This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama - We Are The Mighty
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This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama

Alabama. The Heart of Dixie is home to many things: sweet tea, college football, Forrest Gump, and now, art?

Yep, you can ask Jenny if you don’t believe it, but there is a industrial renaissance happening in this southern territory and it’s happening FAST.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Redline Steel

Underneath the roof of a metal fabrication shop in Huntsville lies the team responsible for this artistic re-birthing. Redline Steel is blazing a trail and making a name as the wall-art decor producer as they overhaul the entire market with an eye for quality aesthetics along with a little southern grit.

Veteran turned fitness model turned entrepreneur, Colin Wayne is at the helm of this ship that is steering right into the path of any market shareholder corporation that wants to deny Redline Steel a chance at the crown, including Amazon.

This serial entrepreneur has been able to take his company from concept to a multi-million dollar business and expects it to exceed the billion-dollar mark in 5 years; an ambitious goal, but if Redline’s past is a precursor for its future, it’s very possible. Redline products have made their way all the way from Huntsville to some of the country’s biggest patriot supporters (Grunt Style anyone?) as well as the living rooms and man-caves of individual patriots, from California to New York.

Also Read: Here’s how veterans can get a head start to become a successful entrepreneur

In the process of seeking a gift for his son, Colin noticed the business potential within the wall-art decor market and made moves to seize an opportunity, turning a one-man operation into a full-scale company with over 40 employees in less than 2 years. All of this was accomplished using Colin’s experience and limited resources.

After receiving his GED, Colin spent 6 years and 3 deployments in the Army National Guard and government services and ultimately left after being injured overseas. As an accidental fitness model, Colin’s social media went viral, resulting in a prosperous career marked by appearances on over 50 magazine covers. The fitness model then discovered a natural attraction to marketing and sales and proceeded to teach himself market-share strategies and entrepreneurial skills via the internet and started a few of his own companies. Not bad for a kid from Alabama.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Colin Wayne, founder of Redline Steel.

Despite Colin’s impressive track record, he insists that his managers and the rest of his team are the really the fire that puts the steam through the stacks. Redline Steel’s been able to assemble a team of employees that have organically found their place within the organization, which is determined to keep their people happy and productive. They don’t care much about a traditional resume and even are unique in their on boarding process. Colin is much more interested in evaluated people based on their values rather than solely by skill set and experience. And by starting everyone at an entry level position and rotating through other positions before settling into a permanent role allows employees to learn the company intrinsically from the group up and while evaluating where and how their skills can be most beneficial. If going by successful investors and entrepreneur, Marcus Lemonis’ (THE PROFIT) standards of “People, Process, Product”, Redline Steel is hitting the mark by finding quality people to engage in an efficient process yielding a great product.

If you’re curious about Redline Steel’s people, product, and process, you can watch Colin’s web series (WAYNE’S WORLD) as he documents the companies internal operations and tracks their growth from quarter to quarter. Redline Steel has a large stock inventory selection as well as many customizable options for nearly all of their products.

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Here’s how Rosie the Riveter inspired these military spouses
“Keeps a sharp look out for sabotage,

Sitting up there on the fuselage,

That little frail can do, more than a male can do-

Rosie (brrrrrrr) the Riveter.”

Thus go the early lyrics for the wildly popular song “Rosie the Riveter.” Written in 1943, writers Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb forever immortalized J. Howard Miller’s now famous 1942 poster of Rosie the Riveter.

Also read: The 8 most famous US military recruiting posters of World War II

The recruiting poster, commissioned by Westinghouse Electric Corporation, featured Rosie the Riveter, in her blue shirt and red bandana, flexing under the words “We Can Do It.”

In 1943, Norman Rockwell would have his version of Rosie, sitting and eating a sandwich, holding a riveting gun — her feet resting on a dirty Mein Kampf poster — published by the “Saturday Evening Post.”

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Norman Rockwell illustration

Those two images would go on to symbolize the impact of women during World War 2, and on the aviation community as a whole.

In 1943, a stunning 65 percent of the workforce in the U.S. aviation industry were women. Prior to the war? Just 1 percent of the industry was comprised of women.

Though they made up the majority of the workforce, women in the aviation industry made just 50 percent of what men in the same positions made.

Related: 34 things military spouses wish they knew sooner

Today, Rosie is still impacting the military community, as showcased by the company R.Riveter.

R.Riveter, a U.S. company that makes hand bags, was officially launched in 2011 by Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley.

The two Army spouses, struggling under the weight of an unemployment rate 4 times the national average and pay discrepancies somewhere near 38 percent, decided to make the problem work for them instead of against them.

Embodying the spirit of the original Riveters, Cruse and Bradley pooled their limited resources, purchased a sewing machine and some leather, and they set out to impact the military spouse community in a way that had not quite caught on with the military spouse community yet: entrepreneurship and mobile income that did not rely on multi-level-sales techniques.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama

Despite having no idea how to sew, moving multiple times — to different duty stations in different states — and many telling the women that their idea couldn’t succeed, the two women took an idea, a sewing machine, and a cold attic, and they grew it beyond their wildest expectations.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama

Appearing on Shark Tank in 2016, Cruse and Bradley took R.Riveter, which by then included military spouses around the country sewing and putting together their one of a kind, signature handbags, and partnered with billionaire Mark Cuban.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
SHARK TANK – “Episode 719” – Veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs enlist the Sharks’ investment.

That year, they saw unprecedented company growth of 735 percent — and overall — in just 6 years, R.Riveter went from an idea to Shark Tank — to one of the fastest growing companies in America.

