As far back as I can remember, I’ve wanted to do two things; join the Marines and become an entrepreneur. It wasn’t until recently I realized how closely the two were related. I’ve found over the years that veterans and entrepreneurs share a certain type of mindset and set of values that compels us to follow the paths we do. We have a desire to overcome challenges, and push ourselves beyond our limits, a passion to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, a need to serve others, and the strange ability to find comfort in the uncomfortable. With these similarities it’s no surprise many of us choose the obstacle course of entrepreneurship after service, and succeed. This is illustrated right here by the size of the community on Veteran’s list.
While serving as a Mortar Gunner at 4th LAR in Syracuse, NY I met Mark Grady who also shared that mindset and would eventually become my co-founder. We served together in Weapons Platoon and deployed to Iraq in 2009. Before, during, and after deployment, we would always talk about starting a business someday. No particular type of business in mind, but we both wanted something of our own. I got out in 2010, and moved to Florida. Mark got married, went to Afghanistan, came back, and had a few kids. Our business prospects weren’t looking very good.
In 2013 I moved back home to Syracuse, and it was about that time I had read an article about the Google X project. Google X is a semi-secret innovation lab where they brainstorm and develop far out (and often destined to fail) solutions to address huge global problems. They call these ideas “Moonshots,” meaning they have a slim chance of succeeding, but might change the world if they do. What really grabbed my attention about this program is they send these ideas to their “Rapid Evaluation Team” who’s one and only job is to brainstorm reasons it won’t work, and kill the idea as fast as possible. The ideas that survive have the best chance for success, and move on for more research and development. Rather than spending time trying to figure out how to make an idea work, figure out why it won’t.
To this day, I firmly believe this is the best (and most entertaining) way to develop ideas and strategies. Over time, whenever we had a chance, Mark and I would use this method to sort through our business ideas in search of one that would stick. Maybe our ideas weren’t all “Google X” caliber- I’d like to believe some of them were- but once or twice a week, Mark and I would get together to drink beer and kill ideas. I’m pretty sure we owe 95% of our worth as entrepreneurs to those nights of shelling down moonshots (Don’t tell Google).
I’ve broken this process down into three easy steps to come up with moonshots and help find your next big idea. Here’s the recipe:
What you’ll need to get started:
- Pen and Paper
- Thick Skin
- Beer (not required, but it seems to help)
Step 1: Brainstorm. Think big or small, but remember to think outside the box. Moonshots have a chance of making the world better, but a slim chance of working at all. Not every idea needs to be a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, just remember to try and address a problem that’s worth fixing. That’s your moonshot.
Step 2: Rapidly Assess the Moonshot. Now would be a good time to break out that thick skin, especially if you are working in a group. The plan here is to kill the idea as fast as possible, do not sugar coat flaws or criticisms, if the idea won’t work, there is no more time to be wasted on it. As Rich DeVaul, the head of Google X’s Rapid Evaluation team, says: “Why put off failing until tomorrow or next week if you can fail now?”
Step 3: Research & Develop the Ideas That Won’t Die. Moonshots that are hard to kill make it past the rapid evaluation process and are worth spending more time on. It’s not a home run quite yet, but your time is well spent finding out more.
One night, in between beers, moonshots, or both, a news story came on the TV regarding off-duty police officers working security details outside of their normal shifts. I asked Mark, who is a Deputy Sheriff, how those details and events are managed and assigned. He shrugged his shoulders with no definitive answer, and we had our next moonshot. For months we tried to kill our idea, until finally Mark suggested, “maybe we should write some of this down.” Off Duty Blue was born.
Over the last two years building our business, we’ve tried, errored, fallen down, got back up, and have never been so terrified and overwhelmed in our lives (we still are). But we’ve managed to stay flexible (Semper Gumby), learned from our mistakes, and have always moved forward. It’s been a long road, and we owe much of our progress and success to the guidance and support we have received from our mentors in the vetrepreneur community along the way. I encourage anyone reading this to utilize every resource that is available to you, regardless of what stage your business is in, never stop learning, and keep pushing forward.
Off Duty Blue
Off Duty Blue is a scheduling and logistics solution that helps connect interested police officers with secondary employment opportunities. Our application also helps departments maintain accountability of their officers and resources. Our service is always free to the law enforcement communities we support. If you are an Officer, Department Administrator, or a Client who demands the most effective, professional security for your business, or property, visit us at www.OffDutyBlue.com for more information.