Live From Dallas: US Veteran Matt Has a Plan
Featuring: Matt Butler, the founder of Rollers and co-founder of Tally Tumbler
In this special bonus episode of This is Small Business, host Andrea Marquez goes to the Veteran Edge conference by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, an event dedicated to Veterans and military spouses who are small business owners, to sit down in a live interview with Matt Butler, the founder of Rollers and co-founder of Tally Tumbler. Matt shares his story as a veteran-turned-entrepreneur or as he likes to say Vetrepreneur, and talks about all the transferable skills he learned during his service that enabled him to succeed in building his businesses. He also delves into the importance of being passionate about your business, trying to solve a problem with your business, and making sure you go in with a plan. Join Andrea as she writes down all the important takeaways from this inspiring interview that’ll get you motivated to start, build, and grow your business.
[00:00:06] Andrea Check-in: Right now we're at the Hyatt, outside the Hyatt, and we're entering the Veteran Edge 2023 conference, and it's by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. And Amazon likes to come to these events because a lot of our Amazon sellers are veterans, and we like to support them in any way we can.
[00:00:30] Host: Hi, This is Small Business, a weekly podcast brought to you by Amazon. I'm your host Andrea Marquez. This show is all about learning how to start, build, and grow your small business and -- as always -- I'll make sure to call out all the key takeaways at the end of each episode.
This is Small Business has been on the road. I went to Dallas to attend the Veteran Edge conference by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families or IVMF for short. This special episode might sound slightly different than our regular ones [00:01:00] because I got the chance to be at the event in person and interview our guests live. The Veteran EDGE conference is for veterans, military members, and military spouses. And it allows them to get together to network, develop relationships, and meet other aspiring entrepreneurs. Whether they've been coming to Veteran's Edge for a while…
[00:01:28] Impromptu Interview Speaker: Why are we here? I like to come to Edge as someone who has worked with entrepreneurs for the past 10 years and share my knowledge with them to help them succeed.
[00:02:00] Host: Or if it was their first time at the event…
[00:02:03] Rebecca: This is my first time at Edge, so I'm really excited to be here. I'm just experiencing the energy and the vibe and I'm just so grateful to IVMF for, um, partnering with, our organization, the National Association for community college entrepreneurship.
[00:02:20] Host: And while I was there, I got the chance to talk to Matt Butler, a military veteran, Founder of Rollers, and Co-founder of Tally Tumbler. But first, I'm going to hand it over to my past self to fill you in on the details of the event.
[00:02:36] Andrea Check-in: And so right now we're entering the event, which is in the lobby, first floor. You can see already that there's a lot of people with their badges. Veterans here to meet, speak to each other, and right now I think there's some keynotes going on and some goody bag, merch tables. [00:03:00] I think that a lot of people come here to network, meet other veterans, try to learn from them. Actually, Matt, who we're talking to today, is a coach for other veterans that can leverage their experiences to learn about creating their own small business or being an entrepreneur, aspiring entrepreneur. So, right now there's a lot of people working, sitting down, talking to each other. And actually what's interesting about this as well, it's not just for veterans, but their families as well, military spouses, which we've had on the show.
Hi. Can you tell me a little bit more about the conference we're at right now?
[00:03:35] Check-in person: Yes, yes. So this conference of course, is Veteran Edge and it's a conference to provide knowledge and skill sets to veterans, military spouses as well, to kind of ignite that interest to start a business. So it's a lot of networking, it's a lot of insights related to business aspects, but most of all, it's a great conference to provide those tools and skill sets to open up a business or start their own company.
[00:04:00] Andrea Check-in: How many people attend this conference?
[00:04:04] Check-in person: Today, I wanna say probably a little over 200 or like 240 around that number. Um, there's a good turnout and of course, you know, these veteran and military spouses are looking for these resources to upscale their businesses. So this is our fifth Veteran Edge conference, and then there's only one year where it didn't take place because of covid in 2020.
[00:04:24] Host: At the event I got to sit down with Matt Butler and a live audience.
[00:04:31] Andrea: Matt Butler, thank you so much for being on, This is Small Business.
