The Story Exchange is devoting the month of April to profiling young women who have started their own business. This week we meet Cheryl Yeoh, founder of CityPockets and Reclip.It.
Cheryl Yeoh was 18 when she left her native Malaysia to come to the United States after receiving a scholarship to study science and engineering at Cornell University.
Yeoh says she always thought of herself more as the creative or business type, but decided to give her engineering studies a shot.
“Growing up watching my mom being so independent and so resourceful inspired me to want to be like her,” says Yeoh, whose mother owned a direct marketing business in Malaysia. “I was always figuring out how to make money, how to start a business. As a little kid, I was the kid who sold stuff to my classmates when I was eight.”
Yeoh, 28, thought she would own a restaurant one day, but changed her mind when she learned that starting a tech company was a lot cheaper, with more resources available.
“As I was getting more and more involved with the tech community in New York, I realized that by starting an online business I can impact millions of people and it’s so much more scalable and less risky,” Yeoh tells The Story Exchange.
Solving a problem
Not long after graduating from Cornell, Yeoh and an ex-classmate started CityPockets in 2010 — a free web service to keep track of daily deals from websites like Groupon, Living Social and 500 other such sites in the U.S.
Yeoh was one of millions of people who couldn’t resist the discounted offers, but had trouble keeping track of all the deals.
And with that she saw a business opportunity.
“I found out that people who created products that solve their own problem, usually end up being better products, because you understand the pain point really well. And in a way you have the main expertise,” Yeoh says.
Even with all her expertise and passion, raising money turned out to be harder than she thought. “All the stories you hear about people getting funding overnight, they’re not true, especially for a first time entrepreneur … It’s a long process.”
For Yeoh that process started by calling any friend she could think of that she thought might have surplus income to invest in her. She says it was an extremely time-consuming and painful process and probably wouldn’t advise other entrepreneurs to go that route.
“It’s always better to raise money from “sophisticated” investors with previous experience investing in tech companies, so you don’t end up educating them about the whole investment process and the risks associated with it,” explains Yeoh.
While Yeoh managed to clear the funding hurdle, eventually raising $750,000 led by Great Oaks Venture Capital for CityPockets, clouds were on the horizon.
Less than a year after starting up CityPockets, Groupon disclosed a “material weakness” in its internal controls, and the accounting problem caused Groupon to massively increase it’s losses.
With that revelation Yeoh felt that CityPockets’ future was at risk. “We realized that we didn’t want our business model to be entirely dependant on other companies’ business models and uncertainties,” she says.
Within a few months she made the tough decision to pull the plug on the CityPockets site.
“It’s very hard for an entrepreneur to say ‘I thought there was a huge opportunity in this space and I was wrong about it.’”
A new chapter: Reclip.It
Determined to learn from her mistakes, Yeoh dusted herself off and re-envisioned her idea for a site devoted to digital coupons, online sales and deals.
The new site, called Reclip.It, which Venture Beat described as “Pinterest for deal lovers,” is a social catalog for deals, which combines features from Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest to create a shopping destination for all budget-conscious enthusiasts.
Users can follow friends, deal bloggers and coupon aggregators to clip coupons, sale announcements, and promotions to their personal profiles.
Reclip.It will officially launch in a few months but Yeoh says it already has a strong base of early adopters, who are primarily mom bloggers and blog readers. Yeoh believes that Reclip.It’s growth will surpass CityPockets’ in just a few months.
“I don’t give up. I’m definitely meant to be an entrepreneur.”