More: These entrepreneurs survived Shark Tank and share their secrets with vets

Today, R.Riveter is still the company it started as: an experiment in providing mobile, flexible income for military spouses. Or in their words, a company who is “redefining norms.”

Katie Foley is a freelance writer and an independent author. She is a work from home mom to three crazy elementary kids and wife to an active duty U.S. Marine. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

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How this SEAL transitioned from officer to entrepreneur

Making the transition from military to the civilian workforce is a challenging phase in the lives of veterans. While the thought of spending more time with family is comforting, starting afresh and beginning an all-new career can be quite a daunting task. After their military lives come to an end, most veterans begin their hunt for jobs but there are a few who have a different plan in mind.

From military to entrepreneurship

Meet Sean Matson, a former Navy SEAL who carved his path to entrepreneurship after having spent 10 years as a SEAL in the US Navy. While he is still serving his country in the Navy Reserves, Sean was deployed five times to a lot of austere locations during his 10-year active-duty career.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Sean Matson restocks a Strike Force display. (Photo by The Virginian Pilot and Vickie Cronis-Nohe)

Like many other veterans, Sean’s transition to the civilian workforce was not an easy one. Not only was he unemployed after leaving the military, he was also stuck in the middle of a nasty divorce, causing him to almost lose custody of his children and face tremendous debt. All this while he was making ends meet to start his very own brand – Strike Force Energy, an energy drink.

The story behind Strike Force Energy

So, what made this ex-officer launch his own energy drink? Having spent years in the military, Sean understood the importance of energy drinks and caffeine among the military troops. He noticed how the existing drinks in the market were not doing the job of fueling the military — and to make matters worse, the bulky energy drink cans were nothing short of a burden. This gave rise to Strike Force Energy, an energy drink primarily targeted to the military troops.

Also read: Nick from Ranger Up on entrepreneurship, why most business books suck, his hero Captain America

In a market filled with dubious energy drinks, Sean introduced a healthier and affordable alternative with Strike Force Energy. With zero sugar, zero calories, and the right amount of caffeine, taurine, and B vitamins, this energy drink promises to give you a boost without having an adverse impact on your health. What’s more, its pocket-friendly packaging and attractive price point makes it popular among customers and retailers. Strike Force Energy comes in four flavors: original, grape, lemon, and orange, and it is available in packets or 750-milliliter pump bottles.

Strike Force Energy garners a positive response

This veteran-owned, American-made company enjoys exceptional margins and lower distribution costs compared to its competitors. “Our product has an over 70% gross margin due to in-house manufacturing and distribution combined with a 50:1 relative shipping and storage cost,” says Sean. Its compact size also makes it easy to ship while occupying minimal space. Not just that, this drink has also been gaining preference over competitors owing to its taste.

In two years of business, the founders have received an incredible response and experienced exponential growth since inception. The brand has also made inroads into retail stores such as 7-Eleven and is also garnering interest from other retailers, grocery stores, and fast-food chains.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Strike Force Energy product.

Brand with a social mission

While his brand is doing incredibly well, Sean has not forgotten his roots. A socially responsible entrepreneur, he is committed to giving back to society through his venture. Strike Force Energy has partnered with non-profits and donates 10% of their gross sales to them to provide support for law enforcement officers and their families across America.

Top 4 tips for military veterans making the transition

Sean Matson shares his top 4 tips for military veterans looking to transition to the civilian workforce:

1. Start earlier than you think you should

2. The skills you learn in the military completely apply to the civilian workforce

3. Treat others the way you would like to be treated

4. Remember, you have the power to influence much more as a civilian than you ever did in the military

This military officer turned entrepreneur is confident that his energy drink has what it takes to compete with the leading players in the market. When asked what the future looks like for his business, he says “We are either going to be the best energy drink company or be bought by the best.”

Strike Force Energy is available on Amazon or at Strike Force Energy. You can also find them in stores

Life Flip

Veteran-owned Combat Flip Flops spreads peace in conflict zones

What started as a pilot project in Kabul making sandals has now become a major lifestyle brand that employs thousands of local craftsmen and women in conflict zones all over the world. After serving, Matthew Griffin and fellow airborne Ranger Donald Lee recognized that the factories producing military gear in Afghanistan were going to become obsolete. During the seven tours between the two of them in the region, the founders of the company were constantly astonished by the creativity, respect, and determination of the Afghani people.

Griffin and Lee agreed that extremism finds easy prey in areas that are starving for resources. Rather than heading home upon completion of their duty, they went back unarmed. Combat Flip Flops was born from the idea of transitioning from war to peace.

Griffin and Lee enlisted Griffin’s brother, designer and co-founder Andy Sewrey, to come to Afghanistan develop their flagship product: a comfy, durable sandal, referred to the AK-47. Sewrey looked around him and realized he had no shortage of inspiration: poppies, tuck-tucks, bullet casings, and combat boots. They took the raw materials from the boots and redesigned them into flip-flops. Having almost no budget, the small team had to get scrappy about material and funding.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Every product sold by Combat Flip Flops does one or more of these things: employs American Gold Star Families, supports a veteran-owned business, gainfully employs Afghan war widows, funds one day of school for an Afghan girl, and clears land mines.

“We sold a car and a few other things and we came up with samples and we literally threw all our samples in a duffel bag and went to a Vegas to a trade show,” Griffin recalled. “People thought they were cool and bought them and we sold thousands right out of the gate.”