[00:04:32] Matt: Thank you so much for having me on.
[00:04:33] Andrea: Tell me a little bit about: who you are Matt?
[00:04:38] Matt: I'm a veteran of the US Air Force. I was in, uh, 20 plus years. I moved around quite a bit in the military. I was on 10 different deployments. I spent the majority of my time flying on a reconnaissance aircraft called Joint Stars, which is a big 707 aircraft. So you can imagine a big commercial aircraft that had a radar on the bottom of the aircraft [00:05:00] for surveilling, uh, maritime and the ground environment. So that's what took me overseas and on deployment quite a bit. I did a lot of other things of testing equipment for UAVs, which the media calls drones and unmanned vehicles. Spent some time on staffs, so Virginia and uh, the Pentagon. So I kind of took me all over the place. It was really fun.
[00:05:21] Andrea: And then you got here, to being an entrepreneur and owning your own business. Tell me that journey from deciding that you wanted to be an entrepreneur to Rollers.
[00:05:32] Matt: I don't know if it was so much that I wanted to become an entrepreneur, that maybe entrepreneurship found me so, I was missing being with friends and family on one of my deployments. I think I, I was missing a friend of mine, from college's wedding and uh, this is when we're doing a lot of back-to-back deployments and I grew up in Minnesota where we played a lot of outdoor games. And so I was reminiscing on those memories of playing bocce ball and horseshoes. [00:06:00] And, uh, in entrepreneurship when people find a problem and they can find a solution that usually will equal an opportunity.
And so, at the time when I was reminiscing about being back in Minnesota and hanging out with friends, I was thinking there's a, a lack of outdoor games on the market in retail. I kept seeing the same games on the store shelves for probably the past century. So I started imagining another outdoor game, and I took elements of the game that I didn't like. For example, corn hole are really heavy, big boards, they don't really fit too well in a person's trunk of their car. Horseshoes can be a little dangerous. It's, you know, metal horseshoe that you're slinging back and forth to each other could hit you in the shin. So all sorts of things and so I was thinking of a new outdoor game and I made a combination of bocci ball and horseshoes.
[00:07:00] So you've got two goals to the game and six discs, and you roll these discs in underhand bowling motion towards the goal, and the discs have numbers on them, and whichever side the discs fall on are the points you get. Fairly leisure game. You're not gonna really injure yourself playing it, but, uh, a fun game. I've always been involved in sports and being outdoors, and so part of that fits into Rollers because it's something that I enjoy doing. So when I got back from one of my deployments, I prototyped Rollers in my garage. I've got some woodworking skills that I learned on one of the military bases and prototyped rollers in my garage and showed it to some friends and family and they liked the game and they actually, we played at a barbecue and, and had fun playing it.
And they told me how, how well they liked the game and I thought they're just being nice but then somebody actually wanted to buy it from me, which is different. There's a transaction that somebody wants to give me money for something that I created, [00:08:00] and so I had a bunch more made in the garage. I took those games that I had made and brought them to my church craft fair, but I had what's what people in business called is a MVP, which is a minimal viable product. And when I was at the fair, I had about 50 sets made. Somebody asked if they could play the game outside in front of the church. So I said, sure. So they took a set and they went out there and everyone that came to the church to go to the craft fair was seeing people playing Rollers, and were inquiring on what the game is and they said, you can buy it inside. And so because of that marketing, which I didn't really know was ongoing, I actually sold out of those 50 sets the first day and I didn't have anything to sell the next day. So that light bulb, you know, popped on over my head, what you see on cartoons and that where I might have an idea for a business here.
So this is why I didn't look into going into entrepreneurship right off the bat. It was more something that found me over the development of a problem that I saw. [00:09:00] And a solution and opportunity. And fast forward to today with Rollers. We sell it in hundreds of retailers across the United States. We've expanded internationally.
[00:09:16] Andrea: A couple of things that you mentioned stood out to me. Before we were talking right now I was in the lobby and talking to some of the attendees of IVMF and I was telling them that from the conversations that I've had with a lot of small business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs, one of the things that they are the most fearful of and that stop them from taking that next step is how do you find money? And one of the attendees mentioned that for him, he thinks that one of the most intimidating things is solving a problem...
