Michael Barr

From Target Executive to Start-up President

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Alumnus Michael Barr, ’98 BSB, has one simple requirement for accepting a job: it has to be fun. As president and COO of Freaker USA, maker of knit beverage insulators, he’s in the business of ridding the world of moist handshakes.

Barr first applied his business savvy to bring ideas to life in an undergraduate marketing class at the Carlson School. The students were tasked with conceiving concepts for Korbel Champagne’s Y2K New Year’s Eve advertising campaign. And while his team’s pitch wasn’t chosen by the agency, Barr’s experience of crafting creative solutions for a real client had a lasting impact.

Although he considered entering law school immediately following graduation, Barr instead accepted a business analyst position at Target. He completed the executive training program and honed a specialty in consumer electronics. One year later, he was promoted to senior business analyst for Super Target. At the time, there were only eight Super Target stores in the country.

“When the opportunity came along I decided to try it out,” says Barr. “I thought, ‘I’ll do it as long as I’m having fun, then go to law school.’ I ended up leaving Target, but never stopped having fun.”

Barr became an independent sales representative. He used instead his experience in retail to advise consumer electronics manufacturers on how to get their products sold in Target, Walmart, Best Buy, HSN, QVC, and others.

In 2012, after 13 years in sales, Barr took notice of a new business opportunity on the TV show Shark Tank. During that fateful episode, Freaker USA founder Zach Crain solicited an investment in Freakers: one-size-fits-all drink insulators that keep beverages cold and hands dry. Although Crain didn’t win an investment from the sharks, Barr was instantly intrigued by the invention and reached out. He took on the start-up as a client and began shopping the product to major retailers.

Soon after Barr became involved, the company’s growth threatened to outpace the employees’ competencies. It was then that Freaker USA appointed Barr to president and COO. In his new role, he fortified the supply chain, managed risk, connected with large retailers, and performed other duties Crain and company were less than inclined to tackle.

“Freaker is made up of very creative people, with amazing fun ideas,” says Barr. “I’m the boring one. I do everything that they don’t want to spend their time thinking about. That’s what’s so fun about business, everyone serves their purpose and you need all those different people.”

Grounded by the business foundation Barr brought to the start-up, Freaker USA has enjoyed tremendous growth. Since 2011, sales have grown four-fold annually. Available in dozens of designs, Freakers are now sold at Target, Bloomingdale’s, Tilly’s, Herberger’s, Kowalski’s, Nordstrom, QVC, and more.

Barr, who attests that fun is at the core of every job he’s ever had, is grateful to the Carlson School professors who inspired him to follow his passion.

“People who are successful are the people who love what they do, whatever it is,” he says.