Veterans in Business: Worth Fighting For
Long days spent walking miles in the sweltering desert heat. Light-brown sand caked in every nook and cranny of your bag. Gritty particles stuck to every sweaty inch of exposed skin. Everything hurts. You’re tired. You’re sore. And that boom you heard in the distance could mean someone you know is wounded or worse. Military service is not glorious. The freedom it represents and provides is often taken for granted by those reaping the benefits in civilian life.
Many of us in the business world understand long nights, early mornings, a never ending workload with unimaginable stresses coming in from all directions. Veterans have had a similar experience with the added danger of death, and without the financial upside of executive bonuses, IPOs, and buyouts.
Half of all WWII veterans became business owners after returning from the war. While that percentage has decreased in recent years due to the GI Bill no longer providing low interest business loans, but 2.5 million small businesses are owned by American military vets, and are responsible for $1.22 trillion in sales. How do veteran entrepreneurs transition their skill sets from knowledge necessary on the battlefield to knowledge necessary in the business world?
“Coming back in to the civilian world was a huge change for me. Learning how to focus on self in stead of mission took time.”, says Chris Naganuma, who was a founding board member at Mission Volant, a nonprofit dedicated to providing veterans with therapy through adventure.“Learning how to center my life after a time of war [became] a large priority…I enjoy the hustle, the daily grind of seeing something grow that you built. The amount of work is intense, but the reward is life changing.”, said Chris, who is also founder and CEO at S3F Solutions, a company that manufactures match-grade barrels for competitive shooting, and boasts over 114,000 followers on their Instagram profile. Chris is no amateur to shooting either. He’s a retired Army Sergeant with one of the original Stryker Brigades out of FT Lewis, was deployed to Mosul, Iraq as a Saw gunner in 2004 with 1/25th 3/21 SBCT, and just recently his professional paintball team won the NXL Paintball World Cup.
While his online persona may seem lacking professionalism at face value, Mat Best a former U.S. Army Ranger who joined the Army at the age of 17 and deployed five times to Iraq and Afghanistan with the 2nd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, is no stranger to serious business. After leaving the military he spent 5 years as a contractor with the CIA before going on to build a massive following creating online satirical videos and building brands like Article 15 Clothing and LeadSlingers Whiskey.
When asked about the success of their businesses by Forbes, Jarred Taylor, President of Article 15 Clothing, said “Initally the only goal was to make an extra $2k a month to spend on videos…But then that first month we had $10k gross sales, and everyone was not expecting it. The third month we had sold $90k. It was definitely a ‘holy cow’ moment.” After only after operating the business for a year, Jarred and Mat were able to leave their jobs to focus on growing the company full time.
Former U.S. Army Green Beret Evan Hafer and his team converted a gun truck into a place where they could grind coffee every morning after he “couldn’t find a good cup of coffee” while deployed between Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s now CEO of $30 million coffee startup Black Rifle Coffee Company, whose ads you’ll find plastered across essentially every veteran community website on the internet.
What differentiates him? “Name me another CEO that’s carried a saw through an alley at three o’clock in the morning in Baghdad, Iraq. There isn’t one.”. Black Rifle Coffee Company is also a company that gives back, reportedly with a veteran hiring rate over 50%. “We have no less than five conversations a week about PTSD,” Hafer said. “Every day we have great conversations about how we can be a more proactive and responsible steward of our subculture.”
Where Can Vets Get Started in Business?
Luckily, there are a plethora of avenues for would-be veteran entrepreneurs to get started building their own companies: