Featured on Jan 27, 2011
"I'd rather regret the things I have done than the things that I haven't."
Cheryl co-founded CityPockets, a "mint.com for daily deals" that help users import and keep track of all their pre-paid vouchers from multiple sites with a single login. Read a recent article about CityPockets on TheNextWeb and a recent interview here. Cheryl recently spent 3 months "incubating" her startup with the Launchbox Digital 2010 class and had an intense but fabulous time down south (think fried pickles). Before quitting corporate America to be an entrepreneur, she was a management consultant and went to Cornell for Engineering under two full scholarship programs. Prior startup ideas revolved around food, travel and fashion - 3 of her biggest passions. Random personal record: traveled to 21 countries, 6 continents in 2 years / 150 restaurants in NYC in 3 months! She also used to paint and has a 2nd degree Black Belt in Taekwondo.
- Title: CEO & Co-Founder of CityPockets
- Age: 27
- Location: LES
- Contact: @cherylyeoh
Your time at KPMG as a Senior Associate Consultant and the initial founding of CityPockets overlaps by about 4 months. Can you explain how you transitioned from a consultant to a startup founder?
It was definitely not an easy process to give up a steady paycheck to make that leap of faith. When I conceived the idea of CityPockets in April 2010, I started working on the startup right after work from 8pm until 3am every night for over 3 months. I was surviving on less than 5 hours of sleep during that period and was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up. But since I was working on what I called my "passion project" at the time, the long hours didn't matter; to the extent that I appeared even more energetic than before. I just couldn't stop researching the daily deal space and thinking about all the things that I could do with CityPockets, even during my daytime job. It got to the point where I just knew that it was time to jump ship and be a full time entrepreneur.
I was lucky to have a great mentor in the Bay Area, Ray Lau who's the CEO of Playhaven, who started me off in the right direction by pointing out lean startup methodologies. In fact, he was the one who convinced me to quit my job to give this a real shot. A lot of my initial anxieties were around financial insecurities, fear of failure and making big lifestyle changes. But more than that, I just needed a role model who'd been there, done that, to reassure me that it's okay and that I'll have fun along the ride. So I gave my 3-week notice to KPMG even before I learned of our acceptance into LaunchBox Digital. On my 2nd to last day at work, LBD notified us of our admittance so it was truly a blessing that I eventually had a smooth transition into entrepreneurship. I've never looked back since.
You mention in your bio that you’ve had a number of prior startup ideas that have revolved around food, travel, and fashion and you wrote in your blog, “I have huge ambitions and am always brimming with entrepreneurial ideas.”. How did you know that CityPockets was the one that you should commit yourself to?
I didn't. In fact, when I first met up with my co-founder, Jhony to talk about starting a company, I had proposed an entirely different location-based web app idea. But he couldn't execute on that because he was involved in a prior startup that happened to have a similar idea. CityPockets was something that I literally pulled out of my pocket while brainstorming my own pain point that I wanted solve: I had way too many daily deal vouchers from way too many deal sites that I simply couldn't keep track of them or when they expired. I had started posting these vouchers on my now defunct food blog to remind myself that I had them, and friends started commenting on how brilliant that idea was and how they wish they could keep track of their vouchers too. So I thought that there has to be a tool out there to help users manage these things! After 2 weeks of talking to everyone I knew about that idea and validating a need for a "voucher wallet," we decided to create CityPockets.
The point is, there are plenty of 'ideas people' out there. But an idea is worth nothing until you execute on it. So if you're always 'brimming with ideas,' stop talking and start doing. Throw it out there and see if it catches on! You never know until you try so you have to put your money where your mouth is. Just learn how to iterate fast.
CityPockets is coming up to its 1 year anniversary in April. What is the most important piece of advice that you’d give to a first time entrepreneur who was looking to get started?
(i) Make sure you talk to customers before you write a single line of code. Seriously, don't worry about sharing your idea. I see people making this same mistake over and over of trying to get too protective over their ideas and never get the useful feedback that's much needed in the earlier stages.
(ii) Don't get overly obsessed with a sea of data. Spending 15 mins watching how a new user navigates through your website speaks more than 100 customer surveys about the usability of your site.
(iii) Do what you love. Your passion will shine through and sometime, that's all that matters and that will keep you going when times are rough. And it will be.
(iv) You want to build a network of mentors. Never ask someone if they can be your mentor, since having a mentor is nothing but asking questions. So why waste time asking them “Will you be my mentor?” Just ask a real question. Almost anyone will answer a good question, and your mentor will become your mentor before you even know it. Successful people genuinely want to help others succeed.
You’ve done a great deal of traveling since 2008. Where would you recommend for an entrepreneur to go to relax on vacation?
I was going to say Aruba (my favorite place in the Carribean!) but that'd just be boring. To be honest, my vacations are rarely relaxing since I'm too intense of a person for that. But I must say that I really felt in tuned with myself while spending 5 days hiking on the Inca trail toward Machu Picchu in Peru. I am a hiker so being out in nature is actually really therapeutic for me. And it helps being without cellphone or internet distractions so I actually got to spend some self reflective time to evaluate what I really wanted to do with my life. For domestic destinations, you HAVE to go to the White Sand Desert in NM (picture above) and Antelope Canyon in AZ. They are probably the most understated sites in the country.
You started your first business when you were 8 and ran a profitable company when you were 16. What were these two businesses and what were your exact roles at them?
Oh geez. I guess for the first one, I was the CEO and my Mom was the COO. I sold a popular childhood game in Malaysia called "5 stones" that kids had to sew and make themselves. There's even a website that sells these things now! I noticed that these kids were making badly sewn versions of it and that my Mom could make better ones. So I figured that I could mass produce them for my friends and even offer customization of the color, fabric and filling of these playthings! I sold about 100 sets within a month, which is pretty cool for an 8-year old, but unfortunately, my operations was shut down shortly after by my school teacher since I wasn't supposed to sell to other kids.
My second venture was a legitimate company call APEX that I incorporated in high school where I was in charge of product development in a team of 12. Our company manufactured and sold do-it-yourself science kits, customized canvas bags, and created a popular secret gift messaging system that eventually went viral across schools. We made our investors a 13x return, which I hope to somehow replicate with my adult ventures.