Alumni Startup: Sterlings Mobile – A Barbershop on the Go

Although his background is in computer science, the inspiration for Rady School of Management alumnus Kush Kapila's (MBA '10) startup didn't come from scientific research — it came from a bad haircut. After a time-consuming commute and a long wait in line at a chain salon, Kapila received one of the worst haircuts of his life. Frustrated by his experience, Kapila wanted a more efficient way for a busy professional to keep well groomed. Working with students in the Rady School's signature Lab to Market course sequence, Kapila cultivated the idea of an innovative barbershop that travels to the customer — and Sterlings Mobile Barber Co. was born.

Sterlings Mobile Barber Co. is a state-of-the-art mobile barbershop housed in a classic, sparkling silver Airstream mobile unit. This beautifully designed barbershop offers all the amenities of a brick-and-mortar establishment, while providing the convenience of bringing the service to the customer.

"I spent a lot of time on the design and feel of the mobile unit. We didn't want it to just be a Great Clips on wheels — we wanted it to be better than that," Kapila said. While customers are sure to find the style and design of the mobile unit esthetically pleasing, Sterlings Mobile Barber Co. will also focus on delivering impeccable customer service.

"Our stylist have iPads so they can see who is coming in, what they liked and what cut they got last time," Kapila said. "Eventually, we want to get to the point that if a client really likes their haircut we can take a picture and keep it so we can refer to it at their next visit."

Stylist compensation will also be linked to customer feedback, creating an incentive for stylist to provide quality service. To encourage employee loyalty, Kapila will pay his stylists a higher wage and provide employee health insurance.

Developing the idea for Sterlings Mobile Barber Co. in the Rady School's Lab to Market sequence was a natural fit for Kapila, who had a very positive experience with the program while he was an MBA student. The students working on the project submitted their idea to the UC San Diego Entrepreneur Challenge and won first place for a consumer product.

"I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I probably couldn't have started this without the Rady School — Rady gave me the confidence," Kapila said.

Kapila also hopes to tap into the Rady School's network of alumni and corporate partners as he approaches local companies to offer on-site haircuts as a perk to employees.

"I basically have connections to every company in San Diego in some form," Kapila said. "Since I left the Rady School, I've assembled a great team and gotten encouragement and support from Rady professors because I'm a Rady alum."

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