MIGHTY 25: Fearless founders David Gale, Linda Alexander, David Harden and Bill Siegel
David Gale, Linda Alexander, David Harden and Bill Siegel came together with the idea of building a once-in-a-lifetime military lifestyle and entertainment brand: We Are The Mighty. Nearly a decade later, the dream has turned into so much more.
David Gale’s father was a World War II veteran who served well before Gale was born. “His generation was so deeply patriotic and so willing to sacrifice. That was always in the back of my mind,” he explained. “I was in college and attending law school but realized I didn’t really want to be practicing law. What I really dreamed about was becoming a movie producer.”
Gale moved to Hollywood and started working on the Paramount lot right away.
“I was doing all of the things I had hoped and produced movies like Beavis and Butthead Do America, Jackass, Napoleon Dynamite, Hustle and Flow and Save the Last Dance. These movies were geared toward a young audience at MTV which is such an iconic company and brand,” he shared. “Working with MTV is really where I became aware of the power of a brand and the power of media to influence and make a difference.”
After 18 years with MTV, Gale was ready to move on to do something different after producing several feature films and launching a digital group.
“I’d launched a digital channel before YouTube and Facebook so I really had a chance to understand how social media could be used in a way to provide entertainment and information,” he added.
When he decided to go out on his own and build something new, Gale had an epiphany.
“I’d been watching YouTube videos about the military and how important the community was. Videos like soldiers with their dogs or coming home from deployment... We were all united as a country in supporting them regardless of how we felt about the wars. This led me down a journey of researching for about a year,” Gale said. “The research was to make sure I wasn’t going on a wild goose chase about the possibility of the world needing a media brand specifically focused entirely on the military.”
It was more than a brand. He wanted to create something focused on storytelling in order to create meaningful engagement through various channels. As the idea began to develop, he thought of his friend and MTV colleague, Linda Alexander.
Alexander shared, “My father was a veteran and I was actually born on Fort Snelling in Minnesota. After my dad finished medical school, he became the head of cardiology at the VA Hospital. So even though I wasn’t in an active military family, it was just such a big part of my life."
Alexander's father-in-law also served in the South Pacific as a Marine and received three Purple Hearts. She was incredibly close to him and loved hearing his stories of service.
“David [Gale] and I had spent years building MTV into the brand it was. I had an incredible career with them, starting in New York City and eventually, I opened up their LA office. I traveled the world with them and found myself living in Miami, where I married my husband, when David called me,” Alexander shared.
In her words, it just made sense.
“Why wouldn’t we use what we learned to create a brand for the military community? They deserved a place where they could come tell their stories. The more we talked to people, the more we realized it meant something,” she said.
Gale credits both Alexander and her husband for making the idea a reality.
“Linda and her husband were willing to invest their own personal money in the early phases to get it off the ground. We had to hire lawyers, business folks and create decks to put this vision together,” Gale explained. “That first year was spent hiring some remarkable people like Mark Harper, Chase Millsap, Jonathan Epstein, Ward Carroll and Augie [August Dannehl]. Then we just kept raising money and it took several rounds.”
One of those rounds included supporters like his old law school buddy, William “Bill” Siegel.
“When David identified the huge white space We Are The Mighty currently occupies, it seemed like an opportunity to help vets and make a profitable investment,” Siegal said. “The best part of being involved with WATM was meeting classy and loyal veterans like Mark.”
The last and final founder made his way into the circle almost a year into building the company: David Harden.
“I grew up in Tucson which is such a big Air Force town. We moved there in the ’70s and it was really the biggest business there was,” Harden shared. “I spent my childhood around the military and then moved to California for college.”
His dream initially was to become a French historian. In fact, he has an unfinished PhD thesis sitting on a shelf.
“I sort of fell out of graduate school and into tech during the .com era, which was sort of not unexpected given I was going to school and living in Silicon Valley,” Harden laughed. “I got my first startup and private equity experience there until the .com bubble burst. After I got married, I moved to Los Angeles and just happened to be sitting at a lunch counter on the right day.”
Harden sold a pilot for a television series and broke into Hollywood that day; he spent 10 years writing television there before moving to Hong Kong.
“I thought I would transfer out of Hollywood work but ended up developing television there, too. Myself and a couple of the preschool dads got together to form a venture company,” he said. “When my wife’s job sent my family back to LA, I thought that was the end of it but instead, they had me set up an office there to do professional investing.”
We Are The Mighty was one of the company’s first substantial investments in the United States.
“This whole idea of building a brand with power and meaning while doing something to make a change in the world was really inspiring. I'm not military and I don't have many other skills but I had been in the entertainment industry for a long time and knew I could bring that to the table,” Harden shared. “What was more important was the veterans we were committed to hiring. The concept of allowing veterans who really wanted to be in entertainment and media have a place where they were not only welcome, but they were important; a place where their knowledge and background was key to being authentic.
In 2014, We Are The Mighty officially launched. Almost a decade of work, with a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way, has brought incredible storytelling to the world, an Emmy Award for filmmaking and extraordinary growth. Today, the brand features the iconic Military Influencer Conference, MilspouseFest, a talented film production department and The Military Influencer Magazine. WATM has brought thousands of stories to millions of readers across the world, employing hundreds of military spouses, veterans, service members
“I am so grateful to the WATM veteran team for being willing to listen to David [Gale]. We didn’t have military experience but we had such a passion for this community and felt like we could really build something if they were willing to go along with us,” Alexander shared. “We found some amazing people to take a wild ride. We had the idea and found the money but they took us over the finish line.”
Harden echoed her sentiments.
“We set out to celebrate service and that was the frontline of our mission and the last thing we thought about at the end of each day,” he added.
Siegel offered advice to those with big ideas.
“My advice for others seeking a big dream is to pay attention to sequencing,” he shared. “Be very intentional and patient about deciding what goals to pursue but once that decision is made, hit it hard.”
Gale, the biggest dreamer at We Are The Mighty, agreed.
“To create something bigger than yourself and to do it collaboratively with people who you really respect, admire and love - it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he smiled.
Editor's note: David, David, Linda, and Bill - On behalf of the entire WATM team, we owe you a debt of gratitude and a profound thank you. Your impact on not just our lives, but on the entire military community will never fully be captured. This experiment has transformed the landscape of military entertainment and your dream has allowed us to tell thousands of stories, impacting millions of readers across the world. You are truly MIGHTY!