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
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.
Woh. If it is what I understand it to be, this is absolutely brilliant.Looking forward to trying it.
Oh the story… my wife and I were refuseniks too… after we tried to escape from Bulgaria in 1982 and 1984. And now we both are web entrepreneurs (in Boston). Wish a lot of success to Maria… will take a look at Yapp.us.
refuseniks. i did not even know what that term meant until speaking with maria. really fascinating.
Joanne, this was a great read. Long, but worth it. We also discovered bkr via your blog. We “pinged” them way back when for our upcoming holiday gift guide. You also led us to The Help (b4 all the buzz) and Game Change. Both were book club winners. (Skip Mallon’s Watergate.)So thank you.Erin Kaese, Managing EditorAthletic-Minded Traveler
Joanne, thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thorough story. It’s such an honor to see my name on a blog that I myself frequently read for inspiration and ideas. Thank you for believing in me and in Yapp!
love what you have built.
What a great idea! Bravo!