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How This Green Beret Defied Conventional Wisdom and Built a $46 Million Rucksacking Business In a world of disposable goods, GORUCK strives to make products that last a lifetime.

By Jon Bier Edited by Jonathan Small

Key Takeaways

  • Jason McCarthy, Founder and CEO of GORUCK, became enamored with rucking while serving in the Army's Special Forces.
  • He discovered a community of like-minded people and built brand awareness.
  • McCarthy learned that rejecting the status quo and maintaining your financial freedom was key to keeping his business thriving.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Photo by: GORUCK

"Rucking is the foundation of U.S. Special Forces training," explains Jason McCarthy.

He would know. McCarthy served in the U.S. Army Special Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2009, lugging heavy backpacks or "rucksacks" on his weary shoulders for miles. In fact, he became so attached to rucking that, after his military duty, he set out to create the toughest, most well-designed rucksack on the market.

"A bag that would thrive in Baghdad and New York City," he explains.

Success took time and sweat, but his company, GORUCK, achieved $46 million in gross revenue in 2023. In addition to rucksacks, GORUCK manufactures shoes, training vests, and apparel and hosts rucking events worldwide. From June 1-4, they will host several rucking events on the beaches of Normandy to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of D-Day.

McCarthy's company is guided by the principles he learned in the army: honor, duty, respect, and brotherhood. He says GORUCK's products are "designed to last for a lifetime."

McCarthy joined me on the One Day with Jon Bier podcast to discuss the company's uncompromising journey and how he avoided these crucial missteps that can derail even the most promising ventures.

Don't compromise your core values for short-term gains

After leaving the army, McCarthy attended The McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, where he incubated the GORUCK idea. He learned many invaluable lessons there, but one business strategy he studied that rubbed him the wrong way was planned obsolescence—when companies purposefully design things to break down or become outdated quicker than necessary.

"It was important for me to pour my heart, effort, energy, time, and into something I really believed in," McCarthy says. "Something that will last as long as we can make it last."

He thought of the brothers he went to war with—"the guys to my left and right who expected and demanded more of me than I knew I had." They would be his superusers, and he would never dare disappoint them with an inferior product.

Related: Use This Green Beret Method to Find Out if Someone Is Trustworthy

Tap into your community

Jason McCarthy

McCarthy also credits GORUCK's success with discovering and engaging an already deep community of committed ruckers.

He talks of his early failures driving around the country in his GORUCK truck, trying to convince retail stores to carry his bags. "I didn't sell a single rucksack while on that trip. It was an unmitigated disaster," he says.

Undaunted, he came up with an idea for an event called the GORUCK Challenge, which he describes as a "Fight Club with backpacks." Only 15 people attended the first event, but McCarthy taught them many leadership and teamwork lessons he learned in special forces training. He began throwing as many events like this as possible. Eventually, an enthusiastic community helped him build brand awareness better than he could ever achieve doing door-to-door sales.

This strategy is far more effective than building a business and then trying to find a community five years later.

Related: How Experiential Marketing Events Can Skyrocket Your ROI

Reject the status quo

Despite GORUCK's success, McCarthy says he never gets complacent. "The status quo really bothers me, and I don't like it at all. I'm very uncomfortable inside of the status quo," he says.

He is constantly reinventing himself and the business to stay a step ahead. "This does not necessarily make me easy to live with or be around at all times because if something is too staid, I want to introduce some chaos."

McCarthy believes this is necessary to keep the company alive and kicking.

"I learned in Special Forces training that the people to your left and the people to your right may love you, but the world never cares about you...and by the world, I mean the Grim Reaper who's coming for every business out there."

Enjoy the freedom to do things on your own terms

McCarthy rejects the notion that raising as much venture capital as possible is essential to building a successful business.

"I have nothing against capitalism," he says. "But there's a lot of freedom for us to do what we want, on our own terms, our way. When you start to involve other people in the decision-making process by virtue of taking their money so that you can grow faster, you lose a lot of freedom."

Again, it comes back to his military training. Says McCarthy, "I want to build the stuff that's best for my buddies who are going to war."

Jon Bier

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Founder and Chief Executive of Jack Taylor PR

Jon is a 15+ year marketing and public relations veteran and the CEO and Founder of Jack Taylor PR. A full-service global PR agency with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Melbourne, and Dubai.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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