By Tim Young | Forbes | November 8, 2021
When investors picture an entrepreneur, military veterans might not be the first people who come to mind. But the qualities that help startup founders succeed are exactly what you’ll find in most veterans. Sean Lane of Olive (an Air Force intelligence officer), Blake Hall of ID.me (Army ranger), and Taylor Justice of Unite Us (Army infantry officer) are just a few examples of veterans who have built unicorns—and there are dozens of others who have transitioned from serving their country to leading highly successful companies.
To better understand the parallels between military service and entrepreneurship, we spoke to four such veterans-turned-entrepreneurs (in one case, a veteran-turned-entrepreneur-turned-investor).
High Stakes Leadership
“The burden of leadership in war is the heaviest a human being can feel,” Ty Smith, a former Navy SEAL, who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan six times and is now founder and CEO at CommSafe AI, said. “The results of your leadership dictate whether people live or die.”
Outside of a warzone, a startup CEO’s burden of leadership is one of the highest stake roles—their team’s jobs and careers are resting on their shoulders. Smith felt that the “servant leadership” he developed leading a SEAL platoon has translated seamlessly into the high-stress context of leading his team at CommSafe AI. Putting your team ahead of yourself is a principle the very best CEOs and the majority of military leaders embrace.
The military gives young officers unprecedented leadership opportunities that might only be realized by someone decades more senior in the private sector. Tim Hsia, a former platoon leader in the U.S. Army, who deployed several times to Iraq and is now a managing partner at Context Ventures as well as founder/CEO at Media Mobilize, noted, “there aren’t many places where 21-year-olds can expect to find themselves at the head of a 45-person team.” And no matter how stressful it can be to run a startup, the experience pales in comparison to risking your life on the battlefield.
Viola Carmona, a former aviation maintenance administrator in the U.S. Navy and now founder and CEO at Champion Lender, added that until she joined the Navy, she “never really understood the meaning of ‘leadership’— what it meant to persevere and work for something that’s greater than myself.”