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Posted at 06:23 PM ET, 08/08/2012

Veteran tech CEO’s key to success is finding a “champion”

Kelly Perdew has founded and led at least three Internet companies, won the second season of “The Apprentice,” served as the executive vice president of the Trump Foundation, and is a former Army Ranger. He has also written a book on leadership principles learned from the military.

For Perdew, entrepreneurship comes naturally. As a seasoned businessman and veteran, Perdew’s advice for new entrepreneurs hinges on networking. “You need to find a champion who will speak highly on your behalf to their networks,” he said. Success depends on “finding those individuals who ‘get’ it – whatever you’re working on.”

Perdew was one such champion for veteran Blake Hall, who led a sniper team in Iraq, when Hall came to Perdew with an idea for a daily-deals site called TroopSwap for veterans, servicemen, and their families.


Kelly Perdew suggests veterans network to find influential people to “champion” their ideas. (Rebecca D’Angelo - FTWP)
“These are heroes who are creating a company designed to help military members and their families, and they’re doing neat stuff along the way,” Perdew said – for example, the company employs a significant number of veterans and their spouses.

These days, Perdew, and almost a hundred others like him, are part of a group called FirstWave, which seeks to help other veterans make the transition from the military to the business world. FirstWave members offer advice mainly, and sometimes connections to money. Other prominent FirstWave members who backed TroopSwap include LegalZoom.com president and chief operation officer Frank Monestere, a former Green Beret, and BetterWorks founder Paige Craig, a former Marine.

“We thought of a first wave where we could break through some of the barriers,” veterans face when they re-enter the civilian workplace, Perdew said, explaining that when servicemen leave the military as junior or mid-level officers, they often don’t have a clear explanation of what has been happening in the civilian sector.

“Generally, when you’re in the military, you’ve pretty much got a job — a really stringent chain of command, and significant boundaries. Entrepreneurship is almost the exact opposite. Almost no rules, significant freedom,” he said.

He advised new entrepreneurs to embrace the risk. People afraid of starting new businesses “think risk is not being able to pay bills. [Successful] entrepreneurs look at risk as being in control of your own destiny. As an entrepreneur, have even more people to report to, but you do it on your own terms, and it gives you flexibility in how you operate.”

Perdew and the other FirstWave members are particularly interested in helping businesses by military veterans or servicemembers that want to help those in the military. In addition to TroopSwap, Perdew said FirstWave has thrown its support an app called GoingMyWay, which aggregates information about the users’ local, public and private transportation options to calculate the most cost effective choice. GoingMyWay piqued the interest of investors at FirstWave because of its “ramifications for fuel,” he said.

Perdew emphasized the importance of finding influential individuals who like you and your idea, regardless of the industry. Even if you’re talking to venture capitalists, Perdew explained, personally connecting with a champion is “a thousand times better.”

By  |  06:23 PM ET, 08/08/2012

 
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