Kerry was brought into ChooseEnergy by Kleiner Perkins along with the seed funding. Since then, she has raised $25 million and is running a traditional venture-funded company. This interview includes a discussion on the controversial subject of women in technology and venture capital.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Kerry Cooper: I was born and raised in New Mexico. I was born in Santa Fe and raised, mostly, in Albuquerque. Both my parents are veterinarians. My mom was one of the first women to go to veterinary school. However, I grew up in a lower middle-class environment. We didn’t have much money. I started working when I was eight. I started babysitting when I was 12. I got my first job at Baskin-Robbins when I was 15. I think I’ve had a thousand jobs since then. That was the very beginning. I graduated from high school in Albuquerque.
Then I moved to University of Texas at Austin, which was as far away from home as I could get. I studied Engineering. I think mostly why I became an engineer was the beauty of where I lived in Albuquerque. We had the benefit of the Sandia National Laboratories in school. It had a very tight group of people who loved science and math. That seemed to be the most obvious path to go down. I graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree in 1993. That was very early on.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do after college?
Kerry Cooper: When I was in college, I co-opt actually. One of the things I learned is either you become a manager and get away from doing engineering, or you can do a Ph.D. to get deep into engineering. I chose the business path and joined McKinsey, a consulting firm in Houston. I worked on some fun projects. I worked in Alaska for a year. Way back when the Apple Newton was coming out, I did some computer analysis. It was a fun and amazing experience. After that, I went to Harvard Business School.
I spent my summer at Apple. I visited the Bay Area and I knew I was going to move here. I spent my entire summer looking for jobs. It was before the Internet. I worked for Apple in 1996 doing product management, which was an amazing experience. Then I rejoined McKinsey afterwards in the San Francisco office initially and then Silicon Valley in my last year.
Sramana Mitra: What happens after McKinsey?
Kerry Cooper: The first dot com was coming around and I really wanted to do something entrepreneurial. I ended up going into enterprise software for a short time. In 2002, I did a big career pivot and I quit to join retail. I joined Levi’s where I spent six years. First, I was in the supply chain strategy and eventually ended up planning for the Dockers brand and dockers.com and managed that business for a couple of years.
Sramana Mitra: What was your synthesis of the experience between going from all these different types of industries and then coming to retail. It sounds like retail is something that you like more than others? What drove that?
Kerry Cooper: You’re right. I love retail. The customer tells you everyday what they like and what they don’t like. There’s so much of retail that pulls together that macro part of our economy – understanding where people are doing, where they’re looking at, what are their options. I love being close to customers.