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Todd Connor

CEO and Founder at Bunker Labs

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Veteran Entrepreneurship is an Act of Doing

May 24, 2016

Read about the realities of being a veteran, starting a business, and today’s evolving market and economy.

As a part of Bunker Labs DC‘s Summer Accelerator Series Bunker Labs CEO, Todd Connor raised the question – “Are You An Entrepreneur?” In his talk, Todd addressed the realities of being a veteran, starting a business, and today’s evolving market and economy.

1. “None of us feel like the typical veteran – it’s time to reclaim the narrative.”

“Veteran” is a monolithic term used to describe a very diverse population. And to compound the identity crisis, today’s most commonly associated images of veterans are often linked to homelessness, post-traumatic stress, and service-disabled veterans. These veterans are now living with experiences that are very real and are not to be diminished. But fortunately, not all veterans are experiencing these challenges. Todd described how there is so much effective marketing to have people join the military. Likewise, there needs to be just as much on the other end broadcasting the great things veterans are doing after service. Veterans and many of the organizations supporting them are perceived as not cool and not connected. Programs like the Bunker Labs aim to elevate the perception (and reality) that veterans are an asset class – steeped in taking initiative, complex problem solving, and being able to leverage teams while in challenging, dynamic environments.

2. “Job security is dead.”

The traditional framework of employment is changing rapidly. When anyone can instantly access the resumes of thousands of people, it’s harder to maintain a competitive advantage in the job marketplace. And increasingly, the future of work will be project-based versus role-based. Because of that, resumes and your ‘background’ are becoming less important than having something to show for your work. But, considering that in America, 87% of surveyed people report that the number one stressor in life is being unfulfilled in their career, this may be a good thing. Instead of obsessing over checking the right boxes to stack your resume and climb the ladder, Todd says that, for entrepreneurs or otherwise, “if you’re doing it, and if it’s effective, then you’re qualified.” If there’s no blanket of a secure jobs market anyways, entrepreneurship becomes more accessible for more people. This puts veterans specifically at an advantage, as they know from their time in the service that taking action is the only way to become qualified.

3. “It’s not a luxury to pursue what you’re really good and passionate about. It’s essential to your success.”

There is no gating activity (or boxes to check) required to pursue what you want to do, except to do it. You will be able to build a business around something you know… better than anyone else. Acknowledge your strengths, pursue what you’re good at with laser focus, and bring others to your team who can drive home the areas outside your expertise. Constant remediation around your failures will never make you successful. Rather, finding fulfilment quickly is a precursor to success. Your happiness will be in the doing. Veterans have the opportunity (perhaps even the obligation) to create their monopoly advantage anchored in something that they personally align to.

4. “The now and the next.”

“Entrepreneur”, like “veteran” is a loaded term. The word often evokes some hipster 23-year old Harvard dropouts, furiously scribbling formulas on frosted glass in a race to unveil the next behemoth in the scalable tech industry. In reality, entrepreneurship does not look like Silicon Valley for most. Furthermore, being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to quit your day job. For many, it looks like two careers at once – “the now and the next.” There is the practicality of bills, paying rent, and often, supporting a family. Some veterans know how it feels to make an industry jump on the same day they’re financially cut off from the service. And those who maybe didn’t plan accordingly will tell you it’s one of the hardest parts about the transition from the military. Todd recommended that a great step into entrepreneurship is to do it (whatever “it” is) for free first. In understanding the importance of doing, trying it out will help build your qualifications and reputation, and determine if you actually like the day to day implementation of your proposed next step.

5. “Get comfortable with failure.”

What one thing will not make you an entrepreneur? Todd calls it, “the reputational fear of failure.” Culturally, we have the mantra “start what you finish” engrained in us from a young age. But sometimes the fastest way to finish a project is to kill it. Or, as is often the case with entrepreneurial ventures, you have to pivot to something else. What your business looks like in its first iteration is not what it will look like when you go to scale. Changes in any number of factors (customer base, competition in the market, technology, etc.) can cause a dramatic shift in what your company should be pursuing. What’s more important is the capacity of the founder to turn an apparent dead end into an opportunity.

Does the founder have discipline? Self-regulation? An ability to network his or her community? Instead of throwing in the towel and blushing in embarrassment, can the founder be able to apply the lessons learned to move forward? If you’re afraid of failure, you might not be able to stomach the realities of entrepreneurship. Because adaptability and agility are key characteristics of a successful military experience, veterans are in a great position to lead a startup through a series of ‘failures’ to ultimately deliver the solution.

This article was originally published on the Bunker Labs Blog.

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