Four years ago, Naval Captain Jon Kurtz found himself faced with the daunting task of seeking employment in the civilian world. Alongside his wife, Gila, they decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship starting Dog is Good, LLC. Since then, the company has seen remarkable success, quadrupling revenues year over year and earning the distinction of 2013 SCORE Outstanding Veteran-owned Small Business.
In honor of Veterans Day, Jon shared his experience conquering the transition from military member to entrepreneur and his advice for other veterans re-entering the workforce considering the route of small business ownership.
What is your military background?
I went to the US Naval Academy out of high school and graduated in 1982. I served 27.5 years as a naval officer and retired at the end of 2009 at the rank of Captain.
What were the deciding factors for when you started your business and what that business would be?
Gila and I had started Dog is Good on a very part time basis and I really didn't think that going in to it full time would even be an option by 2009. I knew that at some point I would have my own business - had a few ideas what they might be - but financially I felt it would be best to get a job after retirement. Then the economy got worse than the year before and the job I had lined up all but disappeared. My other job prospects required another move and we didn't want to move yet again. Then the Dog is Good business started gaining traction and it became apparent that this was probably the opportunity I was looking for anyway. Though it may not have been the direction I wanted to take with regards to personal finances, the time was right for Dog is Good. So we both started to work it full time.
How do you think your experience in the military plays a role in how you run your business?
In short, I would say that it all comes down to working with people, learning to be resourceful and to be personally accountable. I was very fortunate in my career to have run organizations both big and small. Very often the only distinction between a military organization and running a business is where the revenue comes from. Now I have to sell stuff - then, I had to sell my ideas to compete for finite resources. Leadership, organizational behavior, financial management and stewardship, planning and execution, and developing a strong work ethic with a heightened sense of personal accountability are all skills or traits that I think I might not have developed as well had I not chosen the path I did.
Do you think other veterans would be well-suited for entrepreneurship?
I think so, yes. There are a lot of very smart, resourceful people in the military that are really driven to serve and truly understand personal accountability. But many don't necessarily think along the lines of ultimately doing something on their own. They're not typically in an entrepreneurial environment, so I think a lack of exposure inhibits many from going that route. Consider also, veterans leaving the service don't have the luxury of giving up an income to build a business. They are at a point in their lives where they need a steady income.
What advice do you have for military service members currently returning to civilian life and the workforce?
It's a difficult environment to immediately find good employment - no doubt about it. But those skills and traits that make someone successful in the military are valuable in business. Of course, one needs the opportunity to prove that, but I think veterans can use their experience to their advantage. Read more about Jon and the Dog is Good Success Story.