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The Inspiring Backstory of Cooper Harris, Actress, CEO and Founder of Klickly

“I’d suggest that anyone bringing a new product to market invest the time and energy (we spent about 3 months) to really listen to your customers’ day-to-day pain points. Then solve them.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Cooper Harris, CEO and founder of Klickly, one of BuiltIn LA’s “Top Companies to Watch in 2017.” Known for their “in-ad buying” technology, Klickly just launched a “risk-free advertising platform” in time for last-minute holiday campaigns. Harris — a former Hollywood actress — is quickly becoming one of Los Angeles’ most acclaimed female technologists: she was nominated for Google’s “Young Innovator’s Award” and named by Adobe and Wunderman as one of the “Top Thought-Leaders” at Cannes Lions this year, alongside execs from JPMorgan and Burger King.

Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

You know how Facebook shows you these photos of “memories” that say things like, “Here’s what you were doing 4 years ago?” I was looking at one of these photos this morning — it was a pic of me on the set of my grandmother’s favorite soap opera, wearing a black dress, lots of makeup, having a bunch of fun with the crew and cast, in the midst of the career I’d always wanted.

I had no clue in that moment, that only 4 years later, I would be the nerdy CEO of an award-winning technology company, with a killer team, with a bunch of amazing and inspirational customers, and having raised millions of dollars from VCs and execs at companies like Google, Disney, etc.

It honestly feels like I’ve re-invented my dream these last few years, and I think a lot of people have been surprised — myself included — at this transition from Hollywood actress to technologist and founder.

In the midst of my acting career, I didn’t intentionally seek out a path into technology — I loved my job very much, but I wasn’t totally fulfilled. I started sneaking off to Hackathons on the weekends. What I found in the midst of these 48-hour tech sprints was that I became intoxicated with the idea that I could take an idea and create a company in just 2 days. This scalability and potential for positive impact with tech was so huge for me. I was totally hooked. So I quit acting and made the leap. Now 2 successful companies and a few years later, I am so excited to be contributing to the technology boom here in Los Angeles.

Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company

The tech scene is a fantastic place to be right now — from finding myself on Necker Island with inspirational figures like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, to getting to email back-and-forth with titans like Mark Cuban… There’s never a dull moment!

But something amusing that always comes up is people often think I’m a guy. I mean, they’re getting emails from someone named Cooper, who nerds out about conversion rates, new javascript frameworks, invite-only vs. open betas … people just assume I’m a guy. When I was fundraising, VCs (venture capitalists) were always surprised to Google me and discover I wasn’t a dude, and even more to discover I was previously an actress.

I have to say, I kind of like keeping people on their toes. It’s fun to remind folks that stereotypes aren’t always accurate.

Startup of the Year, Klickly

Yitzi: So what does your company do?

Well, I’m very excited: we just released the “1st ever, commission-based advertising platform.” This means smaller brands can now use Klickly’s tech — for free with no upfront spend — to advertise their products on the largest sites in the world. (Brands only pay when sales roll in.)

After working mostly with Fortune 500 companies, we wanted to create a powerful marketing tool for innovative ecommerce brands. We interviewed about 300 stores (hosted on Etsy, Shopify, etc.) and heard that they wanted a purely-CPA-based advertising option. So that’s what we’ve built! Compared to traditional advertising options, our idea of totally risk-free or pure-CPA advertising is really, really unique.

It’s fun to be able to empower the coolest, hippest new brands with the same tech we’ve used previously with Fortune 500 companies. And it’s just in time for the holidays, too! So if any of your HuffPost readers want to check it out, I’m sure that can be arranged :)

Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We’re all about democratizing technology. As one example, we’re really excited about empowering the world’s most innovative new ecommerce brands and entrepreneurs. I’ve been so impressed by up-and-coming companies like Knixwear, Sagely Naturals, etc, led by some of the smartest women I’ve met — seriously, check them out! — I just felt instinctively that I wanted to build a platform that allowed them access to technology that previously had only been available to companies with huge budgets.

Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why.

Because we just launched a really exciting new product, I’m going to share 5 things I wish someone had told me before I tried launching a new product! :)

Make it impossible to say no: new, fast-growing ecommerce brands don’t always have huge budgets — it’s what forces them to be innovative. In order to work with these awesome ecommerce brands (and let them get a taste of what we offer), we adopted a free, or “Freemium,” model for advertising. Brands literally only pay us if they get sales. Pretty sure this has never been done!

Takeaway: For founders building a new company, I’d ask: what can you give your customers that makes it impossible to say no?

Listen to the customers who’ll make you a success: in our case, I sat down with a ton of digitally-savvy brands and marketers. They all lamented the same thing: traditional advertising was risky — they’d all spent a ton of money trying to get advertising to work, and it often failed. They all wished they had access to a risk-free advertising tool that actually delivered sales. The insights from speaking with our target customers were incredible!

Takeaway: I’d suggest that anyone bringing a new product to market invest the time and energy (we spent about 3 months) to really listen to your customers’ day-to-day pain points. Then solve them.

Make it simple: too often we tech founders build monstrosities that are insanely complicated and hard to use :) With Klickly, we tried to make it simple by focusing on brands’ core needs: brands can launch a “buyable” CPA-based ad campaign in less than 5 minutes.

Takeaway: I’d recommend all founders think about how they can streamline their products to be simpler. I’m reminded of a hilarious cartoon by Brady Bonus that depicts a new product, fresh from the design team — a rocketship with intricate features — followed by a depiction of what the customer actually needed: a bike and a small ramp.

Be honest — So many products fail because they promise to be perfect too early. I’m very transparent with brands that request to be in our invite-only beta: we’re moving really fast to bring them the 1st-ever risk-free advertising option (in time for the holidays!). There will be typos and there will be some bugs, but that’s ok.

Takeaway: I’d strongly recommend that founders be honest with their customers. Typos won’t make or break your company (typically), but not being honest or setting accurate expectations will.

Deliver value — in the end, we can build the simplest, most pain-point-killing, free product … but if it doesn’t drive value for my customers (aka doesn’t get them SALES), they’re not going to stick around

Takeaway: Delivering REAL value to customers makes your job easier in every way. Word-of-mouth kicks in; you have to work less on marketing; you can get away with more typos :)

Yitzi: I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this.

I’d love to chat with Toby, CEO of Shopify — I’m a big fan of what he’s built! Of course, we’re also excited to meet with and continue chatting with the folks at Etsy, BigCommerce, Magento, etc. In terms of all-time inspirational figures I’d want to dine with — assuming we have a time machine?? — totally Nikola Tesla! Otherwise, Michelle Obama, Forerunner Ventures, and Oprah.