The After Action Review

Every Veteran business owner has a unique story to tell about their journey through entrepreneurship. Those stories can help inspire, educate, and motivate other Veterans who are either in the middle of their own journey or considering starting one. The After Action Review Podcast (The AAR Podcast) serves as a vehicle to create, promote, and support a network of Veteran entrepreneurs by capturing and sharing their stories with the Veteran community.

The AAR Podcast, is an audio and video podcast for Military and Veteran entrepreneurs, business owners, artists, and non profit organizations. We promote entrepreneurship and Veteran products, business, and service.

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When Life Gives You Lemons, You Build an Empire!

“I started my podcast by purchasing a URL and a microphone that I couldn’t afford. I recorded my first podcast in a kitchen with cheap groceries and in a house whose electricity was getting shut off in a few days if a minimum payment wasn’t made. I was going through my own life changing events and I honestly didn’t know how I was going to make it to the next day much less be a podcaster but I knew if there was ever going to be a point in my life to do this, it was now. I made a crazy decision by other people’s viewpoints but I knew in my gut that I was making the right call.”

One of the sayings that really annoys me is that one about “when life gives you lemons”. You know how it goes, your supposed to make lemonade. The truth is when life gives you lemons it sure doesn’t feel like lemons, but more like a few good punches to the face, and it’s hard to find the positive to that. Then there are points in life that feel like a straight up beating. Most of us have either been through it or are going through it now. It’s that moment in life when it feels like NOTHING is going right. You might find yourself losing money, friends, family, all the above even. It’s those moments that it’s hard to objectively find the silver lining to any of what’s happening.

It’s interesting that it’s in these moments that business owners and founders find the strength to start the pursuit of their passions. It very rare that I talk to anyone whose story goes, “everything was going really well when I decided, hey why not start that business I was thinking of…” The truth is there is something at the bottom of the barrel, when we think we’ve hit rock bottom that in that dark place there is a hidden strength in having nothing left to lose. The difference between the entrepreneur and everyone else is that the entrepreneur seizes that moment as their while the latter allows the moment to seize them.

The sad truth is so many of us are so happy to recover just a sliver of what we’ve lost in those worst of times that we find ourselves content to rebuild our lives in a way that looks remarkably the way it did before it all fell apart. This where the real growth can happen but often we’re so preoccupied with the rebuilding that we don’t stop to consider this an opportunity build something else, something closer to what we’ve dreamt about than what we built and fell apart before.

Those moments present an opportunity to be free of feeling the full weight of risk. The idea of “why not?” and “how much worse could it get?” can be liberating. We can find strength in the risk, the idea of not rebuilding but redesigning the life we want to live. That could mean spending your retirement money on your business idea or selling everything you own to make your idea come to life. Those are frightening things to think about when everything is still going well but when you’re feeling on your last leg, perspective has a way of changing that fear into motivation. But for many that fear won’t change and the desperation for comfort will compel them to play it safe and do what needs to be done not to survive to maintain.

Ask yourself, “if I had nothing to lose, how would I shape my life?” Then do that! You don’t have to wait till life is crumbling around you to make major changes towards your business or nonprofit idea. Don’t wait for the house to burn down to start remodeling, begin simply with buying a URL or writing your idea. Then slowly expand your idea by investing your own money into it. (I want to emphasize your own money because now you’re investing in yourself with hard earned 9–5 money and that will not only make the experience of building your idea more real but it will make it more valuable. The more you invest in it the more you’ll be interested in keeping it alive.) Every day pull a part of your old life down and put up a new piece around your idea.

You might be reading this and you are going through that life crumbling phase right now. Everything is bleak and the last thing you’re thinking about is building a business. I get it, I’ve been there, and I’m also going to let you in on something, I don’t care who you are or how bad things are getting or how bad they’ve become, you HAVE the strength to change all of it. It’s going to be a slow go and it’s probably going to suck…a lot. Sorry to be Debbie Downer but it’s the truth. Here’s the take away, NOW is the time to start envisioning your new life. It’s now when it hard to envision anything but survival that you HAVE to envision yourself thriving! Map it out on a piece of paper, figure out the road map not to where you were but to where you’re going! To hell with lemonade, build an empire!

