What Startups can Learn from Combat

Lesson From the First 90

If you are part of the ever-growing veteran population like me, those are the numbers that you have heard over and over before and during deployment. The stats and stories all point to the fact that the first 90 days are the most crucial… it’s when you’re nervous, unsure, and at times overly excited. You’re on a high because you have just been entrusted with protecting the country that you love. With the high, the risk of making vital mistakes increases dramatically. On top of it all, you feel the pressure to prove yourself, adding an additional challenge.

Here are three key things that apply to both combat and a startup.

1. Keep 360 degree awareness. When I first put boots on the ground there was an overload of information… routes, HVT (high value targets), rules of engagement, etc. The same thing is going to happen when you chase that idea. There will be an overload of information from an overload of people with tips, comments, and suggestions on what to do. They say in the military that you need to keep your head on a swivel. Lives are saved by 360 degree awareness. Now I know that starting a business is not an immediate life or death situation but it does have everything to do with your livelihood. When you first launch your startup – while the idea is still fun, fresh, and exciting – ensure that you have 360 degree awareness of what you need to be successful, the people that you are bringing onto your team, and the steps you need to take to grow your idea.

2. Know and use alternate routes. Every mission we ran in those first 90 days started with routes that had been established by the previous unit. The reality is that many of them had to be altered or abandoned. When you first start your business there are going to be "routes" that others before you have taken in search of success. The goal here is to travel down that path just long enough to make your own way. In Iraq if a route became too populated or reported too many IEDs we would switch it up. The same holds true in the beginning of your startup. You have to be able to find alternate routes to your end product based on customer validation.

3. Take risk and learn from mistakes. There is a “go to” story for all leaders in the Army while in country. The “go to” story details a group of soldiers who plan a mission. On paper everything is textbook… something right out of a movie. All the ground and air assets lined up perfectly in the plan, timelines were hit, and the mission was a success – on paper. The reality is the mission was impacted – and altered – from the time they left the base. The reason it is a “go to” story is because the soldiers were able to quickly learn from the decisions they made and were able to execute on following missions. This story holds just as true for your startup. You can spend hours, days, months planning on paper the way things should work in the early days of your start up. However, the reality is that the minute you identify yourself as a startup things will change. Plans will go out the window and you must continue to take the risk to reach success while learning from your mistakes. It’s going to be messy for everyone on your team in the first 90, both in combat and in a startup. Success stories are determined by how you handle it.

After making a transition from door kicking to entrepreneurship that 90 number still holds so much weight. As mentors, founders and supporters of the fast growing, and even faster turnover, world of entrepreneurship you can learn a lot from the military's importance of the number 90.