Vet-to-Vet Entrepreneurial Advice

The advice that follows comes from veterans who want to share their knowledge, experience, and insights with you. They have a variety of educational and work backgrounds, but the one common denominator is that they all served in the military, transitioned into the private sector, and started their own businesses.

My advice to service members transitioning to be entrepreneurs is to first do your research. Research your market. Research your competition. Research everything. Make sure you understand the costs that will be involved with running your business and what it will take to be profitable.
Jeff Morin, founder and CEO of Marine Corps.

Owning your own business is likely to be the most difficult thing you have ever done. It will impact all facets of your life; granted, you won’t be away from home for months on end, and you won’t be dodging bullets, but you will eat sleep and breathe this 24/7. There is no getting away from it. When you go on vacation, you are still worrying about your business; you are still fielding phone calls and emailsand still solving problems. Business ownership is not for everybody; however, if you have the right personality, abilities, etc., I cannot recommend it enough. It is EXTREMELY rewarding to work for yourself and to build something bigger than you. If you have led soldiers, you can lead your employees and your business. Just make sure that you find the right business for you.
Dan Molyneux: Owner CertaPro Painters of Portland and CertaPro Painters of SW Washington. Army.

The first step is the hardest. Just start. Anyone can have an idea, but very few actually take the plunge and execute on the idea. Notice I didn’t say jump blindly. Having an idea and having a plan are not the same. You need to think through your idea from start to finish. Every veteran should be familiar with backwards planning and it’s important to think through how will you finance your venture, what skill sets do you lack so you can build a complimentary team, who are your customers, will they buy/use your product. A detailed business plan will give you a good sense whether your business has the potential to be successful.
Taylor Justice, Chief Business Officer for Unite Us. Army.

Be very realistic with timelines and cost. Many business owners are very poor the first couple of years, and you need family members who understand.
Chris Frederick, president of Marine Corps.

Just jump in and do it. You really can’t wait because that just causes you to become more complacent with what you are already doing. For instance, it literally took me three years to finally pull myself away from a steady paycheck to starting my own business. In order to do that, I quit my job cold turkey because I knew if I had a safety net, I wouldn’t work nearly as hard. Sometimes you have to do a self-assessment and see what type of personality you have before diving into your entrepreneurial endeavor. Don’t forget that whatever it is, it doesn’t need to be complex; simple is typically better.
Steve Williamson, Certified Home Inspector and Owner, Pillar To Post. Army.

  1. Start as soon as possible, which means figuring out your business model, capital requirements, and what challenges you’ll face.
  2. Study the space your business will be operating in. I mean study it to death so you know it like the back of your hand. Why do businesses fail in this space? Why do they succeed? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, find them out before exposing yourself financially to starting a business there.
  3. Prevent yourself from making mistakes in the future by connecting with similar business owners who have already learned (and paid for) those mistakes. Don’t do your planning in a vacuum, and be careful whose advice you follow.
  4. Stay self-aware. Being in the military has taught you a lot, but don’t assume by default that you know everything you need to know about entrepreneurship just because of your military experiences. You don’t. Most times, you don’t even know what you don’t know, but the good news is that proper research and diligence in seeking the right advice can really help account for those knowledge gaps.

Aaron Kletzing, co-founder and COO, RallyPoint. Army.

Some main points for veterans considering becoming an entrepreneur:

  1. Formulate a detailed plan. Understand your true financial position and build a team of experts around you to guide you in the right direction. Figure out the answers to the following questions: Who is my customer? What do they value? In all things, whether operations or marketing, this understanding should influence what you do in growing your business identity.
  2. Don’t be afraid. Never quit. Be willing to accept “no.” No is the second best answer you will ever receive. A yes or a no allows you to definitively move in a direction. A “maybe” is ultimately worse for you than a “no.” Expect “no’s” in your journey, and predetermine that you will push beyond them. The warrior spirit of never quitting applies here.
  3. You may be a bit new to your chosen field, but you’ll find tremendous value in the leadership skills that you have honed in the military. Listen to your experts, but don’t shy away from your leader gut. In the end, you have to live with your decisions. Your expert team will provide you with excellent advice, but, at the end of the day, they don’t have to live with the repercussions of that advice — you do.

Lindsey Gentry, owner of Texas franchise, Erbert & Gerbert’s. Army.

Just do it. Too many people seem to be afraid to start a business and come up with reasons to not do so, but honestly, the best advice is really to just do it and launch a business.
Alan Kipping-Ruane, Triathlon Coach of Navy.

Hard work isn’t enough. People need to know you’re out there. Marketing can be expensive, but it is important to your success. Selecting the right marketing platforms for your business is very important. Online advertising has been great for our businesses and allows us to reach customers globally.
Jeff Morin, founder and CEO of Marine Corps.

Your military lifestyle may not work with your business lifestyle. But your core military traits of discipline, hard work, and structure will always work well with your business. It’s great not having a boss, but you need to have the self-discipline to function without one.
Chris Frederick, president of Marine Corps.

Be prepared to work twice as hard for half the amount. Entrepreneurship is a sexy term. It seems like most people nowadays have a startup. However, once you are all-in and full-time with your venture it’s all about executing on a well thought-out strategy with unbridled hard work. You will sleep less, stress more, and routinely question what in the world you were thinking. However, if you can stomach the workload, there is nothing in life more freeing than running your own profitable business.
Taylor Justice, Chief Business Officer for Unite Us. Army.

Start working on your business idea before leaving the military. Having two demanding careers is difficult and not for everyone. I would, however, recommend starting a business while in the military to someone who has the dedication and drive to do whatever it takes to succeed at both.
Jeff Morin, founder and CEO of Marine Corps.

Don’t go cheap on a Website. This decision will lead you down a quick road to failure. These days your Website is your product. It’s the only way to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Many times it’s the only opportunity you will get to sell to a customer.
Chris Frederick, president of Marine Corps.

Entrepreneurship is not about risk. True entrepreneurs have a plan and haveweighed the pro and cons of their ventures. You have to be resourceful and in some cases make the impossible happen… but it’s not about risk. It’s about mitigating as much risk as possible. If you are worried about financing the venture, then you go raise money. If you can’t raise money and you are going to put yourself or your family in a harmful spot, maybe you should think hard about the personal ramifications. If you lack a skill set, whether technical, financial, operational or the like — you need to find partners who can complement your skills. If you can’t find the people who will help you become successful, you shouldn’t take the plunge. If there are significant risks that you cannot mitigate in some way, you might want to hold off until you can figure out a plausible solution. Entrepreneurship is not always about shooting from the hip; it’s about shooting from the hip with a big gun.
Taylor Justice, Chief Business Officer for Unite Us. Army.

Do your homework. Be vigilant in looking at the best opportunity for yourself. There are many things out there and many things that sound great. The best piece of advice I can give is do something and pick something that you love and are passionate about. Owning your own business is great. It’s also tough. I work more hours now than when I worked for corporations. But again, pick something that you love to do and you will WANT to do the work… for YOURSELF and your family.
Edward Robbins, Owner . Army.


Compiled by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.