The following excerpt is from “Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking up Tech” by Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens. Copyright © 2017 by the authors and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.
The segment below highlights the journey of female entrepreneur, Yunha Kim, co-founder of Locket, a company that transformed the way Android mobile phone users engage with the screen of their device.
No risk, no reward
In 2012, less than a year out of college and with student loans still to pay, Yunha Kim ditched her cushy investment banking job in Manhattan for the chance to become an entrepreneur. Gone were the $35 sushi lunches and swanky address, traded for frozen pizza dinners and bunk beds in a cramped two bedroom that doubled as office space for a team of five people (plus three dogs and a hamster). Fully aware of the risks, Yunha, like many entrepreneurs we met, started off self-funding, or bootstrapping, the business as she tested her hypothesis.
Given the challenge of fundraising, female founders tend to be especially deliberate about experimenting with prototypes, getting user feedback and making sure a true market exists before they start to invest time and energy in looking for outside money and giving away ownership in the company. Making the leap was the toughest decision of her life, and she left a lot of money on the table. She was a mere 60 days away from her first Wall Street bonus when she decided to build Locket with her best friend from high school.
“I felt like I was letting my parents down because they really liked the job that I had. Just quitting and being unemployed just doesn’t sound right,” she said about breaking the news to her parents, both college professors living in South Korea.
Needless to say, they were worried. But Yunha, who studied economics and Chinese at Duke University, said she knew in her gut that because the eighty million Android phone users in the United States alone were averaging more than 100 looks at their phones every day, the potential market for advertisers was huge. She started doing research while still working as an analyst and became convinced she could make a better lock screen than what was then available. She figured that, even if she failed, she would probably build the first lock screen company, so taking on the challenge would be worthwhile.
Little did she know the struggles and hard choices were just beginning as she embarked on getting the actual business under way. In her tiny apartment, the team worked nonstop for more than a year on a product that reimagined the typical boring blue lock screen on Android phones as an addictive interface for gaming and other branded content.
Once they built the screen, Locket grew quickly, from 25,000 users on its first day on the market to more than 150,000 in a matter of months. But that’s when a major flaw in the business model became apparent. Yunha’s plan was to reward users with a small cash incentive when they swiped their lock screens, but because the number of users had grown so fast, Locket didn’t have enough money to pay users before its advertisers paid their bills. Locket was running out of money fast.
Locket would have to make a move to ensure its survival. Yunha had to quickly and nimbly change course and start over—and that meant laying off the entire team. Yes, the people with whom she had been sharing the apartment. It was one of the worst days of her life. But she didn’t give up, mostly because she had accepted that “failing forward” was part of the process and the journey was really just beginning.
So she made another high stakes bet and moved the operation out to San Francisco and started fundraising like crazy. Within months, she had raised $3.2 million from high profile venture capital firms. Her backers included the former super model Tyra Banks, Great Oaks Venture Capital and Turner Broadcasting. Yunha brought in new engineers, and the Locket screen went through multiple iterations until they finally brought to market a product that allows users to personalize their lock screen with news feeds and photos. Then they developed a second product, ScreenPop, a social tool that allows users to message with friends from the lock screen. Google named Locket a Best App in 2014.
“At the end of the day, my biggest fear is that later I [will] have regrets. We went through these pivots—I made so many mistakes here at Locket. I don’t regret many of them,” Yunha told us just a few months before she made headlines with a spectacular exit from the company.
Wish, the number one mobile shopping startup in the United States and Europe, acquired Locket for undisclosed terms in July 2015. When the deal became public knowledge, TechCrunch reported other suitors, including Yahoo and Facebook, were also possibly trying to scoop up the company. Yunha’s no risk, no reward approach clearly paid off.
Now she is working on her second startup, Simple Habit, a “Netflix for meditation,” which curates hundreds of five minute guided meditations led by mindfulness and wellness professionals from around the world. And she has some advice for aspiring female founders who are hoping to build the next Locket or some other amazing new invention: get out of your own way.
“If you’re really passionate about it and you want to do it, just start, instead of thinking about why you shouldn’t be doing it—you will have so many reasons why you shouldn’t be building a new business, so just go ahead and do it,” she advises.
“Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking up Tech” is available today via fine booksellers and is available for purchase at StartupNation.com.
Reviews of “Geek Girl Rising”
“Change is finally coming to the tech world because Silicon Valley sisters are doing it for themselves. And ‘Geek Girl Rising’ proves it. Essential and hopeful reading both for women ― and men ― who are working or want to work in the digital space. It’s been an uphill battle for women in Palo Alto but, as Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens meticulously report, their voices are starting to be heard and as the data shows, everybody benefits.”
-Joanna Coles, Chief Content Officer, Hearst magazines; Board member, Snap
“Since it’s the tech world that’s building our future, it’s vital women play a part ― and ‘Geek Girl Rising’ is the roadmap for the next generation of women not just to get involved but to lead their own tech startups. The challenges are real, but ‘Geek Girl Rising’ shows women how to rise to those challenges and overcome them. It’s the rallying cry we need for a diverse, connected, and sustainable world.”
-Arianna Huffington, CEO Thrive Global
“I don’t know much about tech, but I do know that these pioneer women are pretty dope. ‘Geek Girl Rising’ gives a much needed voice to the fearless women paving an important path in the tech world, while forming a lasting sisterhood along the way.”
“‘Geek Girl Rising’ is an inspiring ‘who’s who’ in tech that is a must-read for anyone wondering how women are using the power of business, sheer grit, and a lot of heart to start, build and fund companies – companies that are driving innovation and changing the landscape of the tech industry.”
-Kristy Wallace, President, Ellevate Network