Daniel is the Founder & COO of Veterati, a company that provides Digital Mentorship on Demand, and is designed to empower Americans across the nation to mentor our veterans & connect them to real career opportunities. Daniel served as a Marine Security Guard and Communications Technician for five years in the US Marine Corps. Prior to Founding Veterati, he worked at Scottrade as an Branch Office Account Representative, and as a Personal Security Specialist at International Development Solutions.
Veterati is an incredible resource for Veterans. In this episode we dive into what Veterati does for Veterans, what Veterans can learn from Daniel's experience running Veterati, and also about Daniel's experience starting and growing a for-profit company.
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Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from New York, New York is Daniel Rau, the founder of Veterati. Veterati provides mentorship to veterans across the country. Daniel served as a security guard and communications technician in the Marine Corps. Prior to founding Veterati, he worked at Scottrade as a branch office account representative.
How would you describe Veterati?
In the most simple terms Veterati is a tool to connect with industry insiders. We provide mentorship on demand and in more real terms, we create a platform that allows millions of Americans that want to give back to our military community a way to do that. It’s based around the concept that 80% of professional opportunities come through personal networks.
Having that network is such an enabler of success. What Veterati is in that sense is an augmented network of people that a veteran can step into.
Do you serve veterans looking to go into a particular industry?
We base it around the concept that when someone leaves the military, they are likely going one of three paths which are entrepreneurship, higher education, or employment. So we designed our platform around that. If you want to go into education, you can reach out through Veterati to a network of people that will help you answer your questions. These mentors can give you a safe space to ask dumb questions and help you learn about fields you might want to go into. Mentors are insiders that can offer you their insight and knowledge. We saw that this was a big need for transitioning veterans that wasn’t being filled.
Where did the beginnings of Veterati come from?
In January 2015, I was in Afghanistan doing security contracting. I was having a conversation with my now partner Diana Rau via Skype. She was running a branding agency in Shanghai. I was one of the first service members she had ever met. We had talked about what it was like to go through the transition to the civilian sector. So we decided there might be something we could do to help these veterans. We reached out to six of our friends and asked them about what issues they faced during their transition. We called them the “Original Six”. Through that process we learned a lot and learned that all of these guys got a lot of meaning from connecting with us. So we wanted to scale that to all transitioning veterans.
Are there any trends or misconceptions about what veterans believe the transition will be like?
There’s a couple things people underestimate. The first is that it’s going to take some time. It’s not just having a plan but it’s also an internal growth process. You’re seeing new things, you’re experiencing new things. Some of that just naturally happens as you get out and go along your path.
Another thing is that some people assume it’s going to be better outside the military and that’s not always the case. And that’s another reason to reach out to people in industries you might be interested in. You can explore what working in those jobs actually looks like.
It’s kind of like someone that is a great athlete. They might be awesome at that sport but they probably can’t just step into another sport and immediately succeed. A lot of people have found great success in the military and people assume that they’ll thrive in a new space. And they will but they need to learn the new game and that takes time.
I really love that analogy and I think that’s so true - that you might have succeeded in one space but you probably won’t immediately succeed in another space. That takes time and learning.
That’s right, you need to take the time to sharpen and learn that new skill. Today with Veterati, a transitioning military member or spouse is able to connect with coaches that can really help with that process.
How does the mentorship process work with Veterati?
It really depends on personalities. Some of our mentees have up to 25 mentors or some others like to keep a small cohort of mentors. We tell all of our users to build a group of advisors that can give you different perspectives and lenses so that you’re surrounded on all sides by advisors. That cadence of how often you talk to your mentors might be every two weeks or every week.
And I do the same thing in my own life. When launching Veterati, if I needed legal advice, I would reach out to one mentor and if I needed help with marketing, I would reach out to another mentor.
What does the process look like when someone goes on Veterati’s website and signs up?
If you are a transitioning member, spouse, or child, go to www.veterati.com. Sign up by clicking “Access Mentors”. You’ll be guided through a quick sign up process that usually takes under two minutes. After that you will have access to our entire mentor network. You will be able to see thousands of mentors that are available. Mentors also tell you what times they’re available so you can make an appointment.
