Veteran vision: What I learned in the marines about being a fintech founder

My journey from being a humble immigrant to becoming a marine and, subsequently, a successful entrepreneur is a testament to the American Dream in action.

According to the SBA, veterans are almost 45% more likely to start their own business compared to people who did not serve in the military. Veterans own nearly 2 million businesses and employ more than 5 million Americans.

These statistics beg these questions: Are veterans naturally bred for entrepreneurship, or is there a deeper connection between their military service and business success? Is there a unique synergy between the discipline, adaptability, creativity and leadership skills instilled in service members and the qualities required to be a successful startup promoter?

The short answer: Yes. But fair warning for veteran readers – don’t let that inflate your ego and convince yourself you’re a shoo-in. My advice for aspiring veteran founders goes beyond echoing the well-documented parallels between military service and entrepreneurship.

As a fintech advocate, I use technology to help others find financial stability, something my family has lacked for years. I was born in Baku, the capital of the Azerbaijan SSR, a former republic of the USSR. When the Soviet Union fell, my family was forced to flee to Moscow, barely escaping the ongoing ethnic war against the Armenians. After spending six years in Moscow as refugees, my family immigrated to the United States where I finished high school and then joined the marines.

The marines provided a jump-start to my trajectory of creating solutions for larger problems such as access to banking in the cannabis and freelancing construction industries today. StellarFithe third fintech I founded, designed to address a problem that plagues half of the American population: bad credit.

Like many veterans, my enlistment was motivated both by the desire to access and opportunities to achieve that American Dream and a deep sense of gratitude to the country. But my experience as a marine helped me to understand that, like the most important missions, the road to success in business depends on the combination of four important elements: learning to disrupt the routine; maintaining an unwavering, strong mindset; finding partners similar to wartime allies; and tapping into the rich tapestry of veteran resources and networks.

Always have the courage to challenge the status quo and create solutions to overcome it

George S. Patton once said, “Take calculated risks. That’s very different from rushing.”

During my deployment to Iraq, I encountered an inefficient supply chain at our base. We have water lines that are often compromised, so we are flying water from another place, then managing the infrastructure in a bad way. We hire US contractors who have no idea what they are doing rather than locals who have been working on this base for years.

According to the SBA, veterans are nearly 45% more likely to start their own business compared to people who have never served in the military.

Running the risk of cleaning toilets for the rest of the deployment, I pitched the colonel who ran the base some way to fix it. He pulled me out of my unit to implement my ideas and run the infrastructure for a 20,000-person installation. Finding deficiencies and optimizing processes has become part of my daily thoughts and motivations.

Years later, as a federal bank regulator for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, I found myself once again challenging the status quo in the way we supported and advised banks to optimize their operations. operation.

In that situation, the status quo prevailed and I found myself frustrated. From this need to create solutions, my first startup, Tokken, was born.

Forget mission failure. You will fail. Get back up.

Before you become an entrepreneur, ask yourself if there is anything else you can do for a living. If the answer is yes, then do yourself a huge favor and move on to something else. If the answer is I really have nothing to do but be an entrepreneur, then go for it.

Tokken was profiled on the front page of the New York Times DealBook while still in beta mode. The problem we solved was payment and banking for cannabis dispensaries. The solution we have developed is to create our own railways using cryptocurrencies that completely bypass traditional financial railways.

We have had a meteoric rise in terms of traction and growth. Then the political climate around the industry became unstable and we lost many partners in the banking sector. Tokken was dead in the water.

In the spirit of the Marine Corps’ unofficial slogan, I had to improvise, adapt, and win after Tokken. Instead of ending my entrepreneurial journey and returning to Treasury or another financial services job, I decided to take the learnings from Tokken and start my second company, Joust, a neobank for freelancers .

Find the investors you want to go to war with

After leaving the Marines, I served as a contractor for the Corps’ special-operations command. My job is to conduct unconventional war simulations.

During these role-play exercises, I would lead small groups of “local rebels” made up of volunteer marines. The special-ops teams then try to befriend us, train us, and form a coalition of rebels to fight our common enemy. This strategy, also known as asymmetric warfare, allows us to reduce the number of actual marines going to war, optimizing US resources.

Through my experience building three companies, I’ve learned that being a founder and creating disruptive solutions means being a rebel. And the rebels need wartime ally investors who support their mission with guidance and resources while respecting their autonomy.

They show loyalty and risk tolerance, especially in extreme situations. They have the same mindset as the special sailors. They are ready and eager to “embed” the founder and the startup team, and understand how the business is run and why it thrives.

When looking for investors, look for those who value a genuine, collaborative arrangement based on mutual respect and tolerance.

Veterans before you have built a network to help you succeed. Use it now.

My final piece of advice is pragmatic. Find programs and people who can help you start and grow your business.

There are countless programs for veteran entrepreneurs that can connect you with information, resources, and great networks of investors and fellow founders. Here are some notable ones:

While statistics confirm the connection between military service and entrepreneurial success, it is imperative for aspiring veteran founders not to let these statistics inflate their egos, but to recognize that the path to entrepreneurship, such as in military service, full of terrible challenges.

These pillars not only support your journey as a founder but also empower you to overcome obstacles, adapt to change, and achieve extraordinary results in the field of business, potentially impacting thousands. lives in the process.

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