Prior to stepping back into the classroom, I was already entertaining entrepreneurial interests. At the same time I was plagued with uncertainty on how the future would unfold, and where and how I would actually get involved in a startup. Even at this earliest stage of aspiration, the open road of veteran entrepreneurship offered other possibilities beyond autonomy and broad impact; it also created a higher chance for failure.
The leap into veteran entrepreneurship held several challenges for me: trust, passion and my personal roadmap. Originally there were two more: Competence and confidence. My time at UBS, Tesla Motors and business school helped resolve the first two. Finding a solution on the last three was not as easy. While several interesting opportunities developed during my time in business school, nothing resolved these three challenges in an adequate manner. Fortunately, I found an exciting position at LinkedIn where I was confident (and correct) that I could continue learning and growing. Even though I wasn’t starting my own company, it was a step in the right direction.
These final three challenges did not hold simple solutions. Trust can take years to build, as I saw both overseas in the Army, as well as in training environments and in business situations. Without the right passion for a product or business, I knew I would lose focus and fail to contribute to my full potential. I also knew some roles and businesses might not align with my own goals and roadmap.
Friendships are one incredibly important aspect of business school that are often undervalued. In my own case, a close friendship with Momchil Filev (co-founder and CEO at BestReviews) began before I even arrived on campus. Both located in the Bay area, we met at an event for admitted students in the spring of 2012. Trust began to develop.
Over time our interest in working with each other grew. Momchil and I met regularly during our time in business school, which provided an incredible platform to test out entrepreneurial ideas and develop skills and insights. While we both experimented with concepts and tests, we also developed a passion for working together. We also realized we had some important complementary skills and balanced each other in a positive manner. As this passion and trust grew, I felt confident we would work together at some point. It was just a matter of time before I became a veteran entrepreneur – a vetrepreneur.
Four years after meeting Momchil in Palo Alto, I now work alongside him to help arm consumers with clarity and confidence in their purchasing decisions via amazing product reviews. Taking an often unloved product like an air mattress or paper shredder, testing them in depth, and then sharing what we learn with our users is pretty exciting. In my own role and day to day, I use an array of the skills I developed at West Point, in the Army, at business school, and from my mentors and friends from each of these chapters of my life.
Military training and experiences gave me an incredible comfort operating in a risk-filled world. While there are many (sometimes hundreds) risks that you can never fully mitigate, there are also many that you can hedge with proper planning, rehearsals and clear thinking. Doing so is hard work, and you almost always reflect back and find mistakes. Once risk mitigation is hard-wired into your thinking, it provides incredible value in many respects. However, this same mentality can foster a reduced appetite for the complete unknown. Every startup project is, to some extent or another, a complete unknown. When do you take the plunge?
I wrestled with these dynamic tensions of risks versus desire for autonomy and impact and eventually used a mix of advice from wonderful mentors and game theory. Most importantly, I decided how I wanted to spend my days. Working with amazing people is something I was happy to overweight given its alignment with trust, passion and my own personal roadmap. Leaving a steady paycheck was not easy, and I never look back.
If you want to explore veteran entrepreneurship further, we have a plethora of resources for starting a veteran owned business.
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