Geoff Cook is a serial entrepreneur and public company CEO. He has been on the board of The Meet Group (NASDAQ: MEET) since 2011 until its sale in 2020. Geoff sold the company for $500 million in September 2020. He started his first company from a Harvard dorm and sold it for millions of dollars at age 24 in the year 2002. He sold his second company for $100 million in 2011. Geoff is currently the CEO and co-founder of The Meet Group, a social dating and live-streaming company. He is also GM of video for the parent company Parship Meet Group. He successfully transitioned the company from 90% advertising revenue in 2016 to 60+% user-pay revenue while dramatically expanding revenue by investing heavily in live-streaming video.
The following is a transcript of the interview created by A.I. We have time-stamped the segments for your listening convenience.
Origins of a Serial Entrepreneur With 9 Figures in Exits
00:41 –> 02:38.
I became an entrepreneur at Harvard College, so I was probably 19. I was looking for a job at the time. You know, a side job is a student, and this is 1997. I figured, well, what is it that I could do that anyone would pay me for? And so I didn’t want to work in a food service or cleaning dorm room, you know, bathrooms or anything like that, which were other kinds of student jobs through Harvard student agencies. And, you know, editing is something I’ve always been pretty good at writing, and so I thought, Well, I’ll put my editing for resumes, emissions, essays, things like that. And, you know, I did that. And one thing led to another. And, you know, I made $10,000 as a side job my first year and, you know, obviously going to school. And I thought that was great, But then the next year is 40,000, and, you know, by senior year is making a few hundred thousand dollars and it quickly kind of grew into a business. It would eventually grow into many millions of dollars before I sold it. That was my first foray into entrepreneurship because I didn’t wanna work cleaning bathrooms or working in the library. And I figured, Well, you know, if I start something, even if it fails, at least I would have gained the experience of having started it. And so I figured it was just a fun and interesting thing to do. Learn about it. How to build, you know, websites, how to transact through e-commerce. Now it’s so much easier, you know? But, you know, back then I had to get a merchant account. I had to code and so on.
Art of the Pick
02:58. –> 06:50.
When you sell a business, especially one that you really enjoyed, I would say you go through a grieving process where you ask did I do the right thing? That was the only company I was ever going to create. Some of the questions I was asking myself were – What could I do that would be bigger than the last one? And that would kind of scratch this itch of needing to create something else. I actually went into the art space, had an art community, artistic, you know, community of artists. Thousands of artists a day. I also started a social network called my yearbook along with my brother and sister, who were 10 and 11 years younger than me. The art business was interesting, but it wasn’t that interesting. It wasn’t super high growth. Meanwhile, the social network, kind of showed real signs of life. I ended up spending all my attention on that. I think it’s interesting to discuss the art of the pick, right? Like I’ve heard it described this way. You know, like, what do you pick as your next one, in my experience anyway, but I’ve tended to be of the type where when I’m in kind of this creative mode I’ll often start multiple things. I don’t know why that is. You know it. It’s often just because I have the creative motivation to start something, and I just start multiple things. Some things die their natural deaths or look like they’re just going sideways or you just run out of ideas and others, you know, are at the right moment. And so I think what you’re looking for as an entrepreneur is that You’re looking for a sector. Ultimately, that has some tail winds behind it, right? Like where you could be quite sure that there is going to be many, or at least many hundreds of millions, maybe even hundreds of billions of value created over the next 5 to 10 years and then say, well, okay, now, if that’s true now, I just have to be one of the parties that succeeds versus probably the many more parties who fails. And so that’s also hard. You never really want to start anything that is that’s better than something else, right? Like if the best you can claim is that you have a better mousetrap, it’s almost certainly not going to work. You need to have a different mousetrap. And so you know that that’s another kind of is this thing different enough in the marketplace of what’s out there now? This has a chance, and I think I never lie to myself in thinking that anything ever has more than a chance.
Building Virality Into Product Development and After Launch
07:11. –> 12:22.
I think then we were saying, Well, how can we be different from Facebook? Right? How can I grow without having to spend a lot of money? They’re probably two of the early questions. Facebook was the social graph and it is really still today the social graph of people, you know, friends and family. And we thought, Well, you know, we could probably grow or be different by being a social graph of the people you want to meet. That’s basically what we did for 15 years. How do you grow cost effectively? That’s a much harder challenge. And that sinks many startups. You know, if you don’t figure out distribution it doesn’t matter how good your idea is. It was quite clear by burning a lot of money that, you know, buying installs off Google. Finding a really cost effective acquisition like pimp out your myspace, the site. This was back Of course in 2005, when MySpace was big and even, you know, way bigger than Facebook. And so that ended up being an extremely good purchase. It was one of the main quiz apps on MySpace. Like what? It was like a buzzfeed. Almost like what? What Seinfeld character Are you? What Disney Princess are you? You take a quiz, you put the results and you paste it into my space. That was the idea. We put a registration form for my yearbook between the quiz and the quiz result. And suddenly We were getting many thousands of users a day, and we were expanding virally on the back of this quiz app, and that was great. I mean, that was ultimately what jump started my yearbook to have enough network effects to kind of be self sustaining. And so, you know, a lot of times really think from the outset. How am I gonna get people into this thing, and You know, if all you do is design a good product, it’s not sufficient for it to be successful. This is needed. It is necessary. But you know it’s not sufficient. And, like the best products are ones where the product gives rise to what makes the things either sticky from a point of view of it retains well or viral. If you’re obviously trying to build a sticky product, one that people like to use. But you could also think through things like how to use virality and some of the things that I think are useful in driving virality or things like status. People care a lot about status. Now, back in the day, you know, 2005, 2008, 2010. There were different platforms that were viral, and you could rely on kind of cheap virality, like email, address books, mobile phone books. Facebook was a super viral platform at one time. Now it isn’t so. Things were supercharged on virality. Huge businesses like Zynga were built on that. And then those things went away on something novel about the business itself, the product itself. And that’s what’s gonna end up driving virality and often that’s not even enough. So even if you have that, you might still need to jump start it with enough paid users that you pay Facebook and Google on whomever for And you hope that you throw enough people at a good enough mousetrap.