Just three years after leading a sniper team in Iraq, former Army Captain Blake Hall has had some early success creating a daily deals site for servicemen, veterans and their dependents called TroopSwap.
Hall didn’t initially plan to be an entrepreneur. When he left the Army, he said his battalion commander refused to write him a recommendation letter unless he applied to Harvard Business School. Hall was accepted, and quickly did well. He thought he might wind up at a prominent consulting firm, but while taking part in an internship he and another veteran, Matt Thompson, realized they would rather break off on their own and target a market they knew well — the military.
TroopSwap caught the eye of several angel investors including Kelly Perdew, a former Army Ranger, “Apprentice’” television show winner and chief executive of TargetClose, a company optimizing customer engagement for online ads.
Perdew happened to be a member of FirstWave, a group of approximately 100 investors whose “mission is to support other veteran entrepreneurs,” according to Hall.
After connecting with Perdew, TroopSwap was able to raise a significant part of its seed funding through First Wave.
“From there, we had access to everything we needed—capital, great advice, connections, because of how influential these people were,” Hall said.
As veterans in tech, “they understood my background.” Today, TroopSwap has raised $2.6 million in equity financing.
Currently in the reserves, former Staff Sgt. Nigel LeBlanc served in the Air Force from 1999 to 2008 and was later deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq as a field service engineer.
He launched his hairstyle-focused social networking and user review site this summer, patterning Houston-based Hairslayer after Pinterest and allowing stylists and their customers to post pictures of their favorite styles online. LeBlanc founded the business when he realized it was “recession proof — no matter what happens, people still need to get their hair done.”
LeBlanc is now in the process of trying to secure funding to grow his startup.
He has tried applying for the Small Business Administration’s Patriot Express Pilot Loan, which targets veterans and service members looking to establish businesses, but has so far not been able to secure financing.
“Without funding, it’s a Catch-22,” he said. “Someone needs to be embedded in these federal agencies who does business development or who understands what it takes to do a tech start-up.”
Alfonzo Brooks, a former F-16 avionics craftsman who served six years in the Air Force before joining the National Guard, found a novel way to finance his idea for a photo-printing and shipping service he calls Fotopigeon.