It became apparent that their model and philosophy were working, and when one factory became two, they added new products and pumped the money back into the communities, providing local citizens with jobs and opportunities.

Combat Flip Flops’ main production hub is in Bogata Columbia, where women-owned and operated factories make shoes and scarves. They have also partnered with makers all over the world and worked with displaced Syrian refugees in Beirut. In these factories, creative repurposing of bomb casings into bracelets and necklace charms made from recovered mines helps reduce the environmental impact from the after-effects of war.

Also read: Ranger takes flip flop company from Kabul to the Shark Tank

Every pair of AK-47s sold — and in fact every single item on the website — funds an Afghani girl’s education for up to seven days. Since the literacy rate for girls in Kabul hovers around 15%, that is a significant infusion of education investment. Early education provides kids with upward mobility and makes them less vulnerable to fundamentalist recruiters.

Combat Flip Flops is a great example of soldiers taking their know-how and big hearts and using their powers to enact good after they have left the battlefield. These guys are committed to reducing the threat of war by trying to stabilize local communities one by one. “Employ the parents, educate the children” is the company’s informal motto.

You can check out the many fine products under the Combat Flip Flops brand here and because it’s a veteran-owned and operated nonprofit organization, all the proceeds go directly to educating young people in conflict zones.

Support soldiers — and the communities that they work so hard to protect.

Life Flip

3 leadership lessons that will take you from the battlefield to the boardroom

When Ted Studdard enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school in Commerce, Georgia, he thought he’d do one tour and get out. He certainly didn’t think he would become an officer; he never imagined that he’d have an impressive 25 year career, nor did he expect that his experiences in the field would result in a leadership position in the private sector. He assumed he’d go back to Commerce to serve in the family insurance business. From leading Marines in combat to leading employees at The Home Depot, where he serves as the Divisional Staffing Manager of the Western Division, Studdard has found that good leadership translates no matter where you serve.

Also read: How to not be a dirtbag officer

Studdard always wanted to be a Marine. His father served as a Marine between Korea and Vietnam in the late 1950s, and his uncle, also a Marine, fought in some of the most pivotal battles of World War II. As his first operational tour was coming to a close, Studdard thought it might be time to head back to Georgia. Financially it made sense and it seemed like a natural move, but the actions of one leader changed his mind. Through the course of his career, Studdard would come across three great leaders that would fundamentally influence not only his path, but his leadership philosophy as well. The three lessons that he learned early in his career still resonate today.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Ted Studdard with then President George Bush.

3. Know your people.

Studdard was stationed in Hawaii and was contemplating his next move, specifically whether or not to stay in the Marines, when (then) Colonel Wayne Rollins came to his artillery battery’s live fire training. “He said, ‘Hey Ted. I want to talk to you,'” Studdard recalled, adding, “He knew my name. He had several thousand Marines and sailors in his regiment and yet he was willing to go out of his way to not only talk to me but to really mentor me. That’s the essence of a leader.” Rollins sat with Studdard for hours, talking through different options, and always with Studdard’s best interest at heart – even if that meant it was a competing interest of the Marines. Knowing your people – who they are, what drives them and something as simple as their name – is instrumental in building organizational trust.

2. Empower your people.

When Studdard was a tactics instructor in Quantico, Virginia, he was with a group of leaders conducting a reconnaissance for a training mission along a series of tank trails deep in Virginia countryside when they got a flat tire. Studdard was the junior guy, so changing the flat fell to him. While several of the majors and lieutenant colonels offered advice, the Commanding Officer, (then) Colonel James Conway, stepped in. Studdard shared, “He walked up and said, ‘Men, he knows how to change a tire. Let’s get out of his way and let him do his business.’ All those leaders meant well, but what sets great leaders apart is that they teach and train their people and then they trust them to do their job, while providing an environment for them to succeed.”

Also Read: Legendary WWII Gen. Carl Spaatz offered great advice to military leaders — and it still rings true today

1. Have their backs.

We all make mistakes. Studdard learned the hard way that even with the best intentions, errors still occur. But as a leader, how you react to those mistakes is what shows your true mettle.

Studdard had been in his first operational Marine Unit about two months when he made an innocent, albeit potentially catastrophic, mistake. “We’d had horrible weather for a couple of weeks,” he explained, “and we’d been carrying around this particular munition that was a pain in the rear end to transport and it could only be used in very specific training areas. We’d been waiting for clear weather so we could shoot and observe the impacts, and we finally had a beautiful day and we were in the right location. I thought it was the perfect time to shoot this ammunition.

Just as we fired the last round, our Commanding Officer, Captain M.A. Singleton, arrived at our position. He asked me, ‘Ted, did you really just shoot that ammunition?’ And I was on cloud nine. But then he said it again. ‘Ted? Did you really just shoot that?’ I answered yes. I thought he was going to be so proud of us … and then asked if I knew where everybody was.”

Studdard continued, “There were 2000 Marines that were in the training area. I thought that I knew where all the units were until he asked me about the mortarmen. I didn’t know where they were. Turns out they were in front of our position and we had fired over their heads, which could have created a really dire situation.”

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Ted Studdard, USMC.

Studdard expected to be relieved on the spot, but to his surprise that did not happen. Captain Singleton took Studdard aside and asked him questions, trying to ascertain if he really understood the ramifications. Instead of sending Studdard home, Singleton finished the conversation by telling him: “I believe in you. I have faith in you. Go out and train your Marines and don’t ever do that again.”

