Mike has such an original and transparent take about the military transition. Starting with his own unexpected departure from the military due to an injury, and how he had to overcome this adversity. We talk about the importance of having a “side hustle” and how Mike has published 9 books, one of which was the #1 book on Amazon’s military section (as well as one which was #6). We talk about entrepreneurship and all the things that you NEVER hear entrepreneurs talk about. And we talk about avoiding a comparative mindset, and all the pitfalls that leads to.
Mike Nemeth is the Founder of Emblem Athletic - the easiest way to get custom athletic gear for your team - which provides custom athletic apparel to thousands of athletes across the country, from high school teams, private gyms, to members of the US Olympic team. He started out at West Point, was unexpectedly medically discharged, worked in the defense sector in both industry and a government contractor, and then started his own company. He's also currently on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship with the Dept. of Commerce. He is also the author of 9 books, one of which reached #1 on Amazon’s best-selling military books list.
StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
Mike is a published author of 9 books. He has written children’s books as well as non-fiction and history books. His book Discipline: The Annapolis Way reached #1 on the Amazon Best Seller list. https://www.amazon.com/Mike-J-Nemeth/e/B0061E532O
Mike’s athletic gear company Emblem Athletic - https://www.emblemathletic.com
United States Department of Commerce - National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship https://www.eda.gov/oie/nacie/members/2016-18/mnemeth.htm
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Columbus, OH is Mike Nemeth. Mike is the Founder of Emblem Athletic, which provides custom athletic apparel to thousands of athletes across the country, from high school teams, private gyms, to members of the US Olympic team. He started out at West Point, was unexpectedly medically discharged, worked in the defense sector in both industry and a government contractor, and then started his own company. He's also currently on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship with the Department of Commerce. He is also the author of 9 books, one of which reached #1 on Amazon’s best-selling military books list.
Could you talk a little bit about your discharge from the military?
I was injured running in the Marine Corps Marathon. It was a heat injury - my body had a core temperature of 108° and I was in a coma for a short time. I had some pretty serious medical issues afterwards so the Army decided to separate me. I left after completing just one year of service. So it wasn’t a smooth transition. I had a hard time figuring out how to fit into what people thought of as a transitioning veteran. I felt like I really hadn’t done anything in the military and I felt really guilty about that. So I didn’t figure out what I wanted to right off the bat.
I moved to New York City and started from scratch. I reached out to whoever I knew to start making connections. And I started to try out a couple different jobs and found that I did not like most of them. It was tough to transition with such an undistinguished career. I found that you have to give yourself time to find your way and sometimes it’s not a process you can rush.
The idea of moving on was a hard one for me just because I was so excited and proud to serve in the Army. The first opportunity I had afterwards was doing some finance work in New York City and frankly, it was a terrible job. As I started to build more connections, people would advise me to leave that job because it really wasn’t a good position. But it was hard for me to quit. I had it in my head that I was going to make it work. So I ended up staying there for way too long.
The military can build a sense of dedication and perseverance which is amazing. But that can end up not serving you well in the civilian job market because you end up staying in a job position for too long.
Yeah it’s tough to say ‘I quit’. But if you frame it around giving yourself and the employer an opportunity to find a better fit, that can make it easier.
You run a pretty large alumni newsletter. How did this come about?
For the West Point grads in the audience, I run an alumni newsletter called Center Stall. When I was a cadet, I used to write underground newsletters that we would email out to contacts in each barracks. My friends would print them out and put them up in the bathrooms where the officers wouldn’t find time. When I was medically separated, I was angry and bitter and wanted nothing to do with the military. But eventually I turned my perspective around and realized that I had an opportunity to give back. I had an audience from the newsletters during my time at West Point so I picked that back up. It’s provided a creative outlet for me and has allowed me to meet some great people. It’s something that I will continue doing for the rest of my life.
Do you have any advice for veterans regarding networking?
Right after I left the military, I had a negative view of networking because I felt like I wasn’t being genuine or authentic. But I really think you need to take a different view of it and see it as an opportunity to help other people too. We’re talking today because of networking. One of the first people I met after I left the military was a fellow West Point grad that I cold emailed. I was interested in learning more about what he was doing. He’s now one of my great friends. You just need to make it genuine. If you don’t have any interest in what people are doing, they will see right through you. When you’re transitioning or right after is a great time to reach out to people. More often than not, people are really interested in helping out.
Some really prepared and thoughtful questions when you meet someone can make a big difference. Networking isn’t easy but the impact it can have on your career is tremendous. And it continues throughout your career. It’s not just a means to get a job but rather something that can really add overall value to your career.
