3 Startup Lessons from the U.S. Army Green Berets

November 13, 2014

6:30 pm

I am proud to have served my country as a logistics officer and support Commander with the U.S. Army Green Berets of the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). The lessons I learned in the mountains of Afghanistan and the jungles of South America shaped me as both an Entrepreneur and an Angel Investor. My attention to detail, demand for accountability, and absolute commitment to excellence are traits developed during that time. I learned that to be the best, you need to act like the best; here are 3 ways your startup can learn to be like these elite commandos:

  1. Everyone gets a say, but once the plan is made, salute and move out: Planning for each Special Forces mission is done according to a standard process. In that process, each member of the team weighs in with thoughtful and relevant feedback. The Commander then makes his decision, and that’s the end of it. Once the mission begins, anything other than complete adherence to the plan can get people killed.

The Author on a mission in the Oshay Valley of Afghanistan - 2006
How to do it like the Green Berets:
Adopt a planning process with a specific time for stakeholder input. As CEO, it’s your job to make everyone feel safe to contribute their thoughts, free from criticism. After you gather the feedback, make your decision. Communicate your intent clearly with a statement like “We are going to launch this Friday. What are your questions?”


  1. Be the expert: Each member of a Special Forces Team is trained in a specific functional area. There are weapons, engineering, medical, communications, and intelligence specialists on each team. In addition to training as a group, each man must work hard to be the best at their field, because the team is counting on them, and in combat, it can be a matter of life or death.


How to do it like the Green Berets: In a Startup, everyone must wear several hats in the beginning, but every employee is hired to be the expert at something. As CEO, you must create a culture of continuous improvement where employees constantly have access to self-education. They must understand that when the team needs them, they must be the expert!


  1. I have your back, no matter what: The ethos within the Special Forces community is “I don’t have to like you, but I will risk my life to save yours”. It is this quiet understanding that forms the foundation of a highly effective elite unit. Each man knows, without question, that his teammates will never abandon him providing the confidence he needs to run full speed out of an airplane and into combat.


How to do it like the Green Berets: Give and expect loyalty within your team. Praise it when you see it, and make the correction when it’s lacking. By setting the example, even when it’s not easy, you let everyone know that you have their back no matter what, and that’s why they will follow you into the fight.


Startups and Special Forces Teams have a lot in common; for starters, they are both comprised of small talented teams that face huge odds. Whether completing a dangerous mission in the Oshay Valley or launching a new product in Silicon Valley, remembering these 3 lessons will help your team to be the best.


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Gavin McCulley hosts “The Pitch Deck – Inside the Startup Funding Game” podcast available on ITunes and at Gavin is an active Angel Investor, Startup Mentor, and Entrepreneur living in Charleston, South Carolina. Gavin is the Managing Partner of the Charleston based Early Stage Investment Partnership, Twin Rivers Holdings, whose investments range from digital media, tech start-ups, health care, real estate development, film studios, restaurant chains, educational products, and both commercial and defense manufacturing. Gavin hosts “The Pitch Deck – Inside the Startup Funding Game” podcast. Prior to his current roles, Gavin served as a Logistics Officer and Commander in the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), and served 2 tours of duty in Iraq and 1 tour in Afghanistan where he was decorated 3 times with the Bronze Star Medal.