OHS Alum Catherine Yeo shares her entrepreneurship story at Stanford OHS Splash’s “Building a Startup as a Student” Event!

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Sesame, created by OHS alum and current Harvard student Catherine Yeo ’18, is an online platform that makes it easy for students to connect with each other just as they would in a college dorm hallway.

Catherine Yeo ’18, an OHS alumna and current student at Harvard University, is the co-founder of Sesame, a social platform popular at OHS.  At Splash’s “Building a Startup as a Student: Story of Sesame” event, Catherine shared the process of building Sesame, as well as her experiences with coding, entrepreneurship, and writing to inspire those in the OHS community.

      Catherine’s interest in technology and computer science began in middle school, inspired, intriguingly, by her love of writing and reading. Hearing about the troubles some of her classmates had in studying spelling and vocabulary, Catherine wanted to make a game to make learning new words fun. After teaching herself to code and debug, she presented her friends with Letter Pop, an iOS game to develop literacy.

      Catherine cites Letter Pop and other ensuing high school projects such as a foreign language chatbot and a Hurricane Sandy tweet categorization model as integral in furthering her interest in entrepreneurship and innovation. “Doing small projects was the best way to get me interested in things,” she explained. “When you’re at the project stage, you have no pressure to turn it into a successful company. You can experiment… learn new skills… figure out what kind of people you work best with”- all important knowledge one needs to build to become an entrepreneur. 

Catherine also explained the role that organizing, leading, and attending hackathons played in her high school career. Hackathons allowed her to form connections in the communities she was part of and help those around her tell their own stories through technology, a priority that initially drew her to writing. She also gained experience in “project management and… coordinating sub-teams.” Over the past few years, Catherine has organized 10 hackathons and worked with over 5000 students. These non-technical skills provided the foundation for her to create Sesame in her second year of college.

At the beginning of off-campus quarantine this year, Catherine noticed how easy it was to become isolated from friends and classmates. Compared to the bustle of campus life, where meeting and studying with friends was as easy as walking down a dorm hallway, connecting with friends from home presented multiple challenges- it was difficult to know when friends were free or to connect or visit spontaneously. “I got lonely at times,” she admits. And so, working with Maddie Wang and Cole Kissane, two other students from Stanford and Harvard, Catherine created Sesame to hang out and co-study “as easily as you would in real life.” With the browser extension, users can see which of their friends have their doors open and are free at a glance; with one click, they can start a call. It’s clear that students feel the need for an app like Sesame: in the past seven days, 3540 calls have been made by over 1000 students from universities across the US (and from OHS!), and Sesame shows no signs of stopping.

To the budding coders and entrepreneurs out there, Catherine stresses the importance of dedicating time to explore your interests and branch out. “Entrepreneurship is… a very interdisciplinary field,” she says. If you are looking to begin your own company and develop some of these diverse skills, Catherine suggests starting as she did, by identifying problems you want to solve, creating small projects to tackle those problems, and talking to and collaborating with people. She finishes by telling students that failure is completely normal, as many, many startups and projects fail, and “learning why [they] failed is valuable in itself.”

      If you’re looking to get started on your entrepreneurial journey, try following some of Catherine’s tips- who knows where they might lead you!