9 out of 10 startups fail. This is a depressing statistic you probably know very well and are pretty tired of hearing about. Me too!

I expect you've also heard the plethora of reasons why this statistic exists, ranging from lack of market, to mismanagement of startup capital. Or maybe the CEO simply turned into an unreasonable jerk overnight.

There are millions of fingers pointing at this smorgasbord of possibilities as to why the sweeping majority of startups fail. But if you ask any ex-military entrepreneur, they might just tell you that these weaknesses are merely a byproduct of one deadly sin: the founder doesn't know how to operationalize a team around the product.

According to a study by Military.com, chief executives with military experience constituted 8 percent of all CEOs in the Fortune 500. Which is far above the average percentage of the entire US population who served in the military (3 percent.)

Just take a look at Johnson & Johnson's CEO, Alex Gorsky, who served in the Army in Panama, Europe and the US. He achieved the rank of captain before eventually turning civilian and becoming the infamous multinational's leading man at the age of 51. Gorsky also serves on IBM's Board of Directors.

So, what is it about the military that has created individuals with such a strong sense of leadership? What values do they instill that make operationalizing a team come so easy? And how are they responsible for creating a hotbed of entrepreneurs? Justin Barney, CEO of ScaleArc enlightened me.

Barney served in the US Marines for many years before starting his first business - and in an institution whose motto is to "adapt and overcome," this seemed like a natural progression. Barney credits the success he's had in building multiple companies to his military training, particularly the way a strategy is built around the product.

"The hardest part about making a technology work is operationalizing it," he explains. "When you've already got the operational aspect, you can take the ideas and plan a business around it."

Talking to Barney, I realized that a lot of operationalizing the business really boiled down to the way the team worked together. Here are some of his tips for incorporating militaristic attributes for a more successful company -- and avoid being in the wrong percentile of that infamous statistic.

Working as a Unit

In the military, you're all a team, despite your rank. You have a group of people you are leading and are a part of a team where you are being lead. Barney suggests having "Day in the Life" meetings where individual team members give presentations about exactly what happens in their day. This allows the entire team to understand and help one another better.

Listen Throughout the Chain of Command

The military teaches you to listen throughout the chain of command. Barney, for example, makes sure that his team knows that they can walk into his office at any time and speak to him. He also regularly holds "skip level" meetings where employees can come in to a meeting without their supervisors there and talk freely to the CEO about what's working and what's not.

Embrace Diversity

It comes as no surprise to Barney that most third world countries have one thing in common: the suppression of women. "The minds of women are an untapped asset to those countries," he says and suggests that those countries would probably not be in such dire straights if they allowed women to think and act to their full potential.

Here in the states, many businesses fail because everyone on the team are from similar places and think the same way. We need diversity in order to see all angles of a problem and get comfortable thinking outside our own boxes.

These three points may seem simple, but they're crucial in holding a startup together and watching it become a success. It can be very hard to find the right team of people whose skills complement each other, but for the good of the company, successful CEOs must build a team that are prepared to pitch in and move out of their comfort zones. This is something fundamental in the military, where the teamwork ethic is so strong that they never leave a man behind.


Add to that listening through chain of command, rather than hierarchy, and embracing cultural diversity and different ways of thinking, and it's not hard to see how compatible the military and entrepreneurism are after all.

Adapt and overcome, my friends.

Published on: Jan 30, 2017