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Start Your Business Success Stories

What My Career as a Navy SEAL Taught Me About Running A Successful Startup

What My Career as a Navy SEAL Taught Me About Running A Successful Startup Credit: David Legacki

When I applied to be a Navy SEAL at age 30, I was automatically rejected because I was two years past the age limit. Had I been content to follow the rules, I would have accepted my fate and moved on. However, I believed that I would be an ideal candidate; so, I persisted.

Eventually, I got into the program and made it through the rigorous training. Over the next six years of my career as a SEAL, I learned the mindset and determination that not only helped me succeed on the battlefield, but also gave me a valuable skillset in my post-military career at Twitter, Airbnb and eventually as a co-founder of SameSide.

Here are three tips I learned on my journey:

During SEAL dive training, you are taught how to navigate underwater in stealth mode to put explosives on ships or listening devices on piers. Dive plans never involve straight lines; and before every operation, you must plan your route, waypoints and contingencies.

Any time you dive underwater, you are given a "swim buddy." One person is the navigator responsible for executing the dive plan, and the other is there for backup. After the 50th dive during training, your swim buddy will inevitably feel confident enough to take a shortcut and scrap that plan you both spent hours strategizing over. At night, underwater, in complete darkness your buddy will stop in the middle of the ocean and shrug his shoulders with his hands up. The universal sign for "I have no idea where we are."

The only way to reset is to get to the surface carefully, peek out, figure out where you are and try to get back underwater before you are spotted. Luckily, this is training, and you don't have hostile foreign forces looking for you. However, in the place of hostile forces, you have several 6-foot, 240-pound instructors looking for just this type of stupidity and wanting nothing more than to punish you in the most sadistic way possible. These instructors will beat into you the concept of "plan your dive, dive your plan."

I took this mantra into my career in Silicon Valley and now at SameSide. In any business, and especially high-growth businesses, there will always be a new "shiny red object" vying for your attention and tempting you to make a rash decision to drop everything and navigate to it on the fly.

You must remember that your planning and strategizing took time and is worth more than a new proposition. You carefully studied competitors, evaluated partnerships, identified your purpose and homed in on a myriad of other practices that got you to that final course of action. Scrapping it can lead you where you don't want to be – lost without a plan.

While there will always be a need to "pivot" in business, if you reshape your next moves in the context of your original plan, you will be in a better spot to execute your overall mission.

Imagine you jump out of a helicopter and find that you are 10 miles away from your target. You keep "diving your plan" and move toward the target in a platoon formation—just like you practiced.

Along the way, you receive unanticipated enemy fire and must make decisions to get yourself out of the situation. It is a natural human response to want to bark out orders and execute on your first instincts. Don't do that.

Everyone in the platoon has been trained for this contingency, allowing you to take another second to survey the landscape and figure out what's happening before making decisions. You will never have enough time to make a perfect decision, but you will always have time to make a better decision. Let the battle develop so you know what you're dealing with.

At SameSide, there are always issues that I feel need immediate attention. While the consequences aren't as dire as taking enemy fire on a patrol, the challenges we face in the business world certainly can be stressful. I have found that allowing myself to breathe and take the time to make a better decision has always served me better than succumbing to the moment.

Before you make an impulsive choice, ask yourself how your decision fits into your overall business plan, and if you should consult those directly affected by the decision first. Nothing is so important that it can't wait until you gather your intel and come to a more informed, logic-based conclusion. 

In the Navy SEAL ethos, it says, "If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission."

On top of a roof, a Navy SEAL had the right side of his face blown off including his eye. For over two hours, he continued to put effective rounds down range and support his brothers.

Another Navy SEAL was shot 27 times in a 12-by-12 room, but still managed to take out the four terrorists, get up and walk himself to the evacuation helicopter.

While these are grim stories and shouldn't be used to belittle the consequences of combat, the point is to keep fighting as long as you are able. Often times it is right around the corner of those darkest moments that you find out what you are made of.

I don't know why you created your startup, but I hope it's because you feel so strongly about your mission that you are ready to sacrifice to find success. This is why I created SameSide. I firmly believe that the work we do can change the world. While I have rough days where it seems like everything is going wrong, our mission steadies my resolve because the alternative is not an option.

When you are building a business from scratch, it might seem like everything is working against you. That's when you pick yourself up and draw on all your strength and sinew to accomplish your mission. It is worth it. I am certain that the world is a better place with SameSide in it, and that's why I know I will never be out of the fight.

About the author: David Legacki, a former Navy SEAL, is the co-founder of SameSide. Prior to starting his business, he worked for AirBnB, Twitter and Shuddle.

Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.