What is your background?
I have 14 years experience as an enlisted officer in the United States Army. I’ve been deployed to Iraq as part of the insurgence in 2007-2008. Coincidentally, I was actually notified during my second to last class in my MBA program at Babson College which has a top entrepreneurial MBA program. So I was pulled out of my MBA, and went and did my duty from 2007 and 2008, came back and finished my course requirements so I was a newly-minted MBA in May of 2008.
And then, I’ve been working in the private sector for over 10 years. I’ve been a Sales Manager, a Director of Sales, Director of Sales and Marketing, National Sales Manager, and Director of e-Commerce as well, and then moved over into the financial services side. I worked for American Express Global Client Group managing a portfolio of $9 billion in volume from the largest, most strategic merchants. So, I was in charge of strategic partnerships with those merchants and any type of new initiatives; just an overall customer relationship management aspect.
So, I founded my company, VA Loan Captain, earlier this year, and basically the premise behind that company is that we prescreen lending institutions that offer VA loans. A VA loan is a mortgage that is guaranteed by The Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The reason why that’s such a great benefit is because veterans are entitled to use their VA home loan benefits and purchase a home at no money down, and pay no PMI or the competitive interest rate, and there’s also refinance options as well.
What made you create VA Loan Captain?
I founded my company because of all the news, and lawsuits, and settlements that came out related to the big bank incumbents. One specifically was illegally charging veterans fees on home loans, so I think that was 13 of some of the largest US banks. And then, separately, there was a settlement that finalized in February of this year whereby five of the largest mortgage bank services settled whereby the VA participated in what was a $25 billion settlement and that was related to wrongful practices and illegal foreclosures of veterans and servicemen.
So, what my company does is we partner with banks and have them sign our agreements, and provide discounted rates and fees for veterans for home loans. For every loan closed, $200 goes to a veteran charity of choice. In addition to that, they have to adhere to a specific code of conduct that which the President of the lending institution actually has to sign. As part of that, signing on what’s called a Veterans’ Guarantee Pledge; the banks have to provide veterans’ preference in hiring for the applicable divisions that support our programs. So one of our partner banks – we have four – one of them has actually hired over a dozen veterans in the past year.
From an entrepreneurship perspective, I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and pretty much I’ve always been in the military. So, I sought out the best entrepreneurial program. I saw that Babson ranked number 1 every year in pretty much every publication that you can find related to higher education, and said “You know what? I may get my MBA in that institution and that’s it. I’m going to be an entrepreneur.”
Did you go into Babson with the idea for VA Loan Captain or did you come up with it later?
I came up with it later. I came up with it after my MBA.
Did you have other business ideas when you went into your MBA program or did you just decide that you want to learn entrepreneurship?
Definitely real estate, and really, my company is within the real estate realm as it is anyway. So yeah, I actually did purchase a multifamily as an investment, and I still own that today. So, that was one that I thought of my MBA and actually executed right after my MBA which is cash flow real estate, and it’s been doing great.
How did your MBA help you start your own company?
I’d say in so many ways, but I’m going to try to be very specific here.
One, I think that a lot of people can come up with the idea which I think that’s actually 1% of the equation. Really, the components that are able to bring that idea to life is a journey and a process that I think a lot of people do not know about, and there’s a lot of inherent risks associated with that. That’s also why the majority of people are not business owners and also why the majority of businesses actually fail.
So to be able to take what you think in your head is your end game and work backwards into the point that you’re at right now, there’s certainly a long journey associated with that. You need to mitigate risk. You need to know how to do that. You need to know how to build teams. You need to know how to structure things. You need to know about distribution: channels, marketing, finance, accounting. You need to know about data management and statistics. You need to know about data management and statistics. Those are all things that you might have touched the surface in other type of educations, or even other jobs, but from an MBA perspective, that’s really where the focus is.
And depending on the flavor of the MBA, like for instance, Babson’s MBA is focused on entrepreneurship, so much of it was centered around exactly what I’m doing right now -- taking a concept to execution in creating a viable business. I don’t think that I would have been as successful or as effective without getting my MBA.
How have the leadership skills you learned in the military helped you in your MBA program and as an entrepreneur?
I think that the military is the epitome of leadership training. I think it’s probably the greatest leadership institution -- from a training perspective -- in the entire world. But with that, of course, is that the leadership garnered is for that specific organization which is The United States military; very hierarchical, very rank-and-file.
From an MBA perspective, I think that it opens you up to other types of leadership dynamics that may need to be employed -- that there’s not necessarily a one size that fits all. For you to be able to recognize that, especially if you have only one flavor of leadership knowledge, it’s important to know that there’s others out there. While one leadership style works very effectively in one organization, it might need to be tweaked for another such as a civilian-type, or a startup type, or Fortune 50 type organization, and that’s important to understand and also gain exposure to it.
But from the military’s perspective, I think that the foundations and the hallmarks of The United States military have some core areas that you take with you absolutely everywhere; leading by example, number one. No matter what organization you are in, to lead by example definitely creates the inspiration that goes around you. The integrity, instilling initiative within subordinates, empowering subordinates, being very clear about the mission, the task, the conditions, the standards are all things that from a military perspective, get ingrained in you as an individual that I think applies very well through the MBA having that knowledge beforehand, and going through an MBA, it expands that aperture.
