There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: Kerry Cooper, CEO of Choose Energy. She joined Choose Energy in the fall of 2013, and since then the company has secured a $7.5 million round of funding from Kleiner Perkins, acquired Chicago-based startup Power2Switch and boosted revenues 400 percent.
Kerry came to the energy business from fashion. She was the CMO and COO of ModCloth, an innovative online retailer of women’s apparel, and prior to that held several executive roles at Walmart.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Kerry Cooper: I was desperate to see the world, so when I was young I thought [being] a flight attendant was the answer. My mom never said a bad thing about things like this that I came up with; for this I thank her. Mostly I wanted to be a pediatrician, since I love kids and medicine, but ended up staying in engineering and then moving on to business.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Cooper: I have had a thousand jobs (or nearly that many!) and have enjoyed being in many roles in big companies and small. I was COO at my last company and wanted to have a chance to build something at an earlier stage and take on the CEO role.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Cooper: I read a book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, where the author Lois Frankel argues (among other things) that women don’t ask for raises or promotions. It was early 2007 and I went to my boss and asked to run retail for the Dockers brand (in addition to running the planning department)—and he said yes! It meant taking on launching Dockers.com and revamping our store strategy, which was an amazing experience. You have to ask! The worst that will happen is you get a “no.”
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Cooper: The technology industry creates unconventional small businesses, where growth is paramount, funded by venture capital—so I’m guessing much of the advice I’ve received isn’t transfer able. That said, “Hire slow, fire fast” sticks with me as a top piece of advice, as building the right team is critical to your business success.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Cooper: Pay it forward. It’s lonely and exhilarating and a grind all at the same time to be running a small business. Taking the time to connect people you meet with others, offering advice, or just being a sounding board is well worth your time.
Lesonsky: Do you have a prediction for small business?
Cooper: For tech startups, a focus on EBITDA will be paramount. Valuations based only on growth without clear unit economics won’t continue.
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Cooper: That’s a hard one! I love to read and read a lot. I have re-read A Confederacy of Dunces a few times and would love to read it again. This year, I’ve loved The Boys in the Boat and two WWII fiction pieces: The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Cooper: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” –Ghandi
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