Sean Matson of Strike Force Energy. SEAN MATSON
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on June 21, 2018. See the original publication here.
In running StreetShares, I get to meet great entrepreneurial teams. One thing I've noticed is that military veterans-turned-entrepreneurs have a unique tenacity and skillset. They apply what they learned in combat and they win in entrepreneurship.
But the best “vetrepreneurs” also have a secret ability: they possess the humility to understand that they don’t know everything, and they need to partner with more experienced entrepreneurs to win.
Look at Navy SEAL Sean Matson. He partnered with successful serial entrepreneur Bruce Schlee to create the sugar-free, 160mg caffeine, zero-calorie Strike Force Energy. Their goal is the total disruption of the energy boost beverage market currently crowded by Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, 5-hour Energy, and more. Or, as Bruce says, “as we scale we are either going to be the best or be bought out by the best.”
Sean never stops and is indefatigable, while Bruce is the business expert. Together, Sean’s energy and perseverance and Bruce’s ideas make them a winning team. The seamless way they work together offers a lesson for finding your “co-founder love at first sight.”
Meet the partners
At the age of 17, Bruce Schlee, now 40, started his first company, a sports-card retail outlet. He went on to earn bachelor's degrees in Business Administration and Aviation Science from Baker College and has owned and managed a wide range of companies. Bruce brought innovation to service, management, and manufacturing companies, including Helical Robotics.
An entrepreneur and tinkerer by nature, Schlee has a broad range of business knowledge and experience. His instinctive business sense makes Bruce a strong and engaging team builder. He's quick to point out, however, that, “I thought I was motivated, but Sean brings the intensity.”
Sean Matson, former member of the elite Navy SEALs, is 35-years old. Commissioned at Virginia Military Institute, he served 10 years with five deployments, three to Iraq and two to Africa. He lives the motto of “grit, no quit.”
Experience drives Sean during periods of high stress, building effective teams, and understanding the military market. Sean also has another company in MATBOCK that sells military/tactical gear and clothing.
As Sean said, “An entrepreneur is like a woodpecker...keep pecking. No worm? Switch spots and keep pecking. Eventually, you find the worms!” Needless to say, Sean won’t stop pecking.
Navy SEAL Sean Matson in training. (SEAN MATSON)
In 2005, Sean was at BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training to become a SEAL, while Bruce was just starting a mergers and acquisitions role with an international steel company. Today, they're partners in purpose, plan, and process at Strike Force Energy where ideas and vision come from Bruce and energy and drive come from Sean.
Energy for the action community
At Strike Force Energy, Bruce is the CEO, and Sean is the President. This powerful team produces an innovative high energy drink concentrate. They want to “kick the can,” a term they use to refer to customers choosing Strike Force Energy over the omnipresent canned energy drinks.
Strike Force Energy comes in four flavors in small sachets that make it simpler and cheaper to ship, easier for merchants to display, and more convenient for customer use.
Sean sold the first $3,000 worth of Strike Force product to Air Force purchasers who saw the advantage in their military personnel tucking the packets into their gear and mixing the contents with water in the field. The same convenience puts the sachets into soccer moms’ purses, long-haul truckers’ pockets, lawn care workers’ lunch pails, bodybuilders’ lockers, or Happy Hour cocktails.
Strike Force Energy Packets (SEAN MATSON)
Purpose, plan, and process
The business plan is disruptive. Sean and Bruce want to make Strike Force Energy, with its bone frog and trident logo, the energy “drink of choice.” They aim to make the energy drink market simply forget 5-hour Energy, Monster, Red Bull, Amp, Rockstar, and 6 Hour Power. Short of doing that, Bruce says that Strike Force Energy would be “happy to take a slice of watermelon rather than the whole grape.”
They started marketing to the military in 2016 and have seen a smooth average month-over-month growth of 20%, since January 2016. Their customer retention is one of their most impressive figures at 67%, meaning 2 out of 3 people that try Strike Force Energy come back to buy again. Their average customer spends nearly $50 per order. They are on pace to capture nearly 10% of the convivence store market within the next 12 months, with 7-Eleven being their biggest partner to date.
Strike Force Energy does 85 percent of its sales volume online at Amazon and the Strike Force Energy website. But, the goal is to sell through more retailers like 7-Eleven. Because margins are attractive for retailers like 7-Eleven, they push the product more. As a result, Strike Force appears at their stores in multiple places: In the refrigerator door with energy drinks / waters and juices, in line with other energy products, and at a checkout register.
For customers, the value proposition is a premium product at one-third the cost, a low-cost convenient energy source without the jitters or sugar crash. Strike Force Energy is an FDA-defined “acidified” food, not a beverage. The next project for the team is a meal replacement bar.
In their words
In my interview with Sean, I learned that Bruce introduced the product at their first meeting. Sean explained, “He and I were working on a robot that would scale ships and assist in our VBSS missions. Being that we both had two other companies, it was a natural fit.”
During the meeting, Sean says, Bruce “put what is now Strike Force Energy into my water bottle, and I was immediately hooked.” Sean continued, “I asked him to give me what he had, which was only a few boxes. A few weeks later, I had an order from the US Air Force for $3,000 worth of product. I called Bruce about the opportunity, and we set off to start Strike Force Energy.”
But, starting a company is admittedly exhausting. It requires dedication, vision, and a great team. Sean said, “We started my BUD/S class with around 130 guys, but only 19 of us graduated. These are similar numbers to successful start-ups. Both Bruce and I have members of our family working inside Strike Force Energy. We are building a strong community inside Strike Force Energy because without a strong team, this fails.”
Sean added, “We were a little different because we are already working on two different companies, but I do know Bruce and I both rely on mentors, influencers to keep moving forward.”
Strike Force Energy now has 12 employees, and ships orders all over the world. As Sean explained, their goal means “casting the net wider without neglecting our current customers. With our retention rate being so high, we just need people to try our product.” Further explains, “Our culture is to ensure customers have the best experience, quick response times and an unprecedented service.”
Bruce said, “I didn’t partner with Sean because he’s a Navy SEAL. I partnered with him because he had the energy to get things done. I could see it from his work at his prior company, MATBOCK.” He added that, “most entrepreneurs never married their product. Sean does. He’s 100 percent into it.”
Teaming to tame the market
Successful teams depend on many factors: Synergistic personalities, common purpose, mutual respect, shared core values, and more. Sean Matson and Bruce Schlee benefit from business and military experience that imbue their entrepreneurial thinking, engaging leadership, clear vision, and disciplined energy.
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