[00:09:45] Andy Gold: the biggest thing in my opinion an aspiring entrepreneur needs to focus on is whether or not there's a problem worth solving before they chase money. Cuz oftentimes you're right, like novice entrepreneurs will go chasing money. [00:10:00] They gotta do, think they have to do capital raising, but they don't even know if the problem they've identified is a real problem that needs to even be solved.
[00:10:11] Andrea: Matt, you just mentioned that you were trying to solve that problem for yourself, but also it found you. You were very passionate about what you were doing. You didn't even think that this was going to be what it is today. And then another thing is the MVP is so important. We actually talk about in episode 13, Serwaa Adjei-Pellé mentioned that if there's anything that you can do as a small business owner, it's get out in the market as fast as you can so that you can get that live feedback from your customers. So you've already, as we mentioned, talked about the MVP. You talked about being passionate, you talked about finding a problem, a solution, and you also started another business, right?
[00:10:50] Matt: I did, we've got another product called the Tally Tumblr. It's a score keeping Tumblr, so think of like a Yeti or one of the brand names that are out there for tumblers, [00:11:00] but it's got rings that are around it. It's for keeping track of different sports, like yard games, like Rollers or bocci ball. But then there's also a tennis version. And then also a golf version.
[00:11:11] Andrea: Being where you are now and now that you have that second product, what would you say are those top three lessons you've learned in this journey?
[00:11:18] Matt: I would say the first one is having a plan going in, which is what I've always been used to in the military is developing a plan. I've always developed it on every level, but for people that are wanting to either buy a business or start a business, they need to have a structure to what they're doing, and that's probably why when you said you inquired with some other folks is they're wondering about the money or maybe they're worried about risk or maybe they're worried about a problem, but there's a lot of great free resources that are out there that can help you with a template for creating a plan. And they can ask you questions and you can categorize different things [00:12:00] like what are your demographics, what are your risks, who's your target audience, uh, your sales strategy, things like that. So things like that would probably alleviate some of the people that are here as they're getting into a brand new business of having a plan going in.
So a second item would be finding something that you have interest in because it's not a sprint in your business. It could be. But if, if you want to get up and feel energized about what you're gonna go out and do, you need to have something that you're passionate about. I'm passionate about Rollers because it's in the sporting goods realm. I like the outdoors. I like the leisure competition. I grew up playing a lot of sports basketball. Tore my ACL a couple times. So those competitive sports are kind of out the door. So now I'm competitive Rollers and lawn games and things of that nature.
[00:13:00] Same thing with Tally Tumblr. It's, it's a sporting goods item. It has to do with sports and golf and tennis, and I still enjoy playing those and so passionate about those. So I enjoy doing those day to day and meeting other people that are into the sporting goods.
And then the third, I would say networking. It's real important to network with other people, like-minded people, maybe people that are in your line of business or just in business in general. It's part of the reason why I'm here today in Dallas at the Edge Conference as I'm trying to expand upon my network. And also, I've had a lot of, uh, mentors that have helped me. Pay it forward to me by helping me out. And so I've tried to do the same thing by helping other people here with, with helping them in any pitfall or problem they may have and help out with any questions they have. But networking something that is very essential to any business because there's a lot of other people that have done the things that we're doing. [00:14:00] And if we can learn from any mistakes they might have made, we can hopefully eliminate not making those same mistakes.
[00:14:08] Andrea: You mentioned planning and then being passionate. Going back to planning, you touched on how being in the military helped you with this. I'm guessing it obviously helps with discipline and keeping yourself accountable, but how else has that seeped into your entrepreneurship life now?
[00:14:25] Matt: Well, you already hit one. Discipline is definitely something that's, uh, helped me being disciplined in the military and then being disciplined in business. And another one that I discussed a little bit is planning and business planning and developing. I think it was Benjamin Franklin that said, if you fail to a plan, you plan to fail. So same thing. You can go and act on your business if you'd like to without having a plan. But your probability of failure is going to be higher. You're putting yourself at risk, and so you should do your due diligence of planning.
