According to a study by the Small Business Administration, veterans are 45 percent more likely to become entrepreneurs than individuals without active-duty experience. That’s brought directly to life on Thumbtack, where ten percent of the 250,000+ local service professionals using the platform to find new customers and grow their jobs are also U.S. military veterans.
We talked to some of Thumbtack’s successful veterans to explore the link between military training and small business success—and to learn what other small business owners might take away from their hard-won lessons.
Here’s what we learned.
“As a Marine everything I do has to be up to inspection day standards,” Scott Culp of Power Clean Pressure Washing in Thornton, Colorado told us. Scott, whose father and grandfather also served in the military, spent eight years (1986-1994) as a U.S. Marine before returning home to start a power washing service of his own.
“That same Marine determination to make sure the job is done well, that’s what my customers get every time,” say Scott. “Small, seemingly minor things, like how you dispose of the water you use can mean the difference between cleaning someone’s property and destroying it. I see it all the time.”
Being prepared is integral to doing honest work, according to Scott. “When I entered this industry I learned everything I could, from EPA regulations to best practices. If I’m taking on a job, I want to be totally sure that I’m prepared to do it right.”
When he started his business nine years ago, it was just Scott and a small pressure washer that friends and neighbors paid him to use on their driveways and fences. He’s come a long way since then—and a lot of that success he attributes to the customers he’s found on Thumbtack. “Getting on Thumbtack was a whole new ball game,” Scott explained.
In January, Scott started the year off by investing in a $31,000 cleaning system, complete with a water retention system and vacuum—making him eligible for a huge pool of jobs that require pros to be EPA compliant.
In the face of growing success, Scott remains true to his military values. “Honesty is huge, and you can’t be selfish. If a job will take you an hour put aside an hour and a half to make sure you do it right. That’s what integrity means.”
Learn to Adapt
Jeff Rumans joined the Marine Corp a year after high school, in search of his next big challenge. He was in for more than he bargained for—both in the military and in the world that waited for him outside it. Jeff, who finished his service in 2008, returned from duty to a country plunged deep into recession. Jeff wasn’t immune to the economic downturn—full-time job opportunities for the Kansas City native were few and far between.
So Jeff went back to school on the GI bill, giving himself to explore his next step while the economy crawled toward recovery. “I knew wanted to do something creative and work for myself. Then a friend of mine let me borrow his camera and I fell in love. I enrolled at Kansas University to study film and media,” Jeff told us. In 2012, degree in hand, Jeff moved to California. In a new city with no clients or connections, Jeff was stumped on how to find customers. So he turned to Thumbtack.
On Thumbtack, Jeff made connections that would have been otherwise impossible as a solo entrepreneur starting out—everything from photographing bat caves in Northern California to taking backstage photos at a Darius Rucker concert.
“I’ve had clients say right off the bat that they hired me because I was a veteran,” Jeff says. And according to Jeff, there’s good reason to do so. “You never know what kind of opportunity you’re going to get in this industry. Being adaptable and having a strong sense of mission accomplishment—getting the job done no matter what—are so important to succeeding as an entrepreneur. I owe a lot of how I run my business to my military training.”
Face Your Fears
When Adam Johnson signed up to be an Army cadet in 1994, he was eighteen years old and ready to learn something new. “The military gave me the ultimate training for life,” explains Adam. “My time in the service was a blend of so many different fields and skills, and as someone who loves working with their hands it was the perfect place for me.”
Today, Adam is running a five star pest control business on Thumbtack, with over 280 jobs completed since first joining in 2015. But that wasn’t always the case. When he was first starting out, Adam catered mainly to close friends and family members. Over time his business began to grow and Adam had a decision to make. Deciding to pursue his business full-time required a considerable leap of faith, one Adam couldn’t have made without Thumbtack or his years of military training.
“Being in the military you’re brought together with so many people who are different from you. The one thing tying you all together is the fear—and you have to get over it fast if you want to succeed,” says Adam.
But bravery is just the beginning when you’re starting your own business, and Adam credits his military background with helping him every step of the way. “You have to work well with customers but you also have to be something of a nerd, both of which I learned to do in the Army. Things like chemicals and traps have to be dealt with using extreme precision or the outcome can be catastrophic,” says Adam.
Adam’s advice for future veteran business owners is simple. “In the end, owning a business is all about execution. You implement a plan, see how it goes, and move forward from there. Time and patience is important. Take the time to grow and get better and you’ll get better results.”
Doing What You Love Takes Discipline
“I’ve never encountered an obstacle as difficult as I faced in the military,” Mark Avery told us of his time as a Marine. Three decades later, Mark still remembers his Marine Corps training as the most rigorous challenge of his life. “I learned self-discipline and to think for myself. I think some people think of soldiers as robots. In reality, it’s the opposite.”
Upon returning from duty, Mark began working as a registered nurse, a choice he credits to his lifelong interest in caring for others—the same compulsion that drove him to enlist in the first place. But after 20 years, the harsh hours and steep pressures of the nursing industry began to wear on him.
“I got to the point where I wanted to take a step back from such a fast-paced career and be my own boss,” says Mark. The lifelong guitarist wanted to do something that he really loved, and something that would still provide him with the gratification of helping others. Signing up as a guitar instructor on Thumbtack checked both boxes. Today, Mark teaches lessons full-time—nearly 90 in the last year alone. “It’s the same outlook I had with nursing,” he explains. “Someone is struggling and you help them get to a better, stronger place.”
Running a business is a new challenge for Mark, but one that he’s prepared for. “When you’re your own boss like I am now, self-discipline is everything. Even 20-some-odd years later, it’s that lesson that keeps pushing me to get better and build my own business.”
From One Vet to Another
Last Veteran’s Day Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, a Legion of Merit awardee and inspirational speaker on Thumbtack, shared this advice on how to support and honor the veterans in your life—a message that’s just as true today as when she first delivered it months ago:
“A lot of people say, ‘I support the veterans.’ But it’s far better to take action. Hire a veteran to do the job. Treat a veteran to a cup of coffee. Even the simple act of asking them to share their story means so much. Especially Vietnam veterans, they came back to a society that had turned it’s back on them. Recently a friend of mine thanked a Vietnam vet for his service and the vet started to cry because no one had thanked him before. Investing time in these people is how you can honor them.”