So you're thinking of becoming an entrepreneur? Perhaps you're drawn to the appeal of being your own boss, or there's an invention you want to pursue, or maybe you've always wanted to run your own company. Sounds great, right? But it takes more than a great idea and a handful of grit to run a successful startup.
LC: Justin, describe your military experience.
JN: In junior high school, we took a trip to the East Coast and toured the Naval Academy. At the time, I had no idea what it was. Five years later, I was raising my right hand and being sworn in as a midshipman. After the Naval Academy, I served five years as an officer on nuclear submarines (the Ohio-class Alaska and Los Angeles-class Chicago).
I loved my time in the military, especially the camaraderie, challenge and sense of service. I remember my first time standing watch as the senior ship supervisor on our submarine. It was 2 a.m., I was 23 years old, and I was the most senior person awake, responsible for a $2 billion submarine and the 180 lives onboard. I thought, "This is crazy!" but I loved every minute of it.
LC: How was your transition after you left the Navy?
JN: I knew I wanted to have a family one day and wanted to be available to be with them. I made the decision to leave the military after five years of service. I thought, "I like the management aspect of my military work, and managers in the civilian sector go to business school, so I'll do that."
I went to Stanford Business School, and it was life changing. At Stanford, I learned about startups and how big companies were once small companies started by a courageous person or group of people. I set out to do that.
LC: Why are you passionate about startup companies?
JN: I love the process of creating something new, of having an idea and working with a group of people to bring it to life. It's exhilarating and rewarding to see a challenge and think of a new way to solve it. That's what startups are to me. They are a way to identify a pain point, see if there are other people who experience the same pain, and then find a way to solve it. I especially like technology because it solves problems quickly, and in a way that can help far more people through a scalable solution.
LC: How did your military experience, and post-military education, prepare you to be an entrepreneur?
JN: Stanford made me aware of startups, gave me an incredible network to leverage, and provided me with credibility when raising investor funding. However, my experience in the military was a bigger driver in my success.
The military taught me to be tenacious -- to operate on limited information and drive through to success, no matter the cost. When starting a company, you have to get up early, work around the clock, and forge a new way for the company, often with limited resources. The military taught me how to do this, with integrity.
LC: What advice do you have for a veteran interested in working in a startup environment?
JN: If you are interested in startups, do it. There is nothing you cannot figure out and nothing that you cannot accomplish with your military training. At the same time, don't underestimate how much work it will take. My mantra in starting a company has been that "everything takes 10X longer and 10X more money than I initially expect."
If you want to pursue this path, make sure you have the financial savings and personal support structure to do so. Learn from others, be as efficient as possible, and remember that it is a roller-coaster of a ride that will take everything you have to succeed. But, for me, there's nothing I'd rather do.
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