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Beyond the Uniform

Beyond the Uniform is a show to help military veterans navigate their civilian career. Each week, I meet with different veterans to learn more about their civilian career, how they got there, and what advice they'd give to other military personnel.
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Dec 18, 2017

"Learning in a classroom is much different from actually doing it. And so I thought I had all this great knowledge coming out of my MBA program but then when I actually became a startup CEO, I found it really was a different world. While textbook knowledge can be helpful and important, it’s really not ultimately going to determine your success as an entrepreneur.”
- Charlotte Creech

Why to Listen: 

Long time listeners know that typically on the show, I interview military veterans that have transitioned into civilian careers. Today I’m doing a resource episode and my guest is Charlotte Creech, a military spouse and current CEO of Patriot Boot Camp. Many active duty military members, veterans, and spouses can take advantage of this great resource. We cover many things in this interview including starting a business, the Patriot Boot Camp program, many misconceptions veterans have about starting a business, and advice Charlotte would offer to those wanting to start and grow their own business.  We also talk about how ruling out what you don’t want to do in your civilian career can be just as important as what you do want to do. Finally, we talk about challenges unique to being a military spouse and how you can support your spouse through your transition out of the military.

  • StoryBox - People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
  • Audible is offering one FREE audio book to Beyond the Uniform listeners. You can claim this offer here, and see a list of books recommended by my guests at BeyondTheUniform.io/books

Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps: 

Today is Episode #137 with the CEO of Patriot Boot Camp, Charlotte Creech.

“Learning in a classroom is much different from actually doing it. And so I thought I had all this great knowledge coming out of my MBA program but then when I actually became a startup CEO, I found it really was a different world. While textbook knowledge can be helpful and important, it’s really not ultimately going to determine your success as an entrepreneur.”             –Charlotte Creech

 

(0:55)

Long time listeners know that typically on the show, I interview military veterans that have transitioned into civilian careers. Today I’m doing a resource episode and my guest is Charlotte Creech, a military spouse and current CEO of Patriot Boot Camp. Many active duty military members, veterans, and spouses can take advantage of this great resource. We cover many things in this interview including starting a business, the Patriot Boot Camp program, many misconceptions veterans have about starting a business, and advice Charlotte would offer to those wanting to start and grow their own business.  We also talk about how ruling out what you don’t want to do in your civilian career can be just as important as what you do want to do. Finally, we talk about challenges unique to being a military spouse and how you can support your spouse through your transition out of the military.

 

(2:30)

A couple quick admin notes. Don’t miss our Veterans in Consulting seminar on January 17th. We have three speakers locked in that are veterans who went straight from the military into consulting. If you have any interest at all in consulting, this is worth checking out. Also, if you haven’t had a chance to leave Beyond the Uniform a review on iTunes, please do. It really helps us get the word out to other veterans.

 

(3:40)

Joining me today is the CEO of Patriot Boot Camp, Charlotte Creech. Patriot Boot Camp is a 501(c) non-profit that aims to equip active duty and veteran military members and their families with the education and resources needed to build the next generation of impactful companies. Prior to Patriot Boot Camp, Charlotte co-founded Combat 2 Career, a technology start-up that matches veterans with higher education opportunities. Charlotte holds an MBA from the University of Connecticut and a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Bentley University.

 

(4:50)

Anything to add to that introduction, Charlotte?

 

Well most importantly, the reason why I feel so strongly about serving the military community is because my husband is an Air Force veteran. He was enlisted in the Air Force, serving two years in the Honor Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. Then he went to Fire Academy and subsequently after leaving the military, began serving in a GS role. So now he is a full-time firefighter at Fort Hood in Texas. I also have two siblings that served in the Navy and the Army.

 

(5:29)

How would you describe Patriot Boot Camp?

 

We’re acutely focused on advancing veterans as entrepreneurs with a specific focus on technology entrepreneurship. We help veterans grow scalable tech ventures. Anything ranging from software to hardware and mobile apps. Drones also fall within that umbrella.

 

(7:15)

I think it’s fantastic that you also support spouses in this program since all of us who have served know that spouses are just as impacted by military life as the service member.

 

I was able to go through Patriot Boot Camp myself when I was beginning a tech start-up because I was a spouse of a veteran so I know how important it is for the military spouse community.

 

(7:55)

Could you share a little bit more about the three-day course that you offer?

 

It’s a three-pillared approach focusing on education, mentorship, and community. It’s a three-day intensive course that you attend in person.  Over the course of the three days, we recruit 50 early stage entrepreneurs. By early stage we mean anything from you have an idea that you want to get started to Series A (early stage fundraising). People come to Patriot Bootcamp looking for a community and resources. That comes in the form of mentorship from other veteran entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurs in general. These mentors are able to offer participants insight on pitfalls to avoid and opportunities to take advantage of. We believe this helps participants achieve more.

