Marlon Terrell – Founder Of RepayVets – Talks Crowdfunding And Money For Vets Returning From Duty
Serving in the U.S. military is decision that comes with a great deal of sacrifice. While it’s not for everyone but for those that do decide to serve their country in this form, this level of dedication takes true discipline. Going overseas and serving is an experience that will undoubtedly mark a soldier. The transition back to civilian life isn’t always as smooth as one hopes.
Marlon Terrell hopes to change this as founder of RepayVets. A veteran himself, Terrell founded RepayVets as a way for veterans to crowdsource funds for their business projects. Focusing on military veteran entrepreneurs and not for profit organizations, RepayVets’ aim is to support military men and women returning home after duty by helping find money for vets.
It’s a particular time in which we can potentially crowdfund a group of hard-working and self-sacrificing individuals returning to their homes and society after battle. As I see it, RepayVets is the private sector creatively creating a solution to a social issue in the best possible manner.
Recently, I had a chance to ask founder Marlon Terrell a number of questions regarding RepayVets and about how his vision of RepayVets reflects his own perception and experience as a veteran. Here’s what Marlon shared with us:
Why did you want to focus your startup on military veterans specifically?
Having graduated from the naval academy and currently serving in the military myself, I have a natural interest in veteran-related matters. I also believe that providing a service, such as RepayVets, is something that our service personnel deserve. Transitioning back to civilian life can be hard, and any help we can offer them is great for veterans, for customers, and for businesses.
Besides myself, I have several relatives who have served in the military, including my mother. I have seen many sides of the military lifestyle and really enjoy working with others who are submerged in it.
Can you describe what a veteran perceives when he or she returns from duty in terms of the economic landscape and employment?
Servicemen and -women, by nature, are not afraid of challenges, so when they return from duty, they try their best to be successful at whatever they pursue, whether it’s applying for a corporate job or creating their own business. The issue is that, sometimes, their skills are not easily understood by employers or lending sources that can help them get their businesses off the ground. We started RepayVets specifically to address the latter.
Do you feel our culture, society, and government does enough to welcome back and support our military after they’ve returned, in light of their sacrifices?
There are public and private programs that do a solid job assisting our veterans, but more should be done when you consider the huge sacrifice that service folks make. Our society, for the most part, is very appreciative of the sacrifices our servicemen and -women make and truly want to give back, but knowing that and deciding how is not always clear. This is, in part, why we created RepayVets; it’s a platform that helps the average person assist a veteran, clearly and simply.
What do you feel veterans have to offer, as entrepreneurs, to the business landscape?
As entrepreneurs, veterans bring a respect for their trade and the customers that they serve. The ability to take pride in the smallest tasks, the tasks that are not visible to those outside looking in, can be the key to success. Veteran entrepreneurs are more likely to run their businesses behind the scenes in the same manner they would if their customers were standing there, watching, because that’s the attitude that the military demands.
What are some of the projects you’re most excited about?
It’s challenging to pick as we have heard numerous great ideas; however, the first project to post on our site will always have a special place in our memories. It was an interchangeable fitness jump-rope system that was designed by a Navy lieutenant. The project was successful in reaching its goal, but even more exciting were the business contacts that the project owner was able to gain during his fundraising stint on RepayVets, which will help him as he moves forward with his company. In addition, I personally purchased one of his rope systems and use it quite often. It’s great!
Do these projects receive any federal funding in light of the sacrifices (their own lives, family, time) veterans make for The United States? If not, do you think they should receive any federal assistance considering their contributions?
The projects do not receive any federal funding, although we believe they should!
How did you fund RepayVets?
RepayVets has been solely funded by me and my business partner. Neither one of us is particularly wealthy, so it has been a sacrifice. But we’ve enjoyed every minute of it thus far. We have received interest from some investors and are optimistic that we’ll find the right one in the near future.
Do you have any previous business experience that has helped you in executing the objectives of RepayVets?
I had started a business before, so the basics, such as drafting a business plan, budgeting, marketing, etc., are things I had experience with. In addition, my business partner and our first employee both have MBAs, which have been extremely helpful. There will always be things to learn, but thus far, we are pleased with our progress toward our ultimate objectives.
How do you see RepayVets evolving over the years?
