From multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan to Harvard Business School, friends and business partners Blake Hall and Matthew Thompson are no strangers to taking risks.
The two vets met while students at Harvard Business School and turned an academic project into TroopSwap, a full-fledged e-commerce and daily deals site exclusively for veterans, service members and their families.
The discount site offers up to 90 percent off on everything from skydiving to legal services, vacations and restaurants.
“Joining the services comes with a lot of sacrifice; a lot more than people realize,” says 31-year-old Thompson, who joined the Army at 17 and rose through the ranks to become a captain. “We wanted to give back to the community,” he adds.
Thompson left his job at Goldman Sachs and launched the company in May 2011, at a time when unemployment was particularly high for veterans. While the transition from combat boots to running a 30,000 member e-commerce site was not easy, Thompson says, the skills he acquired in the military translated well into business world.
“I took a calculated risk in believing in myself and the business plan,” he said.
The company employs veterans and military spouses, and gives 10 percent of the company’s profits to the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides programs and support for injured vets.
Thompson talks about how the business got its start, and where he and his business partner, Blake Hall, 29, plan on taking the company from here.
Where did the idea come from?
Blake Hall called me when we were heading back to finish the second year of our MBA and said, "as often as the military moves it's a shame there isn't an exclusive e-commerce platform where the entire community can interact," Thompson said.
That conversation started a year-long academic project during which we surveyed the military community for insights and formed our business plan. "We wanted to create an exclusive community where they [veterans, service members, and military families] can interact and learn about business services," he added.
Where did the funding first come from?
"We were basically college kids, MBA students. We put in the money we were able to contribute on top of the debt from going to business school. The rest was a mix of friends, family and angel investors. The total amount of funding we raised was $3.6 million," said Thompson.
Who was your first customer?
"Our audience is the military community. Our customers are actually the businesses that give back to the military by offering them a special deal or discount through our platform. Our first customer was Larry Pennington at Skydive Suffolk, who has continued to work exclusively with TroopSwap, because of who we serve and the social mission behind our company," he went on to say.
When did you know the company would be a success?
"Every day we have successes and failures. One of those things we work at is to be more successful than the previous day," Thompson said. "I literally pulled more all-nighters for this business than in my entire life and I went to Harvard and served in four back-to-back combat tours."
"It's been a rather arduous process, as I'm sure it is with any start up, but when I look at the talented people we have working at the company, the positive feedback we're receiving from our members and merchants alike, and the investors who took a bet on our idea — I can say we're on the path to building something great," he added.
"We have a lot of great product lines under development that will be launching over the next few months that build on the concept of a fully-integrated military marketplace. We filed a patent for one thing we are doing around intellectual property; I can’t say anything else around that," said Thompson.
"Very soon we will have a military discount line that improves user experience for the military, and makes it easier for merchants to reach people in the military and provide them with special offers. We’re also working on something to bring us where the business plan started. Something like eBay meets Craigslist for the military — a pivot on our initial business plan," he concluded.