[00:16:00] So in the military, planning is an integral part out of every level being in the military from the tactical to strategic level of different units. And uh, when I flew on joint stars, we spent a full day planning prior to conducting our mission. And then we flew our mission that following day. And then on the day after that post mission, we would do a debrief and lessons learned so we could pull out the good and bad about what we conducted on the mission to see how we can better. That's the same recommendation I would have in business. It might not be a full day of doing mission planning, but you should have a level of planning as part of your thought process for business.
If you want to pull out a small pad of paper, if you want to take out a sheet of paper and just start putting things together in a structured form. And for me, I honestly did not initially create a business plan, but once I did, I, I felt a lot of relief of [00:16:00] getting all of my thoughts and processes onto a single source. So it helped me communicate what I wanted to do. For me, I almost felt like I took a box, a puzzle. And took all the pieces and threw them out on the table and then started piecing 'em together. That's what I felt the business plan was. I could figure out my demographics, my finances, my strategy, my marketing. I could put them in paragraph format, which is, which is really powerful because for me it got, I had all the pieces and parts in my mind it was all there. It just wasn't structured. That's what I think. That's good about a business plan, so you're structuring your communication.
Another thing that I learned about being in the military is being focused on a mission. Uh, and that would be the same for a business. Businesses come up with what are their mission, what are their visions or strategy? And at every level in the military, there's a mission for every unit. For the Air Force, the Navy, the D-O-D, everyone has a mission. And so everyone in that company, including the founder, myself, [00:17:00] we’re focused on what that mission is. You go back and revisit that mission, that that's, that's why you're here in conducting business. So I think that that's been instilled in my mind from the military as being on the same page.
Then third, I would say working together in teams is a, a real important part. At some point in business, you're gonna have to work. If you're hiring people, you might think, well, I can operate my business by myself, but you still have to work with maybe manufacturers, buyers of other companies, other people to help develop your business. So there's always a teaming effect that, that you have to put into there, and that's communicating. And in the military, we're, we're always working as a team. When I flew on joint stars, we had 22 different people that were on the aircraft. Everyone knew their role and their mission, and, uh, that's important to be able to communicate amongst people. I mean, you could be completely independent in whatever business you do, but that's one of the items that helped me, is being able to work with teams and other people.
[00:18:00] Andrea: And what, I think makes your story unique -- being a veteran who’s a small business owner – leverage your community, right? so it’s not just leveraging the community of small business owners but of veterans.
[00:18:13] Matt: No, you hit the nail in the head. It's exactly what's going on here is everybody is doing this in a teaming effect essentially. You come across all sorts of different people that are selling candles to soaps, to real estate, to me, selling sporting goods. Somebody else might be selling board games, but the, the business mindset is still the same. And so the fundamentals of it are still the same. And so no matter the industry that you're in, you still have value that you can add to other people and that can, people can derive from other people cuz you have people that are making millions of dollars that are here and you have people that might still be in debt because they just started their business.
So you've got all walks of life, but everybody's here to support anyone here. I mean, I bet if I were to walk out and ask for assistance from anyone that's at this conference, they would bend over backwards to help out because that's just part of that [00:19:00] brotherhood, sisterhood amongst just the veterans that are here. Even the spouses. I say veterans a lot, but I include the spouses when I say veterans.
[00:19:09] Andrea: We actually had one military spouse. Her name is Nadia Martinez, and she is a military spouse who employs, the women, she employs are military spouses. I think that's really powerful and hopefully, when I have my own small business, I would love for that to be the case as well.
[00:19:25] Host: You're listening to This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon. I’m your host, Andrea Marquez. I'm talking with -- Matt Butler, a military veteran, Founder of Rollers, and Co-founder of Tally Tumbler. You can find out more about both of his businesses in our show notes on our website: Thisissmallbusinesspodcast.com.
Did you know that nearly 60% of products sold in Amazon's store are from independent sellers - most of which are small and medium-sized businesses? The small businesses we feature on the show are some of the many small businesses selling in the Amazon store who have tapped into some of the tools and resources offered to help them succeed and grow. [00:20:00] One of those resources is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. You can strengthen your skills at no cost with live and on demand trainings, Q&As, events, and even find more This is Small Business content. If you don’t know where to start, you can take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
[00:20:32] Andrea: I'm going to do some rapid fires now. Are you ready?