Over the coming years, we see RepayVets not only as the preeminent platform for crowdfunding military veteran projects, but also serving as a network of information and contacts for military-related ventures. This will range from referring our users and supporters to complementary organizations to introducing them to other individuals and facilitating relationships that will be mutually beneficial.
Do you feel like having military veterans as users demands a specific kind of attention that is different from having a platform for civilian users?
Certainly. There are some great platforms out there that are broad in their user bases, but we believe that veterans deserve a dedicated platform. Crowdfunding has matured to a point where the most popular platforms have become saturated with projects. This is an ideal time to create a niche platform, and there is no group more deserving than our veterans.
How have you gone about marketing to veterans so that they know of RepayVets as an option when they return from duty?
We have reached out directly to organizations such as VETransfer and the SBA, as well as using grassroots marketing via social networks and blogs. Many veterans are using social media, so it’s a great way for companies and organizations to get in touch with them.
How have their perspectives as veterans influenced the kinds of business and projects they’re interested in undertaking?
What’s interesting is that, contrary to belief, veterans are not uniform in their personal interests. Their military tenures have, more than likely, exposed them to a wealth of experiences and perspectives that the average citizen does not have. Even for those who have passions similar to those of an average civilian, the veteran’s passion is deeper and more meaningful. For example, we’ve met with veteran entrepreneurs whose passions vary from a love of animals, due to their experiences witnessing service animals contribute and sacrifice during war, to vets who have a love for music because their traveling experiences have shown them that, despite all other differences, music truly is universal and can serve as a bridge, bringing all types of people together.
Do you feel that veterans are particularly suited with qualities distinct to that of civilians that might prove advantageous?
Veterans bring unparalleled experiences and backgrounds as entrepreneurs, which gives them an advantage. Their training and environment during their time as soldiers force them to think differently. Some may assume the military restricts creativity, which is a quality of a good entrepreneur. However, a veteran is taught to be creative and improvise, as these traits are vital on the battlefield. Being able to summon these qualities, as an entrepreneur, will come naturally for most vets.
Of the RepayVets projects, what percentage would you say are those interested in service-oriented projects interested in helping people or communities?
At the root of it, I’d estimate that 90% of the projects that have been presented are driven by an underlying interest in helping others.
From the startup perspective, what’s the day-to-day like running RepayVets? What does it entail?
No day is quite the same in the world of startups. We are in the unique position of not only trying to assist our customers with launching successful businesses, but also trying to make RepayVets successful. We’re good mentors, as we’re learning the same things our veterans are as we build our company.
Are there ideas that you’ve learned through your experience serving that you apply to running RepayVets?
Yes. We veterans come from an environment where a lot is expected of us, and we understand that this is necessary in order for the system to be successful as a whole. More importantly, we learn to trust our superiors and have faith that those superiors are making decisions that are putting them in the best possible situation to succeed. A veteran entrepreneur understands how important this is, and will take his/her role as a decision maker all the more seriously, knowing that accountability runs both ways. It is important to note that veterans are also given leadership positions very early in their careers. It is not out of the norm to have a 20-year-old managing a group of 10 or more soldiers. They don’t have much say-so in what has to get done, but they do have a great deal of say-so in how to get it done. All of this has aided the way I run RepayVets.
How do you handle the frustrations of running a startup?
Passion gets me through. My passion for wanting to help my fellow veterans is what keeps me going.
As head of RepayVets, what advice would you give to the veterans who have successfully received enough contributions to execute their projects?
Now the challenging part begins! It is more important than ever to remain focused, as you now have to continue to grow your business, while also establishing and maintaining a stellar reputation now that you have customers/contributors.
When you’re not working, how do you like to unwind and step away from RepayVets?
I like to spend time with my wife and friends, and watch Navy football!
Can you tell me about any key people without whom RepayVets wouldn’t have been possible?
My business partner, Avery Robinson, and our Director of Community Outreach, Ebonee Brown, have been instrumental in the launching of the company, as well as the rest of the RepayVets staff. In addition, none of this would be possible without friends, family, and faith.
What’s the best way for our readers to get in touch with you?
They can get in touch with me via our website. Also, they can also email me at Terrell [at] repayvets [dot] com.
Find out more about money for vets and specifically crowdfunding for veterans’ business projects now at RepayVets.com.