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Stanford startups, a series: Crowdbooster

This is part of a larger series on Stanford startups that we’ll have throughout this year. We’ll cover interesting and promising startups around campus and from alums as they come up. The first is a YC-backed startup founded by Stanford alum Ricky Yean (’10).

Startups are painfully common on campus. Bathroom stalls are covered in promotional graffiti for “my startup,” in a clearly desperate stab at viral marketing. Few startups can make it out of the process successfully, but we’re happy to report on one such dream-come-true. Crowdbooster is a YCombinator-backed company that offers social media analytics to help people tell their stories in more powerful ways.

Ricky Yean, CEO and co-founder of Crowdbooster, started working on side projects while he was a junior at Stanford. Startups weren’t as popular as they are now, but inspired by the YC Startup School, BASES and his love for startups, Yean started working with David Tran, now CTO and co-founder of Crowdbooster. Although their projects didn’t take off, Yean and Tran went on to work on a lot of projects that interested them.

“David and I kept working together on many, many projects. We built products for things that were interesting to us,” Yean said.

The summer after they graduated from Stanford, Yean and Tran got into YCombinator. Even at YC, they didn’t stop iterating and thinking of new ideas. Yean received advice from Paul Graham (YC co-founder and general venture capitalist) to try to understand his users’ needs better.

“I went up and down University Avenue to talk to each store owner and find out what they needed,” Yean said.

After being rejected by several shop owners, Ricky went to Coupa Cafe, where the owner accepted to receive his help to boost their social media presence.

Through that experience, they realized how important analytics was for social media. Crowdbooster was born from the notion that it is important not only to measure your social media impact, but also to help people understand what content matters, how to tell their story in the most effective way. With this focus on becoming a storytelling tool rather than just an analytics website, Crowdbooster attracted clients like Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears and Lil’ Wayne in their early days.

“Social media is just another medium, like paper, TV and radio,” Yean said. “What matters is the quality of the content.”

As a startup founder, there are a few big lessons I learned from chatting with Yean. The first is to find things you’re passionate about. For instance, in my startup’s case (OneTune.fm), we are all very passionate about music. I listen to music all the time — when I’m working, studying, working out and even when I’m falling asleep or showering. My friends and I all use several different music services and we’re unhappy with the existing services.

The second lesson is to take advantage of the resources you have as a student. We use computer clusters and study rooms constantly, and rely on professors and mentors all over campus. As a student, Yean also took advantage of the fact that a lot of people in the industry would be willing to talk to students and tell them about their companies.

The third is to never stop innovating. You always need to keep learning because the moment you settle, you’re setting yourself up for limited growth as a person and as an entrepreneur. Before OneTune.fm, I worked in several side projects with friends and, although a lot of them didn’t take off, I was happy to keep working on new projects. Thankfully, I’m now working on one that I believe can make it to the next level, and am excited to apply some of these lessons learned.

Contact Lawrence Lin Murata at lmurata ‘at’ stanford.edu.

 

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