From Veteran to Entrepreneur: KlowdTV’s Bill O’Hara

November 11, 2015

4:14 pm

A graduate of the Naval Academy and a 5-year Navy Veteran, KlowdTV CEO Bill O’Hara leads the team dedicated to further advancing on-demand TV. When we last spoke to the team in July they discussed their future plans, so we checked back in to learn more about how the company is run and how O’Hara’s military background influences leadership skills.

Generally speaking, startups are always in some sort of growth period; whether the growth is on outside investments, new employees, revenue, or product/service offerings. To make order of that chaos it takes a level-headed leader who knows how to prioritize work. According to O’Hara, it’s all about compartmentalizing everything.

“What the military gives you is a tool kit. It converts to the mission of your company. What is your founding principal – or, in the case of the military, a mission? All the good ideas that come late at night, a new feature about your company, you can’t implement all of those. You have to focus in,” said O’Hara. “When you have all this chaos, all these moving parts, the guidance from the military about what your mission is helps to remove the distractions. Whether it’s business opportunities or features, it helps you prioritize. That’s the whole point of discipline in the military. It’s just another tool to ensure the mission occurs. It’s not just getting up at five in the morning. The other part of discipline is to focus on the mission. This is super transferable into the startup world.”

Part of that focus is also ensuring teams are on track, have the appropriate skills to move at the necessary speed of the company trajectory, and can pivot when necessary. In other cases, leadership requires the input of stakeholders such as co-founders and investors.

“When I was a junior officer stationed at the pentagon, a lot of people who were in my division that were working for me were very senior enlisted or civilians,” said O’Hara. As a result, it was about seeking consensus for making decisions. “I really needed stakeholder buy in rather than just the letter of the law (in the field).”

As O’Hara learned to manage in both directions, he found them to be very transferable to how he leads KlowdTV.

“We are managing each other on a daily basis, most of early stage startup is leadership. It’s managing individuals,” said O’Hara. Your personality may be one way or another, but if another person responds better because you go out of your way to say something nice or be very involved in one aspect of what they are doing, you have to make a conscious decision to do that. You must understand what makes them effective and you need to be able to enable that.”

Beyond teams and leadership, stress is a very real component to being an entrepreneur. Although O’Hara was never deployed, one thing is always certain when it comes to the military, failure is not an option. During his time with the Navy and the Naval Academy, he was taught to move beyond the initial solution if it did not succeed, to have the confidence to find a path around it.

“Most of my time at the Pentagon running critical communications infrastructure. There was plenty of stress, but not in combat. Failure is not really an option in the military. The notion that you are going to overcome your obstacle at all costs is instilled very early on, especially at the naval academy,” said O’Hara.

Overcoming stress, leading teams, and prioritizing work were all prominent skills O’Hara learned during his military career. For other veterans interested in making the move to the entrepreneurial and startup world O’Hara sums it up nicely, “my stance would be: do it.”

“You are just as prepared if not more so. You have been taught to enter new situations and adapt to them. You have all the skills you need to essentially create a startup from nothing and adhere to your founding principles. My stance would be you have learned exactly what you need to learn because you were taught how to learn. Need to adapt or learn the skill to exceed in those situations,” said O’Hara.

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Elliot is an award winning journalist deeply ingrained in the startup world and is often digging into emerging technology and data. When not writing, he's likely either running or training for a triathlon. You can contact him by email at elliot(@)elliotvolkman.com or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.

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