When I asked Shana Cooper, the Vice President of Products & Services at Kuvée my very last interview question, she smiled.
“Ten years ago, would you have predicted this is where you would end up?”
“No,” she laughed. “Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have seen this coming.”
Shana grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts and attended Colgate University, a top liberal arts school in central New York. During her four years of undergrad, she studied chemistry.
Although she liked her major, as her senior year came to a close, Shana realized she wanted to go into the business side of technology.
“I liked chemistry because I liked the hard and interesting problems. What I didn’t like about it was actually doing the chemistry part,” Shana explained.
Shortly after graduation in 2000, Shana started working at TRA-CON Inc., a subsidiary of National Starch & Chemical, as an Application Engineer. During her three years there, she worked in sales/service and researched different potential applications for electronic assembly adhesives.
“My time at TRA-CON set the stage for my career. I realized I wanted to talk to customers, learn about them and help them solve their problems. I decided I wanted to make something.”
At the time, changes were only made to the adhesives when customers called in and asked for certain modifications. Shana knew that being reactive wasn’t enough. In order to get ahead, she had to learn to be strategic.
In 2002, Shana started taking night classes at Boston University’s School of Business. Going to school part time, she was able to apply her lessons during her day job. She soon moved into a product focused role and worked with the Vice President to explore applications in healthcare. Through her research, she discovered where the market gaps were and determined where National Starch & Chemical could fit in and add value.
Eight years into her career, Shana realized she wanted a change. She knew with her growing responsibility and skill set, she could have a good career where she was. However, it felt like there was something missing.
“I wanted to work on innovative products. Something that was a little farther up the stream than adhesives. We were working with Nokia and Apple. We were even in the iPhone. But you’re not going to change the course of the iPhone with an adhesive.”
Deciding to change directions, Shana got involved in the Boston startup scene. With hopes to change an industry, she joined Brontes, a medical device company, as a Product Manager. The company manufactured a dental scanner that was used to replace impressions. Although the scanner was what made the product work, Shana found the bigger and more interesting part of the business was the data, the way the data was moved and the way it was used.
“When the dentist captured the scan, the data went up to the cloud. We created software to manage that. With the data, we were able to improve the product. For example, at one point dentists were struggling because they said it was too hard to use. So we looked at how long it took them to do each part of the process. With the data, we could see where they were struggling and use that to improve the product features.”
After working at Brontes for three years, Shana was hooked on innovating static industries. In early 2011, she started as the Director of Product Management at Harvest Automation Inc., a startup that made robots for agriculture. In addition to implementing new technology to a stubborn industry, Shana was challenged with building a product in the isolation of a lab and then introducing it into the environment where it’s going to be used and figuring out how to market it.
“At Harvest, I really started getting into marketing in more depth. I had to figure out how we should talk about it, what it should look like, what color should it be and what the label should say. It was a business that I hadn’t been involved in that much before. I had to learn how to present the product in a way that people could understand it.”
About two years later, Shana decided to dedicate herself to marketing full-time. Following some Harvest co-workers, she became the Vice President of Marketing at Sample6 Technologies, a biotech startup that focused on food safety. While there, her focus really shifted towards content marketing, lead generation and building a funnel. Building up the entire marketing program including the website and all of the lead generation, the majority of customers came through the marketing funnel—a huge credit to the structure Shana was able to build.
“With inbound marketing, we presented the problem customers are having and the solution we had for them without being their face like more traditional advertising. Instead we had this content-rich and white hat way of marketing which I loved.”
After realizing the power and fun of marketing, Shana realized it was time to venture into consumer marketing. Some of her previous co-workers from Sample6 invited her to join their next project, a smart wine bottle company called Kuvée.
While marketing is important for B2B companies, Shana realized B2C marketing is at a totally different scale.
“The Sample6 website had good traffic for a B2B website. We generally had about 3-5,000 visitors a month. But when I saw the presale week at Kuvée attracted over 50,000 website visitors, I thought, ‘I’m not in Kansas anymore.’”
As Shana looked back on her career path so far, she tells me she didn’t expect the odd sequence of products but she had always wanted to get into innovative products.
“What’s been interesting and entertaining is just to see where the path goes. I’ve been looking for great teams and new businesses and I’ve been open to everything from chemicals to medical devices to robotics. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Rapid Fire Q&A
Brianne Shelley (BS): How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
Shana Cooper (SC): I’m definitely a coffee drinker. I would say one but it very much varies in size. On my leanest day, it’s probably just one cup of coffee at home and on other days it can be a giant sized one from Dunkin’ Donuts.
BS: Where are you most productive?
SC: I always do well under a little pressure. I like to be in the office because I like to be with people. I get a lot from that interaction. I also feel like I also get a tremendous amount done between 7 and 8:30pm when I realize there’s still a lot that needs to be finished. After we’re done with dinner and before I have to put the kids to bed, I can get a lot done in my kitchen in an hour and a half. But I ultimately like being in the office because it’s a lot more fun being around everybody.
BS: What’s your morning routine like?
SC: I get up early to run. Then, usually it’s a mad dash to get ready so I don’t miss my train. So I run, wake my kids, and race out the door to get to my train.
BS: How do you handle stress?
SC: Sometimes better than others. I have great friends, a great family and a support structure. I also like to exercise. I feel like that’s a great release. Plus, now I work for a wine company—so there’s that.
BS: What’s your favorite part of the workday?
SC: I like collaboration. I like when we sit down as a team to either understand or solve a problem. That could be anything from going over data together, going over customer issues together or looking at product features. I like when we sit together and try to figure out what comes next and look at something with all the different perspectives.
BS: What piece of advice would you give to a recent college graduate?
SC: Be open to all sorts of opportunities. Everywhere you go there is something to learn. Also, if you find people you love working with, hold on to them.