5 Things Veterans Should Know When Considering Entrepreneurship

A U.S. flag pin is seen on the lapel of a jacket as Army veteran Justin Nash.
AP photo by Jessica Hill

Veterans know that the hardest job they’ll ever have is in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean entrepreneurship is a cakewalk.

Undoubtedly, your active-duty experience — especially in a combat zone — prepares you for a lot of the challenges that entrepreneurs face. The “hard work” of entrepreneurship pales in comparison to filling sandbags in 100-degree heat while in Mission Oriented Protective Posture 2.

You also don’t know uncertainty until you’ve heard the air crack when some myopic local with a grudge starts taking potshots. Financial risk seems insignificant when compared with flesh and blood hazards.

But there are many entrepreneurial elements that are more challenging than you may think.

I am a former Marine Corps infantry officer and Iraq veteran. Now, I am an entrepreneur. I’ve launched successful products within other companies, and I’m now the CEO of INVICTA Challenge — a new kids’ product line that launches Nov. 2 at retailers across the country as well as on Google Play and iTunes.

Here are the five things that veterans should know when considering a career in entrepreneurship:

1. Entrepreneurs must imagine both the mission and the executional concept.

For entrepreneurs, there is no higher authority for making decisions. Instead, it’s completely up to you to identify the customer pain and the problem you want to solve, and then figure out the solution — and how to make it work profitably.

2. Starting your own business can be lonely.

We have a team behind INVICTA now, but it wasn’t that way at the beginning. If you are lucky, you have one or two other people to help out at the beginning. There is no pre-organized team in entrepreneurship.

3. You won’t have a lot of resources.

In Iraq, there were times that we were short on water and MREs, and I rolled north without armor plates for my Kevlar.

But entrepreneurs have to provide everything by themselves, especially at the beginning. In the early days of INVICTA, we went to dozens of different business plan competitions to win enough cash to keep going. We maxed out credit cards and found ways to reuse assets. We had to make it happen with less.

4. No one cares if you fail.

I don’t mean to minimize what failure means in the military, of course. It’s much worse than having a business fail. However, there is a tremendous support system in the military for when disasters happen.

When a business fails, no one really cares other than your close friends and family. It can be very hard, but if it doesn’t work, you just move on.

5. There is no end date.

My business partner threw her hands in the air the other evening, exasperating, “I suddenly realized that even once our product sells through, and Barnes & Noble and Amazon are happy, we will be working like maniacs for the next six months to get the next few games ready!”

For the most part, folks on active duty are always working toward a calendar goal. Their training, deployment schedule and separation date are all pretty well set in stone. There have been exceptions in the last 15 years of war, but in general, you can always count on an end date to all your striving. Entrepreneurs don’t have that luxury.

The best card that veterans carry through entrepreneurship is a “never quit” mentality. That said, it’s important to recognize that the challenges are very different here than the ones you might have faced on active duty.

(DoD photo)

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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