Ranger Up: Inside the $10 million company that gives veterans a voice
As the founder and president of Ranger Up, Nick Palmisciano now commands an empire of apparel sales, MMA sponsorships, digital content, and social media mastery. Started in 2006, the company is on track this year to hit $10 million in revenue, and that's due in large part to the former Army officer's ability to overcome significant challenges.
Palmisciano founded the company while pursuing his M.B.A. at Duke University, after he started printing funny military-themed t-shirts for ROTC students there. But the part-time passion that followed him into the corporate world became a full-time job after he refused a promotion that would've slapped on the "golden handcuffs," according to an interview he gave to Steven Pressfield Online.
"I knew that if I took that promotion, the golden handcuffs were being slapped on and Ranger Up was going to die," he told the site. "And I was going to spend my life working for other people doing something I really didn't care about that much."
He left the corporate world soon after his promotion was announced, but it wasn't an easy decision.
"I was scared, to be honest," Palmisciano told WATM. "I was scared about giving up the security of the whole thing, but I also felt very free for the first time in ages, because I just — I controlled my destiny — and being able to control your destiny is a very American trait and it's something I didn't fully appreciate. Like I thought of myself as an entrepreneur when I was doing it part-time, but you know, when poor performance means you don't get a paycheck it hits home so much more."
But less than two months after he went all-in with Ranger Up, Palmisciano was facing disaster when his bank account dwindled to just $1,300. "I was going through a divorce, so I rapidly ran out of personal [funds]. I sold everything that I had, and mutual funds and all that stuff and I was down to $1,300. And the key there, just like the key has been in every other time that I've had a crisis with the company is to focus on one thing at a time every single day and try to improve."
His business improved, Palmisciano said, after he broke down tasks into manageable blocks that would get him to where he wanted to go. He looked at costs and realized the company was bleeding money. Then he found out that most of his sales were coming from just 20 percent of his inventory. "It was embarrassing because I knew this stuff from business school, but it's completely different when you're in it, day to day," he said.
His account went up to $1,350 next month, then to $1,500. The company began growing and it never stopped, due in large part to social media. Though, Palmisciano admits, it never gets easier. "There's a new [challenge] every year," he said.
According to Internet Retailer, the company saw $750,000 in sales in 2013 driven from social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, where it has a large audience of die-hard fans.
"Our whole concept is we want to entertain our friends. That's the way that we look at our business," Palmisciano said. "How can we entertain, educate, or just generally amuse our friends, and if we do that right everything falls into place. And if we don't do that right, we're just another t-shirt company."
Now, the company sponsors MMA fighters and also owns rugby apparel brand American Sin Bin and Unapologetically American, a brand meant to reach beyond the military veteran demographic. And Palmisciano personally helps fellow entrepreneurs and continually supports veterans' causes.
Entertaining friends is what has given rise to Ranger Up's latest venture: making a feature film. On Tuesday, the company announced its intention to make a movie titled "Range 15," a post-apocalyptic comedy film made by and for veterans. In partnership with fellow veteran-owned business Article 15 Clothing, Ranger Up launched a crowdfunding campaign to ensure it would be the "military movie you've always wanted someone to make."
At this writing, they are about 75 percent of the way there.
"It's gonna be really funny and it's going to be for us, and because we're doing it for us we don't have to compromise the message at all. You know we don't care if someone's offended by it, we don't care if this isn't Hollywood appropriate," Palmisciano said. "We don't care about any of that stuff. Because we're doing a movie that our fans want us to do."
Want to hear more from Nick? Check out his "how to get a job" series for veterans below, or follow him on Twitter at @Ranger_Up.