With the wind down of two major U.S. military campaigns, there are hundreds of thousands of veterans streaming into the private sector looking to turn the page and start a brand new chapter. It is very inspiring and amazing to note how well many of them have not only adapted to it but also been extremely successful. I am a firm believer that our service to each other should not end when we leave the armed services, and that is why I have decided to highlight a few of my favorite veteran entrepreneurs and their companies. Though these veterans come from all branches of service and all walks of life, they all share a passion for overcoming challenges and continuing to use their skills and talents to support their families and their communities, along with the idea that they are still a part of something much bigger and greater than themselves.
Battle Grounds Coffee
One of my favorite people on Earth, and a former teammate in the SEAL teams, is Salvatore Defranco. In 2008, Defranco and I were both getting ready to deploy to Iraq with SEAL Team 3 when he was involved in a brutal hit-and-run accident. Defranco was in a coma for many weeks, and those of us that visited him at his bedside left on our deployment not knowing if we would ever see our friend and fellow warrior recover. I am proud to say that after a medical separation from the Navy and a long recovery, Defranco not only got on with his life but is back to crushing it.
In 2016, Defranco and his wife Dana founded Battle Grounds Coffee to serve high-quality coffee and to help the country refocus on the concept of living to serve. Starting in Haverhill, Mass., Defranco looks to be the cultural, political and business epicenter of local communities. In addition, the company looks to give back to the veteran community with a priority on hiring vets. Salvatore and Dana currently have about 20 employees and are already looking at sites for stores two and three. After becoming a SEAL, fighting for his life and rehabilitation to his most recent feat of putting Battle Grounds Coffee on the map in no time at all, I personally believe the is nothing that this smart and battle-tested veteran cannot accomplish.
Life Flip Media
As an advocate for veterans, it is very rare that I come across other veterans who blow me away with their focus and desire to help elevate the veteran community like former marine and founder of Life Flip Media, Eric Mitchell. Luckily for those of us who are veterans needing help in getting exposure so that we can grow our brands and businesses, Mitchell’s passion and ability to relate to veterans as one himself happens to be a big part of why Life Flip Media has been so successful so quickly. It is quickly becoming known as the company to talk to if you are a veteran and need help getting media coverage with its speakers and writers bureaus along with its team of seasoned television bookers. Life Flip Media doubled in size last year, so don’t be surprised to see another monster year for the company and the clients it represents.
One of the most fascinating things to me personally about watching other veteran entrepreneurs is the courage with which they often forge into some of the most difficult and competitive spaces known to man. The liquor business is definitely up there, with its large margins and because it’s a product that gets replenished often by its customers.
One veteran looking to conquer this competitive industry is the founder of Merica Bourbon and former recon Marine, Derek Sisson. As a SEAL, I have always had a ton of respect for my brothers from the Marine Corps, and Sisson definitely has my respect and attention. Merica Bourbon is not only as smooth of a bourbon as I have ever tasted but the experts seem to agree. It recently won silver in the Whiskies of the World Awards. When you add that to the fact that it’s very affordable and dripping with patriotism from its founder to its name I wouldn’t be surprised to see it acquire a major market share in the near future. To launch Merica Bourbon, Sisson also partnered up with veteran entrepreneurial juggernaut, Daniel Alarik, founder and CEO of one of the largest veteran-owned brands, Grunt Style.
Combat Flip Flops
If you have ever wondered what a combination of Matthew McConaughey, an army ranger and an entrepreneurial savant would look like, look no further than Matt “Griff” Griffin. You might have seen Griffin and his partner Donald Lee on a little show called Shark Tank a couple of years ago after they hysterically handed Kevin O’Leary a ChemLight to mark him for “dead” when he made the mistake of passing on an investment in their footwear company Combat Flip Flops. Not only did they secure a deal with Mark Cuban but they continue to thrive by expanding their product line by adding sneakers and casual shoes to complement their array of other products like blankets, canvas bags and shemaghs.
My favorite thing about this company is its determination to continue serving others all over the world by manufacturing its products in conflict areas and donating proceeds to support the education of Afghan women. Griffin is also an accomplished public speaker and uses his large and impressive resume to motivate and teach leadership and so much more.
Something as certain as death and taxes is that veterans will continue to lead and serve no matter where they wind up. I for one am glad to be a member of this community and now it is just icing on the cake to have the opportunity to help highlight the others who are being disruptive, inspiring and serving others in their own verticals. It is our duty to look for ways to support our brothers and sisters exiting the service and remember that the camaraderie doesn’t end when we take off the uniforms. Long live the veteran brotherhood.