Veterans and startups – doesn’t feel like the most natural combination, does it?
Veterans conjure images of grizzled older people – symbols of traditional values. Startups, on the other hand, are represented by young, trendy tech-entrepreneurs working on innovative solutions in bright white offices across the world.
As we all know, things are often much more complicated than they seem.
Not only is there a significant number of young veterans in the United States (with 58 being the average age of former servicemen or women), but modern startups are becoming more and more open to alternative ideas and willing to latch onto profitable, existing trends (often backed by older investors with significant capital).
Whether you run or work at a startup it’s crucial that you pay attention to the massively untapped resource that is veterans and their culture. But what is the best way to integrate them into your operation?
They’re a versatile workforce
You’ve probably heard a lot of misconceptions about veterans as workers.
Uneducated, limited skill sets and inexperienced in the real world. Once again, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Veterans recently retired from the force have some of the most diverse skill sets in the contemporary workforce – with experience working within technology, physical fitness and motivational sectors to name just a few. With the different sections of the American military featuring up to 100 different sectors, it’s hard to find a veteran who doesn’t have a specialism many in the outside world don’t.
It’s often the case that these same veterans are not just masters of one skill, but adaptable professionals who have dabbled in multiple fields. Military training is far from linear, with the demanding nature of these roles requiring a versatile skill set that allows them to drop into new roles in an instant in difficult situations.
Many startups can be accused of having a blinkered vision. They’re so set on a specific path they don’t notice genuine talent right in front of their face. It’s this kind of thinking that forces the majority of startups to fold just a few years in. Many could benefit from introducing some sense of alternative thinking in their workplace. Veterans could be just that – offering a more logically minded and adaptable viewpoint in contrast to the typically creative, tech-minded and college-educated ones that frequent startups today.
In employing veterans, startups would be getting multi-skilled, loyal and resilient workers who are used to the goal-oriented style that many modern startups employ. The hiring process should never be straightforward and always involve some outside the box thinking. A veteran could be just that.
It’s a noble effort to follow
No one in the United States today should be under the illusion that veterans have it easy when they return from tour or retire from the force.
Veterans of all ages and backgrounds face significant issues post-service, including a significant rise in mental health concerns and opioid addiction.
Homelessness is a significant issue across the United States and veterans are unfortunately not exempt from this tragedy – with thousands across a number of states living on the streets. This is largely due to significant unemployment, with many veterans struggling to find alternative ways of making a living and balancing the trauma of their past experiences with a return to the traditional workforce.
If startup culture is breeding the progressive, caring and forward-thinking businesses it claims to be, then these businesses should be looking for new ways to tackle these crises or prevent them from happening. While much of this is the role of governments, startups can be a lifeline for struggling veterans in more ways than just offering them a job.
There is huge scope for startups to tackle these social issues. In fact, many businesses across the United States (often founded by former servicemen and women) have found success focusing entirely on offering support to veterans, such as helping them acquire the compensation they’re entitled to (Vet Comp & Pen) or stay connected with military friends and family to help ward off signs of depression or loneliness (Rally Point).
Even if you don’t build your entire startup around finding solutions for one of these problems, you can offer charitable support to them or raise awareness. This is a brilliant brand-building exercise for your small business that allows you to get eyes on a collection of growing problems.
They’re a huge consumer base
A new startup with the potential for mass-market appeal would be stupid to not at least consider marketing themselves towards the sizeable and often loyal veteran demographic.
While not all startups and their products or services will be appealing to this audience, it is generally a versatile one willing to embrace new brands they treat them with respect and offer something truly unique. While it is dangerous to treat a group like this as one with a homogenous groupthink attitude, there is a long history of veteran loyalty to particular brands and companies working together within this sector to great success.
By appealing to this market (even through simple ways such as a small veteran discount) it opens your brand up to the opportunity to appear at veteran-lead music festivals, conferences and job fairs. Opportunities a startup may not have had to both sell themselves and conduct some important market research had they not taken this audience seriously.
This has been a tactic employed in all kinds of industries – from rock music to restaurants – and will continue to be a profitable avenue as long as there is a steady stream of veterans coming through the armed forces. Even if they widely consumer traditional forms of media and products, there is significant growing interest from veterans in the kind of output startups are developing.
Startup culture should be careful not to think of itself as above veterans. They are a diverse, multi-faceted bunch with significant cultural cache across the unique states. Tech brands, in particular, should recognize their strength and pull – and how beneficial it can be to an emerging brand to attach themselves to the story of a veteran.