Studdard recognizes that he got a second chance and stressed the importance of standing up for your people. “We knew if it wasn’t illegal, immoral or unethical that Captain Singleton had our backs,” Studdard said. He would hold us accountable, but he was helping us grow. Singleton’s accountability coupled with trust and compassion helped build a cohesive team, which, within the year would perform exceptionally well in combat.

Whether you’re leading troops into battle or are leading teams in the private sector, Studdard’s leadership lessons are ones to implement. “Leadership is universal,” he believes, “It doesn’t matter if you’re in combat or corporate America. The Golden Rule still applies: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Life Flip

How a Christmas-gift-to-be turned into a booming vet-owned business

The season is upon us: eggnog has invaded the dairy section, men are half-heartedly passing as Santa Claus ringing bells in front of your favorite department store and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” has begun its usual hourly rotation.

Yes, it’s Christmas and you have no idea what to get that special veteran in your life.

It’s a difficult task; you want to get that special veteran something meaningful but not another bedazzled USN phone case. You have the better intuition to know that another beer koozie with the wrong rate/rank isn’t going to cut it this year but not enough to know exactly what.

Well, for those who are trying to find the perfect military themed gift for a veteran friend or loved one, Medals of America just may have the solution:

From its humble beginnings in 1976, Army Veteran, Lee Foster’s mother and father turned a small gift for his WWII Veteran grandfather into a Veteran owned and operated business that that is an official manufacture of US military medals, ranks, badges, and awards authorized for active duty service members as well as Veterans who’d like to honor and remember their service.

“My father, a Vietnam Veteran, wanted to preserve and display my grandfather’s WWII medals and give them to him as a Christmas present in 1976. It took him over 9 months including contacting the French government to procure one of the medals but the present was a hit and the realization of a need for this company was born.” says Lee Foster about his fathers experience and the inception of Medals of America.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Lee Foster, of Medals of America.

Unfortunately, the bedazzled phone case is not available through Medals of America, but they do have beer koozies and a Chocolate handgun in a Real Gun Case for those high-caliber cocoa lovers.

But that is only scraping the surface for the services Medals of America offers. Their specialty lies within their medals, ribbons and shadow boxes.

Any veteran can relate to the age-old story of losing ribbons, medals or awards while moving or to the test of time. Aside from making a trip to the nearest uniform shop on a base that is probably an hour drive away (a slightly biographical story) collecting these critical parts of a veterans personal history is a task.

Luckily, Medals of America makes these mementos easy to find and convenient to attain.

Medals of America’s retail site makes the medals and ribbons easy to arrange, organized in order of precedence or alphabetically, making them easy to find. However, if you don’t have the patience to arrange them, Medals of America can quickly arrange them for wear or display (which is also a purchase option should you need your entire ribbon or medal rack). There is also a new option to have your ribbon rack printed onto a decal. There are rate/rank pins, badges, and stickers all available in various styles.

However, the most significant gift and memento that Medals of America take great pride are the custom shadow boxes. With a variety of colors, frames and combination of medals, ribbons, pins, patches, rates, ranks and insignias, there is no limit to what you can achieve.

Also Read: The best qualities about veteran entrepreneurs that investors love

For the more crafty of us, Medals of America offers empty shadow boxes, which allows you to build your box should you have specialty items that you would love to arrange yourself.

However, for those of us who need the extra help, there are plenty of solutions. Medals of America allows you to customize your box and placement of memorabilia. If you need any help with the arrangement or finding the correct patch or ribbons, you can call the customer support line.

“We are staffed with retired Veterans for all branches of the military. They will walk you through how to do it,” Foster says, reassuringly.

The boxes speak for themselves when it comes to sensible things to get someone. It goes well beyond the notion of “gifts” in regards to how special something like this can mean to someone.

“We get letters from people all the time about how they did a shadow box and when it was opened the person cried,” Lee Foster says about the sentimentality of the shadow boxes. “There is nothing you can do that will show how much you respect someone than that.”

Life Flip

Veteran-owned financing company receives $20 million in Series B funding

Veterans are a special breed, known for grit, integrity, and loyalty. These qualities were first in mind for Mark L. Rockefeller when he started StreetShares with Mickey Konson to help veterans fund their businesses. Their model believes in the power of the individual helping the individual and is proving to be a successful blend of military values and business acumen. Recently, with the help of veteran-focused venture firm Stony Lonesome Group, and a $20 million investment from Rotunda Capital Partners, LLC, StreetShares has completed its Series B funding round.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama

“This injection of capital allows us to continue to provide red-carpet treatment to our very special members — the veteran entrepreneurs, small business owners, government contractors, and impact investors — that make up our country’s next ‘Greatest Generation,'” said Mark Rockefeller.

What Makes StreetShares Different?

After he left the Air Force where he served as a JAG officer,  Mark joined a Wall Street law firm. Though he was well compensated, he missed the camaraderie of military service and felt miserable with the type of work he was doing. He wanted something more meaningful to himself and impactful to the veteran community.

Also read: The 2018 VETTY Awards recognized exemplary service to the veteran community

Mark had a theory that the social loyalty that exists between veterans could be harnessed (via technology) and applied for financial transactions. He met with Mickey Konson in a local diner to discuss the idea. Mickey is a native of South Africa and served a short time in the South African Air Force. After his transition, he spent 12 years as a senior executive at Capital One bank, where he learned the power of credit cards tied to established societies and groups. These are also known as affinity cards, giving him a fantastic understanding of the power of community.

