CONTRIBUTOR THOUGHTS: Lesson Learned Moving From Military To Startups

As I approached my college graduation I was unsure what to do next so I went and talked to an Army recruiter then enlisted in the Army. The taxpayers of the United States funded an all-expenses paid trip for me to Fort Leonard Wood, in Pulaski County Missouri, where I spent the next 18 weeks learning to be a soldier and a Military Police officer. Later in my career I became a Drill Sergeant and was once again sent to Fort Leonard Wood. I tell people I received my MBA from the Army for all it taught me about life, business, leadership, and Team. (The Army does not actually have an MBA program.)

When I entered the civilian workforce I found myself as employee #1 at a startup and I’ve stayed in startups, in one way or another, ever since. The transition from military life to civilian life is often difficult and I have many Battle Buddies who struggled with it. When you spend every day working in support of a Mission – and wearing the same outfit – it can be a challenge to find the same level of motivation in a civilian career. I was blessed to find my way to startups and along the way I noted similarities between military and startup life:

  1. Every day is different
  2. You must understand the Mission and your role in achieving the Mission
  3. The task you don’t want to do…no one else wants to do either. Just do it
  4. In the absence of orders, take initiative
  5. You must stay flexible, mentally and physically, or you will break

I share this in the hope my fellow Veterans will consider startups – whether as a Founder, Team member, or anything else in the ecosystem – as a civilian career that can offer the sense of purpose, rush of adrenaline, FUBAR moments, and everything else that makes wearing the uniform so satisfying and frustrating; often within the same moment.

In the Drill Sergeant Creed there is a line: “I lead by example, never requiring a soldier to attempt a task I would not do myself.” Which explains why I will never suggest skydiving as a Team-building activity. It also sums up one of the many benefits of startup life; you get to climb in the trenches and battle it out and if you live to tell the tale (and you will) you can help others navigate everything that comes with being a part of a startup. Just as you helped new Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen learn how to – as the Army used to say – Be All You Can Be.

Choosing to raise your hand and vow to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” was the second hardest thing you did in the Military. The hardest was everything that came after. Startups aren’t for everyone but if you choose to give it a shot that decision will be the second hardest one you make. Everything that comes after is harder and that makes it worth it. I promise.


Alex Rhodeen is a US Army Veteran and a 2X co-Founder. He does not understand jumping out of an airplane that isn’t crashing. You can contact him here