey – using gorilla marketing strategy to get people to join, which was wearing t-shirts that said things like “Answering the questions that matter most,” “Who are your friends’ friends and are they hot?” And that was super popular in getting people from our school to join. So, we got maybe 400 people to join in the first week and we were like, “This is amazing!” But then nine months later we have a million people join through engineering [...] in our products. What that means is we made all of our features easily sharable. So at the time, MySpace was huge, so we came up with a bunch of MySpace layouts so people would put them into their MySpace pages and would be able to see, “Oh, what’s this other website?” and then join us. Basically, we wanted to make sure everything was shareable so that in the end everyone could go back to our page and actually use us. And in 2010, we launched our mobile apps and now we're actually eighty percent mobile and we have a million people using our apps every day.

Q: What are most people looking for on MeetMe? -

When I say we’re the version of the bar or coffee house, it’s because people go there for different reasons. So, sometimes someone is at a bar and they’re specifically looking for a date. Sometimes you’re there to, you know, play a few games and just chat with people, and so really our job is to create the connections and then our users will take it to wherever they want it to go. So, if you’re looking for friendship then your chats will be friendly oriented, but if you are looking for dating, there’ll be a bit more flirting involved.

Q: How big is it now and what are your goals for the future? -

We have a million daily active users. So, these are people that use the app everyday and really were hoping to continue growing that. Last year, our huge focus turned to chat. And so at the time, before we made all these improvements to our app, we hadn’t hit ten million chats in a single day. Now we routinely hit 25 million chats in a day. So, really our huge goal for 2015 is focusing on how to not only increase this number even more, but how to increase the quality of it so that you’re chatting with people and these aren’t just one off chats, but you're having great conversations.

Q: How does the app match people up for chatting? -

The main way that we connect people is based on where they are, so it’s very location-based. And we also do age and gender matching, so people can find people near them that are ready to chat right now. Recent activity is very important because you don’t want to send a chat to someone and have them not be an engaged user. Then, what’s the point? They’re not going to respond. So, really our next goal for this year is how to increase that quality even further by incorporating different things like saying, “Okay, we think that these people are most likely to respond, so we’ll show them. So really figuring out the algorithm there is our goal.

Q: How can other entrepreneurs keep a business successful over time? -

Well, the most important thing for any entrepreneur really is being able to embrace failure and realizing that you’re probably going to fail. Not every feature launch you have is going to be a success. Not every change is going to have game-changing results, so when you do launch something, fail fast. Know it’s not working. Be metrics-driven in the way that you can see, “Ok we launched this. It didn’t have the intended effects so what can we change?” And actually be able to have measurable information to change your actions. But really the most important is being able to make those decisions, because it’s hard when there isn’t necessarily a clear way to go just because it is ambiguous. So you don’t always know what any change is going to be. Being able to actually make those decisions and keep driving yourself forward.

Q: What other directions is MeetMe headed into in the near future? -

I would say the direction is going to be increasing mobile. We’re changing some of our things with our mobile platform to make them even more seamless and even more easy to use and so really that’s kind of our goal. We’re launching a new profile very soon, next month, and that will be when we start to roll it out. And having things that can play into the chat experience, but also kind of surface the information that you want to know about someone easiest and actually have that be the front is really where the focus is.

Q: Are you still focused on the desktop experience? -

No. We’re not really focused on desktop at all because mobile is eighty percent of our traffic and it’s just such a better experience because when it comes down to it, when we do a lot of location searching and like, you have it on your phone. We know that our mobile users will log into the site on average about a hundred times a month. Our web users, it’s a fraction of that just because the general mobile use case is your standing in a line somewhere, maybe you’re standing in line at a coffee shop and you’re bored so you take out your phone. You use it for a few minutes, you put it back. Take it out again a little later. It becomes kind of addictive and that’s kind of what we’re capturing.