EARLIEST ENTREPRENEURIAL MEMORY: Selling rocks with faces painted on them to neighborhood kids. SOMETHING I CANNOT DO WITHOUT: My dogs. WHAT TIME I USUALLY GET UP: 5:00am. SOMETHING THAT MAKES ME LAUGH: Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank.
Unlocking the joy of self realization
OVERESTIMATING RISKS, UNDERESTIMATING OPPORTUNITY. Reichen Kuhl (formerly Lehmkuhl) has achieved a great deal—he was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force, won a season of The Amazing Race, and has stood-up his own jewelry and fragrance lines. But what he could not achieve was securing the lease on an apartment he wanted in New York City, back in 2011. He was denied because he didn’t earn the requisite and mostly untenable “eighty-times monthly rent” annual income requirement at the community. In the end, Reichen moved into the apartment when a good friend who met the income requirement co-signed for him.
Reichen began researching the existing risk instruments that were being used in multi-family leasing in order to qualify residents. “I quickly realized that the process was broken, especially within the use of security deposits. Renters hated having to pay them, and landlords hated collecting and managing them,” he realized.
Reichen started with a smaller enterprise of his own: he would co-sign for renters in New York City and charge a fee for their use of Reichen’s good credit rating. His best customers were workers from foreign nations with high-paying jobs or college graduates who had no credit histories. “I was trusting my underwriting system to lead this venture, which was no underwriting system at all…just my gut.” Reichen says, adding that, “worries of defaulting renters hovered all the time.”
After 12 months had passed and no one defaulted, that’s when a lightbulb went off. “It made me realize that risk has really been mismanaged and that, with the right idea and execution, I could really help to make housing accessible and more affordable for everyone.” He took his idea to Mucker Capital, an accelerator in Santa Monica, teamed up with his co-founder Derek Merrill and, together, they created LeaseLock, a lease insurance platform that eliminates housing deposits and that provides certainty in receivables for the largest property managers in the world.
DO ASK, DO TELL. Having been on television as an openly gay person, Reichen has had little opportunity to hide this aspect of his life. While he has experienced one Chicago-based VC investment firm shutting down on him and his company because Reichen is gay, another investment firm that focuses on U.S. service academy graduates and veterans has reiterated their support for him. “They said ‘We don’t care. We care only about supporting our hard-working and entrepreneurial veterans.’ When I see military generals and admirals embracing me as a whole person while supporting my business and team, it helps to keep things in perspective so that I don’t focus on the negative.”
Reichen does his due diligence now to learn of and feel comfortable about those with whom he’s about to enter any kind of a business transaction, with a focus on always being able to be himself. “If you can’t be yourself, it is very difficult to be successful in business,” Reichen says. “Looking back, any time that I’ve not been myself as I have entered into any business or personal relationship, it is inevitable that my true self will always and eventually be revealed. If you’re not yourself from the very start in any relationship, you’re just going to end up surprising and, perhaps, disappointing people.”