Not An Escort Service

 
Welcome to Sin City

Welcome to Sin City

 

I am a Navy SEAL, but feeling comfortable in the water has never been my strong suit. I have a terrible breath hold and I'm permanently worried about drowning. So why did I decide to become a member of the premier US maritime special forces unit? Truthfully, I didn’t “decide.” It was more like I had a calling, that it was my destiny to become a SEAL and literally no other job would do. But here’s the thing about SEAL training: it doesn’t take into account your feelings or sense of destiny. It just gauges whether or not you can hack extremely difficult and stressful situations; whether you can solve problems under the worst circumstances.

Initially, every day of SEAL training was a nightmare for me because even if we were not actually doing some horrible underwater test, I lived in constant fear that we were about to do one. Over time however, I spent less time worrying about the future, and more time just executing the immediate tangible goals that the instructors set for us, no matter how miserable they were. This is why people say Special Operations Forces (SOF) training is all “mental.” You don’t graduate a SOF selection program by accident, you graduate because you consciously chose to perform under stress. And you perform under stress by taking a big goal, and breaking it down into smaller pieces that you force yourself to accomplish—one by one.

You don’t graduate a SOF selection program by accident, you graduate because you consciously chose to perform under stress.

My recent trip to Las Vegas to raise money and awareness for a new start up company that matches SOF veterans with jobs in the private sector is my most recent experience in forcing myself to do something that I dread. Tell me to organize the gear and men needed for a nighttime underwater dive to take over an enemy ship and I'm good. Hand me a champagne flute and tell me to rub elbows with financial CEOs and I feel out of my depth. It turns out though, that SEAL training comes in just as handy in the civilian world as it does in the military. Even more important, my personal experiences during that trip to Las Vegas are an example of what SOF veterans have to offer employers —and what employers can offer men and women who represent millions of dollars in skill sets that are directly transferable to the private sector.

It was just two weeks ago that I arrived in Sin City with my business partner (and recovering investment banker) Jordan Selleck for the annual ACG Intergrowth conference, a networking event where finger food is delivered on silver platters to impeccably dressed millionaires from all over the world. Despite the fact that I have no background in finance, Jordan had assured me that this conference would be a great place for both of us to network and to find potential donors / employers for our start up company Elite Meet. At first I was hesitant: chances were good I’d be the only person at the conference who didn’t know how to read a balance sheet. Jordan was persistent: if I memorized my elevator pitch and wore a nice suit, everything would be fine. Jordan happens to be a fantastic salesman, and I happen to be incredibly gullible. I’m the guy who buys $200 running shoes, then falls for the sales pitch on $30 gel inserts I don’t need. So naturally, I agreed to go to the conference with Jordan.

 
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In preparation for the trip, I asked my COO Joseph Watler, to make me business cards. When I picked them up, I was blown away by what a great job Joe had done. They were super flashy cards with Elite Meet embossed in white letters on a glossy black background. I tucked those babies in my suitcase, and suddenly felt like a million bucks.

 
 

“Wear a suit when you fly. You never know who you’ll to sit next to,” texted Jordan the night before I caught my flight west. Of course I had been planning on wearing jeans, a t-shirt and flip-flops. After checking-in and making it past security, I schlepped my garment bag over my shoulder and headed for the gate. I found myself sitting next to a gent in his thirties wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt. He asked me where I was headed. “Las Vegas,” I said. Then he asked me what I did. “I am the CEO of a company called Elite Meet.” Feeling like a badass, I handed him my new card. He gazed back at me with a funny smirk on his face, then said, “Really?” Suddenly it hit me: “This guy thinks I run an escort service!” After all, I had a business card that screamed Elite Meet, I was on a flight to Vegas, my hair was slicked back, and I was wearing an expensive suit with expensive sun glasses on my head at four in the morning. “This cannot be a good sign,” I thought. I can’t even network on a plane leaving Virginia. How will I do surrounded by wealthy bankers in Las Vegas?” Consumed by embarrassment, I slouched down in my seat and played Soda Crush for the next five hours. At least in Las Vegas, Jordan would be leading the charge. All I’d have to do is watch and learn.