StreetShares was born around that diner table. The model is based on the idea that veterans will be more loyal to their financial obligations when it is their fellow veterans funding it and not some distantly corporate bank. StreetShares brings together individual investors as the lenders, paying money into traditional loans and bonds that are available to veteran-owned and military spouse-owned businesses to access. Harnessing “social trust” means lowering the risk and the rates for borrowers and better returns for investors. To borrow a combat term, both sides have each other’s six.

The military background of the leadership team also helps them understand the needs and concerns of their customers. Not only are they veterans, but they too have started their own business. This gives them the unique ability to know exactly what is needed by their customers to succeed and to be able to provide them support in the language they understand. It’s why they choose to focus on the veteran and military community.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama

What does this Series B funding mean for veteran-owned businesses?

This latest round of funding means that more money is available for investment and at better rates than before. Not only is this a boon for StreetShares, but it also means that more companies can access the capital they need to expand their businesses. This has the happy result of injecting money into local communities as more materials and equipment are purchased, properties and buildings are bought for expansion, and people are hired to support the businesses. These loans come in various forms, from traditional loans to factoring, or loaning money based on outstanding contracts.

It also provides more opportunities for people to invest in veteran-owned small businesses as they expand their Veteran Business Bonds program. Individuals can start investing with just $25 and feel good knowing they are supporting the first military community social-impact investment program.


How Black Rifle Coffee Company became a multi-million dollar business

The best entrepreneurs are like a good cup of coffee: fresh, strong, and bold.

Army Green Beret turned coffee brew master, Evan Hafer, is exactly that. As the CEO of Black Rifle Coffee, Hafer says they’re selling freedom, one cup at a time.

It’s a great tagline. You know what else? It’s an incredible business. The company roasts over a million pounds of coffee per year and grosses over $30 million annually. This isn’t a veteran with a hobby; this is a savvy businessman with a passion.

Here’s my 60 second interview with Evan, filmed recently at the White House.

As the CEO of StreetShares, my team and I fund America’s best veteran-owned businesses with veteran business loans, and contract or invoice financing. The questions we get asked over and over again are how to break away from the crowd; how to stand out as an entrepreneur. Here’s how:

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Evan Hafer, Mat Best, and the Team from Black Rifle Coffee.

Lesson 1: Find your passion.

“I fell in love with coffee 20 years ago,” Hafer told me. “I was the only guy who invaded Iraq with a bunch of boutique, small-roasted coffees.” Eventually, he began roasting for his fellow soldiers; they even converted a gun truck into a spot where they could grind coffee every morning.

To be a successful entrepreneur, the first thing you need to do is hone in on your passion. What’s going to make you want to get out of bed every day and hit the pavement until you can’t work anymore? If you’re not passionate about your business, why would anyone else be? Find out what drives you, then figure out how to make money doing it.

Hafer told me, “When I got back from the Middle East, all I wanted to do was roast.” That’s exactly what he did.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Evan Hafer inspecting coffee beans.

Lesson 2: Be clear in your vision.

Hafer knew his passion had potential. He teamed up with some friends at Article15 Clothing and did a test-drive of his Freedom Roast coffee on their site. They sold about 500 pounds of coffee, and it inspired him to launch Black Rifle Coffee in December 2014. “Conceptually, guns and coffee go together very well,” he said. “Every range that I’ve been to, coffee has been part of shooting.” He knew what he wanted to create: A lifestyle brand centered on supporting the 2nd Amendment in conjunction with great coffee. “You’re not going to find that anywhere else,” Hafer added.

Hafer’s time in the Army served him well in transitioning to life as an entrepreneur. “In the military, you have to push yourself past mental and physical limits, every day to the point where you’re almost desensitized to the work,” he explained. “Now I feel like I have an endless capacity to just always work. The military gave me the context to reach into basically a bottomless well of endurance.

Lesson 3: Be fearless.

One of the most important assets veteran entrepreneurs bring to the table that their civilian counterparts don’t always have is perspective. “While serving, you’ve been in the worst places,” Hafer offered. “The worst business you are put in will never compare to the worst experience that war puts you in.

“That realization is ultimately what encourages Hafer to be fearless. He explained, “I’m not going to lose my life or kill anyone. That allows me to fail and fail fast, so I can learn from my mistakes. At the end of the day, I don’t care. It doesn’t harm my ego – I just embrace the failure and move on.”

Any entrepreneur will tell you that failure is a part of the game. How you handle risk, and incorporate it into your business model will dictate whether or not you’ll be successful.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Evan and Mat Best in the shop.

Lesson 4: Be you.

Hafer always wanted to roast coffee. Now, he wants to make other people a lot of money doing it. “I’d rather make 100 people millionaires than make $100 million dollars myself,” Hafer shared. “This company is a good opportunity to make money.”

One of Hafer’s first hires was a soldier who served alongside him in Afghanistan. With 86 employees, 60 percent are veterans . That was a big part of Hafer’s vision. “It’s not PR – it’s who we are,” Hafer said. “This company is about freedom. It’s not about social issues. The premise of the company is, ‘You do you.'”

Next time you go to order a latte, think about the lessons you can learn from Evan Hafer. Then order your coffee like a good entrepreneur: fresh, strong, and bold.


Military and first responders can get great discounts at this online site

Anyone who chooses a life of service to this country or their local community deserves some perks. Those who work (or have worked) in the U.S. Armed Forces, law enforcement, or in a first-response capacity all sacrifice for the greater good — and the greater good should give them something in return.

