These 12 Remarkable Veterans Changed Business Forever

Since World War II, military veterans have continuously innovated and created enduring businesses like no other group in America.
These 12 Remarkable Veterans Changed Business Forever
Image credit: Nick Vedros & Assoc. | Getty Images

Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, defines a startup as “a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”

Since World War II, military veterans have continuously innovated and created enduring businesses like no other group in America. Veterans created household brands like Nike, FedEx and GoDaddy. And newer technologies like Sybase, Skybox Imaging, Ustream, RedOwl, Rhumbix and RideScout. Mark Rockefeller, CEO and co-founder of StreetShares, recently explored how the military is the best entrepreneurship training program in the country.  

But what makes vet founders different?   

Perhaps it is “initiative” as John Panaccione noted or “grit” which is a popular buzzword that venture capitalists use to describe their favorite founders who #GSD.  

Stanford Professor Chuck Holloway exclaimed at a recent Bunker Labs event in Silicon Valley: “Tremendous uncertainty. Limited resources. The need to act. That’s not something you find working at Google . . . . Veterans have an advantage in entrepreneurship. The OODA loop is design thinking.”

Related: 10 Lessons from America's Greatest Military Leaders

I believe that the military secret is that we get extensive reps solving problems where there is no clear answer. Looking at the white space and figuring out what belongs there. And delivering results under conditions of extreme uncertainty.  

These 12 remarkable veterans saw the “white space” and created frameworks, movements, networks and methodologies that changed the way people think and do business.  

Steve Blank, creator of the Lean Startup movement

Known as the "Godfather of Silicon Valley," this former Air Force mechanic turned entrepreneur is a legend in the startup world. Blank created the Lean Startup movement, and he wrote The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner's Manual, which are implemented by millions of startups. Now he has turned to solving the nation’s defense and diplomacy problems with Hacking 4 Defense

Related: Why Veterans Take the Initiative to Explore Entrepreneurship

Pitch Johnson and Bill Draper, VC trailblazers

Johnson (Air Force) and Draper (Army) are trailblazers in the venture capital world. Some of the first venture capitalists on the West Coast in the early 1960s, they created Asset Management Ventures and Sutter Hill Ventures respectively. The foundation for Silicon Valley was built by these two amazing veterans, and they have funded a staggering number of companies.

Mark Hatch, Maker Movement pioneer

Hatch is a pioneer for the Maker Movement, the former CEO of TechShop and author of the Maker Movement Manifesto. Hatch is now a partner at Network Society Ventures investing in future makers and tinkerers. The former Special Forces leader also runs the Green Beret network on LinkedIn.

Chuck Wallace, co-founder of Esurance

Wallace was a co-founder of Esurance, which was the fastest growing insurance company in the country after creating a brand new business model in a stale industry. The Air Force Academy graduate was also a key part of the teams that built Automatic, Ustream.TV, and uSell into industry leaders. 

Related: Why This Ex-Marine Left a Desk Job for This Unique Mobile Franchise

Don Faul, CEO of Athos

After leading Facebook online operations and a stint as COO of Pinterest, this former Marine is tackling wearable technology as CEO of Athos, a leader in smart performance apparel that monitors your biosignals.

Dan Olsen, author of The Lean Product Playbook

A Silicon Valley leader for 20 years, Olsen is a former Naval Officer who worked on nuclear submarine design. His experiences led him to write The Lean Product Playbook, a practical step-by-step guide for lean startups that is used by thousands of entrepreneurs each year.  

Will Bunker, angel investor

This Marine built the largest dating site in the 1990s, which later became Match.com. Bunker is now investing in the future. He co-founded GrowthX to fund startups and GrowthX Academy to build an army of elite salespeople, growth marketers and UX designers. Bunker says “traction speaks louder than words.”

Koka Sexton, social media maven

One of the world’s leading minds in social selling, the former LinkedIn head of social media created Social Sellings Labs to provide resources in a new era of sales. The former Army officer just moved to Hootsuite, the most widely used social media management platform in the world.

Related: How Military Service Made These Veterans Better Entrepreneurs

Mark Rockefeller, co-founder of StreetShares

Rockefeller co-founded StreetShares and a created a new “affinity-based lending” strategy to match borrowers with investors who share similar characteristics (U.S. military veterans). StreetShares also rolled out Veteran Business Bonds in 2016, a game changer to support veteran businesses.

David Silverman, founder and CEO of CrossLead

The former McChrystal Group leader and Team of Teams co-author took the organizational framework to the cloud, creating CrossLead to help companies leverage real-time data to understand and visualize their human network.

Nick Frost, creator of StartupLi.st

Frost is a Navy veteran who created StartupLi.st in his bunk in Iraq, somehow listening to the needs of the investor ecosystem from across the world. He now curates the Mattermark Daily newsletter, which is read by over 100,000 investors and operators.

You can listen to the majority of these visionaries when they speak at VETCON, the premier event for military veteran entrepreneurs.  

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