 

(9:47)

Over the course of the three days, participants are exposed to lectures and discussions on a series of topics relevant to veteran entrepreneurs. For mentorship, we bring in anywhere from 30-50 subject matter experts including engineers, software programs, marketing experts, and successful entrepreneurs. These mentors are there to have individual meetings with participants throughout the weekend. Participants are able to receive tailored feedback specific to their own start-up or idea.  On the third day we have a mini-pitch competition which is meant to be more of an academic exercise. Participants aren’t actually pitching before investors but it’s a great opportunity to apply the skills learned throughout the three-day course. The hope is that by the end of the weekend participants leave with 2-3 strong mentorship connections that they can continue talking to in the future.

 

(12:00)

I’m listening to all of this with a bit of envy because in my own journey, I went straight from the Navy to business school. But it seemed like a lot of business school was preparing students to eventually be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Less of it felt relevant to the issues faced when getting a start-up off the ground. I think this is an incredible opportunity for veterans to gain training and mentorship in the tech field.

 

I had a similar experience. I have a business background as well and had gone to school to earn my MBA. I felt like I had the textbook version of how to start and grow a company. But of course learning it in a classroom environment is very different from actually doing it. I thought I had all this great knowledge coming out of my MBA program but then when I became a startup CEO, and was trying to raise capital and build a product, I found out that it really was a different world. I discovered that while textbook knowledge can be helpful and important, it’s really not going to ultimately determine your success as an entrepreneur. One of the key takeaways from Patriot Boot Camp is that entrepreneurship is not a linear pathway. You may need many different mentors and advice throughout your entrepreneurship journey. This can help you navigate through all of the obstacles you face.  It’s for this reason that we make Patriot Boot Camp really mentor driven and bring in a wide variety of mentors. Our participants are also welcome to come back to Patriot Boot Camp more than once so we see many participants coming back multiple times to increase their knowledge and grow their mentor network. As you begin to grow your company, your needs and challenges will change and we want to continue to provide support and mentorship for these veteran entrepreneurs.

 

(16:30)

I love Patriot Boot Camp’s focus on mentorship. Having mentors to provide advice and feedback can save an entrepreneur hundreds of hours of time and millions of dollars of capital.

 

Yes we hear that same feedback all the time and that’s why we feel so strongly about the program’s focus on mentorship.

 

(16:52)

When is the next three-day course happening and what is the cost to attend?

 

Applications are now being accepted for our February 16-18 session. Those that are interested can go to www.veteransbootcamp.org to apply.  It will be held in San Antonio, TX. There is no cost to attend, it is completely sponsored and paid for. However, if you are coming from out of town, you would need to cover your transportation and hotel costs.

 

(18:55)

What is the typical mix in the program between those that are serving on active duty and those that have transitioned out?

 

There really isn’t one size fits all. We’ve seen Vietnam Veterans, we’ve had post-9/11 veterans and everything in between. We’re open to everybody. As far as the most common profile? Most commonly we see veterans that have separated within the last five years. Usually less than 20% are active duty. Most people are veterans but it really varies by program and location.

 

(20:31)

We’d actually love to see more active duty take advantage of the program because I think it can be a really pivotal learning experience. There are few consequences other than having to take a day or two of leave. But to be able to build that network while still on active duty is an important opportunity. Of course we want to see as many successful start-ups as possible grow from Patriot Boot Camp. But if someone comes to the program and realizes that this lifestyle or work environment isn’t for them, it can be just as important because it saves them down the road from investing time and money into something that isn’t a good fit for them.

 

(22:30)

One of the best pieces of advice I received while at Stanford Business School was that you shouldn’t look for what you want to do but what you don’t want to do and then start closing those doors. I really like that sentiment of being able to get a taste of the tech industry through Patriot Boot Camp and being able to decide whether or not it’s a good fit.

 

We’ve had some interesting stories of people coming through Patriot Boot Camp and through connections with some of the mentors there, they discover that joining a startup already in existence is a better fit for them than beginning their own startup.  They might make a connection with a program or software engineer during the course of the weekend and realize that they want to be involved in those specific functions rather than have their own startup.

 

(23:40)

What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about starting their own company?

 

One of the biggest misconception is the lifestyle. If you think you want to start your own business because you want more time and flexibility, this is probably not the right way to do this. I have experience being a small business owner myself and I can tell you it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. When there’s nobody to delegate work to and nobody you’re working with, you’re on call 24/7. You breathe, eat, and sleep your business. There’s lots to worry about and although it’s very exciting, it can also be incredibly stressful. Don’t go into business because you want to be in control of your time because the honest truth is that you’re going to be a slave to your business. I don’t say this to discourage anyone or be pessimistic. But it is the reality of starting and growing your own business.

