Start a Business Degree at American Military University.
By Wes O’Donnell
U.S. Army & U.S. Air Force Veteran. Managing Editor, InMilitary.com & InCyberDefense.com. Speaker, filmmaker and veteran advocate. Reach out to Wes on LinkedIn.
It was only recently that LifeFlip Media, a PR, and media firm focused on the “Warrior Class.” appeared on my radar scope. In October of 2017, I gave a speech about content marketing at the Military Influencer Conference in Dallas, Texas.
Although I write often, speaking about content marketing was far outside my wheelhouse. Typically, I’m hired to speak to companies about recruiting and onboarding Post 9/11 veterans. However, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to engage and network with so many amazing veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs.
After the speech, as I was scrutinizing the event’s sponsor list, several big names jumped out. Among them, USAA, National Geographic, GovX, American Military University, and LifeFlip Media and more than a dozen other organizations that had invested time and money to help ensure the success of the conference.
What is LifeFlip Media? And how has the company positioned itself so successfully and so quickly to become the voice of the Warrior Class?
LifeFlip was founded in 2013 by Marine Corps veteran Eric Mitchell. I missed meeting Eric at the Military Influencer Conference. But we would cross paths many times throughout 2018 at veteran empowerment and entrepreneurship gatherings.
Some Veteran-Owned Business Executives Have an Inherent Knack for Marketing While Others Just Spinning Their Wheels
Entrepreneurs who perform their own marketing and public relations do so at their peril. Some veteran-owned businesses have owners who have an inherent knack for marketing, and have had amazing success on their own. Others spend valuable time and marketing dollars spinning their wheels with few good results.
Ultimately, all businesses have to face the fact that they need a proper PR strategy. Whether they decide to do that in-house by hiring a full-time PR person or choose to outsource it to professionals, the results are the same: A well-thought-out and executed PR strategy can put a start-up or mid-stage company into orbit faster than you can say “Space Force.”
With little or no PR budget, especially after a company has gained some traction, it is unlikely that the business will ever make a significant impact in its own industry or in key markets. With PR and marketing having such a dramatic impact on the bottom line, it’s no surprise that a veteran like Eric would step up to fill the PR niche of veteran-owned companies.
Giving back to the community seems like a dream job, especially if you can get paid in the process. It was in the spirit of helping fellow veterans that I finally caught up with LifeFlip Media’s CEO Eric Mitchell for a chat about running his business, (and also to see how many Marine jokes I could get in before the interview ended.)
Wes O’Donnell: Eric, thanks so much for your time today. It’s good to finally catch up because I’m excited to learn more about what you do at LifeFlip. Can you start by telling me a little about your military background?
Eric Mitchell: Thanks, Wes, glad to be here. When I was a kid in Florida, I would visit my grandparents a lot in Beaufort, South Carolina. I fell in love with the Marine Corps at an early age. I kind of knew at that point that I was going to be a Marine someday. In 1994, right after high school, I joined the Marine Corps infantry and spent four years on active duty. I left [the Corps] in 1998 and spent another four years in the reserves and earned my Peace Officer Certification. Eventually, I just grew weary of always wearing a uniform and moved into the civilian sector.
Wes: That’s interesting. There are some parallels here between our lives. I also joined the infantry right after graduation, although it was Army, and spent four years in, got out and earned my Peace Officer certification in Texas. After September 11, 2001, I turned in my badge and join the Air Force to live the life of luxury. I imagine this is where our paths diverged.
Eric: Ha! Right, no offense to the Air Force, but once a Marine, always a Marine.
Wes: So, let’s talk about LifeFlip Media. When you decided to start this business, and why choose a public relations company?
Eric: LifeFlip Media is the culmination of about four different failed endeavors. It all started when I was working in Silicon Valley. I wanted to be a consultant in sales, marketing, and PR, but as you may or may not know, consultants are everywhere in Silicon Valley. Ultimately, I listened to some great advice about finding a micro-niche that I could have free reign over.
Wes: This seems to be a recurring theme that I am hearing lately. By and large, an early stage business can’t be everything to everybody, so “niche-down.” Some people have told me that they feel like they would be missing out on opportunities if they niche-down too much, but I say hogwash. Become the best in your niche.
Eric: Absolutely correct. Before I started LifeFlip, I decided to investigate and see what brands are currently popular in the veteran world. I started targeting those brands as potential clients for PR services. An early win for me was my association with Jas Boothe and her incredible organization, Final Salute Inc., a 501(c)3 [nonprofit organization] that provides homeless women veterans with safe and suitable housing.
Wes: So how do you know which clients to target? Who is your ideal client?
