By Mohana Ravindranath
Kelly Perdew has founded and led at least three Internet companies, won the second season of “The Apprentice,” served as the executive vice president of the Trump Foundation and is a former Army Ranger. He also has written a book on leadership principles learned from the military.
As a seasoned businessman and veteran, Perdew’s advice for new entrepreneurs hinges on networking. “You need to find a champion who will speak highly on your behalf to their networks,” he said. Success depends on “finding those individuals who ‘get’ it — whatever you’re working on.”
Perdew was one such champion for veteran Blake Hall, who led a sniper team in Iraq, when Hall came to Perdew with an idea for a daily-deals site called TroopSwap for veterans, service members and their families.
“These are heroes who are creating a company designed to help military members and their families, and they’re doing neat stuff along the way,” Perdew said. The company, for example, employs a significant number of veterans and their spouses.
These days, Perdew and a hundred others like him are part of a group called FirstWave, which seeks to help veterans transition from the military to the business world. FirstWave members offer advice and sometimes connections to money. Other prominent FirstWave members who backed TroopSwap include LegalZoom.com’s president and chief operations officer, Frank Monestere, a former Green Beret, and BetterWorks founder Paige Craig, a former Marine.
“We thought of a first wave where we could break through some of the barriers” veterans face when they reenter the civilian workplace, Perdew said, explaining that when service members leave the military as junior or mid-level officers, they often don’t have a clear idea of what has been happening in the civilian sector.
“Generally, when you’re in the military, you’ve pretty much got a job, a really stringent chain of command and significant boundaries,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is almost the exact opposite. Almost no rules, significant freedom.”
He advised entrepreneurs to embrace the risk. People afraid of starting new businesses “think risk is not being able to pay bills. [Successful] entrepreneurs look at risk as being in control of your own destiny,” he said. “As an entrepreneur, you have even more people to report to, but you do it on your own terms, and it gives you flexibility in how you operate.”
Perdew emphasized the importance of finding influential people who like you and your idea, regardless of the industry. Even if you’re talking to venture capitalists, Perdew said, personally connecting with a champion is “a thousand times better.”
Ravindranath writes for On Small Business, about entrepreneurship and the people, policies and businesses that make it go.
August 12, 2012