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Viral dance video turns into successful start-up


Karen Cheng is a woman of many talents. But when a video she made of herself learning how to dance over the course of a year went viral in July of 2013 -- attracting over 4 million YouTube views – she knew she’d created something others could relate to.

Give It 100 is like Vine or Youtube, but for bettering yourself,” says Cheng. “It’s a website for choosing a goal to get better at, and then practicing that goal for 100 days…Because if you work towards something everyday, you will get better at it.”

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So Cheng began filming herself in order to play back and watch her own moves but soon she realized that “I could put all these videos together to show my progress – and that others might want to see how far I’ve come, too.”

It was then that Give It 100 was born: a website, a community and a supportive platform for others to accomplish their goals just like Cheng. The site now has 40,000 users and growing, including several stories that have gotten their own share of attention, including a woman who has lost over a hundred pounds, and someone who has learned to walk again after being paralyzed.

“I guess you could say I’m a skills vampire,” says Cheng, who from a young age has enjoyed learning new things. “In the seventh grade I saw some boys spinning a book on their finger like a basketball. I went home and tried to learn and eventually got to the point [where] I could spin it -- and that was when I realized that things that look like magic are really just dumb practice.”

Cheng has also taught herself juggling, piano and guitar. But dance was entirely different.

“I saw this video of this guy, Marquese Scott, and he was moving his body just like an optical illusion. I didn’t know how I could ever get there, but I knew I had to try.”

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With the goal of learning to dance like that in a year or less, Cheng set out to mark her progress and at the end, filmed a final performance at a San Francisco BART station. After submitting the video to Reddit, the media attention it garnered convinced Cheng the idea was much bigger than herself.

“Anytime you see an accomplishment on TV – scoring a goal, nailing a performance, you’re seeing that moment of glory, not the decades they put into it. To me, perfect is boring. It’s the mistakes that are interesting.”

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When she started getting emails from strangers she had inspired by posting her dance video, Cheng says she saw an opportunity. She imagined a website where people could post videos of themselves practicing a new skill. And she knew just the person to help her.

“At the time I was working at a start-up with my friend Finbarr Taylor -- he’s an amazing programmer. He liked the idea, so we started working on it,” she says.

Though Cheng and Taylor now work on Give It 100 the way Cheng used to practice dance – everyday, little by little -- the community has been active and growing since day one.

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“What really makes it come alive is what all our members are doing on it,” says Cheng. Take, for example, the girl teaching her cat to use the toilet, the dozens of unicycle riders, or the man who learned to touch his toes in 42 days. “The community is so extremely supportive,” Taylor says.

Whether Give It 100 will be the next Tumblr or Vine remains to be seen, but Cheng is confident it’ll become the self-sustaining business she knows it can be. "When we started Give It 100, we were paying for everything from our life savings -- and running a video site can get expensive!” she says. But through their member newsletter in May, Give It 100 announced their admission into 500 Startups, a program that gives bourgeoning businesses mentorship and investment money to cover costs. This will allow Cheng and Taylor to put more of their time and resources back into the company, which is exactly how the pair plan to keep pushing forward. “My hope is that the next Lady Gaga, the next Barack Obama is on there, as a kid or as an amateur, just starting out learning something new.”

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Video produced by Sarah Lybrand; co-produced by Jessica Ashford & Emily Sharnhorst. Production by Michael Manas, Richard Rella, David Dellaria, Matthew Smith, and Maryann Vanderventer. Edited by Sean Elms. Graphics by Todd Tanner and Adam Saul For Yahoo! Studios. Executive Producers: Russ Torres and Peter Gorenstein.

Special Thanks to: ODC Studios in San Francisco, CA and Storybox Films.