Entrepreneur Resources for Veterans

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We bloggers get to talk with interesting people who you’d rarely see at your local surf break. They share their stories or advice, and occasionally I can help them answer their questions.

Many servicemembers (and their families) are concerned about making the transition to civilian life. They’re hesitant to leave the military and they’re trying to verify that they’re really financially independent. Most of all, they’re wondering what they’re going to do all day.

But occasionally I run into a servicemember or two who can’t wait to leave the military. They may not particularly despise their mission or their chain of command or their quality of life. They might even like the camaraderie. However, the military has shown them that they’re entrepreneurs. Once they’ve learned who they are and what they can do, they’ve eagerly made their plans for their next stage of life. Now all they have to do is leave behind the 60-hour weeks in uniform so that they can work even harder for themselves.

You’ve already heard from Matt Pagan, the creator of Total Pay. When he wanted to make it easier for servicemembers to figure out their next paycheck, he figured out what he’d like to see and then started working with developers. He didn’t even wait until he’d left active duty: he just carved out the spare time from his life and pushed the project to completion. Now he’s marketing his app and contemplating its future while he’s also happily planning his own entrepreneurial future.

I’ve linked many times to military entrepreneurs like Rick Ferri, Ryan Guina, Jeff Rose, Jason Hull, and Rob Aeschbach: veterans who are carving out their own careers after their service.

It turns out that veterans own about 2.4 million businesses:  nine percent of all of America’s businesses.  They generate about $1.2 trillion in receipts and employ nearly six million Americans.

The entrepreneurial life looks pretty good when you read about these successes, but how do you know whether you’re ready to join the club? If you’re not hard-wired from birth to be an entrepreneur, then how do you figure out whether you can succeed? Where do you learn this stuff? It’s scary enough trying to save for financial independence, and it’s even scarier to take an entrepreneurial risk when you have a family to support.

Several years ago the Department of Labor and DoD started their “Hire a Veteran” initiatives. The defense industry has also been ahead of the trend at putting veterans to work. Other organizations are doing great things for corporate programs, but entrepreneurs still seemed to be left to figure things out for themselves. Maybe that’s the ultimate test of deciding whether you have what it takes, but what if you just need an occasional boost? Where’s the network for veteran entrepreneurs?

On the business side, the cost of starting your own company is rapidly collapsing. Even a decade ago a disruptive web service company could have cost several hundred thousand dollars of programming and hardware. Entrepreneurs would have quickly burned through angel funding on the path to revenue, and faster growth would have required millions of venture capital dollars. Today, though, the cost has dropped by at least an order of magnitude. Cloud computing and new software offer great development tools, and marketing a product is easier than ever. Angel investors and venture capitalists have leaped on this trend with their own incubators and accelerators because they can help create their own investment opportunities.

Over the last year I’ve been sporadically collecting websites and other links that connected entrepreneurs with this network of veteran’s resources and entrepreneurial boosters. Like this post, the material has been sitting in a folder along with 20 or so other half-finished drafts.

Then Matt Pagan introduced me to Mark Morris. Mark’s working on his own entrepreneurial project that I hope to profile soon in another post, but here’s what he’s been doing for other veterans:

It is obvious that you help out quite a few other veteran entrepreneur types, so I wanted to share with you a Google document that has a bunch of entrepreneur resources for veterans. I started it a while back when I was trying to find out what was available and it has several different tabs of both veteran specific and non-veteran entrepreneurial resources. I’ve passed it around to other veterans and many folks have added resources they’ve found helpful. Anyways, feel free to pass it to whomever you think it might benefit and let them know they are free to add any additional resources they find helpful.  Again, thank you so much for the books and for all of your help and support!!

A couple of the rows in that spreadsheet refer to Honolulu accelerators. Hawaii is frequently ranked as the nation’s worst state to start a business, yet it’s also the best quality of life. As an entrepreneur, you won’t be doing much surfing at first, but the aloha lifestyle is a lot better than winter in the Bay Area or the Pacific northwest. You’re also that much closer to the Asian and Indian markets. If you’re specifically interested in a Hawaii program then contact me for an introduction.

I know what a few of you are thinking: “Eh, I’ll just join the Reserves or Guard and drill for a few years as a side hustle while I’m growing the business. If the startup hits an air pocket then I can always go back on orders for a few weeks.” If you ever decide to raise seed capital or talk to angel investors, this attitude may also be seen as “a lack of commitment”. But if you decide to take this route, learn how to protect yourself with the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act.

Does the entrepreneurial life seem scary? You bet. In fact, if you’re not scared then you’re probably overlooking something. You’ll have to go back through your business plan and figure out all of its vulnerabilities. Remember that you may have to save up as much as 18 months of living expenses to start your entrepreneurial career. If that isn’t scary enough then contemplate taking out a personal loan for startup expenses, or hiring a bunch of people and then having to make payroll.

However, you’ve been through “scary” experiences in the service, and you’ve survived. You’ve learned the skills that really count: motivation, initiative, tenacity, and perseverance. Now instead of applying those to execute the military mission, you get to execute your own mission. You don’t just go out and “get a real job”: you create a business. You get to be in charge, and you get to figure out the rules for yourself. This will work out fine or it will be a miserable failure. Either way you’ll learn what works (and what doesn’t), and one day you’ll grow something that’s unbelievably fulfilling.

Military and veteran entrepreneur resources (Google document)

Related articles:
TechStars patriot boot camp (contact TechStars for the schedule)
Guest Post Wednesday: “If You Are Starting a Small Business, Do Not Expect To Get Paid”
Total Pay: How much will your next paycheck be?
Starting your bridge career after the military
Beginner’s guide to part-time blogging for money (part 2 of 2)
Guest Post Wednesday: From Battlefield to Boss– MBAs for Ex-Military Personnel
Military retention: “Should you stay or should you go?”
Should you start a civil service bridge career after the military?
Want to buy a franchise business in Hawaii?
Mobilizing with the Reserves and National Guard
Protecting military with the SCRA

WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

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