 

(24:55)

The other hard realization that comes along with this is that usually being in business for yourself does not come with a salary on Day 1. I went about two years without taking a salary because we were investing all of our capital into product development. If you’re not a programmer, it can get very expensive hiring someone else to build the technology.

 

(27:12)

I echo all of what you just said. I had the same experience in my own entrepreneurial journey. Do you have any other advice for someone on active duty that is thinking about starting their own business?

 

I think the important thing is to start now.  Entrepreneurship may or may not be the right fit for you and your product may or may not have market viability but you won’t know until you try. The earlier you can start the process and start narrowing down, the better off you will be.

 

(29:10)

So many times I hear people say, ‘I’m still figuring it out’ or ‘I’m writing my business plan’.  I always advise them that execution is really all that matters in entrepreneurship. So if you have an idea, start talking about it now. Don’t keep your ideas to yourself. Just start executing. I’ve been told before that there is someone out there in the world with the exact same idea you have.  The only difference is who gets out and starts executing the plan.  So don’t sit in seclusion, keeping your idea to yourself. Get out there and share your ideas with others, find mentors, and don’t be afraid to start experimenting.

 

(33:20)

Do you have any resources you would recommend to active duty members and veterans that are thinking about pursuing entrepreneurship?

 

Sure, there’s a whole litany of resources. First, look into programs such as Patriot Boot Camp, Bunker Labs, and EBV. All of these organizations host free entrepreneurship training programs.

 

Books

Lean Startup

Do More Faster

 

Podcasts

A16oz - Andreessen Horowitz

How I Built This

 

Blogs

FeldThoughts

Fred Wilson’s AVC

 

It can also be really helpful to follow different entrepreneurs through social media and just see the kinds of things they are talking about.

 

(35:10)

I love ‘How I Built This’ as well. It’s inspiring to hear about the wild and crazy rollercoaster that some startups have gone through.  Another thing I’d like to ask about is your experience as a military spouse. I’m curious to hear if there are any unique challenges faced by military spouses during the military members’ transition to a civilian career?

 

My husband had separated from the Air Force by the time I started my company so I wasn’t a true military spouse at the time. However, my business partner was a veteran of the Coast Guard and her husband was still currently serving on active duty in the Coast Guard.  In the four years that we ran our business, she PCS’d three times.  It was an unbelievable hurdle for her to get over because every time she got settled somewhere, she PCS’d again. So even something as simple as finding a co-working space can be really challenging when you’re moving all the time. One of those PCS moves was to South Bend, Indiana so her husband could attend graduate school at the University of Notre Dame. But for her, it was difficult, because she was surrounded by cornfields and very few resources. That was a big hurdle we faced as a business. It made me realize how important it is to provide service to military spouses as well because they’re along for the journey too. 

 

(39:00)

Spouses face a lot of adversity not only in terms of their job but also in losing their community and network. All the while they’re juggling work life, home life, having to find new schools for the kids, etc. I think the more we can build a connected network that doesn’t rely on a physical location, the better we all are. I want spouses to know they can come to a Patriot Boot Camp workshop and meet 50 other like-minded people that they can keep in touch with once they return home.

 

(40:58)

Now is better than it’s ever been in terms of the ability to remotely build teams that achieve success even if you’re not in the same physical location.

 

(41:10)

Do you have any other thoughts for active duty military members on ways they can support their spouse as they transition out of the military?

 

A lot of it is just being conscious of the concept that as you transition out of the military, your spouse is along for the ride. One thing we saw with one of our Denver community members – her husband was active duty in the military and she had always done freelance work. Most of her gigs came from her husband’s connections inside the military. When he retired, he immediately got a really great consulting gig without missing a beat. But with her it was different because when her husband transitioned out, she lost her network, her connections, and the support from the community. She came through our program wanting to find a community. It was a good reminder that as you transition out, your spouse is losing access to the resources and community that they’ve had while you’ve been in.

 

(44:00)

I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t thought about it much before but it’s absolutely true that the transition out of the military can be just as challenging for the spouse as it is for the member.

 

Right. And I don’t think anyone has come up with a resource guide or playbook but just being aware of the issue is half the battle.

 

(44:50)

Any last thoughts to share with our listeners?

 

Just that you don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s ok. It’s more about learning and growing your network. Be open mind to new opportunities and meeting new people. Even if you don’t have what you consider a stellar business idea yet, it can still be extremely beneficial to just go and meet new people. You might be surprised at the outcome and where it leads you.

 

(46:14)

The other thing is that there is no one size fits all and I encourage people to take advantage of many different programs. Of course I want people who are interested in Patriot Boot Camp to take advantage of our program. But these programs aren’t mutually exclusive and you can take advantage of many different opportunities. Get involved in as many things as you can.

 

(47:20)

If anybody would like to contact me directly, they are more than welcome to do so. My email is charlotte@patriotbootcamp.org

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