Inspiring Stories from Veteran Small Business Owners
Born from Armistice Day, which marked the signing of the armistice between the Allies of World War 1 and Germany, Veterans’ Day is a celebration of those who have served our country in all branches of the military. The rare, brave temperament which drives people to military service is perhaps one of the purest examples of human resilience. It’s no wonder, then, why so many veterans of the armed services become small business owners. Running your own business requires eternal commitment and unbreaking hard work, something veterans are not only familiar with, but have also embraced as a way of life. On this Veterans’ Day, we at Kapitus listened to the inspiring stories of veteran small business owners from across the country and heard the many unique paths they travel in business ownership. What we found was a thick thread of determination, discipline, and dedication that weaves together the tight-knit community of veteran small business owners in the United States.
Don’t Bet Against Veteran Small Business Owners
“When I first opened my electronics store a few years ago, the biggest challenge I faced was credibility. When people learned about my experience as a war veteran, they immediately started associating me with the army, feeling that I didn’t have what it takes to run a business. Worse still, even my friends and family weren’t convinced that I could successfully run a store. Apart from a select few, no one believed that I had any business acumen. This translated to a period where I witnessed minimal sales. Fortunately, I was able to turn things around with time and experience.
Contrary to what most people believed, my experiences in the army helped me become a better businessman. What I went through in the field of war taught me many valuable lessons, among the most important of which was to never give up in the face of adversity. This perseverance allowed me to hustle through the tough initial years without burning out. Today, my business is doing really well, which wouldn’t have been possible without my experiences in the army.”
Joe Brown, Chief Executive Officer, OMCH
Continuing the Mission
“I feel fortunate because I recognize how my military career provided me with an understanding of how to harness talent and motivate entire teams to work toward not only completing the mission, but also doing so with the utmost integrity and transparency. Nothing demonstrates the value of real teamwork like serving in the military, and my business consulting company’s commitment to becoming genuine partners of our clients—not just their vendor—is a direct result of my service career. Of course, transitioning from the military to civilian life presents challenges for many service members, which is why I’ve used the success of my business consulting firm to start the Charlie-Mike Foundation, which connects veterans with local resources enabling them to create a personalized path for the successful transition out of the military and into their next career. “Charlie-Mike” is the military code phrase for “continue mission,” or pushing through adversity no matter the difficulties. CMF offers veterans access to trained career mentors, personal and family-oriented career plans driven by the veteran’s health, financial and individualized needs, as well as ongoing and long-term career support and resources.”
Mike Del Prado, President and CEO, Executive Option, Las Vegas, NV
Winning the Fight and Business Resilience
“When I transitioned out of the Army in October 2019, I went straight into being a student at a Spanish Language School in Cartagena, Colombia. It was a complete and total lifestyle transformation, and I handled it by staying goal oriented. I adhered strictly to a keto diet, I went to the gym six days a week, and I made sure to participate in my language courses fully. I strove to be selfish and greedy with my participation and getting my questions answered. I made learning the language a fight- a fight which I won.
Just as I finished my formal classes in March 2020, I started to hammer down on growing my business, Apollo Medical Travel. I entered the medical tourism space, with the goal of helping Americans get more affordable medical care in Latin America. As two weeks of international travel restrictions and lockdowns to flatten the curve turned into months, the words of Jocko Willink echoed in my head. “Good.”
I took advantage of inexpensive flights and accommodations at the beginning of the pandemic to knock on doors and get in front of medical and dental clinics to partner with me to attract American patients. With international travel at a trickle, clinics who wouldn’t otherwise have given me the time of day opened their doors to me. People were open to trying new things to
bring in revenue. We now work with a network of 15 dental and ambulatory surgery clinics across Mexico, Costa Rica, and Colombia.
The military instills a great deal of resilience, and that – more than anything – has helped me run my business successfully in turbulent times.”
Wesley Jacobs, Owner, Apollo Medical Travel, Matthews, NC
“I was a Financial Advisor for most of my life. After more than a decade of helping people manage their budgets, I took a leap of faith and entered the eCommerce space. I am not your typical startup owner who’s young, hip and uses terms like “disrupt” one too many times.
Instead, I started my website in my early 40s with absolutely no background in tech. It was extremely difficult at first to learn about SEO, user experience, influencer outreach and Google’s mysterious ranking system. But over time, I managed to get a good grasp on these things.
We will have our 10th anniversary next month. As a veteran small business owner and also as someone who entered this industry a bit late, I believe I am more patient than my compatriots. I often observe my fellow small business owners, who have just started, trying to achieve results fast. They want to scale within the first couple of years and quite often, this ends up being their undoing.
My background as a financial advisor and now a decade worth of experience running my own business has also polished my interpersonal skills. I can have constructive and engaging conversations with my employees and clients as well.
All said and done, it has been a pretty amazing experience so far and I believe better times are ahead.”
Chris Nddie, Co-Owner and Marketing Director, ClothingRIC, Tustin, CA
Beating the Unpredictable On and Off the Battlefield
“Champion Painting Specialty Services started in 2006, and it took significant research to fully understand the benefits of being a veteran small business owner. Along with navigating the bureaucracy of state and federal agencies and programs, understanding the various aspects was a challenge. No guidebook shows you all of the assistance available. Champion often learned of the available programs and resources only after we had utilized other approaches.
During my time in the Marine Corps, I learned how to operate successfully in times of uncertainty and incomplete information. This skill has transferred over to my time as a business owner. It has driven me to be proactive and adapt to the sometimes-unpredictable scenarios I have encountered as a business owner.
I strive to build my business with people that hold themselves to the same high standards, and my company has reaped the rewards of that goal. Being a veteran has reinforced and influenced the importance of surrounding myself with ethical, like-minded people.
Although Champion has graduated from the small business program due to our rapid growth and success, I am still quite proud of our VOSB designation. Years of experience have finally taught us how best to leverage this status.”
Carlos Hernandez, President, Champion Painting Specialty Services, Miami, FL
Can’t Keep the Veteran Small Business Owner Down
We at Kapitus extend our thanks to all members of the armed services, past and present. This collection of accounts is only a tiny fraction of the veteran small business community which extends from sea to shining sea, all with their own stories of resilience and perseverance. On this Veterans Day, in addition to offering thanks to those who took the oath to protect and serve, consider supporting one of your local veteran-owned small businesses and the owners who continue to serve this nation from their own storefronts.