I loved this conversation. Jared went from living on the streets to joining the Army to starting his own government contracting company (now with over 190 employees). He is a wealth of honest information for Veterans aspiring to start their own company. He is also the Founder of Warriors Ethos, which helps Wounded Services Members and their families in their career pursuits. Strap in for an incredibly dense interview full of high-quality advice, and a fair amount of inspirational stories.
Jared Shepard is the CEO of Intelligent Waves and the Director of Warriors Ethos. Warriors Ethos is dedicated to providing assistance in the career planning, professional development, and placement of Wounded Service Members, Veterans, and their families throughout their transition. Intelligent Waves is specializes in providing information technology and communications support to a wide variety of U.S. government customers. He spent 7 years in the Army as an infantry and communications Soldier, worked as a government contractor, and then started his own IT government contracting company.
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.
LinkedIn - he loves the videos on LinkedIn (Hire our Heroes especially) to prepare for your transition
YouTube - “how to start your own business” “what is a wrap rate” all sorts of incredible content on YouTube.
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Restin, Virginia is Jared Shepard. Jared Shepard is the CEO of Intelligent Waves and the Director of Warriors Ethos. Warriors Ethos is dedicated to providing assistance in the career planning, professional development, and placement of Wounded Service Members, Veterans, and their families throughout their transition. Intelligent Waves is specializes in providing information technology and communications support to a wide variety of U.S. government customers. He spent 7 years in the Army as an infantry and communications Soldier, worked as a government contractor, and then started his own IT government contracting company.
Can you talk about your transition out of the Army?
Originally, I joined the Infantry and I loved it. It taught me the fundamentals of leadership that I’ve carried with me throughout my life. One of the hardest decisions I ever made was to get out of the Infantry and work in Army communications instead.
My final job in the military was as a communications NCO for a three-star General. I didn’t get to go to a lot of military transition classes because I was traveling a lot in my position with the General. My advice to people getting out is to really focus on your transition. Give yourself time to think about want you want to do. I didn’t do that. Because of that, my transition was more difficult. I didn’t go to an disability appointments to see if I could receive compensation.
I was focused on the mission. And while that’s valiant, you really need to make time for yourself during your transition and making sure you’re ready.
And even when you get out of the military, you have to learn how to balance that. As an entrepreneur, the most important thing I’ve learned is how to make time for myself. When you get out, things aren’t as regimented and you have to learn how to make time to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
How would you explain Intelligent Waves?
We’re up to 192 employees which is awesome. When I first got out, I wanted to continue to have an impact on these missions. So I thought I was going to go get a GS job. So I went to work for the Army Corps as a consultant. I also had various certifications which helped me get hired in that first job.
Intelligent Waves started out as a downrange IT service company. I had had a couple years of experience as a civilian advisor in Iraq. I was given the advice during this time that I should start my own company.
I started the company with the intent of supporting the warfighter. But over time it became more of an impact focus IT services company. We use advanced technology to help customers become more successful and more technologically secure.
What were your initial thoughts about starting your own company?
IT is one of the places in which certifications count for more than higher education. I’m the atypical guy to be where I’m at today. I dropped out of high school and was living in the backseat of a car when I joined the Army. I didn’t have formal education that most people have in the professional world. But I had enough certifications that I was able to get a job and then my performance allowed me to continue forward.
When my friend told me that I should start my own company, I thought he was crazy. My boss at the time was Colonel Joe Anderson. I went to talk to him about my idea to start my own company. He didn’t care as long I was still working toward the same goal of helping people downrange which is what I wanted to do.
When you start your own business, it’s a big risk. A lot of people ask about how much it costs to start your own business. But they’re only thinking in terms of money. What I tell people is that it takes 100% of your time and 100% of your risk. If you look at unsuccessful companies, a lot of that can be drawn back to a company being unwilling or unable to devote 100% time or risk.
Could you have started your own company right after leaving the military?
I believe it was absolutely critical to get experience working in the civilian sector first. There’s a lot of people that come to me that tell me that they want to do the same thing that I did. But I really encourage them to get some work experience before starting their own business.
The military teaches you many valuable skills and qualities. What you don’t learn, though, is about money. What money does to people, businesses, and organizations. There is so much that is impacted by money. It’s not just saving money. It’s more on an organization scale or how money impacts companies, understanding profits/losses, and understanding how to negotiate contracts.
