How This Marine Went from Infantry to Inventor and CEO

Matthew DeMaio, Marine veteran, inventor and CEO of Condition One nutrition bars (photo courtesy of Matthew DeMaio).

Grunts worth their salt know that, when it comes to chow in the field, there's a limit to how creative you can get with MRE selections in your pack.

Former Marine Corps Sgt. Matthew DeMaio was in that exact situation while on deployment in Mozambique, Africa. Although the grub met his caloric needs, it didn't meet his nutritional needs. That's when the idea for his Condition One fresh-baked nutritional bars was born.

Related: Marine Vet-Turned-Entrepreneur Now Selling Energy Bars to the NFL

"I felt that there really wasn't a nutrition bar out there that met the intense needs of special operators in the field," he said. "And I set out to see if I can solve that -- and I did."

When DeMaio left the Corps in 2010, he took a deep dive into learning all he could about the nutritional needs of special operators. After a long process of trial and error, he brought his nutrition bars to market. And the market took notice. An NFL team started using his bars in 2017, and other sports teams soon followed.

He spoke to Military.com about how he went from idea to market and how veterans looking to become entrepreneurs can do the same.

Related: Search for Veteran Jobs

1. Find Mentors in Your Field

"I was a dude with a crazy-ass idea and nothing beyond that," DeMaio said. "I met my mentor Larry Dinkin, the founder of restaurant chain Marie Callender's, and he helped me avoid some serious noob mistakes."

DeMaio recommends using discretion when getting advice, as not all counsel will be relevant to helping you achieve your goals. DeMaio learned that the hard way. He was advised by another mentor in the tech start-up and venture capital community to create a promo video to pitch his idea to investors. He spent a lot of money to create a video, but got no return on that investment.

In hindsight, DeMaio said his resources would have been better invested in sales.

2. Adapt, Improvise, Overcome

Marines know intimately how to make do with what they have. And DeMaio advises would-be entrepreneurs to capitalize on their military training and "bootstrap" their way to success.

"I market my product in places the big companies do not," he said. "I don't have the resources that a big company has, so I go to CrossFit gyms and the like because I'm much stronger in that space than bigger companies." DeMaio recommends using your battle training and mission operation strategies to take on the enemy where they are weak.

3. Be Humble

"It's really tough when you don't know what you're doing," DeMaio said. "Be prepared to eat hefty servings of humble pie every day."

He said he made more than his share of rookie mistakes, but he always did after-mission assessments and learned fast from his mistakes.

4. Find Your Identity Again

Veterans need to remember that they are not the sum of their military occupational specialty. DeMaio suggests vets embrace the values they learned when they served and carry that forward.

"Values like work ethic, tenacity, grit," he said. "These values will serve them well in the business world."

DeMaio suggests vets find what they enjoy and see if there is a career field where they can exercise their passion.

5. Be Your Own Drill Instructor

When DeMaio left the Marine Corps, he said it took time to shake the habit of waiting to be told to do something. His advice to vets? Stop waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Kick yourself in the ass and be your own drill instructor.

He suggests finding like-minded veteran communities and get involved. Organizations such as Team Red White and Blue, Team Rubicon and Bunker Labs are good places to start.

"[As an entrepreneur], I have never been so focused. I wake up with a purpose, just like when I was in the Marines," DeMaio said. "You're going to be lonely on the journey, and it's a challenge. And like the Marines, [it] will be the most rewarding. It's the same in business, and you'll be proud of what you did."

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-- Sean Mclain Brown can be reached at sean.brown@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @seanmclainbrown.

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