In 2011, the founders of GovX imagined a way for these Americans of service to access the perks they’ve earned by providing exclusive pricing on brand-name merchandise, tickets, and travel services — all in one online store.

The ambitious GovX team created an e-commerce platform to support this mission of serving those who serve, and they made it completely free to join. The site uses a proprietary verification system to limit membership to those with eligible service-related backgrounds, so that these members have exclusive access to the deals, and brands have the protection of a “closed” site to offer them. (Want to know if you qualify? Click here.)

For more than six years, GovX has developed partnerships with more than 300 brands and hundreds more sport organizations, events, attractions, and travel service providers, making it possible for those who serve our country to treat themselves and their families without breaking the bank.

“To some, ‘Thank you for your service’ may sound a little overplayed, but we mean every word of it.” – Alan Cole, GovX CEO

The online retail site has exploded over the last several years, thanks in large part to the word-of-mouth advocacy of its loyal member base. With more than 2.5 million members, GovX is the leading online shopping destination exclusively for verified military personnel as well as federal, state, and local government workers.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama

The GovX retail catalog has expanded with premium brands like Oakley, Under Armour, Vortex Optics, The North Face, and more, but the perks of membership don’t stop at gear and apparel. The number of member discounts for professional and collegiate sports has also dramatically increased (GovX is an official sponsor of Major League Baseball, among other things), new partners like Tough Mudder have joined the mission, and members are saving more than ever on travel and activities for their families.

The success of the GovX business model is about reflexively giving back to the military, law enforcement, and first responder communities.

The mission of GovX was always intended to be more than just shopping discounts. The core of the company was built around supporting America’s service members any way possible. In 2015, the company launched “Mission Giveback”, a monthly donation program where a portion of every order on goes to support a nonprofit serving the military and first-responder communities. Since the program’s inception, GovX has donated over 0,000 to these nonprofits, supporting organizations like Semper Fi Fund, Our Military Kids, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, the Green Beret Foundation, and many others.

But the company doesn’t limit its community support to this program. Through a coordinated partnership with San Diego State University, GovX recently gave a ,000 check to the San Diego Police Foundation — providing a direct impact on the daily lives of law officers in the company’s hometown. Year round, GovX participates in fundraising events and regularly contributes to causes that impact those within the GovX community.

“Our members are the ones doing incredible, tough, brave, honorable things every day and we try to shine a light on those people and actions, because they deserve it.” – Aaron Pelander, VP Marketing, GovX

As GovX moves in to its seventh year and beyond, it will continue to evolve and grow as a company. But one thing that will never be lost during its progress is the mission — serving those who serve. GovX will keep its members and the wider military and first-responder communities at the center of its decision making, and it will continue to negotiate deals and benefits on their behalf for one simple reason: these Americans of service deserve it.

Life Flip

How a soldier went to war with his unique brand of Cuban-style cigars

As a first generation American, born and raised in the Windy City of Chicago, veteran entrepreneur David Blanco learned the qualities of a great cigar early in life from his father, Cesar, and uncle, Francisco.

Both Blanco brothers left Havana, Cuba in 1961, headed for Miami, to prevent the assassination of their father, David’s grandfather, also named Cesar. When Fidel Castro took over in 1959, the elder Blanco became one of his top cops and was the highest intelligence official to defect to Miami.

To reduce the refugee population in Miami, the U.S. government paid a six-month subsidy to help settle Cuban refugees to other parts of the country, and this is how the Blanco family ended up in Chicago in 1963. At the time, both Cesar and Francisco believed that they left the tobacco industry behind them.

Like most successful entrepreneurs, David started then Blanco Cigars to respond to a real need. In the early 1990s, when David was in his early 20s, he found that he was the only one in his circles who was smoking cigars. His friends were always wanting to learn and asking for cigars that were being sent to him from family outside the U.S. David gave them cigars and they kept coming back, eventually wanting to buy them. After discovering that everyone was trying to buy cigars from him, David approached his father, Cesar, and uncle Francisco, indicating that he wanted to start a cigar company to meet these growing needs.

Both elder Blancos informed David that if he was really serious, he needed to go all in and they would match him. So, David liquidated everything, and Blanco Cigar Company was formed in 1998.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Blanco Cigar

At the time, David had just left the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, joined the Chicago Fire Department as a paramedic officer, and was proudly serving in the United States Army Reserve, assigned to the 12th Special Forces Group. Fortunately, the one day (24 hours) on, three days (72 hours) off schedule as a paramedic allowed David to grow his side hustle cigar business. His father started as President, handling all of the licensing, legal and corporate matters. His uncle ran tobacco operations in historic Ybor City, outside of Tampa, where in the 1920s there were more cigars being rolled than in Cuba. Meanwhile, David was beating the streets, building the business, securing accounts and overseeing a dozen other sales people.

In 1995, David’s unit, the 12th Special Forces Group was deactivated as part of a drawdown of forces, and he crossed over to the Illinois Army National Guard. Given his paramedic background, he naturally became a 91B (now 68W) medic. At the time, his father was a Counter Intelligence (CI) Warrant Officer serving in the United States Army Reserves.

No successful business is void of obstacles and Blancos Cigar Company is no exception. In 2000, uncle Francisco, a 20-year Army veteran who is 100% service connected disabled, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis from his previous exposure to Agent Orange. This setback affected their Ybor City operations, resulting in having to close the factory in Florida and move production to Nicaragua, where other relocated family members could support.

If that wasn’t a kick in the gut, we all know what happened on September 11, 2001.