“This guy thinks I run an escort service!” After all, I had a business card that screamed Elite Meet, I was on a flight to Vegas, my hair was slicked back, and I was wearing an expensive suit with expensive sun glasses on my head at four in the morning.

Or so I thought. The first message that popped up on my phone after we landed caused an instant knot in my stomach. With mounting horror, I scrolled through Jordan’s announcement that his flight was delayed for SEVEN HOURS. "John, go to the conference and get at least 20 business cards and I will meet you at some point later tonight. And remember, you are representing both of us so don’t f*@k it up.”

"John, go to the conference and get at least 20 business cards and I will meet you at some point later tonight. And remember, you are representing both of us so don’t f*@k it up.”

I immediately tried backing out, but Jordan wasn’t buying it. "You just need to become comfortable with situations like this. Business is ultimately about building relationships, not waiting for other people to come do favors for you. You just need to go get this done because we can't afford to waste today just because I am not there yet."

Palms sweating, I arrived at the Hooter's Hotel where the $45 a night price tag somehow seemed to match the business cards now burning a hole in my suit pocket. I couldn’t believe I was about to attend my first real networking event ever, at one of the biggest financial conferences of the year, alone. After a minor melt down in my dingy, airless bedroom, I gathered my garish business cards and what shreds of dignity I had left, and headed for the conference. Hearing my phone buzz, I caught the break I was hoping for. According to a text from Jordan, Tom Gesky-CEO of Resourcive—was also attending the conference, and he was down in the lobby waiting for me. “Thank you, baby Jesus,” I thought to myself as I high-fived the guy walking past me.

 
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I had met Tom in March at our first ever Elite Meet in NYC. Tom was impressed with the SOF attendees that we had recruited. He personally interviewed three of them within 24 hours of the NYC event and submitted each of them job offers. As Tom and I started making our way over to the Aria Hotel, where the financial conference was being held, he told me that these types of events are a lot less awkward than you might think. He told me that the reason people go to these things is specifically to network and do business. Everyone was open to speaking with everyone. He asked me to run through my elevator pitch, then waited a second too long before saying, “OK!” Not exactly a huge boost of confidence.

But when we walked inside the entrance to the 61 story high glass and steel towers of the Aria hotel, my case of nerves suddenly vanished. I realized that it was my SEAL training kicking in. Instead of worrying about the ultimate success or failure of my attempt to raise money and awareness for Elite Meet, I realized I just had to focus on a single tangible goal: get 20 business cards before Jordan arrives in seven hours.

Something that all SOF have in spades is an almost obscene ability to relax in just about every circumstance. Thinking about going to a networking event, I felt completely out of my element. Once I was thrust into it, it was like anything else, you just do it.

Something that all SOF have in spades is an almost obscene ability to relax in just about every circumstance.

Over the course of the next seven hours, I exchanged and collected well over 20 business cards and was invited to a few private meetings by people that I had just met. I was able to drum up interest in both DebtMaven, Jordan’s financial technology platform, and Elite Meet. By the time Jordan made it to the conference, he had to wait in line to speak with me.

Even though Jordan expected me to handle networking on my own before he arrived, he seemed genuinely surprised by how quickly and easily I had been able to assimilate into the world of financial executives. “Honestly dude,” I explained, “it’s part of being in SOF. You have to be comfortable doing new and difficult things pretty much all the time. It is was makes us the best.”

48 hours later I was on a plane flight back home. Dressed in t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops.

 
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The Las Vegas conference had been a huge success for Jordan and me. We developed relationships with a number of firms that may turn into something down the road. But even more important, I suddenly understood the incredible quality Elite Meet has to offer private companies when we put them in the same room as our SOF attendees. Whether you are a SEAL or any other SOF member, the one skill set you share is the savant-like ability to rapidly become proficient at something totally foreign to you. Combine this with a highly competitive nature, and SOF are naturally incentivized to succeed at everything they do, whether it plays to their strengths or not. SOF are the perfect candidate for employment in the civilian job market.

Whether you are a SEAL or any other SOF member, the one skill set you share is the savant-like ability to rapidly become proficient at something totally foreign to you. Combine this with a highly competitive nature, and SOF are naturally incentivized to succeed at everything they do, whether it plays to their strengths or not. SOF are the perfect candidate for employment in the civilian job market.

