Many veterans leave the military wanting to lead a company, but they would like to do something at least loosely related to what they did in the military. Marine Corps veteran Alex Martin did just that.
Martin serves as CEO of AC Global Risk, a California tech innovator that has announced a new technology for vetting refugees. This technology, called Remote Risk Assessment (RRA®), comes at a time when an estimated 110,000 refugees are expected to enter the United States in 2017.
"We are in the business of 'trust gap resolution,' and while many security experts believe effective vetting of refugees cannot be accomplished, we are here to tell you that it can," Martin said. "Based upon extensive use of RRA in test markets, we have a proven solution that's highly accurate, scalable, language agnostic, cost-effective and capable of high throughput.
"Our technology will wildly enhance existing screening systems and totally change the risk landscape by helping to accurately plot human-based risk. The data we provide helps accelerate workflow and allows high-demand, low-density resources to be more precisely allocated."
Martin says his technology is available "to tackle one of the most serious and difficult security and counter-terrorism problems of our time."
We spoke with Martin about his involvement in this venture and his transition from military to CEO.
Martin served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a commander in infantry, reconnaissance and special operations units. He later founded a private maritime security company and lived and worked in rural Kenya for two years as the team leader for Nuru International, a social enterprise dedicated to ending extreme poverty. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Expeditionary Warfare School, and the Stanford Business School's Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Q: You have served in both the Marines and leadership roles in the civilian world. What has been the motivation for this? Is it part of a career plan/strategy?
A: "I continue to serve in the reserves. When I first left active duty, this was partially an emotional decision and partially a business decision. The emotional part is that leaving was an agonizing choice, and the reserves allowed me to stay close to the tribe. The business decision was that I knew I was going to be an entrepreneur, and having good health care and a little extra disposable income each month was a really incredible value proposition.
"Since then, I'd say my motivation for staying in a leadership role in the reserves has become more and more emotionally based. The opportunity to still work for Marines and sailors means the world to me. They energize me and remind me of the core values and character traits that make a difference in a gunfight. This makes me a better entrepreneur. I want to stay around Marines as long as they'll still have me."
Q: Do you find any problems with differences in culture between the military and your civilian experiences?
A: "Not at all, just so long as the leadership does not confuse a highly talented group of engineers with a highly talented rifle platoon, or vice versa. You can't take a new venture and give it the Marine Corps culture. You can't, and you shouldn't.
"There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is that culture can't be replicated or manufactured. One of the things I love about the promise of a startup enterprise is that you and your co-founders have the opportunity to create the winning environment in which your company culture will form and grow, and you all own the responsibility to ensure it's not hijacked along the way.
"The hope is that a culture is meaningful, relevant and is one which reflects the shared values and principles that everyone actually believes in; it has to be unpretentious and honest. The only thing worse than having no real culture is having the wrong one."
Q: What is it like running a company, especially as it compares to serving in the military?
A: "It's phenomenally exciting, though I don't think of what I do as running a company. I'm first a custodian of the technology our inventor and our engineers have created. This is a life's work in action, and that is deeply motivating.
"Next, I think of what I do more as being the guy whose job it is to get really talented people the things they need to do really superb things. My fundamental responsibility is to listen and help curate ideas from strategy to execution.
"In this way, it's very similar to how I led my platoons in combat: I ask for the advice of my subject matter experts, we make a plan collaboratively and then I try to keep up with them as we fight our way through a series of complex problems. I believe success, in business or in combat, comes down to courage, talent, empathy, a lot of discipline and a little luck."
Q: For others looking to become involved in starting new businesses or coming into existing companies in leadership positions, do you have any lessons learned or advice you can share?
A: "Get a mentor. Aggressively network. Give it a shot. I can't emphasize how important the value of great mentorship, a strong network and taking a few chances has been. While it can be challenging to find and connect to a mentor, penetrate a network and know which target to take your shot at, there are so many great programs out there now to help with your discovery. Whether it's Stanford Business School's transformative Ignite program on entrepreneurship and innovation, incubators such as Bunker Labs, enablers such as MD5 or pioneering education for employment companies such as BreakLine, the resources are out there and so is the demand for proven leaders."
Q: What is it about this newest venture that spoke to you and why should others care?
A: "We are pioneering a new domain in the technical risk management industry that will help accelerate the speed of trust. We will help companies scale faster into new, riskier markets without compromising security and safety.
"We will help connect millions of people and businesses in frontier markets with access to investment capital and insurance. We will help governments facilitate robust, legal immigration while enhancing national security. We will help fight fraud and identify sexual predators and violent criminals.
"People should care about this venture because we are going to forever change for the better how human risk is measured."
Q: How do you feel your military background helped in this endeavor?
A: "It gave me the ability to laugh deep and hard, mostly at myself, and how to use enthusiasm as a weapon."
Q: Do you have any other advice for veterans looking to make a difference in the world?
A: "Do something. I believe we honor the memory of our fallen mates best by living deliberately, boldly and, when at all possible, happily. We remember them best by working and loving hard. My call to action is to find something you care about and get involved. For a cause big or small. There's someone out there that needs you."
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