Rod Rodriguez is a 13 year combat Veteran of the US Army. He holds a B.S. in US Intelligence Studies and an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling. Rod is also the host of The After Action Review (AAR) Podcast, a show dedicated to Veteran entrepreneurship. Visit the The AAR Podcast Facebook page and at

Army Values Inc.

by Rod Rodriguez

Every Soldier in the US Army is introduced to the Army Values early on in Basic training. From there they will see posters, stenciled stairs, wall paintings, and every other possible public display of the Values. Soldiers memorize the Army Values word for word to pass the multitude of boards the Army provides to prove that they understand what it is the Army stands for. Unfortunately, I can tell you often those words are uttered with as much conviction and purpose as someone reciting the answers to a paper test, it’s merely a check the block action that most almost always immediately data dump after its needed.

It’s only recently that my journey into entrepreneurship has lead me to exploring the value system of a business. What really matters about starting up, the value of content and products, where the soul of a business really lies. If there’s one overwhelming theme that almost every business expert and guru come back to is service. Service to your community, to your customers, providing something of value will the best of intentions and pure commitment to service will almost always yield a business profit over the long run.

Why do you want to start a business? Is it to make money? Is it to buy your dream car? Is it to get famous? What drives your will to become an entrepreneur?

I’m going to get old school here for a moment and dust off the Army Values because I think there’s something to learn and apply from them towards entrepreneurship. I can already hear eyeballs rolling back because you’ve seen these values a thousand times but I want to present them in a new light, the light of business. I think in this light you can figure out what your intentions really are, if your heart is in the right place, because if it’s not you’re almost certainly headed down a road of failure or worse yet fraudulent success.

Loyalty — Customer loyalty is a must for any business. We often think about customer loyalty in the sense of the customer being loyal to a brand or company. Instead I want you to consider your loyalty to your customer. Is your product or content staying true to what you promised them? Is your customer receiving the very best from you? When you commit ourselves to being loyal to our customer, listeners, viewers, or whomever is consuming our content, we in turn ask for their loyalty back. A loyal customer will be there when the chips are down and you can bet that at some point the chips will be down.

Duty — Businesses take time, lots of it! There are no short cuts to quality, but plenty to mediocrity. Entrepreneurs have a duty to their business and to their customers. That duty is the time, work, and dedication to providing what was promised. Sometimes circumstances may occur that interfere with deadlines, products, or content but that should always be addressed open and honestly. It is simply the duty of a business owner to care for the business like they would themselves because in many ways a business is an extension of what you represent and value.

Respect — Respect your customers, your employees, and yourself. Treat those that work for you with dignity and respect and you will earn their hard work. Treat you customers with respect and you will earn their business. Treat yourself with respect and patience and you will earn respect from those around you. Be boss the boss you wish you’d had, emotionally intelligent, approachable, patient and understanding. Respect is a commodity hard earned and easily lost.

Selfless Service — Be more than about profits. It doesn’t matter what your selling, find the meaning in what you’re doing. If your selling fidget spinners consider all the kids benefiting from your product and now able to concentrate on their homework. How many kids will graduate to the next grade because you put a quality product in their hands. Maybe you have a cause like Veteran employment or PTSD that your business is going to offer something to address that issue. Make your business bigger about passion for others and profit will find you.

Honor — Dedicate yourself to a standard of business that you will not deviate from. Be consistent in how you manage yourself, your employees, and your customer interactions. In a world of social media, it’s easy to spread the word when a company’s performance wavers, when they fail to follow through without explanation, or when they completely drop the ball and point fingers at everything but themselves. Honorable conduct means adherence to the values you set forth for your business, even if that means admitting your wrong and it costs you money.

Integrity — It should go without saying but honesty in business is crucial to success. Cutting corners, lying, and cheating is not only morally reprehensible but it can also lead you to financial ruin and legal issues. Being upfront and honest with all parties involved in your business means less stress for you and less potential for disaster. A sure-fire way to lose customers and employees is to lie to them, omit the truth, or try to fool them. Demonstrating integrity on the other hand gains their trust and loyalty. A customer would rather deal with an imperfect but honest business than a glossy huckster.

Personal Courage — Have the courage to start! Have the courage to take the first step into making your business a reality. None of this will matter if you don’t try! And once you do have the courage to confront the challenges that will arise. There will be a multitude of issues that will arise that will slow you down, derail you, but never let it stop you. Today’s most successful companies were founded on layer upon layer of challenges and failures. Accept that this journey is not easy from the start but have the courage to at least try!

The Army Values represents a system for living but it can also be a system for operating your business. Adopt a Value system early on. Know what your about as an entrepreneur and what your business stands for. Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor Integrity, and Personal Courage is a good start. Let this system of LDRSHIP guide you and I promise you can’t go wrong.


