By Cheryl Hall
The Dallas Morning News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) When it comes to women in business who have the confidence to create their own path; 28 year old Rachel Kuhr is an awesome example. After reaching out directly to Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban for a job, she now coaches all of his consumer goods and services startups from the popular TV show. That means she’s helping 60-plus companies whenever they need to redesign or upgrade their products, packaging or websites. Sometimes the first step is asking for what you want.
The Dallas Morning News
Rachel Kuhr has spent her young life with her pedal to the metal.
Two years ago, she audaciously emailed Mark Cuban after watching Shark Tank and told him that he needed her product innovation and development expertise. She attached a résumé that highlighted her mechanical engineering and product development background.
Her shot in the dark landed in the bulls-eye.
The 28-year-old now coaches all of Cuban’s consumer goods and services startups from the popular TV show. That means she’s helping 60-plus companies whenever they need to redesign or upgrade their products, packaging or websites.
Her favorite design tools are sketch pads, whiteboards, colored markers, pens and sticky notes.
“Entrepreneurs have the vision, and I help them get there,” says Kuhr, who handles consumer product innovation and design for Mark Cuban Cos. “It’s about figuring out how products should look and work, and then working through mock-ups, iterations and prototypes with companies.”
She’d like to make Big D as well-known for big ideas in consumer products as San Francisco or New York. So she’s on a crusade to push millennials to take on a riskier mindset.
“Cities like New York and San Francisco are expensive, competitive, crowded and uncomfortable,” she says. “You have to fight to win. It’s practically a rite of passage in the Silicon Valley to start your own company.
“It’s easier here, and oddly enough that kills the innovative instinct. We get set in our ways and put on the cruise control.”
Her suggestions: Get out of your comfort zone, expand your horizons and dare to be different.
She knows she’s been in Big D for too long without a break when she talks herself into getting a spray tan, thinks about dying her brunette hair blond or begins to listen to the constant babble about the horrors of being single as she edges toward her 30s.
“I push myself all the time to do something that I’d ordinarily never do — just to see what I’m missing out on and how other people are thinking about things,” she says.
Kuhr is a fan of improv and is taking dance cardio, R&B and hip-hop classes three times a week because she thinks she’s rhythmically challenged.
She was once mistaken for a Mavs Dancer — a true highlight moment.
Kuhr knew what she wanted to be even as a teenager.
Eleven years ago, as a senior at J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, she was featured in a student spotlight in The Dallas Morning News. She was in the band, participated in religious activities, was a member of the student council, worked at Target and was looking forward to majoring in industrial design in the mechanical engineering program at the University of Texas in Austin.
Leonardo da Vinci was the person she most wanted to have dinner with. He still is.
Her goals after college: “Start a business that invents and designs unique products.”
She earned her five-year mechanical engineering degree and spent her four summers doing product design internships. She tried several times to double major in art but was told by the arts school that engineers couldn’t be artists and that she was just trying to raise her GPA.
After graduation, she was offered a job with NASA in the group that determined what its next rocket would be, what it should look like. She took a job closer to home because her father was in failing health.
Tale of two worlds
After graduating, she lived in a billionaire’s penthouse in Singapore after answering a Craigslist-like ad from a couple looking for a temporary tenant.
“I also lived in tribal Papua New Guinea for a month with no access to clean water or electricity. Both were incredible,” she says.
“Now I’m living somewhere in the middle of those, and it’s pretty great, too.”
She went to Papua New Guinea to develop a health product that would work in the outback.
“Working in emerging markets is parallel to creating a startup,” she says. “It’s all about working with what you’ve got, making incremental improvements, and seeing how you can rub two sticks together to create something out of nothing every day.”
In 2014, Kuhr was designing products for a startup in Brooklyn, but she wasn’t thrilled with her job. She was cooped up during a never-ending winter with a busted knee and broken leg from a skiing accident. That’s when she got hooked on Shark Tank.
“I loved that Mark asked the best questions — a lot of why and how. At the same time, I felt like I saw things so differently than the Sharks did,” she recalls.
“My mom was dying for me to move back to Dallas, so she said, ‘You should write Mark Cuban and tell him to hire you’ — my mom being an insightful Jewish mother. But it struck me. It’d never occurred to me that someone outside of the design world might be interested in what I do.”
Cuban likes to think of himself as the most approachable billionaire on the planet.
Kuhr found that to be true. But she did have the presence to wait to make her pitch until the day after the Mavericks lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs.
“I emailed him and said, ‘Hey, what if you had a product development person?'”
The next morning, she was shocked to see an email from Abe Minkara, director of business development for Mark Cuban Cos., asking if they could chat.
“Mark forwarded her résumé to me, and it immediately caught my attention,” Minkara says. “It was like an infographic. I was looking for someone with that skill set.”
A Skype interview sealed the deal.
“Rachel has a unique combination of creativity and process,” says Minkara, who heads Cuban’s Shark Tank team. “Typically, it’s either/or. You have someone who’s creative but is all over the place. Or you have someone very process-oriented with no creativity. That’s her magic mix — the ability to blend those worlds.”
Perfection vs. profit
Kuhr says Cuban gives her free rein but is available for questions 24/7.
“The hardest thing I’ve had to learn from Mark is ‘perfection is the enemy of profit,'” she says. “With startups you need to get something out there as fast as possible, learn from it and iterate. When you wait to get it perfect, you miss your opportunity.”
When asked what he’s taught Kuhr, Cuban said he wanted to keep the focus on her. “This story is about Rachel, not me.”
Kuhr says she’s paid well, but she won’t say how well.
Her weekly updates to Cuban and Minkara make for highly eclectic reading since she usually works on 10 to 20 projects at once.
“A single update email could be about cookies, natural language processing, tampon machines, surfing, thermoelectric generators, designing fun sign-waving machines, bicycles, messaging apps and who knows what else,” she says.
Odd is her normal. But one of the most challenging assignments was rebranding and repackaging Chapul Cricket Bars so that people might actually give them a try.
She took the winged insects — which strangely had nothing to do with crickets — off the wrapper and got rid of Cricket Bar in the name. The new look highlights an exotic name for each flavor: Aztec, Matcha, Chaco and Thai.
“I ate a lot of bars with different packages to see what could help me forget about the crickets,” she says.
I tried them — they’re actually tasty.
“Rachel transformed not just the packaging but brought life to the brand,” Minkara says. “The packaging now looks amazing. It still tells the story of Chapul. The insect factor is still there, but it doesn’t shove bugs in your face.”
Kuhr is into experiential research.
After Cuban invested $1 million for a third of Beatbox Beverages LLC in Austin in Shark Tank’s Season 6, Kuhr needed to find out what people thought about its cocktails in a box. “I bar-hopped and went to an SMU fraternity party. I felt about 100 years old.”
She took Uber home.
Aimy Steadman, chief operating officer of Beatbox, says Kuhr’s reconnaissance provided valuable outsider insight.
“Rachel has tons of good ideas and a lot of energy,” Steadman says. “She’s always willing to try new things and never takes offense if her idea is something we don’t like or if we want something different. She just rolls with it and comes up quickly with new versions based on our feedback.”
Kuhr’s father was her entrepreneurial inspiration. “My dad was a big Mavs, Shark Tank and Mark Cuban fan. He just wouldn’t believe this.”