As soon as this historic event in our history occurred, David’s father, now a retired CW4 with 27 years of service, was activated to serve alongside multiple Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, as well as assist Ambassador Paul Bremer in the development of the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq.

Also Read: America’s oldest World War II veteran is turning 109, and he still smokes 12 cigars a day

Cesar Blanco’s last words before heading off to war were “Good luck kid, keep it running as long as you can.”

Six months later, David was activated. He had to close up the business in two weeks, lost all 12 sales people, never to return again.

Once activated, David volunteered to go and serve as a line medic in the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, NY. Just showing up one day, his leadership did not know he was a called-up reservist. They just assumed that he was a medic that just PCS’d (permanent change of station) into their unit.

Entrepreneurs quit every day, but not this veteran entrepreneur.

As David says, “I’ve never quit at anything. I had everything invested. I told myself that it will just take longer.” After returning from Afghanistan, David reopened in Chicago and resumed operations with family member running a factory in Nicaragua. He hit the road harder than ever before. David’s veteran entrepreneur strength is his drive, believing in accomplishing the mission, and that there is no obstacle too high, too wide, or too deep.

Despite his uncle getting ill, deployments closing the company, a catastrophic collapse of the economy in 2008, David has been very resilient when many entrepreneurs would have quit. All of these events have made him stronger, forced him to creatively grow the business, and made him very proficient at running a lean organization.

One of the smartest decisions David made was leaving his Chicago roots for Clearwater, Florida. In 2011, when Rahm Emmanuel ran for mayor, David knew that smoking restrictions and tax increases would follow. The next indicator of his tremendous business acumen was his decision to open their Florida-based U.S. Customs bonded warehouse that same year.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
David Blanco, founder of Blanco Cigar.

This move allowed Blanco Cigars to avoid the increased Federal Excise Taxes under President Obama, when taxes were increased from $0.025 per cigar to almost $0.41 per cigar. The new facility allows Blanco Cigars to forego taxes until the product leaves the facility.

In 2017, Blanco Cigars experienced a 200% growth to over $1 million (US) sales this year and producing over 1 million cigars. Under the Blancos’ leadership, their direction and trajectory is growing due to great partnering alliances. Their largest affiliates are Hiram Solomon (a Masonic Company) and Warfighter Tobacco Company.

Blanco Cigars’ ability to blend, import, warehouse and drop ship for other cigar companies has allowed them to self-finance their business, while diversifying their product line. As they continue to grow, this will continue to be important. Banks are not going to loan you money if you’re in the tobacco business. So, their ability to bootstrap all efforts is important.

Presently, a Company Commander in the United States Army Reserves and a successful veteran entrepreneur, David Blanco always has a smile on his face and you’ll likely hear him to tell you to “Stay Smoky!”

Life Flip

This company empowers military spouses who need mobile income

It was early 2011 when R.Riveter Co-Founders Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley met each other in Dahlonega, Georgia, where both of their husbands were stationed. As military spouses, they needed to find a way to have a steady income, even as their families moved from station to station. They needed flexibility and were on a mission to create mobile income for military spouses across the country. Their product had to be functional and efficient, something a military spouse would be able to utilize in their day-to-day activities. The decision to make handbags was an easy one.

It should come as no surprise that the name R.Riveter is a nod to Rosie the Riveter, the famous gal in a red kerchief and rolled-up shirt sleeves used in ads to recruit women to work in industrial settings to support the defense department during World War II. In the very same way, Lisa and Cameron set out to find a way to help support military families while their soldiers were also busy serving the country. They started it all with an industrial sewing machine in Lisa’s attic.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama

Influenced by books like Simon Sinek’s Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last, Cameron quickly understood what it means to be accountable, and knows leadership skills only grow with each experience. Reading the Harvard Business Review’s On Strategy was also key in helping her understand strategic growth for long-term success instead of short-term gains. This fit right in with Cameron’s knack for problem-solving and her passion for creative design.

Also read: Here’s how Rosie the Riveter inspired these military spouses

Cameron says she is grateful to her parents, children, and husband because they have given her the opportunities she needed, and they inspire her every day to be better. She also sings the praises of her small but close-knit team at R.Riveter, saying that without them none of this would be possible. They are living proof that with some persistence, dedication, and a lot of hard work, dreams really do come true.

The transition to living a military lifestyle caused a paradigm shift, both personally and professionally, and it wasn’t always easy. Cameron says it took her plans and perceptions about the world, chewed them up, and spit them out. And that’s exactly what she needed to find her purpose of fighting for flexible and dependable income for military families.

R.Riveter’s handbags aren’t just American Made. Every single piece of leather is hand cut, every liner lovingly stitched, every single piece is crafted and assembled with thoughtfulness and purpose. Perhaps the most important part of this is that those hands belong to military spouses. The security they are able to provide families is immeasurable.

As of the end of 2017, they proudly have 30 local employees, and 27 remote Riveters.

Cameron’s advice to her beloved military community?

“Never let your situation become a crutch. Find your strengths and focus on those. See everything as an opportunity for continued success or pay no attention to it at all! Business and entrepreneurship is an exercise in persistence and discipline. No one is positioned better for that than those in the military community.”

You can learn more about R.Riveter and how to get involved on their website. You can also connect with them on Social Media via Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Life Flip

This is the Etsy for the military and first responder communities

How can two infants start a new company that helps military families and veterans?

I mean, they can’t. But.

They can inspire their parents to begin building a new business that supports military and veteran families. Our story begins with a problem familiar to mothers everywhere — dressing a baby.