My Baby's Ugly, Now What?

by Rod Rodriguez

I run a podcast, manage its social media accounts, and maintain the website. I started doing all this about a year ago and I have lived through the typical ups and downs of starting a small business centered around a passion with no real idea of how to monetize. This story is hardly unique now a days but what makes it unique to me is that it’s the story of me…so that makes it important.

With valuing the story of my podcast comes a certain level of guarded protectiveness of my product. I’ve often described my podcast and its associated mediums as “my baby”. Like a real baby, I’m proud of what I made! I look at my podcast through the eyes of a proud father, all the Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter followers are a collective of folks I happily whip out the 100-pic wallet to show my kid off to every time I post. I want to sit back and continue watching my kid grow as he is gently directing him toward what I envision as the best podcast it can be. But here’s the terrible truth. It’s not my baby, it’s a business. And if I want to hold on to the baby analogy then the harsher truth is, maybe my baby is fucking ugly.

That’s a hard pill to swallow for any proud parent, the admission that your kid might be stupid, ugly, and not destined for greatness if they continue down the path they’re going. Now perhaps it’s the not the smartest thing to say about your own product, I doubt you’ll see a Pepsi advertisement any time soon with the tagline “Not as good as Coke to be honest but we do just fine””. One of the purposes of starting my podcast was to document my own journey trying to be one of the Veteran entrepreneurs that I was dedicated to interviewing. I was hoping that by sharing my story of growth others would learn some valuable lessons. Well here’s such a lesson that I’m learning and it’s caused me a little heart ache.

It started when I ran across a YouTube page for an interview format program that seemed to center on Veteran business owners. I’d never heard of this show and they only had a handful of episodes but I quickly recognized the format as being identical to my podcast. I looked at the thumbnails, read the descriptions, and checkout out the banner. Then, I clicked away. I clicked on another video and found myself looking at something else completely. A moment later I had a realization, I hadn’t clicked on any of that sites videos. A site that was for all intents and purposes my competition, I didn’t bother to click on anything. I sat back and reflected on that for moment. Why? Why didn’t I click on a video to at least see what my competition was doing, what it looked like, what it sounded like, after all as I was looking through it I had been feeling a strong sense of déjà vu. Then it hit me. It hit me hard. I hadn’t clicked on anything because…it sucked. I mean damn, did it ever suck. The thumbnails look like garbage, the video quality didn’t look appealing, and the people being interviewed didn’t seem interesting to me because I didn’t know who they were. I even had better reason than most to check it out because they were my competition but I still felt so little interest that clicking for the sake of business wasn’t enough to compel me to click.

Was this what people saw and felt about my podcast? Nah! No way! My baby’s beautiful, right? It’s got followers! It does well, and people have told me it was good…right? For the most part the feedback had been positive but then again, how often does someone tell you that your baby’s ugly, especially when those people are your friends? I went to my own YouTube page and looked around, then all my social media, then my website. I had a moment of detached clarity, looking at my content objectively…my baby was fucking ugly. Damn…

Ok! I’m not ready to toss the ugly baby over a cliff like the Spartans! In fact, this baby has potential, that I know but if I’m going to be honest with myself this kid is going to need a LOT of work, which I’m willing to do and I WANT to do. And so, began a few hours of emotionally depressing honest appraisal of my own work. From coming to terms with its ugliness to facing the facts that I may have reached the limit of my capabilities. Unless I was willing to devote a few hundred hours into developing new skills this podcast might be at the point of where it’s time to move forward and invest some cash into refining the product or this baby goes airborne, after all in the world of business this is Sparta.

I made a list of what I’m doing next. Some pretty exciting things about how this baby is going to evolve and I’m genuinely excited because I think it’s not only going to make the show better but by making the show better I’m improving the chances of making a real impact on Veteran entrepreneurship and advocacy. But here’s the take away, my baby was ugly from the start. In fact, if I were to compare my baby now to when it was born, well one might have questioned my ethics for birthing such a little abomination of a poorly put together podcast. That’s ok though!

Look, your business baby is supposed to be a little bundle of dumpster fire. That’s the point of building your business. I can’t think of one business that was born looking like it belonged on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine. It’s our job to own the mistakes that make our babies so damned ugly then work our butts off to help said baby develop into the visions we have for them. I am my own harshest critic, and is my podcast perfect? Far from! But is it a good show? YEAH! It’s got great content if you’re willing to give it a shot! When I talk about supporting Veteran businesses that’s part of it! It’s like going to the ugly kid’s soccer game! Sure, he’s clumsy, falls down a lot, and a few times almost scored on the wrong goal, but hey that’s someone’s kid and you’re here to support that proud parent. And here’s the kicker, if you stick around long enough you might see the spark of genius in that little ugly little kid.