What can veterans do to make the transition from military to MBA easier?
Well, I think number one is really honing in on why they want the MBA. So, setting their expectations to say “Do I want an MBA to further my prospects within the company that I’m working at? Do I want to get an MBA to start my own business?”, because those two questions right there will really shape the person’s expectations and also, what exactly they need to do and what types of MBA that they’re looking at. But in order to improve their prospects, the biggest barrier to entry for an MBA and especially a competitive MBA is the GMAT. So, the more that they can plan and prepare for the GMAT -- I think that’s a big one right there.
I think number two is they already have a dynamic experience that a very small percentage of applicants have which is a military experience. So I think being able to demonstrate the leadership experience that they’ve garnered in the military, certainly helps their application. I also think that making sure that they stay in touch with the previous higher-ups would be good too for future recommendation letters. And of course, I think, last would be showcasing a lot of their accomplishments or their various awards or medals that they received and things like that.
What other advice do you have for veterans who are considering getting an MBA?
I would almost say that the generalist is starting to go away. A lot of people that you see in the workforce now, or even entrepreneurs, have a specific trade that is not vanilla which is management. So being able to have a background in something or being able to get something that’s specialized but also has the broader category of MBA behind it I think would be good. And something that I wish that I had done, like for instance, if you were to get like an MBA with a focus in Information Systems Management, or if you had the opportunity to get an MBA/Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) type designation – something that adds to the specificity of that MBA that’s able to speak to your ability to not only operate as a generalist from a leadership perspective, but also from something that has some specific skills designated around that.
That takes some internal analysis onto where that person’s interests aligns with, what they’re looking to do when they finish their MBA and so forth.
What types of veterans make ideal entrepreneurs?
I think the ones that certainly take responsibility for their actions, number one. Because when you’re starting a business, it is all on you. You really have nobody else but yourself to blame for the success or the failure. So that should be something that’s relatively common for veterans, because being in the military you are very clear on what your roles and responsibilities are, and the success or failure just by the mantra of the organization starts with the leader. Especially if you were a leader of soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines – that type of mentality should be very ingrained in you already. But I mean I think that’s number one from an entrepreneur. It’s like it is up to you to make it happen. It will not happen on its own. So, if you have a certain amount of go-getter in you, that’s something that will carry over well.
The other thing is tenacity. There are some bad, bad days especially in starting your own business -- not everything is roses. But your ability to wake up day-in and day-out and continue striving, that is something that will set you apart, and also something that – with the right amount of effort, the right business model, and the right team – your likelihood of success is just far greatly exceeded if you get up day-in and day-out, understand that there will be setbacks, understand that there will be roadblocks, but you just continue driving on.
What advice do you have in terms of making the transition from military to running a startup?
I think if somebody was a leader within a military organization, you would probably find a lot of commonality between entrepreneurship and being, let’s say for instance, a platoon leader in the army responsible for 40 troops. The reason why there is a bit of commonality to that is, because you have a small little organization, and yes, you do receive orders and you do have hierarchy over you, but at the same time, you are the lowest level from a unit perspective and you have to accomplish your mission. Sometimes, the mission is not delivered to you on a silver plate. A lot of times you have to be very creative in the way that you accomplish your mission. You also have to have the fortitude to complete it as well. So in those respects, I think it’s actually very aligned with entrepreneurship.
I guess separately if I were going to say there could be -- depending on the person’s military experience, what their rank is -- it could be that they’re really hung up in the hierarchy of the military. I guess there could be people that get somewhat of an institutionalized mindset whereby you’re used to being told what to do all the time. Well from an entrepreneurship side, if you’re in that type of boat then you have to change your thinking in that “Nobody’s going to tell me what to do. This is really my show. I have to tell myself what to do.”
What other advice do you have for veterans who are looking to start their own businesses?
I would say definitely do your homework; do your homework on what type of business that you’d want to go into. MBA’s going to take you from what you’ll need to do specifically from an industry analysis point of view, and from an opportunity analysis point of view, so they’ll take you through the typical steps and processes in starting your own business. But I think that the big thing is to understand that the idea will not have wings behind it unless you actually put the appropriate building blocks in place to make it take off. It’s the leader and the entrepreneur that are able to make that happen. It’s hard work. It’s sacrifice. There’s some risk, but in a free market society like the one we live in right now, that’s where the reward lies.
Entrepreneurship might not be for everyone. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted but those that aspire big and are willing to do it -- that’s something that somebody has to answer internally before they can move on, in my opinion.
How can military MBAs make a difference in terms of business ethics both in the corporate workplace and in the companies that they create?
That is something that’s very ingrained in you. I can speak specifically from the army. There are army values and they’re distinct values that are laid out, and a lot of it is shaping the character of individuals. With how instilled that is from the organization level, that really helps to dictate how you, as a person, operate, and how your character is, and you’re typically able to carry that through into other endeavors and also in your personal life as well. Doing the right thing, being right to people, doing right by the organization are all things that extensively are drummed into most people in the military. By having that type of background and being exposed to that type of organization, I think that anybody that spent some time in the military will probably have an idea of how they believe an organization should operate, and the appropriate values that everyone should have within that organization.
If those things occur, you are likely to reduce unethical type practices within business, because it’s always defined within the organization and the people in that organization to be doing the right thing.