We had an interesting chat with Mr. “Sean González”, Founder & President of the Kansas-USA based start-up “VetLaunch”
Below is the interview we conducted with him:
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about
VetLaunch empowers military veterans through entrepreneur educational resources and our crowd-funding campaign site. Veteran Entrepreneurs have the ability to create their own jobs and the jobs for hundreds of other military veterans.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
VetLaunch Inc. was founded in January 2014 here in Kansas City, Kansas. We are currently testing our beta version and raising a seed investment round that will allow us to reach our first milestone.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
We provide educational resources within a community portal where veteran entrepreneurs can attend webinars and read articles of lessons learned. A veteran entrepreneur can then transfer over to the crowd-funding site and raise money for their start-up by utilizing the veteran support network that follows our site.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Sean McIntosh and Dan Parker met while attending the University of Kansas. Sean McIntosh is the President & Founder and establishes strategic relationships and conducts business development. Dan Parker is the Director of Outreach and finds military veterans that want to become entrepreneurs.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
Our community portal that is internal to our website separates us from current crowd-funding sites. We believe that by connecting veterans to to other veteran entrepreneurs, by providing educational resources, and having military veterans potentially create companies together, our crowd-funding campaigns will have a greater success rate. We are the only crowd-funding site that has this ability and does not rely on external websites to allow campaign creators to interact with each other.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
We are still in a beta testing phase and are not pursuing growth as of yet. Our Twitter following has organically grown to almost 9,000 users though which we are excited about and eager to convert to website users. We are excited about 3 of our campaigns which are currently raising money and several others that will be released shortly.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
Our competitors are Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and GoFundMe. We feel that crowd-funding will become more niche and that campaign support communities will become more established. Our niche community will support military veteran entrepreneurs and make them more successful than the average Indiegogo/Kickstarter campaign.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
Our biggest challenge is educating military veteran entrepreneurs on how to prepare a successful crowd-funding campaign. It is much more difficult than simply throwing together video and some basic content. Successful campaigns engage with their customers at each % level of the campaign to reach their goal.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Crowd-funding is going to continue to grow and start replacing traditional small bank loans. The marketing value of a crowd-funding campaign outweighs by itself the need to get a loan. Entrepreneurs kill two birds with one stone by establishing a customer and support base while raising money for their startup.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
We are going to succeed because military veterans already have billions of dollars of training and leadership experience provided to them by the government and make great entrepreneurs. Additionally, the military veteran entrepreneur community is under-served. There is a large focus on providing veterans jobs, we are taking the next step and saying that a traditional career is not the best choice for all veterans and there are simply not jobs out there for many senior veterans.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
We will expand into providing entrepreneur conferences that will be networking opportunities and allow vendors to connect with veteran treps. These conferences will also be paired up with a pitch contest that allows selected vet treps to pitch their ideas to angel investors.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
At my last job in the military I had a $14 million dollar training budget and was in charge of 61 people. This was a significant leadership position within my training command, however upon leaving the military I found it difficult to obtain a loan. I spent a lot of time learning about the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform bill and the new JOBS Act which led me to believe there is over regulation, and an enormous problem / gap in services. VetLaunch was created from the need to solve this problem.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
We have learned that competing against giants like Indiegogo and Kickstarter is difficult, but not impossible. All new concepts and trends eventually become more niche. We feel that crowd-funding will continue to become more mainstream, but it will be slow steady growth as people become more comfortable with it.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
We feel that handling all of the new campaigns and providing the same level of service to each campaign to prepare them for a successful raise will be the biggest problem. We know from our research that the demand is there, handling it will be our biggest challenge.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
We are often asked by non-veterans on how they can contribute to military veterans. What better way than to empower veteran entrepreneurs to create their own jobs and the jobs of others. Entrepreneurship is at a 40 year low in the US because of the over-regulation and over-taxation. The benefit for the campaign contributor is that they are directly creating jobs in their communities.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Through social media and from listening to podcasts that we have been invited to become guests on recently. We have also recently attended non-profit events that are directly related to assisting military veterans and found users there.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
All of our current users are military veterans or military charities that are seeking to raise money for their causes. Our target customers are veterans from previous conflicts that want to support current conflict veterans (Iraq & Afghanistan) and impact investors that want their money to have an impact on under-served communities.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
New customers come from social media referrals and from users that have tried to raise money on other sites like indiegogo or kickstarter and have failed. We love to help these campaign creators become successful on our site. Military veteran entrepreneurs use Vetlaunch because it allows them to tap into their community directly and we provide educational resources.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Our customers want to see more activity from our charity campaigns. We will be rolling out a new sub-program and marketing plan to specifically address this problem.
20. How are you going to scale?
We are going to scale by creating regional military veteran entrepreneur conferences throughout the Untied States. Additionally, we are working on strategic partnerships with existing veteran support organizations like the VFW, American Legion, Student Veterans of America, and new veteran organizations like Team Rubicon.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
We have a strategic partnership pending that will allow us to plug in a equity crowd-funding portal into our site to serve veterans that are looking to raise angel/VC investment money. This partnership will round out our capabilities and make our site one stop shopping for veteran entrepreneurs and investors that want to connect with them.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
We are going to consider helping military veterans in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia by setting up affiliated partner sites. We will attempt to roll out our first international site in the UK and see how that market reacts.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
Approximately 250,000 military veterans leave the United States military each year and there are currently 22 million veterans alive according to the 2012 census. A recent Pew Research poll of transitioning military veterans found that 44% favored becoming their own boss through entrepreneurship instead of starting a traditional career.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We are looking to hire 3 business development account executives within the next 2 months. We currently do not have any job vacancies, but will be growing as we put together angel/VC rounds of investment. Applicants can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
Yes, we are looking for strategic partnerships with accelerators, incubators, and co-working spaces that want to help military veteran entrepreneurs. Our campaign creators will transfer into these programs post campaign. We are also seeking angel investors for our initial round of seed funding. Investors can contact me at email@example.com
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
We strongly believe that entrepreneurs should not be afraid of failure. There is a saying in Silicon Valley that goes, Fail early, Fail Often which we believe in because being an entrepreneur means executing unknown business plans and models.
27. Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
By empowering military veteran entrepreneurs, VetLaunch can help create hundreds of companies and thousands of jobs that will be led by military veterans with leadership, management, and financial training from the military. The United States government spends billions of dollars per year training and developing military veterans, we feel that this training should be transferred over to entrepreneurship.