If you’d like to sign up as a mentor, it’s basically the same process. You’ll see a button on the Veterati website that says, “Sign up to be a mentor”. You’ll fill out some basic information and then will be added to our list of mentors.
That’s great. It seems like this process will allow people to get in front of mentors in a very timely and effective manner.
Yes that’s exactly what we were going for. We wanted people to be able to get talking to a mentor as quickly as possible. We felt like LinkedIn was awesome so we wanted to concentrate that idea by getting together a bunch of mentors that had already expressed interest in helping veterans. There’s also two other ways to get involved with Veterati. If you’re a company looking to hire, we work directly with companies. And if you’re a non-profit, we can form a partnership with you.
That’s great. So it sounds like you help veterans connect not only to mentors but to jobs as well.
Exactly. Essentially it’s removing barriers within the organization. We are able to let you know who within the company would be happy to talk to you and provide career advice.
What are some of the roadblocks Veterati has faced along the way?
First, I had not started a company before so my biggest challenges was going from idea to market. And that’s what business is, there’s always learning from every angle. It’s one challenge after another. Two years in startup life is like 20 years of working for a corporation. You’re constantly stretching your professional limits.
The second part in this process is learning how to work and deal with people. You may feel like you’re good with people in certain environments but in a startup, you deal with people in an entire spectrum of situations. It’s really a huge learning curve.
I agree wholeheartedly with both of those points. I’ve definitely experienced both of those in my own entrepreneurial journey.
And also, there’s just the reality that you need to own the success or failure of your venture. You can’t point the finger at anyone else.
How did you decide whether you were going to be a for-profit or non-profit business?
Initially Diana and I were up in the air about it. In 2015, we went to a conference for veteran serving nonprofits. However, we decided after that experience that we wanted to maintain our own autonomy. We strived to have a unique funding model which made us a for-profit organization while still providing our services completely free of charge. So we took a stand and went the for-profit route because we believed it would best serve our users.
How are you able to make money while keeping your services free for veterans?
The way we subsidize the whole thing is basically leverage a whitepage version of Veterati for companies to use. It allows organizations to have a human-to-human interaction with veterans that are interested in working for those companies. Companies will pay a sponsorship fee to do this. We also earn money through various advertisements.
Another way we get companies involved is by leveraging the bare bones Veterati so that when a new hire enters a company, they can identify other people at that company that want to help them.
What is it like working with your wife as your business partner and how did you decide on who would have what title?
It’s my first time working with someone I’ve been in a relationship with. Initially, we decided she would be the CEO because she had more experience launching companies. My strengths are more in operations and being detailed focused. So COO is a better fit for me. Diana is more inclined to external facing-type efforts. So we are both able to use our strengths to support the organization.
It’s definitely possible to start a company with someone you’re in a relationship with. It take a lot of trust between you two. It’s an environment where it’s a crucible. Your relationship issues get accelerated and you’re forced to face them head on. I think Diana and I matured much faster as a couple because we launched the company together.
What does a typical day-to-day look like?
Everyday is completely different. You never know what is going to pop up whether it’s a fire you have to put out or a success that’s on the horizon. Usually I get early in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, and go work out. After my workout, I start working on project deliverables. I spent a lot of time working with clients in various phases of relationships with Veterati. I also spend time with other Veterati employees to understand more about what they’re working on. Responding emails also takes up some time in my day. You basically have to build in stops to what you’re doing because it could take over your life. I think burnout is a real thing for entrepreneurs so it’s critical to build in time to recharge yourself.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?
Diana, Thy, and I started Veterati as a way to help transitioning veterans. My top tips for being successful with Veterati is that it’s OK to not know exactly what you want to do after you leave the military. you’re entering a completely foreign environment and there’s going to be a huge learning curve. But there’s a lot of people that want to help you so be open to that. It’s not going to happen it one day, it’s going to be a journey.
I would also advise people to start exploring early. Use Veterati to reach out to people in industries you’re interested in.
Also take action on advice that you’re given. You can find mentors through Veterati or elsewhere but when you receive advice, take action and do the work it’s going to take to move forward.
For any transitioning veterans or veterans that have been out of the military for several years, Veterati is here to help you on your journey.