This is a terrific entrepreneurial story of a woman entrepreneur with no technology background who is killing it with a technology startup.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? What’s your background?
Cooper Harris: I’m from the southeast of the East Coast. I was born in Atlanta and I grew up in North Carolina just because my mom is a professor at Duke and UNC. I also studied at Duke.
Sramana Mitra: Where did you do your education?
Cooper Harris: UNC, and I did some courses at Duke as well. That rivalry is something that you have to go one way or the other, so I say UNC.
Sramana Mitra: When did you come out of college? What was happening in the world?
Cooper Harris: I have a really interesting background. When I was a kid, I did not want to be an entrepreneur necessarily. My dad was a serial entrepreneur. My brother is a computer engineer. My original goal, which I decided in no uncertain terms, was to be an actor. I went away to boarding school for acting – one of the top two in the nation. Then I went to one of the top programs for acting in college. The day I graduated, I had one of the best agents in New York and was on a TV show.
Sramana Mitra: That’s amazing.
Cooper Harris: It was pretty ridiculous.
Sramana Mitra: How long did you pursue that acting path?
Cooper Harris: About four years. I was in New York for a year and did Broadway, which I loved. It was all very fun. I moved to LA for a paramount film and it began to lose the edge. It wasn’t as exciting as it had been. More than anything, I just had the desire to do a little bit more and build something. I blame my dad for that.
Seeing him start successful companies, I felt, subconsciously, that’s what I should be doing. That gap between building and owning your own thing and being able to actualize versus speaking lines on camera was growing wider and wider. I told a couple of people this. I started sneaking off to hackathons on the weekends. It felt like a normal thing to do. I grew up with my brother hacking around and building sites. I felt quite at home and enjoyed myself. Eventually, I got very obsessed about tech. I eventually left the show in favor of doing technology.
Sramana Mitra: When you were attending these hackathons, were you actually writing code?
Cooper Harris: Yes, but badly.
Sramana Mitra: How did you learn to write code? Your background is in any kind of programming.
Sramana Mitra: What year are we talking now when you switched out of the entertainment industry?
Cooper Harris: Thas was four years ago.
Sramana Mitra: Fairly recent. You came out and did what?
Cooper Harris: My first company was digital, but it was more of a digital branding agency. We make digital content in a very streamlined way for companies who had trouble talking to millennials. We did quite well, but we sold it after 13 months. It was a very quick turnaround. As everyone listening knows, you don’t get the same multiples from an agency as you do from a technology company. That was during that transition time.
The second company is more of a technology platform. That was about three years ago. I leveraged all of the amazing engineers that I met at the hackathon. I had networked with these fantastic technologists mainly because I won the hackathons and because I was able to pitch well. I tend to have very human-centric ideas.