Why military veterans are a perfect fit to scale a startup


By Major Sunil Shetty, SM (Retd)

Starting a second innings is always a challenge; be it Virat Kholi walking in to bat in the second inning of a test match, a professional switching to a new career path, an entrepreneur starting her second venture or a veteran stepping into the “civilian world”- all require immense mental & physical strength to undertake the second journey. 

Rekha, a leading  Talent Acquisition & Leadership hiring professional who works at Executive Access India, has mentored Veterans in finding suitable employment. According to her, there is great demand for Veterans in certain sectors such as real-estate, that needs leadership which can help meet project deadlines and follow strict resources management practices. 

Meena Arora, a life coach and founder of StressBin, is an Indian Airforce veteran herself adds,  coming from a structured organization- like the armed forces “we know how our peer group will behave,” but same may not be true “in the civilian world,” thus  veterans need “hand-holding during their initial period” – which is pretty short given their attitude of adapting fast, and once they find their feet – “they take off on their own.”

Both the ladies agree on one common point; that Veterans are a resource that most startups are not tapping into. According to Rekha, Veterans “will do wonder in corporate and especially in startups because of their multiple skill sets and ethics… and isn’t that what startups are looking for? ” 

Lieutenant Colonel Iqbal Singh founder of Forces Network, a startup that has over 4000 Veterans as members, organises regular events that guide and connect Veterans with the corporate world. According to Colonel Singh, “nearly all veterans are looking for jobs in the corporate world” and the “number of openings that match their skills are limited.”  

Rekha agrees and adds though Veterans “bring some unique skills” but hiring at decision making and leadership level are limited and it can’t accommodate all veteran. That leaves many Veterans “tentative and with a feeling of insecurity,” according to Meena. 

So what is the solution? 

I had the privilege of speaking at two events, back-to-back in early December this year, organised by and for the Indian military veterans who were taking fresh guard to begin their second journey.  

Being a Soldierpreneuer; I was asked to share my entrepreneurial journey for the benefit of would-be Soliderpreneurs. So my talk was centred around How and Why connecting  Veterans and Startups will lead to a win-win outcome. 

I am convinced veteran can play a significant roll in early & growth stage startups due to their experiences, disciple, expertise and not to forget many veterans from the engineering stream bring valuable, cutting-edge technology experience and know-how.

And Veterans in-turn, while working with startups, can achieve a fulfilling experience.

Let us see how startups can benefit from veterans as managers. 

Resource management is second nature: There is never enough in the military – be it manpower, equipment or expendables.

This means at every level of military command, a soldier has to adapt and or innovate to overcome the shortage of resource.  

The shortfalls can’t be made up in a day, week or month. Especially in the Indian military, resource crunch runs for months if not years. The bright side of such a resource crunch is; our veterans have learnt to adapt and find resourceful ways to complete their task and all these while meeting their respective deadlines.

Thus, resource management is second nature to most veterans. Such skills would be a big boon for growth startups; as the veteran would find alternative ways not just to complete a given task -but complete it within time and to its full potential. 

Multitasking comes naturally: At any given point in time, a soldier is performing two or more tasks. This could range from training, logistics, HR management and like in “civilian world” running office administration & operations and all these while performing their primer job of a being a soldier.  

Many of the tasks are non-complimentary in nature. Working in high-pressure time bound environment makes them excellent multi-tasker -who may not break under pressure.

Thus, the question to ask is; shouldn’t startups be onboarding such a talented workforce?   

Open to Upskilling: A soldier all through his career undertakes numerous courses and training programs to upskilling and upgrade herself. The upskilling course helps them in enhance knowledge and skills and in return, their employability increases within an organisation leading to professional growth.

The need to continuously upskill is understood and acknowledged well by a solider.  Squadron Leader Meena who underwent multiple courses and internships, while transiting into the role of a Life Coach says,  a veteran is never averse “to learning new things and upskilling” this bodes well for organisations and especially startups. 

They are Go-getters: According to Meena, veterans are “up for any challenge, “you can send them on the door to door sale to meeting with the Prime Minister” of India-  the veterans will have no hang-ups “as long as they feel it is the need of the organisation.”

She further clarifies that Veterans employability will not be limited by the geographical location, “they will travel anywhere”…you can ask them to travel from Kashmir to Andaman and “they will give no excuse.”  

According to Rekha, “veterans will give all their energy and time” and the organisation doesn’t even have to ask the second time. Startups can immensely benefit from 

such human resource who come with the flexible mindset -“free of any hangups.

Setting up Process and Procedures: Military teaches many things including how to think logically while formulating process and procedures.

According to Meena, veterans, by instinct, are tuned to “noticing small changes or mistakes” in a process or procedures and by second-nature end up the devising a solution to overcome it. Such self-programmed and self-controlling professionals are a rarity and startup shouldn’t miss out benefiting from them. 

Veterans are a precious human resource that startup should tap into for meaningful and wholesome growth. However, as Rekha rightly advises, veterans have to take the first step by learning the ways to project their skills and experience to the corporate and startup world. 

(The author is Founder and CEO of AskMentor. Views are personal.)