Do you have any resources that you would recommend?
YouTube and LinkedIn are your friends. LinkedIn has some great content that is specifically aimed at transitioning veterans. Realize that in the world today, one source is not enough. Look to multiple sources to get information. The more you can prepare and learn, the better chance you will find success in negotiations and interviews.
When you started Intelligent Waves, how long was it before it was a profitable company?
When I started the company, I took all of my savings and a loan from a friend and used that to finance myself.
With my first employee, we went a couple months before I could pay him so I just paid his bills in the meantime. I didn’t get my first dollar in pay until 80 days in. The first thing I did was deploying to Iraq. So it was costly to buy airline tickets and get us going. I had to find creative ways to make sure my bills were still being paid.
You’re now 12 years into this. What does your day-to-day look like?
Elon Musk once said that if you want to change the world, it’s going to take over 80 hours a week. But it’s not 80 hours a week sitting behind a desk. We’re very mobile in today’s world. A couple weeks ago, I took my daughters to Disney World but was still able to take phone calls while we were waiting in line.
My daughters are my alarm clock in the morning - usually around 6 o’clock. First thing in the morning, I hit the gym. I head into the office and usually get on a conference call. Typically I eat lunch in the office. As the CEO, most of my day is in and out of meetings. I leave the office around 7 pm. I spend a good amount of time on the road as well.
How did Warriors Ethos come about?
We’re about 5 years into it now. I built the first Counter IDD Operational Intelligence Center at Camp Victory. We were doing our first counter IDD brief to General Odierno. We were briefing him on how to best respond to IED. At one point in the meeting, General Odierno met privately with his General Officers and I had the opportunity to be there for that meeting. He spoke about how important it was to protect our troops. His son lost an arm to an IED so it’s something that’s very important to him personally.
We grow up thinking that the ultimate sacrifice to your country is giving your life. But I realized during General Odierno’s speech that that’s not the only way to sacrifice. If you come back from war and you’ve lost a limb or suffered mental trauma, that’s also an ultimate sacrifice because you will never go back to the way you were before.
So at that point, the desire in me to use my company to give back really grew in me. A couple years later I wrote a check to the Wounded Warrior Project. We raised $125,000 to donate to them. After a few years, I was one of their biggest donors. But I was starting to have some questions about how much of that money was actually getting down to the soldier.
But with non-profits, it’s really important to peel back the layers of how the organization is spending its money. For example, with Wounded Warrior Project, they had a Super Bowl advertisement spot donated to them which was worth over $3 million. But they were unable to use that for anything other than a commercial. So it counted as donation money going to advertisement. So their hands were a bit tied with that.
Still when I started to look more closely at Wounded Warrior Project, I did see some things I didn’t like. In particular, executive compensation. So we ultimately parted ways.
Another organization I was really involved with was Special Operations Warrior Foundation. I went to a gala and met a young man in a wheelchair after suffering injuries from an IED. He had worked in communications in the military but now that he was paralyzed, he didn’t know what he wanted to do.
Ultimately, I gained permission to mentor some of the Special Forces guys from Walter Reed including the young man that I had spoken to. I was able to give them some corporate exposure and help them adjust to life outside the military.
Eventually it was suggested to me that I start my own non-profit. That turned out to be Warriors Ethos. The organization is aimed at helping people successfully transition out of the military into life on the outside. At the time 22 veterans a day were committing suicide. There’s a lot of negativity about veterans like suicide, unemployment, and family problems. We have to help change that narrative. With Warriors Ethos is to help transitioning veterans not fear what comes next. We want to help them find their next mission.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?
One of my first mentors told me that the idea of mentorship comes out of a desire to give back, even in times when it’s inconvenient. When you’re a mentor, you will give a mentee lots of information. But they’ll probably only take away about 10%. That can be frustrating but at the same time, even if someone takes away 10% of what you’re saying, that can be huge for them.
There are so many mentors out there. I’m running my own company and non-profit. But there have been multiple mentors along the way that have helped me grow. You can learn from anyone around you. People will help you if you have a mindset of being receptive to that help. You have to have the ability to ask and accept help.
I built my company around surrounding myself with people that are smarter than me. I learn from them and I’m able to share ideas with them too.