How did you get into writing children’s books?
I didn’t really see any kids books that I wanted to read to my own children. Growing up, my family owned a bunch of bars and restaurants. So I wrote a book called “Daddy’s Favorite Juice” which is an alcohol kid’s book. That one was purely a creative outlet. I had not other publishing aspirations other than just getting it out there.
So I started with the children’s books and then I got into some more serious non-fiction writing. I wrote Six Word War with a West Point classmate of mine. This book reached #6 on the Amazon Best Seller List. I wrote a book about a year ago named Discipline: The Annapolis Way which reached #1 on the Amazon Best Seller List. I find books to be a great creative outlet.
I try to do a good creative project every year. The ones that you think are going to be successful turn out to be complete duds. And then others will really catch you off guard with their success.
What advice do you have for people that want to write their own book?
From my perspective, it’s about what you want to get out of publishing a book. For me, the children’s books I wrote were just for me and I really didn’t have much expectations for them.
If you’ve ever wanted to write a book, there’s really nothing stopping you. Amazon has a great self publishing platform. There’s plenty of other pay to play books.
I would tell people to have low expectations. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not anything for me that I want to make a full-time endeavor. For me it’s a side hustle that I really enjoy doing.
I love that you have the goal of one creative project per year.
I view it as a habit and part of my schedule. Otherwise, I turn into such a perfectionist that the project never gets out. For me, doing one project a year forces me to not be so obsessed with getting it right before it goes out. That has made a difference in helping get these projects out. Otherwise, I would sit there and try to get them perfect for years before ever getting them out.
What have you learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey?
We always try to put our best face forward. On LinkedIn or other platforms, I’m not going to list all my failures. But I’ve had a lot of them and it hasn’t been easy. You don’t know until you put things out there. If you talk to and network with entrepreneurs, you’ll learn how many times they had to fail before they got it right.
With Emblem, it’s been one of my simple ideas. But the idea of just being really focused on one specific thing is often what works best. I’ve often had really complicated ideas and those have often failed.
I don’t think it’s best to become an entrepreneur immediately after transitioning. I think it can be really valuable to give yourself the time to learn about a particular industry. Then you can start your entrepreneurship journey as a side hustle and work from there.
Feedback is important to. You can’t ask only your friends and family, either, because they’re going to be too nice to you. This can give you a false sense of security. With Emblem Athletic, I knew it was working well when people I didn’t even know were enthusiastic about the product.
There’s somehow this myth that being your own boss affords you all kind of free time. If you enjoy watching television and playing videogames, entrepreneurship is not the right fit for you. Emblem Athletic is a global operation. I start my day with some sort of fitness. Then I’m going all day. I’m working until well past midnight some nights. It’s a lot of work and there are not shortcuts. It’s not glamorous - the effort to make it all happen is tremendous.
I highly recommend the book Shoe Dog to your listeners. It is the most realistic depiction of business that I’ve seen. This book made me laugh so hard because Nike was a hot mess for 20 years. The founder was facing crisis after crisis but he always found time to go for a long run.
You received an MBA from Ohio State University. What’s your take on the value of an MBA?
My path to the MBA program at Ohio State was through Sikorsky. I was working there at the time on the engineering side but wanted to get more into the business side but I wasn’t qualified. So for me, it was important to hit the re-set button on my career. So I went into the program thinking the greatest value would be the academics. But as it turned, out the best part was being able to build connections and networks outside of the military. I was very happy with the program and to get back into that mode of introducing myself to people and learning more about what they did.
Grad school isn’t essential for anyone but if you want to be an entrepreneur, I do think it helps give you resources and a network.
Can you talk more about your involvement with the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship?
It’s an all-volunteer group in its third iteration. There’s about 30 of us in the group and we serve as perspective for what it’s like on the front lines of entrepreneurship. Before I started Emblem Athletic, I was in defense entrepreneurship where we had a couple companies that were involved in that space. The Commerce Department is always interested in learning new ways to make America more competitive. For me, it’s been a great experience to see a little bit behind the curtain and see how policy decisions are made.
For anyone that is willing to give back, these kinds of things can be a really valuable experience. The opportunities to volunteer are out there. Any city that you’re in will have a Chamber of Commerce so you can start there.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
The comparison game is really difficult to overcome. You might look at others and think you don’t have as much to offer or give. But if you really ask thoughtful questions, you’ll realize that everyone has things they struggle with or are trying to improve. Everyone has things they can contribute. Reach out to people with authentic intentions and you’ll really go far.