Mar 10, 2015
Matt Griffin, or “Griff” as everyone refers to him, is a military veteran turned entrepreneur. Which, as it turns out, is a path many former military follow. In fact, it’s been the focus of numerous studies - researchers wanting to find out if veterans are more likely than their civilian counterparts to become entrepreneurs.
Studies have found that they are. But why? Is it the training, education or psychological qualities like self discipline, leadership, and mental fortitude, the military instills? Perhaps.
James Bogle, program director for the Master of Business for Veterans program at the University of Southern California, said he has seen an increase in the number of entrepreneurs in their program - and that’s just in the two years since the program has launched.
James, who served more than 20 years in the military in various capacities and on various assignments all over the world, also said among the entrepreneurs in the program, he has seen two common traits: creativity and confidence.
“There's a real creativity,” James said. “I think it starts in the military. There’s not a lot of things you do new. A lot of what you do is prescribed by regulation or by field manuals. So I think a lot of people who have that creativity then have a hunger to get out and do something on their own. The other part is I think you develop a real tremendous sense of self confidence in the military.”
Another school of thought is most veterans exit the military having taken on so much responsibility and making such a massive impact, they want to continue it. And usually the corporate environment doesn’t afford that.
“They were having such more impact and such a large amount of responsibility that they don’t think they don’t think they can go work for someone else,” said Scott Fussell, founder of Command Your Business, a podcast and online business focused on military veteran entrepreneurship. “I think that’s why we’re seeing a lot of veterans go into entrepreneurship. They want to have an impact and a lot of them are finding entrepreneurship is a way they can have that impact.”
Scott, a military veteran, has interviewed more than 70 veterans on the subject of entrepreneurship, and has seen time and time again, that impact is one common reason many vets set out to start their own businesses. That was certainly the case for Griff.
Several years after returning stateside, Griff who served three tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Iraq, had the idea for Combat Flip Flops, a company that would have a social impact, while on a business trip in Afghanistan. But it wasn’t until a few years later that he would officially launch the company with co-founders Andy Sewrey, his brother in law, and Donald Lee, his brother in arms.
“My intent was to keep those guys in that factory, employed, once the war ended,” Griff said. “From that moment forward that was my purpose.”
Training for Entrepreneurship
But what about those skill sets obtained in the military? Do those make veterans better candidates for entrepreneurship? Maybe. Maybe not. But it certainly primes them for it.
“If you’ve been around enough startups you see that same team, professional, mission-driven mentality, and you see that same thing in the military,” Griff said. “ The ability to fail, come back, learn, regroup, and go out and execute better the next day is something that has really helped us in the startup mode.”
Scott has certainly seen similar traits in himself and among the veterans he’s interviewed - the ability to learn and solve problems with limited resources.
“You have to be able to learn and pick up things quickly [in the military],” Scott said. “Our veterans are very much entrepreneurs and have entrepreneur mindsets. They’re given very limited guidance and given very difficult missions and they’re able to go out and accomplish them. I think that’s what makes many veterans suited for entrepreneurship.”
One other trait Scott has noticed, is the ability to iterate on the fly. Though the military plans very well, these plans often go out the window once the first round flies in combat. Scott said having a “commanders intent” or in the case of a business, a strong vision, is key. This ensures everyone knows the end goal and can figure out a way to get there even if the initial roadmap is derailed.
The Early Days of Combat Flip Flops
In the early days of Combat Flip Flops, how did these trained military skills help Griff and his co-founders?
“People thought we were crazy, so we couldn’t get any money to invest in the idea,” Griff said. “We guerrilla’d it as much as possible because we had no time, no money and no experience, but we knew we wanted to start this company.”
The question remains, can regular civilians pick up those same skills without having to serve in the military?
“I think so, it just takes a little bit longer to do,” Griff said. “Because of the fact that the military has specific programs to instill those personality traits in people. But I’ve met and worked with guys who’ve never served a day in the military that have the exact same traits and skills, or better traits and skills than guys we saw in the military or special operations unit.”
Many entrepreneurs are already innately programmed with these traits, but for those of us who don’t come pre-wired with all of the skill sets necessary to entrepreneurship, Scott believes one way to develop these skills, without serving in the military, is to practice getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Something the military does quite well.
For Griff, it was getting comfortable with failure. Something that happens frequently to anyone gutsy enough to start a business, challenge the status quo, or disrupt an industry.
While the military certainly primes you to be resilient, it certainly doesn’t make you immune to failures, setbacks and challenges. When I asked Griff, ‘If you could return to those early days, when you were just starting out, and knowing what you know now, is there anything you would do differently?,’ he gave a chuckle and said “patience.” A characteristic that is foreign to most entrepreneurs.
“We executed daily on 60 percent solutions, so I think we would have been a little bit more patient and executed with a little bit more restraint,” Griff said. “We failed early and often, but we recovered. But if I were to do it all over again, I would plan more and execute more deliberately.”
Patience is not a virtue you see much among entrepreneurs, but that can often be a good thing. As Griff mentioned, however, deliberate execution is a skill every business owner should strive to master. While that was a challenge during the early days of Combat Flip Flops, today their biggest struggle is supply.
The company has been sold out of product for three years.
“In the last six months we had another veteran-owned investment group fund us, so now we’re able to ramp up the scale in our factories and deliver regularly, so we can turn up the marketing machine and deliver the product. Starting March we’ll have our first full season of deliveries.”
Hyper-Caff from Ranger Coffee, a veteran-owned business. This is super caffeinated coffee that come with a warning: “Not for the weak or faint of heart.”
For writing, if you want to check your work before you publish it, check out Hemingway App and Slick Write. Both are free tools that allow you to copy your text into the field, the site will review it and spit out a grade. It also offers up ideas for improvement.
Quote of the Week: “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that;s where you will find success.” ~ Thomas J. Watson.
Next week’s episode is all about scaling a business. We’ll hear from Laura Curtis Retana, founder of Malvi Mallow, and Dean Heckler, founder of Heckler Design.
Thank you to Griff for sharing his story, James Bogle from the Master of Business for Veterans program at USC and Scott Fussell of Command Your Business for his insights and making the connection to Griff. Be sure to check out the Command Your Business podcast for some amazing veteran entrepreneur stories.