[00:20:36] Matt: I am ready.
[00:20:37] Andrea: What is one thing you can't live without that helps your business?
[00:20:40] Matt: It is my smartphone, the one item that I turned off for this podcast for you. So I'm living without that right now. But, uh, no, I've, I've got all of the things that I need in the palm of my hand from photography to communication.
[00:20:53] Andrea: I'm honored that you turned it off for me. Wow. Another small business, you admire?
[00:20:58] Matt: That's a tough one. I know you're trying to stump me on this, [00:21:00] and may sound cheesy, but here it goes. So, I admire, really, all the people that are here tonight, honestly, because they're trying to start something or get involved in business, and I admire them for wanting to come here to better themselves, to develop, engage, network, and all of those things. Uh, and they're serious about it. I mean, because they spent time traveling here, they're on Thursday through Sunday they're here, and that that's a lot of time to be out. So I know that they're serious about it and I just applaud, anyone wanting to start a business, but especially the people that are here because I know that they're veterans and spouses like myself.
[00:21:40] Andrea: Stop. That was a very nice answer. What is your advice to other small business owners?
[00:21:44] Matt: If you're a small business owner or you're looking to get involved in a small business, I would look at the free resources that are out there, there's a lot of them out there. You just have to look for them. So the small business administration, and you can look at sba.gov, can give you business templates. [00:22:00] If you look at their website, they talk about if you're initially starting your business or if you're growing it or if you're trying to further, they give you different stages. So anyways, the SBA is great and then they have, different entities throughout the United States called small business development centers. And then for veterans, they have veteran business outreach centers. They're growing and they're real helpful, very specific to veterans and spouses. So again, using free resources that are out there.
[00:22:28] Andrea: A book you recommend early-stage small business owners read?
[00:22:54] Matt: So the first one that comes to mind is a book called Victory, which is for small businesses. [00:23:00] It's actually written by a gentleman that's here. His name's Larry Bratton. He's a Green Beret and he is, uh, very involved in IVMF programs, but his book is extremely helpful. It starts off just talking about the foundations of business, things to think about. There's another one called deliberate discomfort by Jason VanCamp. Uh, Jason is another Green Beret, so I don't know if there's a pattern there about these Green Berets here, but, uh, Jason has different chapters in the book that talk about discomfort of other people that were in his unit and organization and just different perspectives. And so it's, it's almost like multiple books into one, but the, the synopsis of the book is, um, you need to deliberately on purpose, put yourself into uncomfortable positions to make yourself comfortable. I mean, you can't just take the easy way every time. I mean, you can, but if you wanna better yourself for your business. And so I enjoyed, uh, reading Jason's book, deliberate Discomfort.
[00:23:57] Andrea: What is the biggest misconception of being a business owner?
[00:24:00] Matt: I would say when you see that meme or cartoon of somebody in their flip flops on a hammock that's kicking back and they have a Piña Colada or a Mai Thai or whatever, your drink of choice is just kicking back because you're a business owner, entrepreneur. I, I feel like a lot of people think that that's what it is when you get, when you become an entrepreneur and you're, you're running your own business, but that is really not the case because you are going to be married to your business. Uh, sometimes your weekends disappear because you're working on your business. There's a lot of time that goes into the business. You might be up late for, you know, something you're working on all sorts of things. So there's a lot of hard work that goes into it, but, I, I don't wanna be too negative about it, but there's a lot of reward that comes with it as well. I think that, uh, that's why I go back into selecting a business that you have interest in, you know, I think the, the best thing that somebody can find is if there's something that you would do for free, [00:25:00] that's work. But then you actually get paid money. So it's almost like a bonus. But that would be the, the best job to have as something that you would do free, but you actually get paid to do so.
