Entrepreneur Catherine Fake is part of the wave of American businesspeople making strides in the worlds of tech, non-profits, and angel investment. Known primarily for her role in creating the image and video sharing site, Flickr, Fake’s reach has extended into Etsy, Salon, Hunch, and various Silicon Valley startups. To find out why Time magazine hailed this Vasser graduate as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, keep reading.
1. She has a first-class education
Unsurprisingly given her meteoric rise, Fake has a first-class education behind her. After transferring from Smith College in 1989, Fake studied English at the acclaimed Vassar College, graduating with her bachelor’s degree in 1991. Her time at Vassar didn’t just give her an education, it also helped determine her future career. Vassar’s VAXSAR system, a campus-wide network that allowed students to connect to the intranet in their dorms, gave Fake her first experience of the potential of the internet, inspiring an interest in web design that would last a lifetime. “If not for VAXSAR,” she’s said "I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing today.”
2. It took her some time to find her path
In the immediate years that followed her graduation from Vassar, Fake drifted from job to job, finding it difficult to settle on any particular course. “I didn’t really know what I was suitable for, given my background,” she’s said. After several years of taking any kind of job she could find, from a painter’s assistant to an investment banker to a dive shop salesperson, Fake decided to give herself a break by taking part in a climbing expedition to Nepal. On route, she stopped off to visit her sister in San Francisco. After the expedition got delayed (and eventually called off), Fake decided to stick around in the city and use the down-time to teach herself the basics about website design. Before long, she was one of the most in-demand website and CD-ROM creators around.
3. She launched her first start-up in 2002
Having worked for several years as a freelancer, Fake launched her first company in 2002. Ludicorp, a joint venture with Stewart Butterfield and Jason Classon, was started with the intention of creating a multiplayer online game. Created as it was in the lead up to the dot.com crash, Fake found it difficult to find investors. She persevered nonetheless, drawing on friends and family for support and even selling her own furniture to help fund the payroll. While the game failed to launch, Fake and Butterfield stumbled on a new idea, and in 2004, Flickr was released.
4. The success of Flickr surprised her
Within a matter of months of its release, Flickr had become the biggest photo-sharing website in the world. Such was its popularity that it quickly caught the attention of one of the largest web service providers in America, and in 2005, it was acquired by Yahoo in a deal worth a reported $30 million. The magnitude of her creation’s success caught Fake unaware. “It just grew like wildfire,” she’s explained. “We had definitely been trying to create something collaborative and universal and great, but we had no idea it would be as successful as it was.”
5. She’s won multiple awards
In recognition of her rollcall of achievements, Fake has been awarded multiple honors and distinctions. In addition to 2 honorary degrees (the first from Rhode Island School of Design and the second from The New School), she’s picked up a Silicon Valley Visionary Award from the Silicon Valley Forum and been named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
6. She married her Flickr co-founder in 2001
Fake clearly has no qualms about mixing business with pleasure- at least if her 2001 marriage to business partner and Flickr co-founder, Stewart Butterfield, is anything to go by. The marriage lasted 6 years and produced 1 child. Since the divorce, Fake has moved on and is currently in a relationship with Jaiku co-founder, Jyri Engeström.
7. She has her own blog
In 1998, Fake launched her own blog, caterina.net. The blog gives an insight into Fake’s thoughts on the latest developments in tech and business, as well as showcasing her tastes in culture and arts. One of the tidbits of information offered includes the background of her somewhat unusual name, which is derived from the German “Feick”. Fake also tells the story of her grandfather, a lawyer called Leverne Mucklow Fake. At some point or another, Leverne ran into a fellow lawyer named Abel Crook... although according to Fake, her grandfather was known for “(telling) tall tales so who knows if this is actually true”.
8. She’s the host of Should this Exist
Since February 2019, Fake has hosted Should This Exist, a show dedicated to exploring the impact of technology on the world at large. The series invites the creators of new, radical technologies to team up with entrepreneurs and investors to think through the consequences of their creations and understand what, if anything, can be done to ensure the best possible outcome for humanity.
9. She’s on the board of trustees for the Sundance Institute
Fake has sat on the board of trustees for the Sundance Institute since June 2015. The Institute works to support independent filmmakers by providing funding and the opportunity to showcase their work at the renowned Sundance Festival. In addition to her activities with Sundance, she also serves on the board of directors for Public Goods and McSweeneys.
10. She’s a multi-millionaire
Fake’s years in business have clearly not been in vain. With a list of credentials that include founding Flickr, Hunch, Findery, and the Founder Collective, heading up the Technology Development group of Yahoo, and chairing the board of directors at Etsy, it’s perhaps unsurprising she’s managed to accrue a net worth that, according to Celebrity Net Worth, amounts to a mammoth $25 million.
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee