Cooper Harris reveals why she left her acting career to create the groundbreaking advertising platform Klickly

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Describe your business in a few words?

Klickly is an invite-only customer-acquisition engine for brands –– we allow brands to leverage our proprietary data to advertise the right product to the right consumers across 25 million+ online destinations, with zero upfront spend.

I like to call Klickly a “Commerce Engine.” We’re a full-funnel “advertising-meets-ecommerce” platform –– we have the technology to do the full eCommerce funnel from discovery to purchase!  We find the right customers, help them engage, and then we have proprietary tech that allows them to buy products directly within ads, sites, and other marketing messages. 

Other than our purchase technology, the main way we’re different — and why brands love us — is that we are performance-based. We only charge brands when we make a sale. Especially in today’s landscape, the ability to pay for value is incredibly important.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit, but the “aha” moment that sparked the idea for Klickly is kind of a funny story — the idea was born from a frustrating online shopping experience. I was trying to buy a cute pair of shoes I saw advertised in an ad on my phone. I clicked on the ad and was forced through about 12 pages before I could finish the purchase. I ultimately got annoyed and gave up on buying the shoes. 

My first thought after this experience was, “Why would they make it so hard for me to give them money?” I thought, “What if we skip the headache and essentially “impulse-buy” this pair of shoes directly within the ad itself.” It was from that spark of inspiration (or frustration), Klickly was born.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

Before I decided to become an entrepreneur, I was a sitcom and daytime TV actress in New York and LA. Yes, I actually have 60-some credits on IMDB. 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 concept that I could take an idea and create the seed of 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 later, I am so excited to be contributing to the technology boom here in Los Angeles. 

I think initially, a lot of people were surprised — myself included — at this successful transition from Hollywood actress to technologist CEO. But I have to say, the constant pressure, work ethic, storytelling skills, and ultimately the discipline of learning 80 pages of lines each week, all of my acting skills have translated to making me a stronger CEO and leader.  Nothing gives you thick skin like auditioning!

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Technology and innovation are in my DNA. My grandmother was one of the first female coders working in the Signal Intelligence Corps during WWII and my father was an entrepreneur. Growing up hearing the story of my grandmother and learning from my father, I couldn’t help but be inspired. 

So that’s where I get a lot of my entrepreneurial drive. It was instilled upon me from an early age. Surrounded by this, I’d always pondered “what can I do that has an impact? What can I do to innovate?”  

Gradually, with my early work in Hackathons, I began to use that mentality, eventually working with some very cool people like Adrian Grenier, Fabian Cousteau and even the rapper, Wakka Flakka Flame to create various social impact apps. My self-professed “tech nerd” brain eventually led me to the business world, and I’ve now discovered: this is what I really love.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

Before we launched Klickly, we spent time developing a “proof of concept” prior to launching anything (including surveys, tests, feedback, and gathering LOIs). This allowed us a solid start while we were in Beta — we figured we might have 40 beta testers. We ended up with 400! No longer in beta, we’ve now onboarded thousands of DTC brands over the past 2 years. We’ve really grown our brand acquisition strategy by building an infrastructure that includes:

1. A solid outreach process and sales team — You have to have a well-thought-out and tested process in place with attainable, yet aggressive goals. Part of that process includes a good foundation of partnerships with apps, technology, and agency partners. When there’s a fit between what you and another platform does, you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish to help grow each other’s businesses.

2. A strong internal network (and ability to use it) — Tap into your network. For us it was VCs, investors, and friends.

3. A product/service people love — Nothing will ever beat the quality of the product. User experience and good old-fashioned word of mouth are key for the longevity of your business. Create something people love, and they will stick around.

Klickly is unique in the fact that we’re an invite-only platform, which means we had some unique obstacles to overcome. Which is why it was so important to us that brands love us enough to tell others. But even for businesses that don’t have that limitation, the 3 methods above are a great jumping off point.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

I noticed two big challenges in our early days. First, we were cash constrained — like any early-stage startup — so this made it tricky to hire and grow. The second challenge was raising funding. 

We overcame the first challenge with scrappy, iterative tactics like building inexpensive prototypes and getting impressive LOIs from prospective clients. Early on, I also may have paid my own salary by renting my front bedroom out on Airbnb (again, we were very scrappy!). As for the second challenge of raising money, that took time and building credibility and traction. Given that I was not your stereotypical “tech” entrepreneur, I perhaps had a slightly more difficult time conforming to the startup founder mold and getting funding early on. 

Nevertheless, I remain adamant that every founder faces unique obstacles and, whereas some actually are unfair, they tend to make you craftier and more resourceful! I learned to be iterative, focus on the areas of ROI, and actually make money early. Fast forward to last year when we discovered it’s not a bad thing to be break-even raising a 3rd round of VC funding — it gives you a lot more flexibility on what terms you want to take.  Plus, some nice awards and accolades have also helped us establish credibility and traction far beyond what we expected.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

I’ve been pretty pleased to look back and see a track-record of my stubbornness working for me!  But really, joking aside, as a 14-year-old, I decided to be an actor and applied to a top performing arts boarding school. Years later, I successfully graduated and landed on a TV show in New York, followed by films in Hollywood. 

Fast forward to me on set, wanting to start a company – by sheer willpower, I faced fears and challenges and made it happen. I couldn’t be more grateful to now be running a company I’m very proud of that’s helping tons of awesome DTC challenger brands compete to get the visibility and sales they deserve.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

I always ask if they’re a “cash person” or “equity person.”  Obviously, everyone has to make ends meet (I’m not advocating being irresponsible), but if someone says “cash person” out of the gate, they won’t be a fit for an early-stage company. It signals to me they aren’t a risk-taker and don’t believe in my business enough to want equity. 

The best early-stage team member is someone who gets fulfillment from innovation, from pushing the envelope. In an interview when I hear “I want to be part of something” or “I want to build something” I smile because I know they’ll be great on the team. 

It really comes down to the fact that a successful startup hire must believe in the company’s mission and vision for success. Many startups are fueled by a drive to achieve something more, so it’s important to hire team members who share this drive. 

After making a hire, we developed three ways to ensure there’s a mutual fit between the company and the new employee. 

We begin by clearly explaining our high-level goals. We then have a trial period to give the hire time to align themself with these goals. During this period, we have professional development chats to ensure the new hire can flag any concerns or issues, plus it helps align both the company’s goals and their longer-term career goals. These three practices allow us to see quickly whether the new hire is a long term fit.

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

It’s hard to deny that COVID-19 hasn’t had a positive impact on eCommerce. There was certainly some hesitation early on, and we lost a number of brands who were stymied in the face of pending logistical and manufacturing issues. But of course, total eCommerce as an industry grew 24% compared to previous years. 

While we didn’t build Klickly with a pandemic in mind, the current landscape has really solidified the need for a commission-based option when it comes to customer-acquisition. The pandemic affected brands in different ways, and a number of brands needed a less risky platform where they could have 100% control over their ROAS –– IE. if they were getting sales, they were happy to pay. 

Then again, some brands took the opposite approach and saw an opportunity to get aggressive. They doubled down in order to get ahead of the competition. Klickly only charges on performance (no upfront spend) so by nature we’re a very brand-friendly option during these times. We’ve seen Klickly grow hugely as a result.

Outside of that, like many businesses we’ve transitioned to a fully remote environment. Luckily the transition was fairly easy –– we’d been doing Remote Wednesdays for a year prior!

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

We have something very exciting launching this month! And we’re inviting readers (YOU) to get early access. We’re beta launching a new invite-only, shopping app for trendsetting, trail-blazing women. For those who qualify, it offers access to steep private discounts and free gifts on over 2k hot brands. 

Our team has been working SUPER hard the past few months and are excited to bring it to beta. So (shameless plug) I’d love to invite interested beta testers to apply at JoinGiftly.com (MUST use code PREN1) We have a waitlist, but the code will let you skip the line 😉

From a DTC perspective, big changes are coming down the road for advertisers — we’ve already gotten a taste with data regulations (read: CCPA, iOS updates, etc). 

To a lot of brands, this sounds scary if they haven’t begun optimizing for first party data. Fortunately, Klickly is well-positioned to help DTC brands overcome the hurdle.  In addition to our usual stack of risk-free customer-acquisition capabilities, we’ve recently launched “Klickly Discovery.” And it’s exactly what it sounds like, leveraging our proprietary data and existing audience to get our brands new, never-before-seen customers.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

Three words: “expect the unexpected.”

The old adage “plan for the worst and hope for the best” now likely resonates with everyone who experienced 2020. While this year brought on unique challenges for everyone, it’s important to celebrate the resilience the industry showed.  And also – for some – perhaps have the “worst-case scenario” plan a little more fleshed out next time.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

I wish someone had told me step-by-step how to effectively take a product to market. So here you go –– I’ll give my learned-the-hard-way GTM checklist below. Here are five lessons I learned along the way:

First, pinpoint what you can give your customers that makes it impossible for them to say no. New, cash-constrained startups need to get innovative to draw people in. For Klickly, this meant using a free model for customer-acquisition where brands only pay us if we get them sales – this has never been done before and made it hard to turn us down! 