My podcast is called The After Action Review, and it’s my ugly baby. If you give this ugly kid a chance you’ll find some genuinely helpful stories of entrepreneurship from guys you’ve never heard of through video that screams amateur, but those guys being interviewed are REAL Veterans with REAL stories who took the time to talk with an ugly baby because they care about the parent. Perhaps more important they want YOU to have your very own ugly ass kid!

So now I’ve got a lot of work to do and I’m going to have fun making it all happen…but first I have a soccer game to attend on a YouTube page I had ignored, I here someone’s ugly ass kid is playing.

Coming to Terms

I am not a business guy. My whole life I’ve worked for someone else both in the Army and in the civilian world, I’ve found myself content making an established organization better… at least trying to. I’m pretty sure everyone at some point has had an idea for a business, an invention, some type of creative expression that they consider ground breaking and solely theirs. Then like most other fanciful ideas it passes and we’re off to the next fleeting thought. This podcast is honestly the first time I have ever put rubber to the road in terms of making an idea become something. It’s exciting to pull the trigger on purchases toward an idea that you had. Seeing something go from in your head to on your screen is a rush and that’s great but throughout this journey which is far from complete there’s been a nagging question in the back of my mind.

Am I an entrepreneur?

Stepping outside of myself for a moment and looking at what I’ve made of this idea so far, my inclination is to say, “No, you’re not an entrepreneur. You don’t have a business; you have a podcast (barely).” Not a penny is being made; in fact several pennies by the thousand have been spent on this with no foreseeable revenue to be made in the future. I put this podcast together purely out of my own interest in creating a community for Veteran business owners that was different from the button down shirts and blazers that seem to symbolize “business attire”. There was never a plan to make money; the plan was to make a show.  A business that doesn’t make money isn’t much of a business as one nay sayer put it to me.

On the other hand I’ll go the route travelled by those who enjoy trying to prove a point, even to themselves by invoking the power of and defining the word entrepreneur.

“1. a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.

2. an employer of productive labor; contractor.”

This definition provides something much broader than I was using to define what an entrepreneur was. If we wanted to get all JAG with this it could be said that I am in fact a person who is organizing and managing an enterprise (the podcast and website) with considerable initiative and risk. Well, that last bit about risk may be greatly exaggerated since my experience with the term risk has historically been tied to far more serious consequences than losing a few hundred dollars and time. Either way, it would seem that I may in fact be an entrepreneur!

If we continue to use this definition it seems that we could label several different types of work and skills as examples of entrepreneurship. Looking back on my service in the Army there were several enterprises I was in charge of taking from concept to application on a battlefield that relied on my initiative and certainly carried a tremendous amount of risk. Although I was serving the Army and it’s mission, I was trying to make something happen out of nothing. It wasn’t just me either, from the lowest ranking enlisted guy all the way up the chain there was always someone taking the initiative to try something, to make something happen that would help them accomplish their mission. Some guys got super creative (I’m looking at you mechanics), others could see where to make in place systems more efficient, and in some instances there were individuals who changed the game completely by introducing something no one had thought of yet. Those examples aren’t exclusive either, they can be mixed together in different ways producing some startling results.

So am I entrepreneur? Yeah, I think I might be. You might be too! Take a look at what you do for living or your hobbies? The entrepreneurial seed could already be planted. The hard work your putting into it is helping it grow slowly. Maybe you’re not making money from it, or your skills are being used to make someone else’s business better, or you’ve got somethinggoing on that you just haven’t shared with the world yet. There’s something about thinking of myself as an entrepreneur that is both inspiring and frightening to me. Accepting the idea that I’m an entrepreneur means that I owe it to myself to keep moving forward with my enterprise, whether it’s a million dollar idea or a podcast. It means that the fleeting thought is no longer fleeting, it’s got a home now and it’s my responsibility to feed it and care for it.

Okay, I’m an entrepreneur, great…now what? So far as of the writing of this blog I’ve created a not-so-bad-for-my-first-time-website, bought a mic, and look at that...I wrote my first blog. Not bad for a few weeks of work. Next on my list of things to do before the big launch is record an introduction to the podcast, record the first two interviews, and take some pictures to populate my gallery with. Also, Facebook but that’s its own line of effort. There you have it, I’ve conquered the fear of labeling myself and managed to create a little content on the way. Now what to do about my insecurity of hearing my own voice...ugh!