[00:25:10] Andrea: So now is the portion where we allow one or two Q and A’s from the audience…
[00:25:15] Audience: So, so Matt, my question for you is, you talk about how challenging it is to be a small business owner, and we also know serving the military had its challenges as well. I wanna know what motivates you when things are super challenging and you just wanna give up. Because even though we have that military experience, there's always gonna be a day where you just wanna give up. What motivates you?
[00:25:35] Matt: There's probably a little bit of DNA in myself in regards to persistence and tenacity, and I did also learn a lot of that in the military about myself. That you know, you don't always get everything that you need in the military. You have to make do with what you have sometimes, and uh, sometimes that can be challenging. I mean, there's been days where I think that I am an absolute [00:26:00] business wizard when it comes to things and I'm making a lot of money. And then usually when that happens right around the corner is there's gonna be something that, uh, you know, maybe I got a little too arrogant about something and something's gonna catch me off guard and I'm gonna make a poor decision on something. And I have all sorts of those examples. Uh, I was at a conference, and I saw a diagram, an XY chart, and it showed a squiggle. Going in the upward trajectory, but it, what, what that was implying was that in business, it's not just exponential that you hear about in business magazines and stories of, you know, is there's our ups and downs in businesses all the time, but hopefully you just keep the trajectory going in the way that you want, which is usually up.
[00:26:48] Andrea: Matt, thank you so much for being on This is Small Business. It was great to have you. And thank you for your service.
[00:26:54] Matt: Thank you so much for having me on. And it was my pleasure.
[00:26:57] Host: That was Matt Butler, a military veteran, [00:27:00] Founder of Rollers, and Co-founder of Tally Tumbler. Thank you for listening today -- I’ve learned a lot from speaking to Matt and I'm feeling so inspired by all the people I met at Veteran EDGE. As always, here are some key takeaways:
- One. Have business that helps solves a problem and a plan in place. Before you start to think about how you'll fund your business, you need to have a plan that will set up your business in the right way and help you succeed. And most importantly, think of how your business idea is solving a problem and for who. A plan can come in many different forms and as Matt mentioned, there are many free resources out that that can help you with some templates, like the Amazon Small Business Academy of the Small Business Administration. A plan will help you stay on track and lead you in the right direction when you’re starting out. And in solving a problem, you can also understand who your customer is and how you fit into their daily life, which eventually can help you iterate [00:28:00] or even start a new business, like Matt did with Tally Tumblr.
- Two. Make sure you're passionate about your business. Starting and owning a business is not always what we think it’ll be. After two seasons of hosting This is Small Business, I’ve learned that it’s a lot more work, discipline, and determination than I thought going into Season One. We've heard this from so many people. But like Matt said, you'll be spending a lot of time on your business, so make sure you're working on something you love.
- Three. MVPs. Your minimal viable product. We’ve talked about this in the past. But when it comes to starting out with limited resources, it helps to test your product out in the market first, before investing additional resources. Matt did this with Rollers and his 50 unites sold out in a day! Customer feedback is gold.
- and finally. Networking and leveraging your community is key and can drive a lot of the word-of-mouth marketing [00:29:00] that you just can’t buy in business. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, and if -- like me -- going up to strangers is a challenge, Matt says to try to find conferences that have people with similar interests. Like a conference for veterans interested in entrepreneurship.
I'm curious – Do you have a small business? Or are you in the process of starting one? I'd love to hear more about it! Reach out to us at email@example.com to tell us what you're up to. Or let me know what you think of the episode by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts – it’s easier if you do it through your phone. And if you liked what you heard -- I hope you'll share us with anyone else who needs to hear this!
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, and I hope you are if you’re listening to This is Small Business. Or maybe you already have your small business up and running and you’re ready for the next step. A super valuable resource that can help you is the Amazon Small Business Academy where you can find the help you need to take your small business from concept to launch and beyond. Take the free self-assessment on the Amazon Small Business Academy site [00:30:00] at www.smallbusiness.amazon.
That's it for this special live episode of season 2 of This is Small Business, brought to you by Amazon.
Until next time – This is Small Business, I'm your host Andrea Marquez -- Hasta luego -- and thanks for listening!
CREDITS: This is Small Business is brought to you by Amazon, with technical and story production by JAR Audio. [00:29:40]