Maria Seidman, Yapp, Woman Entrepreneur
Maria and I had a mutual friend in Brad Feld and that is how she ended up in my office. I only wish I had met her before she launched her business, Yapp.us. I like her tenacity and spirit…and I really like what she has built. I would have invested. Yapp lets anyone create a mobile app without even knowing how to write code.
Maria was born in Kiev and her family immigrated to the United States in 1981. She was four. They are Jewish and were one of the last families out in a US program trade around disarmament and human rights. Her family was called refuseniks because they had applied in 1979 to immigrate and were refused. Once you were refused you were considered a trader to the motherland for putting in that application so you can’t even get a job. They relied on friends to support them. They were tough times and they kept reapplying until they were literally almost the last to leave.
The family ended up in Chicago because they had relatives there. Nobody spoke English. Her Mom spoke a little bit because she was a teacher. When she got to Chicago she became an English as a second language teacher eventually becoming a vice-principal. Her dad was an agricultural engineer. In the 80’s he got a job in Oracle in sales and did that for awhile. When Maria was 14 they moved to France because her father was working for Borland on wordperfect and Quattro pro. As a kid she was forced to use this stuff which in the end was the best thing her father could have taught her. They were living in Paris and Maria was going to the American school. She stayed though high school.
Maria came back to the US to go to college. The family kept moving. Prague was next and then Zurich and then to London. Maria went to Yale. After graduation she got a job at Goldman Sachs. As she says, it was 1999 and that is what you were supposed to do. It seemed like it was the only path in life either you went to work for Wall Street or McKinsey or you went to graduate, law or medical school. She lasted seven months at Goldman because she did not understand how what she was doing contributed at all to society. I had got a kick out of that.
Maria joined a start-up venture capital fund that was investing in the European tech scene. They idea was to take the NY office and co-invest with VC firms from the US creating a value by taking companies to scale in Europe. It was 2009 and she spent a lot of time inside tech companies in very difficult times not the fun times like pre-2008. She had to help figure out revenues and operations pushing companies to be lean and mean. Understanding how to run a start-up business was when she had a feeling that being an entrepreneur was her calling.
After 9/11 she started dating a guy who lived in Los Angeles. She told him she would never move to Los Angeles…aka, I can’t even drive. They ended up getting serious and the fund she was working in was a disaster. Maria decided to just pick up and move. It was a horror to her Jewish traditional family. They thought, you went to Yale and you are now going to live in Los Angeles with your boyfriend…and do what?
She applied to business school. She couldn’t find a place to take a Gmat within two hours of Los Angeles and then finally one opened up on 11/13 on seat 13. While she was in Los Angeles, she had taken a job at MGM working with their joint ventures on paid TV with companies that were like HBO in Japan, Australia and Latin American. It was the very beginnings of video on demand. It was 2001.
It was an incredible experience because everyone was just trying to figure it out. Maria spoke a lot of languages but not Japanese. Being the tall blond girl in Japan at a sales meeting was challenging. She would go to Tokyo and meet with clients and actually have to sell them stuff. Getting someone to write you a check for programming went beyond raising capital. Then she found out she got into Stanford Business School. She asked her boss at MGM if she should go and he said absolutely and so she did.
At Stanford she tried to start a business and worked with the team on Current TV. It was something in the entertainment space because she knew it. It did not work out but she knew she wanted to start a business in that space but first has to figure out what was wrong with the business. What would be the disruptive model for entertainment.
After graduating she went back to Los Angeles and took a job at Warner. The plan was to stay a few years so she could get to know the industry better and start to identify the programs that needed to be solved. Yet sometimes it is so hard to get out and you begin to think like the others in your environment. She started working there in 03, the summer between her first and second years of grad school and then went fulltime in 04 after graduation. At that time iTunes was only selling music, Google was just trying to figure out video and YouTube had not even started. Warner formed a digital group and she was able to start to work on the start of mobile when the world was beginning to transition in to putting content in phones. They were running digital games at that point too. Within 18 months they started seeing different divisions coming to them and say we need a website, a social strategy, a twitter account and what exactly do we do with mobile? They became the point group. It was instrumental in thinking about the industry. She ran new business development for Warner as they tried to start new businesses within the studio. That short term job ended up being longer than she thought, seven years
Then her husband wanted to move to NYC. She had seen that the evolution inside big companies was not yet thinking about how to partner with small companies and they weren’t capable of being nimble on their own. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to move to NYC. She hated company politics and kept going back to her desire to be an entrepreneur.
In the end they moved back to NYC with their child. It was then where Maria really felt she needed to figure out what to do next. She reached out to her friends from Stanford who were living in NYC. They formed a group that got together once a month as a support system. They called the group Winey (Women in NYC). They all had small kids. Maria had this fleeting thought about this group based on the questions they would ask each other. She thought about creating an app just for the group. She used open source platforms and that was the kernel of how she started to launch her business.
Maria became obsessed that the world needed what she was building. She launched Yapp.us, a platform targeted at consumers who in 10/15 minutes can create a themed mobile app. There is an element of design in the mix. It works on iPhones and Androids. For instance you can build an app for your friends and family coming to your wedding or for the new baby so everyone can share information and pictures. You could create an app for the employees of your restaurant so they can speak to each other about scheduling, new menus, etc. They did a lot of user testing about what exactly worked in a mobile paradigm.
Super smart concept. You just need an iPhone or Android and in not much time Yapp.us provides a turnkey solution for an app that works for you. Loved meeting with Maria. Check out what she has built on Yapp and build your own app today.