Your sister, Catherine, got the idea to start myYearbook in 2005 when she was 15. Tell me more...
The site was born through a conversation between Cat and my brother, Dave. They were literally flipping through a yearbook and had the concept of putting it online.
You became her first investor, putting in $250,000. What
about her idea gave you the confidence to trust your sibling with such
a large sum of your own money?
They had what I thought was a powerful concept of taking a Facebook-like concept into high schools. I figured they would know what that audience would be looking for, because they were 15 and 16 at the time.
What is the secret to myYearbook’s success?
We’re not focused on your real-life social graph. We’re focused on social discovery and then also on entertainment. More than 80 percent of our traffic is applications versus profile visiting and messages.
We don’t spend any money on marketing. What we have done though is to think about how to engineer virality in the site’s applications. We think about how to create content that users will want to share, make those sharing opportunities clear and have a pathway for registration upon sharing.
How did you grow myYearbook to profitability?
The Lunch Money virtual currency piece is now accounting for more than a third of our revenue. Our revenue is seven figures – $1 million plus per month. We achieved profitability in Q1.
In the early days, the focus was exclusively audience growth. Last year, we began to focus on monetizing the virtual currency. There is always a tension between monetization and audience growth. The pendulum swung back in July of last year, where we said now it’s all about monetization. Now that we are profitable, our focus is shifting again to growing audience.
Last September, we launched the CPA platform allowing users to complete offers and get Lunch Money. Then, in early January of this year, we launched the ability to buy Lunch Money directly via cell phone and via PayPal. In May/June, we launched the VIP Club that gives you in-game privileges and features that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to, along with an enhanced capacity for earning Lunch Money.
Is there a free membership option, too?
Up until May/June, it was 100 percent free. Now, we have a freemium model where a few percentage of active users are paying to be VIPs.
What are some of the most popular features and activities on myYearbook?
There is an application where users donate to one of 16 charities, and they earn badges they display on their profile. What is interesting there is that the company is donating. We’ve donated more than $250,000 in the last year. So, it’s a way of turning a virtual product into something that has real value.
Another popular feature is our Battles feature. It’s a contest between two members. So I’ll challenge you in a wager for Lunch Money that I’m a better dancer. Then, we both upload video or images. Members vote, and the winner is decided by the membership.
myMag – a 100 percent member-generated but professionally-edited online magazine – is also popular.
What are the advantages of owning the site and its applications?
You can do things for advertisers that others can’t. You can do a homepage takeover and put them in the top one or two applications to really drive engagement on various ads. You can also cross-promote your existing applications throughout the entire network. What’s more is you can create applications that have appeal beyond a single application.
So, you can have applications that live cross-site in other applications and present a truly integrated site experience.
Can you give some examples?
We might do a homepage takeover, and because we know our network so well and all the places to place an advertiser, we can guarantee 25,000 friends to a profile for the advertisers we work with. This rate is generally far better than they’re getting anywhere else.
Then, because we own the entire experience, we can add some engagement items. I’m sure you’re familiar with sponsored gifts on Facebook and other places. Our gifts are video experiences, and users get to wrap and unwrap them using a Flash effect.
The main point is that we can count and track the numbers of gifts given. We also have the capacity to grow trailer views. So whether you’re a game provider with a trailer or an entertainment company with some video ad, we put that into our Lunch Money theater, which drives trailer views.
Another thing we do very efficiently is distribute widgets. Our one-click-to-add process is helpful. You could be in some far-off application on myYearbook, and it’s still just one click to add a given widget you see in an ad or that is integrated in the site content itself.
What distinguishes myYearbook from Facebook and other social networks?
If you ask people why they’re coming to Facebook, the top answer is to keep up with my friends. If you ask people why they’re coming to myYearbook, it is to meet new people.
myYearbook is all about playing various games, like Owned or Battles. Match is another application, where users secretly admire each other. In playing those games, you meet new people.
myYearbook currently gets around 6 million unique visitors a month. Who are these users?
It’s 55 percent female and 45 percent male. It is about 50 percent teen and then another 30 percent or so 20s.
What would you say to convince a parent who is concerned
about his or her young teen using a social networking site, such as
There are three things that we’ve focused on. One is safety education. We distribute hundreds of thousands of social safety help packets to high schools who request them. We require our members to check a box that agrees that they will abide by our safety tips. The safety tips are in human readable, not legalese, since they’re aimed at protecting users. We also run a Web site called www.SocialSafety.org.
Another thing we do and devote a lot of the workforce to is reviewing content. For example, on the Battles application, all the images there are reviewed by our safety team prior to hitting the site.
Then, the other piece of it is abuse reporting. We have what we think are the most prominent abuse reporting links in the industry – above the fold on every page of the site with a standardized icon. This icon was part of the New Jersey Attorney General’s “Report Abuse!” icon initiative. We were the first to sign onto that program.
Our safety team is led by Don Eyer. He had a successful career at eBay in trust and safety and also has 23 years in law enforcement.
What tricks do you have up your sleeve to compete with Facebook and other social networks in the months to come?
We have a prominent, new feature that we’ll hopefully be launching in October.