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A Plan and a Vision: Business Start-up Tips

We interviewed John O'Malley, Army veteran and President of Planet Sun, about his experiences running a business, and got his input on what it takes to succeed.

[Read part 1 of this interview]

What tips would you offer veterans who are looking to start their own business?

Don’t put your eggs in one basket. In our case, we’re a suncare company, not merely a sunscreen company. We make products in different areas of suncare , including skin care, apparel, and eyewear. Because of this, it’s taken us a bit longer to get out of the chute, but it gives us great depth and makes us more likely to succeed. If we run out of one product at any given time, we still have other products to offer to consumers.

I can’t say it more emphatically: You have to have a plan, and a vision for your company. Of course, these are things the military teaches us to do well, but you would be surprised to find out how many companies are lacking in this area. Much of what we learn in the military about organizational leadership is the core of what leads a company to success in the civilian market. A mission statement, vision, guiding principles, leadership and corporate philosophy – you gotta have them to guide your people and set your course!

Be patient and perseverant. Get ready for one of the greatest endurance events of your life. It’s going to take time, period. There will be setbacks, period. Success takes a longer time out here, and it has taught me to be a far more patient person. I foresee our company being a ten-year overnight success. [laughs] You may find a company that seems to pop out of nowhere and really makes it, but do some research and you’ll likely find that they’ve been working four or five years to get to that point.

Stay as lean as you can. You will be surprised at how much you can do on your own, and with few people. The “figure it out and get it done” mindset we acquire the military is one of the primary reasons why this company is succeeding despite the economy. Although I am the President of the company, I do photo shoots, R&D, advertisement layouts, etcetera. Everyone in the company applies this mindset -- it prevents us from having to outsource a lot of things, and in turn, we develop new skill sets.

Read some well-recognized books on business and make all the analogies with military planning, leadership. This will help you will gain a lot of confidence. I don’t have a business background per se, but when I realized how many parallels there were between what I had done in the military, and starting and running a company, I realized it was absolutely possible.

Own your name and your innovations. It is critically important to trademark your name and patent your technologies. Imagine working for years and sacrificing a lot only to find out that someone else legally owns the name of your company or the patent on “your” greatest invention. Or, imagine developing an idea or product that you didn’t protect, only to find that someone else took it and ran with it. It happens, and it can make selling your company or products very difficult or impossible. Owning your name and innovations is also something that most experienced investors look for.

What are the pros and cons of owning a business?

Pros? First, it’s your baby, and you own it. That’s a beautiful thing. It offers you the ability to pass something down. Second, being able to pursue your passions. Starting your own business provides you the vehicle to do that. Third, the unlimited possibility. You’re never going to be limited to what you can do and how far you can take it. Fourth, being able to make a difference in the world. We’re a sun care company, so I want to lead the industry in helping people stay healthy and safe, and even save lives. We’re a wellness company, and that provides a vehicle to help us do something good in the world.

On the cons side, you’re going to lose track of a lot of things you enjoy doing, like hobbies. You have to accept this and realize that your business is going to take up much of what used to be your personal time. For me, I haven’t raced triathlons in three years, but I’ve lived vicariously through the other athletes I work with, and I have enjoyed that. Of course, there is the financial risk. If you’re looking for a career where you don’t want a lot of risk day to day, starting a business may not be the best option.

I should add that I’m very willing to share my experiences with other veterans, and as a leader, I see it as my obligation to do so. That in itself, is one of the greatest things we learn in the military -- how to be effective coaches and teachers, and realizing the importance of guiding the future! I can be reached at john@planetsunhawaii.com.

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