This post is a reprint of the WRAL TechWire article titled, “Inside a deal: Why vet sold DigaForce – and how Army made him an entrepreneur.” Unfortunately the article was originally published behind the content paywall (more on that later). I am reproducing the article here with Rick Smith’s permission. I hope it can inspire other military vets to make the leap into the startup game. If you’re considering it, I’d love to hear from you!
Raleigh, N.C. — What Anthony Pompliano will do for his next gig now that he has sold his social media intelligence firm DigaForce to Strategic Link Partners isn’t clear at this point. But on another, he is quite clear: Serving in the U.S. Army – including the excruciatingly dangerous and nerve-wracking search for IEDs across the killing fields of Iraq – helped make the son of a technology executive an entrepreneur.
“The military had a huge part in making me into an entrepreneur,” Pompliano explained Thursday after news about the sale of his company broke.
Wait a minute: Taking orders in the Army develops entrepreneurial skills?
Well, says the young man who served as a sergeant and combat engineer, much thinking about the armed forces is wrong.
“Contrary to popular belief, service members are required to be resourceful and entrepreneurial on a daily basis,” he explains.
“Many times I was given a mission objective with very little guidance. It was up to me and my team to accomplish the mission how we saw fit.”
“Running a startup is very much the same. Do a lot with very little and in a quick time frame.” Pompliano reached the rank of sergeant. Here’s how the Army defines a SGT’s role:
Typically commands a squad (9 to 10 soldiers). Considered to have the greatest impact on Soldiers because SGTs oversee them in their daily tasks. In short, SGTs set an example and the standard for Privates to look up to, and live up to.
What better management teacher than being responsible for the lives of others?
Pompliano visited WRAL’s headquarters a few months ago and talked candidly about his Iraq experiences – along with other business. Searching for improvised explosive devices was never, ever easy. And IEDs killed many Americans, NATO allies as well as Iraqis – and Afghans. He calls those searches “combat missions involving route clearance and cordon and searches.”
One mistake – boom, you and your buddies were dead.
The six-year veteran who spent 13 months in Iraq in 2008-9 says many of the men and women battle-scarred in the never-ending war on terror are now turning their attention to business and using their battlefield experiences.
“More and more veterans are becoming entrepreneurs,” he says. “After Vietnam, an unusually high-rate of CEO’s were vets. I expect to see this trend reappear in the next 5 to 15 years.”
Called to Serve as a Patriot
Devotion to duty and self-sacrifice are just two of the many reasons why a lot of corporate executives want to hire veterans. Pompliano was called to serve by what happened on 9-11-01.
“No one will ever forget where they were on September 11, 2001. I was in 8th grade, sitting in the cafeteria, when the principal told the school what had happened. We were too young to fully grasp what terrorism was, but we knew that someone had come to our country and tried to kill people,” he wrote in his personal blog called Pomp Logic.
“Little did I know, thousands of people would end up dying before the day was over. These terrorists were radicals who were hell-bent on destroying the country that I lived in. Once I got home, my parents explained the situation more in depth to me. I did a lot of growing up that day.
“Four years later, as a 17 year old high school graduate, I knew what I wanted to do. I walked into a US Army recruiting office and asked “What can I do to help?” The man sitting across the desk responded with something that I will never forget, “Son, if you want to help us, we can find something for you to do.” That’s all I needed to hear.
“Almost 7 years to the exact date of walking into that office, I took my uniform off for the last time. I had been blessed with the opportunity to serve with the infantry, combat engineers, and military intelligence. I had the eye-opening experience of serving on Active Duty and in the Reserves. The Army took me around the world, let me see some amazing places, and helped me mature in ways I could have never imagined.”
Son of an Entrepreneur
Anthony’s name strikes some in the Triangle technology community as a familiar one. It should. His father ran a tech company in the Triangle called P4.
“I was not involved,” the younger Pompliano explains. “We share the same name but he goes by Tony and I go by Anthony. Blame the Italian heritage!”
His father is now involved with another firm, Anexio, which Anthony describes as a “great company” that is “on an acquisition spree.”
Pompliano chose to become an entrepreneur in the Triangle with a bet placed on social intelligence: Turning all that Facebook, Twitter and who-knows-what-else people want to share about themselves into “actionable intelligence” for companies became the hub of what he called a “social intelligence company.”
So why sell the company to Joan Myers and Strategic Link Partners?
“We have worked with SLP in the past and our visions/goals aligned,” he says. “Their team is one of the best in the industry and we can obtain market dominance at a much faster pace by combining forces. All aspects of this deal made sense for both parties.”
But Pompliano is not stepping away. He plans an ongoing role. Why?
“We still have a mission to fulfill.”
Pompliano declined to answer a number of questions about DigaForce’s “secret sauce” technology and all the controversy about social media monitoring taking place these days (as clearly documented by Edward Snowden).
“Due to the nature of the deal and the industry with which SLP operates, I can’t comment,” he says.
DigaForce did appear to be en route to landing funding, having applied for and reached the semifinal round for a grant from economic development group NC IDEA. That could have been worth as much as $50,000. But as the reviews continued in the fall, Pompliano says the SLP deal came together.
“We were selected as a semi-finalist for the NC IDEA grant and felt we had a great chance to win,” he says. “Once we knew the acquisition was going to come to fruition (before finalists were announced), I worked with the NC IDEA team to retract our application with total transparency.
“As an entrepreneur, I like to think we would have won the grant if we hadn’t retracted the application.”
Pompliano also had touted DigaForce to potential investors, and he says money is available.
“Funding is one piece of the puzzle,” Pompliano explains. “Everything about entrepreneurship is hard. People who get hung up on funding are doomed from the beginning. There is plenty of money in the Triangle. If you have a compelling value proposition, investors will open their check books. Not being funded is not an excuse for failing.”
So what comes next?
“Not sure right now,” he says. “I’ve been spending my time helping other entrepreneurs (and) startups in the Triangle.”
A Personal Note
Readers of technology blogs in the Triangle are probably aware that Pompliano is not a supporter of WRAL TechWire’s decision to implement a premium content (“paywall”) plan last year. In fact, he launched a petition against it. And in a Twitter post on Thursday he lamented the fact that the first story to appear about the deal was, in fact, behind that paywall.
Anthony and I have talked about the Insider strategy, as we call it, and have been unable to come to an understanding. However, he graciously agreed to talk about the sale of his venture and his own experiences as an entrepreneur. So for that, The Skinny says “Thanks.”
Also, thanks to Anthony and all you other veterans who put your lives on the line so we at home can remain free. We are forever in our debt, just as our nation is to all the men and women who from the founding have been brave enough to respond to the call of duty.