THE BLOG
09/05/2014 09:00 am ET Updated Sep 05, 2014

Beyond The Revolving Door: New Pathways to Veteran Success

Though many are unaware, the United States military is a unique incubator of a special brand of leader, one who has learned to operate and thrive in complex, dynamic and inherently risky environments. Our society has paid billions of dollars preparing these leaders to succeed in combat, but we've yet to realize, encourage or employ the incidental benefits of their training when they leave the service. When military service ends for these individuals, what should society expect of them, and most importantly, where should these leaders look to apply their skills and talents?

In many cases, Veterans start by taking a spin through the revolving door and end up in government consulting cubicles. This is the right answer for some, but all too often, veterans settle for the first offer. They leave service and allow themselves to be slotted in positions that don't make the best use of their unique talents. There's no shame in that; it's often the clearest path they can see based on the transition system we have in place today. Society settles, too. We wring our hands over what to "do" with the thousands of Vets looking for work, but then create job training and placement programs that ultimately under utilize their talents. Veterans and society both would benefit from a greater understanding of these special talents and skills.

There is a another pathway to success for Veterans, one which they are perfectly suited for: entrepreneurship. Starting a company means experiencing situations they are all-too familiar with: complex and challenging environments, building teams, completing tasks despite inadequate resources, mitigating exceptional risks and no one to provide much sympathy if things don't work out. Entrepreneurship challenges Veteran leaders in familiar ways, leading teams that look to them for key decisions, reassurance and an example to follow. The constant, unsentimental self-evaluation so central to military leadership proves extremely valuable when a new business has its fair share of setbacks.

While there's a great deal of -- rightful, justified -- concern for post-traumatic stress, there is a lessor told story of the "post-traumatic growth" that occurs for most, and which sets Veterans apart for the entrepreneurial track. It's time we paid attention to this flip side: the positive transformation from military service and the effect on those who volunteer to serve.

Out of the challenges and occasional trauma of a military career, Veterans grow in confidence, resourcefulness and leadership abilities, developing a broader perspective that looks beyond the trivial. To become entrepreneurs, Veterans must hustle. They must network and leverage those networks to build capital and interest and momentum. They are "Army Strong," no doubt, but many Vets forget that much of their strength in battle came from the support of their team. No one can do it alone.

Likewise, society must understand that we cannot throw together a few small business loan programs and and step back: "Thanks for your Service" is just not enough. Investment is surely and sorely needed, but it's going to take time and thought to get right. Would-be entrepreneurial Vets need real capital and serious access to networks that will help them build something. It's no secret why so many successful Silicon Valley startups are born at Stanford: it's a strong, interlinked community that couples rigorous training with a social network second to none, and bears more than a passing resemblance to the military communities that our Veterans come out of. Yet, we and they often fail to harness these facts in building Veteran pathways to success.

Doing things differently is always hard. I built RideScout with three fellow Veterans and we collectively count over 20 years in the U.S. Army each, a fact that has directly led to the acquisition of the company. We spent a grinding two and a half years building the company up from nothing and, unlike 95 percent of startups, we can now consider RideScout a success. This week we joined the Daimler family when car2go purchased the rights to RideScout and together we're building an intermodal mobility platform that will help millions of Americans better use existing transportation resources. We realize that we're stronger together and I'm excited to continue RideScout's amazing growth.

I'm not sugarcoating what it means it be an entrepreneur: Vets need to know that it's back-breakingly hard, and they'll need to draw on their reserves to get the job done. As Veterans like us set out on entrepreneurial journeys, our families will continue to sacrifice our time spent at home, as they have made sacrifices before. But the U.S. Military -- and society -- has made an investment in our leadership training, and, for this and so many other reasons, we must answer the call to serve our community. Only, this time we wear a different uniform. After all, we've spent years protecting the American Dream of free enterprise. Now it's our time to share in it.

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