Second, listen to the opinions of potential customers – they can make or break your company. When I was just starting Klickly, I sat down with a ton of digitally-savvy brands and marketers, all of which told me the same thing: traditional advertising was risky. I’d suggest that anyone bringing a new product to market invest the time and energy to really listen to your customers’ day-to-day pain points. Then solve them. 

The third piece of advice I can share is to make your product or service simple. Too often entrepreneurs — especially those of us in tech — build monstrosities that are insanely complicated and hard for the customer to use. 

Next: be upfront. So many products fail because they promise to be perfect too early. Typos won’t make or break your company (typically), but setting inaccurate expectations will. 

Lastly, I would say to create a product that delivers real value to your customers. Then word-of-mouth kicks in, making your job easier in every way. At the end of the day, if your product doesn’t drive value for customers, they’re not going to stick around. 

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Personal health. The cornerstone of staying grounded in my work is staying grounded in my body. I’ve placed a lot of emphasis on staying healthy and active — especially during 2020. 

One of my favorite hacks I’ve learned over the course of this past year is doing 20 – 30 minutes of super intense HIIT every morning (it keeps your energy up all day, makes me more focused, and helps your lymph system clear waste).

The other hack that’s been great has been automating my food intake.  To me, 3 daily meals seems like a lot of effort and time. The planning, the cooking, the prep, it takes up so much energy I could put elsewhere. So I got rid of 2 meals AND all the guesswork – I changed my intermittent fasting so I eat 1 meal around 5pm, with a healthy protein bar around 2pm. That’s it!  It’s saved so much time and removes the mental guesswork, so I know exactly what (and when) I’m going to eat.

I’m also very big on biohacking, too, and there’s a lot of research around how intermittent fasting can improve overall health, inflammation, weight loss, sleep, brain function, and most importantly, longevity.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

It’s no question Covid has blurred the lines between work/home life. We’re now surrounded by constant distractions making it difficult to separate work and home. 

I do think a version of this might become the new normal, but it’s important to have a clear line drawn between work and home.

To achieve this, get creative in setting up your work space. Hang a curtain, get a special Zoom light, buy a dedicated work desk.  A clear work space at home not only puts you in “work mode” and helps with productivity, but it also allows you to “leave” your work at work, even if you aren’t actually leaving.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

Aside from my career as a TV actress …  I was struck by lightning as a child!  It’s not a warm, fuzzy memory, but it’s a favorite – I learned there are such things as miracles… and I’m really hard to kill 🙂 

Seriously, I had such a magical childhood – I’ll always be grateful that my parents fostered in me a wonder, curiosity, and optimism that has stuck with me to this day! I also got lucky going to a Waldorf school. The school is incredibly rigorous and requires that kids really, truly understand what they’re learning, not just memorize for tests. As an example, when learning about combustion engines, you build one.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

Here are my top 3 productivity hacks:

1. This year, I’ve been huge on mastering “context switching” — or the act of focusing on one task in the same category before moving onto another. Did you know that you can waste up to 2 hours per day by switching back and forth between tasks? I try to schedule my days in blocks so that I can give my maximum focus to each thing. 

2. Secondly, it may be cliché, but “work smarter not harder” –– live into what Stephen Covey calls the ‘long-term-and-important quadrant’. IE. spend time and attention on important vs. urgent things. It’s so easy to get trapped into treading water by fixing the minute, day-to-day urgent (but unimportant) issues… then we look up and 6 months have gone by without accomplishing our truly important long-term goals. Set your vision on the truly important things! 

3. The final hack I use is to visualize my “9pm self” having done the things I want to accomplish that day. This sounds weird but did you know that your brain can’t tell the difference between reality and fiction? I harness this power- every morning at 6am I envision myself at the end of the day, already having accomplished whatever I needed to in the day. I imagine the state I want to be in at 9pm in great detail. Envisioning my “9pm self” will inevitably train my brain to accomplish those things that most need it 

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

An Entreprenista isn’t just someone who builds a business. And Enreprenista is someone who takes her knowledge and passes it on to other women and girls, helping foster future generations of successful women. When I’m not geeking out over tech or giving eComm brands risk-free advertising, I’m actively engaging in the community to help foster future generations of girl power, whether it be speaking at my alma mater or working on youth hackathons. Entreprenistas pass along the knowledge!

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