Eric: Back then, I bought a lot of veteran products to test. First of all, the veteran-owned business has to make a good product. Second, I am very serious about integrity and prefer to work with companies that have certain core values. It helps that these are veteran-owned or patriotic companies, but it’s worth remembering that not all veteran-owned businesses operate with integrity. Third, I love American-made. I think there is a resurgence in American-made products and it is a good time to be in business if your company manufactures in the U.S.of A.
Wes: There are a lot of veterans who are hesitant to make that jump into entrepreneurship because some may have a full-time job that pays well and a family to support. I’ve had some successful entrepreneurs tell me to make the jump head-first into your new business, give it everything you’ve got. Others have said, “Do your startup as a side hustle until you are making enough money to jump ship.” What’s your advice?
Eric: This might be unpopular, but for me, I believe there are two types of entrepreneur. Like Mark Cuban says, you’re either an entrepreneur or a “wantrepreneur.” If you work a day job and start a business on the side, then you can have a really bad week and it doesn’t affect you.
Having said that, before I went out on my own, I did set up a safety net on the front-end. I did all my process and planning while I was still employed; including the business plan. Let’s face it, no matter what you do at your current job, you are going to have some downtime. Whether that’s time while on a flight or waiting on another department. Whatever the case, you can get a lot done while still getting a steady paycheck.
My advice: Go all in, but make sure your process and business planning are done in advance. Have your realistic expectations written down ahead of time. Answer these questions: where do I expect to be in 90 days? Six months? One year?
Wes: This next question is perhaps the single most asked question I get from aspiring veteran entrepreneurs. How do you build a successful customer base in the early days? Can you tell us how you did it?
Eric: Social media! Drop the mic. Walk offstage. Seriously, everyone on the planet is on Facebook. The targeting options on Facebook give startups a huge advantage. I would say use LinkedIn for a more technical audience. Do your research and take the time to find your ideal audience on Facebook. Those are your customers. Facebook even offers free training on how to get the most out of their ad platform. It’s called Facebook Blueprint.
Wes: How do you find good people to bring into your organization? Some veteran-owned companies only hire other veterans.
Eric: I do a lot of studying, scouting and research. I don’t hire veterans simply because they are veterans. The fact that they are veterans is a piece of the puzzle; it means I know that they have a certain work ethic and integrity. But actually, the most success I have had with personnel have been civilian hires.
Wes: I think that’s an important distinction. When I give my “Hiring Veterans” speech to corporations, I tell them not to just hire a vet so they can check off a politically correct box. If a veteran is not right for the needs of the position, move on.
Eric: Right. When I hire someone, I want to make sure that the candidate knows that it’s more than just a job. If that happens to be a civilian that “get’s it,” then that’s the direction I go.
Wes: How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
Eric: Actually, my wife Lucie is part of my company. She’s our CFO and runs our accounting team. Her background is also Silicon Valley, running finance for startups, that sort of thing. What’s funny is that the entrepreneurial bug bit her while she was here at LifeFlip. She just started her own health business.
Wes: So, I always ask this, and I think it is a tough question because it forces you to self-reflect, but if you had the chance to start your career over again, is there anything that you would do differently?
Eric: Good question. First of all, it was very difficult to leave Silicon Valley. Sometimes I wish I would have paid more attention there because I think there were still some valuable insights that I could have picked up. Perhaps then I could have skipped some steps at LifeFlip instead of learning it on my own the hard way.
Also, I have learned to not hold onto a loser. By that, I mean if someone is underperforming and you have given them sufficient opportunity to perform, don’t hesitate to cut them lose. The issue here, especially in the veteran community, is that you might feel obligated to give someone more chances than they deserve because they are your “brother” or “sister” from your time in the military. This is especially hard as a Marine because we have a very tightknit group. By holding on to that underperformer, your business starts to take a hit.
Finally, I think the biggest lesson learned is to not let other people own space in your head. I used to really care what other people thought about me. I really wanted to please everyone.
Wes: I’m guilty of that as well. And what happens is the reality hits that you can’t please everyone all of the time, and it’s emotionally devastating.
Eric: Exactly. Stop caring what other people think about you. Keep your head down and do your own thing and become wildly successful. There will always be haters; that’s the very nature of the Information Age and the connected world that we live in.
Wes: Last question- What book are you reading right now?
Eric: Right now, I’m reading Fail Until You Don’t: Fight Grind Repeat by Bobby Bones. I used to use Audible books a lot but lately, I have rekindled my love for physical books; especially with an Amazon physical location near where I live here in Oregon. I’m also reading Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson and I’m re-reading Steve Jobs’ biography.
Wes: Awesome. Thanks for your time Eric. I promised to harass you with Marine jokes, but we didn’t have time. I’ll get you next time.
Eric: My pleasure, Wes. Looking forward to it!