Related: They started at the bottom, now they are billionaire veterans

Leslie Maneen is a mother of two beautiful daughters. She loved to put them in beautiful outfits when they were babies, but there was a problem. When she would place commercially made baby headbands on them, the band would just slip down around their necks. After much frustration — and trial and error — she developed a two-piece system that could be adjusted to her children as they grew.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Leslie and Adam Maneen with their children.

Leslie knew this was a widespread problem, so she decided to try selling them on Etsy, but when she began to research, she discovered that there were over 200,000 baby headbands already listed. How could she stand out in a crowded marketplace? Her husband, Captain Adam Maneen, saw her frustration and mentioned that it was a shame there was no way to specify that she was a military wife because people would probably want to buy from her.

At that moment, the Patriotic Online Marketplace was conceived (like a baby — get it?). The marketplace is geared toward active duty, veterans, and their immediate family members to sell products and start online businesses without fees.

It’s become a success, with an ever-expanding vendor list and over 4400 products for sale. By focusing on the military and veteran communities, new businesses have the chance to be found and to build a customer base, without fear of being lost in the shuffle of goods. The products sold range from clothing to makeup, books to outdoor equipment, and baked goods to jewelry making supplies. There truly is something for everyone on the site, and the appeal of knowing you are helping military and veteran families is an additional draw.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
Patriotic Online Marketplace founded Leslie Maneen.

Not only do the customers feel good about doing business with POMPUSA, or the Patriotic Online Marketplace, but the vendors are also very happy with how easy it is to set up their online storefronts and begin selling.

“I love your website, it has the simplicity of Etsy but all the functions of an actual website,” is a testimonial from one of their clients, Tattered Flag Designs.

The Maneens understand that time is precious, especially when you have a family. That understanding has helped them to build a company that values their vendors’ time and allows them to quickly set up their ventures to provide for their loved ones.

Also read: Veteran-owned Combat Flip Flops spreads peace in conflict zones

As Adam is still active duty, both he and Leslie split the work involved with Patriotic Online Marketplace. She handles the day-to-day operations and customer service and functions as the social media manager. Adam handles everything else in the evenings and late nights. He is thankful for his military career, as it has given his family a secure base to live off of while he and Leslie build their business.

As he puts it, “My kids are going to eat, be clothed, and have a safe place to sleep and those are non-negotiable. My sleep is negotiable.”

Leslie never had the opportunity to place her headbands on sale, but she doesn’t regret the time she invested in POMPUSA. She believes this new venture has been a blessing to her and her family. The opportunities and the community they are building are far more satisfying, with plans to offer coaching and incubator services to military and veteran-owned small businesses in the future.

Life Flip

These are really nice f****** watches

Watches can be incredibly personal—after all, they’re worn every day throughout many of life’s ups and downs. Why shouldn’t you have one that serves as a reminder of all the hard work you’ve done and the things you’ve accomplished? For veterans and first responders, NFW watch company allows them to do just that.

NFW was started by George Fox, who left a 10-year career at Timex to focus on making watches in his vision, without compromising quality or price point. He accomplishes this goal by spending money on what really matters — the watches — instead of high-priced marketing. For 13 years, his company has been growing steadily with a supportive fan base, especially among the military. He also believed that he could do good with his craft, which has been realized through NFW’s partnerships with charities that support veterans and first responders.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
NFW watches in the field Courtesy of NFW’s Facebook page.

The first partnership started in 2011, when George was approached by a Special Forces Unit to create a special watch for them, with their insignia engraved on the face. He met with unit representatives in Fort Bragg, N.C., and broached the idea of allowing the public to buy the watches as a way to show support and raise funds for the Special Forces Association. This idea was enthusiastically received and the watch was a success.

Also read: This is how Sam Adams will help launch your vet-owned business

This first collaboration between military and small business was the start of a series of charity watches that celebrate Operation Enduring Warrior, the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, Honor Flight, and first responders. Fifty dollars from each sale goes to the charities and nonprofits that support veterans. These watches do more than just advertise the organization. They also serve as a constant reminder to the wearer of the qualities that are endemic to the men and women who served and continue to serve under that symbol. Taya Kyle, Chris Kyle’s widow, said, “It’s great that the watches raise money for CKFF. But the best thing these watches do is every time someone wears one, sees one, or comments on one, it helps keep Chris’ spirit alive.”

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
NFW’s Special Forces Nous Watch benefitting the Green Beret Foundation.

To showcase these watches, NFW relies on the men and women who served in the honored units and wear their timepieces with pride. By not using the traditional watch marketing techniques, such as hiring celebrity endorsers, they are able to keep the watch costs down, allowing more people to wear this reminder of their service every day.

Recently, NFW was chosen to make watches for Medal of Honor recipients, further cementing the company’s relationship with our service men and women, and exemplifying the integrity that George Fox based his company on. He believes that his work with veterans had been more than repaid tenfold, as he has learned from their grit, ingenuity, and spirit. He also feels that it has helped him become a stronger father to his children, allowing him to model strength and integrity. In his spare time, George volunteers with the organizations, such as helping World War II veterans on Honor Flights and running with Operation Enduring Warrior in Spartan Races.

This wounded warrior is turning steel into gold in Alabama
George Fox doing the Spartan Race with Operation Enduring Warrior.

You can follow NFW on Facebook and Twitter, and see their products in action, from fan photos posted to their Instagram.

What does NFW stand for? Rumor says it’s “Nice F**king Watch,” which they are.

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