Unfortunately, few employers are ever exposed to SOF veterans, and even if they were, they may not fully grasp how to employ these highly trained and versatile men and women. One of the more common concerns I hear from potential employers is that the SOF hire might not be stimulated enough to stick with a job in the corporate sector. Nothing could be further from the truth. Give SOF a challenge, and they will be all in. They are focused on results, and they are focused on success, and they are extremely competitive. These veterans didn’t sign up to become a Navy SEAL or a Green Beret because it was easy; they signed up because it was almost impossible. That is how you bring value to your company with a SOF hire. You give them the hardest and steepest learning curve to climb, a short timeline to climb it, and tell them that the odds are not in their favor. Then you sit back and watch millions of dollars worth of military training go to work for you, as some of the best problem solvers on the planet find a way to help move your company forward.

These veterans didn’t sign up to become a Navy SEAL or a Green Beret because it was easy; they signed up because it was almost impossible.

A SOF veteran is fundamentally different from other veterans you will meet. The level of responsibility handed to even the most junior SOF operator is staggering. As a brand new SEAL I was directly in charge of supplying, training, and leading our partner force, while also briefing and sometimes even leading military operations. Responsibilities are multiplied exponentially for all 20+ year SOF veterans who have been in leadership roles for 15+ years.

A SOF veteran is fundamentally different from other veterans you will meet.

I spoke recently with a SEAL Captain who has over 20 years in the Teams, and he was worried about how he would translate his military skills onto a civilian resume as he prepared for his transition out. This is a man who has been in charge of a $1 billion dollar budget, who has had over 800 people answering to him at one time. The only reason he wouldn’t be the number one employee at his next company is if there was another SOF person working there, then they would compete weekly—with immense good will towards each other— for the top spot.

 
 

SOF don’t want to advertise their own accomplishments. They would much rather advertise the accomplishments of their team and take pride in being part of that team. The corporate world values individual accomplishments and expects individuals to highlight what separates them from their peers. SOF are those rare employees who can and will make any group of people far greater than the sum of its parts, and they are just as comfortable leading from behind as they are leading from the front.

SOF are those rare employees who can and will make any group of people far greater than the sum of its parts, and they are just as comfortable leading from behind as they are leading from the front.

It was only a few months ago that I told Jordan Selleck, a guy who I had just met via LinkedIn, that as a SEAL it was extremely difficult to transition to the civilian world despite what people think. We talked about the knowledge and experience gap that all too often separates elite military veterans from corporate executives. Eventually Jordan just said, “Let’s take your transitioning SOF network and my NYC finance network and put them in a room together and see what happens.”

What happened in the NYC Marriott Marquis hotel in on March 30, 2017 is summed up in the following numbers and notes. But the bottom line is simple: for transitioning SOF, and for CEOs looking for their next great hire, meeting up in the same room is a win-win for both parties.

 
 

If you missed Elite Meet 1, mark your calendar for Elite Meet 2, scheduled for May 23-24 at both 1 World Trade Center 63rd floor, NYC.

Elite Meet 1, NYC

  • 20 transitioning SEAL/SOF attended
  • 5 SEAL/SWCC got job offers w/in 72 hrs of the event
  • 3 senior SEALs w/ 20 yrs experience connected with mentors to help with the transition
  • 1 SEAL/aspiring astronaut got connected to one of the head astronauts on the selection board
  • F-18 pilot got 5 info phone interviews and a mentorship
  • 3 more Elite Meet events scheduled for the year (NYC, SF, VA)

Key Takeaways

  • SOF are fundamentally different from your typical veteran; SOF have had been through a selection program, and have had millions of dollars invested in their ability to perform under any circumstances.
  • You can override anxiety by focusing on and executing immediate tangible goals or you can be destroyed by your anxiety and do nothing. Just know that when you meet someone in SOF, they chose the first option.
  • Despite what the media wants you to think, SOF are terrible at promoting themselves because part of the culture is caring first about your team and country, and last about yourself; that doesn’t mean that they have no transferable skills, they just may not know how to say what they are in civilian language.
  • If you are lucky enough to be interviewing a 20+ year SOF veteran for a position in your company, HIRE THEM! Few people on earth are harder-working or better at whatever job they do.

John Allen

John Allen

Elite Meet