How the innovation hack I created for Mark Cuban made me quit my job
In 2014 I went skiing for the first time. After a few hours of instruction I hit the slopes, convinced I could pizza and french fry with the best of them, and immediately broke my leg and blew out my knee.
Glued to my couch, I followed a rabbit hole that led to a month-long Shark Tank binge. I was hooked after one episode mainly just because I was SO confused. How could these companies, without product people, be SO successful?!
You see, I am a product person…
Before I learned that skiing (for me) is a contact sport, I interned for Lunar Design (now McKinsey) in Silicon Valley, developed health products in Papua New Guinea, and designed products for a startup in Brooklyn. All of my experience told me that all a company needs to be successful are shiny, genius product people.
I don’t know if it was the Vicodin, or the fact that I just can’t let a question go unanswered, but I cold-emailed Mark Cuban with a long version of something like “imagine how much more successful these companies could be with a product/innovation expert like me! Will you hire me?”.
No one was as shocked as me but…. This email got me a job as Head of Product and Innovation for Mark Cuban Companies (MCC).
(Left: A few of Mark and Barbara’s Shark Tank companies at our Target launch, Right: Mark and me)
My job at MCC required me to manage a variety of projects across different startups. I was used to managing about 3 projects over the course of a few months, but on day one I was handed 10 projects, with 10 companies, and was told that was one week’s worth of work.
A year and a half in, I was working 100 hours a week, and still couldn’t figure out how to manage all of these projects. Here I was, in my dream job, with the chance to finally prove I was the shiny, innovative product person I had literally spent my entire adult life trying to be, and I was just failing. I was the heaviest, most tired, and most stressed that I’ve ever been.
It got so bad, Mark told me to take a day off. Mark Cuban NEVER tells anyone to take a day off.
Mark always said my job was to reduce the stress of others, but my own stress nearly broke me. I knew, if I was going to call myself an innovator, I had to innovate and find a way to make this job easier to manage.
Years before working at MCC, I worked as a researcher for MIT in Singapore at their startup university (SUTD). My job was to help design innovation models and test their success in extreme contexts (this is why I was in Papua New Guinea, but we also did this across the world ). We always broke our work down into “methods” that could be mixed and matched to drive outcomes.
I believed this same approach could be used at Mark Cuban Companies, so I started strategizing with Abe Minkara, Mark’s Managing Director. Together, we built a core set of tools across design, business, and technology methods.
Within weeks I was able to help 20 companies instead of 10, working 20 hours a week instead of 100. I could continuously improve the process and drive better outcomes. The data model I had developed in my research fit perfectly, and there was now an incredible ability to collect data to build predictive models.
When I told Mark about the success of my new model the first thing he said to me was “This isn’t for startups. Go take this to Corporate Innovation”. He gave me some support and told me to go do this full time.
I had worked in corporate innovation twice before but that was right out of college, and I felt like I needed some more experience, so I put Mark’s advice on hold and went back to Silicon Valley to work at RocketSpace, a corporate innovation consultancy who was willing to let me test my new consulting model.
At RocketSpace, we used my methods on 20+ corporations. These methods leveled-up our consulting team, drove clear process for our clients, and got our clients faster results. So I quit.
I always thought my search for these methods was just for me. So I could be a shiny innovative product person at some large, successful corporation. But Mark Cuban helped me realize this wasn’t just for me. And I have seen first-hand that consultants, corporate innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs all have the same need: systematic support to be empowered innovators.
So I decided my real calling was to figure out how to build these methods into a product for everyone who needs it. And five months ago I quit my job and started Productable. Because I truly think it can change how the world innovates.
If you also want to change how the world innovates, please follow our journey!