Technology

CFO-turned-VC Hope Cochran on music degrees, managing chaos and the reality behind her resume

Hope Cochran, far right, in a family portrait with her husband and three kids. (Photo courtesy of Hope Cochran)

Sure, you can look at Hope Cochran‘s LinkedIn page and follow her path through Stanford University degrees in economics and music, tracing her professional journey through successful startups, multiple gigs as chief financial officer and ultimately landing in her role as the first female managing director of Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group.

But don’t start making assumptions about the story those data points might suggest. The tale is Cochran’s to tell.

The music degree, which also encompassed opera, began as a cheap way to get singing lessons she desperately wanted. Economics was the more practical yin to her artistic yang. But the surprising truth is that Cochran says she has used her music degree to a much greater extent than her econ studies — though the latter was admittedly useful for landing job interviews.

Hope Cochran with her daughter at a performance of the musical Hamilton. (Photo courtesy of Hope Cochran)

“The skills I gained by spending many hours in a practice room are the skills I use today,” Cochran said. “It has taught me to be on stage, have a presence, and handle a crowd or a large room.”

Then there’s the series of leadership roles that seemed to flow neatly from one to the next. Cochran was a co-founder of SkillsVillage, which she sold to PeopleSoft; she was CFO of Clearwire through its sale to Sprint; and Cochran was CFO of King Digital, creators of Candy Crush, where she led the company through an IPO and an acquisition by Activision.

That tidy summary, cautions Cochran, obscures the hard knocks along the way.

“It all looks very pretty. There were a lot of moments where it was falling apart, and I felt those deeply and I know you can get beyond them and through them,” she said. “The journey is not what it looks like on paper.”

Cochran has strategies for navigating the tough times.

“I tend to go to a very calm place and be very analytical and take the emotion out of it,” she said. Then she works up five potential solutions to the problem — and implements four of them. “I’m not sure which one of them will succeed, but we don’t have time to do them one at a time.”

Cochran said she’s adept at managing chaos, and is able to bring a team along by being clear about the objectives and goals of her many-pronged attack. Her other trick is hiring folks who can likewise multitask, and then taking the time to make sure their job is aligning with their personal, life goals. Cochran gives people the opportunity to explore different roles to broaden their skills and find fulfillment, even if the move can be hard on the company in the short-term.

“That is when they perform for you. That is why they juggle so much,” she said, “because they know I have their back at a different level.”

Cochran will be one of the featured speakers at the 2019 GeekWire Summit, speaking about investing trends on the venture capital panel.

We caught up with Cochran for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Seattle

Computer types: Dell

Mobile devices: Samsung 9, Kindle (my fav!), Verizon WiFi Hotspot — a lifesaver

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Excel, love it and hate it; Candy Crush, just got to say thank you!; Starbucks mobile ordering, saves so much time; The Riveter

Hope Cochran, managing director of Madrona Venture Group. (Madrona Venture Group Photo)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? My workspace is portable. I can pick up my laptop and move anywhere. I am often on the road, so an airplane is a common workspace for me.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Have priorities and then periodically check them against your actual calendar. Does your calendar reflect your priorities? Does your time spent reflect what your goals and priorities are? Which meetings and events should you have said no to?

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? I am not much of a social networker. LinkedIn so I can find awesome people and Facebook to keep track of my kids activities.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? 17

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 25 with two of them being all-day meetings.

How do you run meetings? I try to be prepared and intentional. If a meeting doesn’t have action items at the end, that feels like a waste of time.

Everyday work uniform? Whatever Armoire and Stitch Fix send me! I hate shopping and these companies are a lifesaver.

How do you make time for family? They are a priority. I look at my day and if there are moments where they need me, I schedule around it. I don’t have many barriers between the workday and personal life. Often I work late at night because during the day I was at a kid’s activity.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Riding horses. I can’t have my cell phone with me while I am jumping fences. It is about the only time I don’t have my cell phone with me.

Hope Cochran says she does some of her best thinking riding horses. (Photo courtesy of Hope Cochran)

What are you listening to? Musicals. I’m a Broadway geek.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? The DL, a newsletter by Madrona colleague Daniel Li; Bloomberg; CB Insights

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, “The Moment of Lift” by Melinda Gates, “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens.

Night owl or early riser? Sleep: I just don’t get enough of it. I always schedule meetings earlier when I need more time, because at about 11 p.m. I am mush.

Where do you get your best ideas? On my horse.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? My dad, Michael Flannery, who was CEO of a Puget Sound area lumber company. He recognizes talent, is calm in a storm, is full of integrity, and puts those who work for him before himself.

[Editor’s Note: Hope Cochran will speak on the venture capital panel at the upcoming GeekWire Summit in Seattle.]

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