Since then, the duo have started 3x businesses, YourOra, a service providing ‘Virtual Assistants’ to businesses, CheckMate, a mentoring company aiming to reduce issues around mental health and SecureWindows, a company that installs child-proof windows into households.
All three businesses are very different, but all three are doing very well. The duo say that they have been able to use all the skills picked up in the military and convert them into entrepreneurial ventures.
Dynamic Business spoke to Peter Liston to find out more about the businesses and the journey from military to entrepreneurship.
How has your experience in Afghanistan shaped you as an entrepreneur?
Afghanistan has allowed me to appreciate time. It is precious, short and not to be taken for granted.
What was it like transitioning back into the ‘traditional’ workforce when you returned to Australia?
Transitioning from the military to the workforce can be very daunting. I knew that jumping into a traditional corporate role wasn’t necessarily for me and so I was constantly challenging myself to think creatively about what the next step looked like.
How did you get into entrepreneurship?
With so many options out there, I decided to go through the ‘Enterprise for Veterans’ program though a non-for-profit supported by the Sage Foundation, The Princes Trust Australia. As a graduate of the program, I was able to identify my strengths and weaknesses and understand what my options were when taking that big next step. I guess I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart, I just didn’t know it. I’ve always been the ‘ideas guy’ at every job I’ve had but just needed the right opportunity to break through.
Tell us about your three businesses and how they all started?
My first business was Secure Windows. I basically came up with the idea, after hearing about the new legislation requiring window locks on all strata buildings on the radio. The seed was sown and a year later, my business partner Matthew Moseley and I breathed life into the new business. Both still in the full time Army at the time, we grew the business until we were able to transition.
Our second entrepreneurial adventure was with our business, yourORA. One thing Matt and I are masters of is process analysis and identifying waste. We found a great team in the Philippines who supported the administration of Secure Windows. This led to savings of $1,000 a day in wages by having a team based overseas allowing us to scale and hire more Australian workers. We learned how to do this so well, we wanted to share with other business people how to do it. Hence, we created yourORA.
I guess the business we are most proud of, is Chekmate. When I deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 I met the most motivated, relevant psychologist I had ever come across. This guy cared and was committed to saving lives. Luke Foster is not only smart but is able to relate to soldiers on a personal level. Luke and colleague Sam Webb founded Chekmate as the premier provider of corporate mental health training. I have recently come on board (with my Secure Windows business partner Matt) to add our business acumen to their technical expertise and the combination is just magic. We are saving lives on a daily basis.
They are all so different- talk us through that?
It’s an evolution. Secure Windows was our learning curve. We made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons. yourORA is us sharing our knowledge of process management and outsourcing with other small business owners. Chekmate is about coming together with passionate colleagues to make a difference in the world.
Why did you decided to embark on three different businesses rather than focus on one?
You can’t move on until the first has been consolidated. Secure Windows is now in a mature state with an excellent operations manager running the business. This allows me to sit in the strategic space and pursue new ideas. Chekmate came from an irresistible opportunity. To be able to work with two of the most passionate leaders in promoting mental health (Sam Webb and Luke Foster) gave me the purpose I have been seeking since leaving the Australian Army.
What did the military teach you that you have been able to use in your businesses?
Loads. Confidence in myself, Leadership, Vision, Mission, Purpose, Teamwork, HR, Operations and Strategic planning.
Top tips to those who want to become an entrepreneur?
- Test your minimum viable product. Just because you think it’s a good idea doesn’t necessarily mean the market does. Ask someone other than your mum or your mates. Do market research.
- Work hard, accept failure, repeat.
- Be patient. No one owes you anything – you are the master of your own success.
Best piece of advice you have ever been given?
If you can’t give it away – then no-one will buy it
How important are the Invictus games?
The Invictus Games have landed in Sydney and shone an important light on a part of society that is often forgotten, veterans. More than anything, these competitors are an example of the mentally and physically wounded and remind us of the challenges that ex-military men and women face when returning to civilian life, particularly to the workforce.
Do you think there is enough recognition of veterans in the business world?
Veterans are incredibly talented and if you have the opportunity to hire a veteran, do it. You will find they crave responsibility, reward you through punctuality, work ethic and commitment to the mission. You won’t be disappointed.
How can businesses be more accommodating to staff members who are veterans?
The first step is to give them a chance. Once employed, a veteran should be able to establish themselves and prove their own worth. They have already had a career demanding the values of courage, initiative, teamwork and respect which should be highly sought after in any business. There are a lot of companies that support this exact issue. For example, the Sage Foundation actually goes into some of the world’s largest corporates and trains staff and HR teams on how to get the best out of veterans.
We are very excited about our latest business venture, Chekmate. Investing in mental health awareness is not only the right thing to do, it’s the right thing for business. A business that understands the workforce is its most powerful asset understands that you need to invest in them. ROI sits at over 6:1 for effective mental health training.
Chekmate is committed to changing lives. De-stigmatisation of mental health issues, promoting resilience, self care and stress management. Chekmate’s training program allows work colleagues to recognise the warning signs when someone is doing it tough and how to respectfully give them a hand.
Another exciting moment for us, was being included in the Sage Power 50, a published book, that showcases 50 of the most inspiring ex-military men and women using the skills they’ve learnt in the military to start a business.