In late October, two inaugural events brought members of the military entrepreneurial community together in Dallas and the Bay Area. On Oct. 23-24, the Military Influencer Conference hosted hundreds of veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs and community leaders that are dedicated to supporting the military. Just a day later, on Oct. 25, Bunker Labs hosted their inaugural Bay Area Muster as part of their Muster Across America Tour.
I had the opportunity to attend the stand-out session of each event, the Shark Tank Survivors Panel. The panels consisted of veterans and military spouses who not only lived to tell the tale of surviving ABC's Shark Tank, but also walked away with a partnership agreement with business legend, Mark Cuban.
Members of the Shark Tank Survivor Panel at the Military Influencer Conference Oct. 23 included veterans Eli Crane, Founder of Bottle Breacher, Matthew "Griff" Griffin, Founder of Combat Flip Flops, and military spouses Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley, Co-Founders of R. Riveter. Glenn Banton, CEO of Operation Supply Drop, moderated the panel. Two days later, at the Bay Area Muster hosted by Bunker Labs on Oct. 25, I saw Eli and Griff at it again along with and an additional veteran entrepreneur, Kim Jung, CEO of Rumi Spice. Tristan Flannery, co-founder of Zero Hour Media, moderated the Bay Area panel.
The Shark Tank Survivors panel, comprised of veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs. Photo from R. Riveter Facebook.
Post Shark Tank Success
All four of these start-ups enjoyed wild success after they struck deals on their episodes of ABC's Shark Tank. However, their AARs of Shark Tank ran deeper than just telling the audience about the deals they landed or how intimidating Mark Cuban can be when he peppers you with questions.
Instead, the Shark Tank Survivors shared their intimate stories with the audience. They shared how they bootstrapped their companies from the ground up in their garages and basements. They explained the realities of entrepreneur life and described their after-show successes. While panel members shared their successes with the audience, they also shared failures and what they learned along the way. Matt "Griff" Griffin, CEO of Combat Flip Flops, revealed supply chain issues he had even after the show.
"Being a part of the panel enables several veteran-owned businesses to share those lessons in the hopes of propelling other veteran entrepreneurs to success," he said. He expanded, "Shark Tank pushes the limits of any business--marketing, sales, and operations. Through that experience, we learned many lessons, enabling us to be more effective leaders."
The Combat Flip Flops team and Mark Cuban (button shirt) pose by some product. Photo from Combat Flip Flops Facebook.
The Warrior Class has what it Takes to Succeed
The back-to-back Shark Tank panels demonstrated how the climate of the military entrepreneurial community is changing. Veterans and military spouses experience adversity, each in their own way. However, when they come out on the other end, they've grown, they've learned, and they're poised to do big things. These panels were a perfect example of veteran entrepreneurs showing future entrepreneurs of the military community that they are capable of going after their dreams.
Eli Crane, CEO of Bottle Breacher shared his thoughts on the Military Influencer Conference. "I think it was a great conference. They definitely brought in some serious firepower in various verticals." He added, "all boats rise with the tide and I personally think this country could use way more veterans in influential positions."
The Shark Tank panelists embody exactly what Crane mentions above. They are showing the American public that veterans and military spouses have what it takes to be successful as entrepreneurs. Hand-outs and sympathy are not what they need; they want a chance to put their skills to the test. They're not just satisfied with their own personal successes either. They are supporting their peers and showing that the military community is strongest when it works together.
Jen and Eli Crane of Bottle Breacher with Shark Tank's Kevin O'Leary (center). O'Leary and Cuban (not pictured) both invested in Bottle Breacher. Photo courtesy of Bottle Breacher.
Eli Crane stressed the importance of veteran entrepreneurs mentoring within the military community. He said, "when we exit the service and become successful, it's imperative that we turn around and guide our brothers and sisters who are behind us looking to do the same."
Innovating & Giving Back
All four of these companies share another unique trait in that they are impactful beyond just the success of their physical products. Their products are unique and innovative, but they are literally changing lives at home and around the world.
Two of the Shark Tank survivors are changing the way people look at American manufacturing. When things get stressful, Eli from Bottle Breacher explained, "we don't just call up China and increase our order." Bottle Breacher products are 100% made in the United States and have a 25% veteran hiring rate. Likewise, every R. Riveter bag creates mobile and flexible income for military families through their network of military spouse "riveters."
Cameron Cruse (right) and Lisa Bradley (left), co-founders of R. Riveter, with Mark Cuban. Photo from R. Riveter Facebook.
Similarly, two other panelist saw the opportunity to manufacture commercial products for peace, where there had once been war. For every pair of Combat Flip Flops sold, a girl in Afghanistan goes to school for a day. Rumi Spice employs private farmers to grow their saffron. They are currently the largest private employer of Afghan women in the world.
Respect, commitment, and working towards a higher purpose are standard behaviors among the military community. These Shark Tank survivors demonstrated to the audience exactly what can happen with persistence, passion, and a lot of grit.