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Startups want *operators* – what about Special Forces?

First thread:  I try to go out of my way to help current and recent military members to transition to civilian jobs and careers.  I remember how tough it can be to translate the very rich experiences I had in the Navy to something that most employers could understand.  And it’s usually tougher the longer you stay in the military.

Second thread:  What I see pretty much each day at Techstars is the value that startups place in execution.  The people who can consistently get things done and fight their way through difficult situations are hugely valued.  They can get far more done per dollar and thus have a greater chance to both survive and thrive given each incremental investment dollar.

These two threads collided for me today.

Special Forces?

I’ve gotten to know a few different special forces operators in my time during and after the military.  My boss for about a year was a Navy SEAL that went on to command a Navy SEAL team.  They’re both tremendous individuals, but also strangely normal people, too.

Today I met a Special Forces operator, with over ten years in the SAS.  (Equivalent to Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, etc.)  He’s a really smart and accomplished individual, who for years has done nothing but operate.  He’s gone on virtually no notice to countries where he and a team would be required to evaluate current situations, make plans, and execute those plans, often under tight time pressure and imperfect information.  And in places where if you screw up, you (and others) could die.

This person is also interested in branching out from the traditional security/policy/government roles that recent military retirees often fall into.  (This is a bit unusual, but I think very highly for him in proactively thinking and researching how to make the switch.)

I think this particular person is a specific example of a broader idea.  Special forces operators regularly “retire” from the military in their 20s, 30s, and 40s with incredible expertise, but often little commercial experience.  So while the guy I talked to today could probably easily step into a COO role and has the operational expertise to warrant the role, his lack of direct business experience means that he wouldn’t ever be reviewed.  It feels like the world of startups is missing out on a category of potential key employees, that could radically improve their chances for survival, because they can’t translate individuals’ military experience into something startups understand.

(Side notes: Techstars operates Patriot Boot Camp for US military and military veterans, and I think highly of the program.  We’ve also invested in at least one company that was founded by a Navy SEAL: FitDeck, founded by Phil Black, which went through the Nike+ Accelerator, powered by Techstars.)

My questions

Broadly – How can/should startups think about hiring people with non-traditional operations expertise?  Would startups be willing to hire special forces operators?  Would they be willing to take someone on for a 3-6 month trial to evaluate their operations ability?  What would it take for startups to seriously consider special forces operators on a regular basis?

Specifically – What roles should a person like this consider?  What are the job titles he should be on the lookout for?  Should he go get an MBA and use that to help transition?

 

I would love to hear your thoughts.