Internet entrepreneur. CEO. Family man. Geoffrey Cook is known for many talents. And now, he can add co-author and awesome dad to that list. The tech tycoon and father of three dreamed up the children’s book – Veronica and the Volcano – with his daughter, Madeline Pearl Cook, on their daily drives to school.
In fact, the entire series is about a vibrant character named Veronica Pearl, based on Madeline herself, who lives on a volcano. Madeline named the character after her grandmother's middle name, Veronica, and Madeline's middle name, Pearl, as she was born on Pearl Harbor Day.
As I sat across from Geoff in his large glass-enclosed office located smack in the middle of the bustling MeetMe headquarters in New Hope, his passion for the project was bubbling to the surface much like Mount Kaboom, the fictional volcano that is home to Veronica.
As Geoff began to tell me about his work, it became apparent that he contains that unique winning combination of being able to dream up an exciting idea and having the determination and insight to bring that idea to life.
Geoff alongside his two younger siblings, Catherine and Dave, made headlines when they sold myYearbook, a New Hope-based social networking company, for $100 million dollars. As the older sibling, Geoff had stepped in to help Catherine and Dave follow through on their idea to create a virtual yearbook when they were still in high school. The company initially filled the void for the social networking needs of a younger demographic, but continues now to grow well beyond that under the rebranded name of MeetMe.
“If Facebook is where you go to stay connected with friends and Match.com is where you go to meet new romantic interests, MeetMe is more like the bar or coffeehouse, a casual gathering place, where you can socialize and meet new people near you.”
The digital solution to “your neighborhood bar” sold when Catherine was only 21 years old and Dave only 22. Geoff continues to run the company as the CEO, which has guided to more than $120 million in revenue and just acquired Germany's hottest dating app. Geoff shares that some of the ideas incorporated within the app may have been dreamed up right in New Hope’s own neighborhood bar, Triumph Brewery, a popular happy hour spot among employees.
But MyYearbook wasn’t Geoffrey’s first run of success. He actually started two websites while studying at Harvard called EssayEdge and ResumeEdge which sold to The Thomson Corporation in 2002.
Given his history helping set his younger family members on a promising entrepreneurial path, I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was the goal for his daughters in creating the new series of books.
But Geoff explained it isn’t about motivating a future career or sparking business ambitions. “We just had an idea and wanted to see it through.”
And so Geoff and Madeline did. And they set out on their work vigorously. Geoff exhaustively researched and even visited volcanos – diving into the science, the history, and even the way they’ve shaped civilizations. Volcanos are something Geoff “ always found fascinating,” and he poured himself into the project during any of the spare hours he could find while running a multi-million dollar business.
The book combines the believable with the fantastical – a blend of science and science fiction. Adults may recognize that Veronica's “Lava Car” has a lot in common with a Tesla and “New Lava City” includes ash-plows as a common site on the avenues throughout all seasons.
One reference that was especially influential throughout the process was Simon Winchester's Krakatoa, which examines the enduring and world-changing effects of the catastrophic eruption off the coast of Java of the earth’s most dangerous volcano — Krakatoa.
The book's fictional geographic landscape was actually inspired by several real volcanos – Mount Mystery by Krakatoa; Mount Kaboom by Mount Pelee, and Crater Lake which actually keeps its name in the book.
It all started when Madeline began asking Geoff and his wife to tell her bedtime stories. They would rattle off tales about a young girl that lived on a volcano, facing challenges that mirrored Madeleine's own life. Those stories began to take on a life of their own and soon it became a morning tradition between Geoff and Madeleine on the 25 minute drive into school each morning. Soon, Madeleine was joining in, providing the imaginative perspective that only a child can dream up.
Due in part to the unique foundation of the books, Geoff was also able to carefully consider the logistics of the book. He wanted to share what he had created with Madeline with other parents.
The narrative was designed so that the book can be enjoyed together over a series of time. Each chapter in the 320 page book will take about 15 minutes to read, perfect for a bedtime ritual. Geoff explained that he was inspired to do this after reading the popular Harry Potter franchise to his daughter, which would often take over 45 minutes per chapter. Geoff also incorporated STEM learning principles – science, technology, engineering, and math – into the story to help develop scientific foundations and interest for young readers.
Veronica and the Volcano is an exciting adventure story with educational elements. It is designed to stir young readers' curiosity for science while entertaining them. Veronica is a spunky, relatable heroine who courageously faces every challenge thrown at her. Veronica’s strong relationship with her parents, especially her father, stresses the importance of adults in kid’s lives, while also exploring the limits of those relationships.
The central message of the book is, “Adults are not always good but that's no excuse to be bad,” explains Geoff, who effortlessly jumps between conversations about the future of the internet to proudly sharing stories about his family to raising questions about how Volcanic eruptions may have helped shape the modern political climate. But no matter what the topic, the same passion and attention to detail shines through. Something tells me there are many more stories and projects ahead for Geoff, Madeline, and the Cook family…
You can order Veronica and the Volcano on Amazon or at Farley’s bookstore in New Hope. You can also meet Geoff and Madeline at upcoming events including the October 15, 2017 River Reads Festival at the Prallsville Mill in Stockton, NJ as well as at Labyrinth Bookshop in Princeton on October 28, 2017 at 3pm.