When I separated from the military over ten years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had a vague idea that I wanted to create something. But in the meantime, I just needed a job. I left active duty, moved halfway across the nation, got married, and was unemployed for six months. This can be a common struggle for many veterans. And at the time, there weren’t many good online resources available for transitioning veterans.
So I created one.
I’d love to tell you that this was all part of my master plan. But in reality, I stumbled into it. I started a website and kept an online journal of what I was doing, the struggles I was going through, and how others could navigate a similar path. I wrote other articles about how military members and veterans could claim various benefits. Slowly, but surely, the site gained traffic. Today, The Military Wallet has over 100,000 newsletter subscribers and serves up several million page views each year.
I was in the right place at the right time. Luck certainly played a role, as did hard work and focus. But I also believe that one of the biggest factors in my company’s success is serving a distinct community.
Wearing the U.S. military uniform is an honor. But it’s just as much an honor to continue serving the military community, including the brave men and women who have proudly worn the uniform before me, those who continue to wear the uniform today, and their family members who support them.
Over the years, my business has grown beyond my wildest dreams. I have been able to serve a wonderful community, and even hire numerous people in the military community to help grow the business.
Again, I wish I could claim this was all part of an award-winning business plan. But the truth is, I didn’t start out to be an entrepreneur. In fact, by creating something I wanted, I was scratching my own itch. But when I sit back and look at what went right and what went wrong (and I made plenty of mistakes along the way!), I realize the most fortunate circumstance was building a website for a specific community.
I have built several other websites and tried my hand at several side projects through the years. But none of them had the same community-building aspect of The Military Wallet. And while some have been successful, none have come close to the success of The Military Wallet.
There are many ways to start a business. You can create a business plan, do market research, hire business analysts, consultants, and coaches. You can take on private equity funding and hire the best talent money can buy. And I’m sure each of these has value. But unless your product or service is a game-changer, or transcends current offerings in the marketplace, you need something to differentiate your business from “all the other businesses” out there.
Maybe it’s a snappy marketing campaign. That certainly worked for Dollar Shave Club. Maybe it’s being first to market, with the funding to maintain your early momentum. Maybe you have an unfair business advantage through years of experience and knowledge in your industry. All of these can work.
But for me, it’s serving a community. A community I am deeply a part of. Something that is part of my identity, and something other people can immediately identify with.
If you are an entrepreneur, or are considering starting a business, I encourage you to think about how you can start a business that will not only be profitable, but will unite people in your community. It will give you focus and make it easier to tell your story. And the best part is, your community will help share your message.
About the Author: Ryan Guina served over six years on active duty, then took an 8-year break from military service to work in the civilian sector and start an online business. Today he runs the sites CashMoneyLife.com and TheMilitaryWallet.com and he continues his military service in the Air National Guard.