“My Transition” #24: Tristan Flannery— U.S. Army to CEO of Zero Hour Media
Tristan knows that the key to success is in relationships and strategy. From military contractor to CEO, he shares some insight into the keys for successful transition.
One thing I learned from the best leaders I worked for, is that it’s not their job to be hands-on with tactical decisions, as much as it is ensuring that everyone making those decisions has what they need at the right time.
Sacramento, CA— Tristan was born and raised in Germany. He moved to the United States shortly after turning 18, and went directly from Frankfurt to Fort Benning, GA, to begin his enlistment in the US Army. Since then, he has spent over a decade protecting people around the globe as both a soldier and civilian contractor. Recently, he co-founded Zero Hour Media to help veterans launch, scale, and optimize their businesses. His goal is to empower veterans to become leaders within their communities.
DJS: Why did you join the military?
I came from a family who served and I always loved the stories my Dad and Uncle would tell me. It made me want to leave home as soon as I could and it turned out to be the best decision I’d made at that stage of my life. By joining the Army, I was able to move to the United States and I had a lofty goal of succeeding ahead. Hard to beat that.
DJS: What were the most important skills or lessons that you learned?
I feel like this answer may come across as a bit of a stereotype, but it was never to quit. Or to quit in your head once a day, to get it out of the way, and then continue to perform.
DJS: Did you know what you were going to do when you left the Army?
I had a solid transition plan when I went on terminal leave. After convincing my chain of command that I wasn’t the right person to send to West Point for a Green to Gold scholarship, I was scheduled to attend Air Force ROTC at San Diego State. The only problem I had were about six months standing between my ETS date and the beginning of school, which proved to be too much time for me to handle back then. In the end, I never attended SDSU and instead started working in Iraq.
DJS: Did you face any struggles?
Absolutely. I went on terminal leave in late January of 2003. That was back in the days of clunky monitors, haha. All the things the Army had told me I’d have no problem accomplishing, like finding a job, turned out to be very different. It was hard, and I ended up working in door-to-door sales. Not exactly glamorous, but I did meet Joe, my best friend and current co-founder there, and wouldn’t change a thing about it. Seeing him embrace the suck on a daily basis, as a civilian, gave me a lot of respect for him and we became a great team since then.
All the things the Army had told me I’d have no problem accomplishing, like finding a job, turned out to be very different.
DJS: Tell me about your initial job search process? Did you know you wanted to do contracting? Was it as dreamy as you had imagined?
Initially, I just wanted a job to bridge the gap between ETS and ROTC. I scoured classifieds and craigslist every day, applied for hundreds of jobs on Monster.com, and eventually sold stuff door-to-door. All I knew about contracting then was that gate guards in Kuwait were making $60k a year, which was an insane amount of money to me, but I had no idea how to get one of those jobs.
It took me many months of scouring the internet before I found an amazing forum called SOCNET.com. Once there, I reconnected with two guys from my unit, and one of them got me my first job contracting a few months later. Contracting ended up allowing me to spend over ten years working with and for organizations that I had only read about. I loved the work I did overseas and wouldn’t change a thing about my decision to pursue it.
Contracting ended up allowing me to spend over ten years working with and for organizations I had only read about… I loved the work I did overseas…
DJS: You finished your studies at AMU, which many veterans are familiar with… how was the experience and would you change anything about your decision?
Well, I haven’t finished yet. I’m on the world’s longest undergrad plan, I think. Only five more classes and I’ll complete my degree, which should happen around December of this year. Overall, it’s been positive and I don’t have any regrets about choosing this path over any other.
DJS: So, you’ve recently started Zero Hour Media… tell me about that. What’s your vision? Why did you pursue this?
ZHM was born out of an intense desire to affect change. Looking around, I was seeing really talented veteran entrepreneurs creating and producing things, but failing to get to market. They were self-handicapping by their reluctance to step into the spotlight. I related to it since I was a prime example of the near-phobic feeling of talking about myself and my ambitions.
By creating specifically tailored marketing approaches for veteran entrepreneurs, including myself, we are enabling them to become noticed and effectively engage their audiences. The messaging is designed to attract not only fellow veterans but everyone who may be interested in their offerings. In return, the veteran owned businesses gain the necessary exposure to convert attention into revenue, and experience growth.
By creating specifically tailored marketing approaches… we are enabling veteran entrepreneurs to become noticed and engage their audiences.
DJS: Did you use any veteran networking strategy to make this new startup successful? If so, how did you make those connections?
Absolutely. Nothing works without a robust network, and I am blessed to have incredible friends who always swing for the fences. Two weeks before we established the company, I drove down to San Francisco to meet up with one of my best friends, Mike Nemke, to help him for a product interview. Mike’s a former Special Forces medic and easily one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. I told him about our idea, and he thought it was great.
The same day he connected me with Manny Parra, another former SF guy, and we started leveraging the connections they’d made. In short order, they completely immersed me into their remarkable network, and within weeks I had an abundance of entrepreneurial veteran connections. As a matter of fact, I’m going to have a call with one of them today, Justine Evirs, the Executive Director of the Bay Area chapter of Bunker Labs, who has become one of my favorite people to collaborate with.
Nothing works without a robust network… within weeks I had an abundance of entrepreneurial veteran connections.
DJS: Tell me about what you do on a daily basis? How do you provide ROI to clients?
One thing I learned from the best leaders I worked for, is that it’s not their job to be hands-on with tactical decisions, as much as it is ensuring that everyone making those decisions has what they need at the right time. Managing the team, as a servant leader and facilitator to them, I spend my day ensuring that they have everything they need to accomplish their duties.
On the high level, I provide them guidance on where we are headed, the vision for the client, and then ensure that they are prepared. Little things like getting them coffee when needed, telling them to stay home when they’re not feeling well, telling someone to get away from the screen and hit the gym, and ensuring that I know what makes every person on our team tick. They matter to me and I view them as stakeholders in our success.
At any given time the team can be working on video production, building advertising campaigns, crafting messaging, writing copy…it’s a lot, it’s constant, and it always has to be right. So the stakes are high, and we have to take care of our team.
Concerning quantitative and qualitative ROI we deliver at the 100% mark. Neither Joe nor I, believe in leaving something on the table. Our clients often invest everything they can spare with us. It’s our duty to be the good stewards and return them the maximum possible value and our relationships validate that mutual understanding.
Our clients often invest everything they can spare with us. It’s our duty to be the good stewards and return them the maximum possible value and our relationships validate that mutual understanding.
DJS: Is this job related to your military training in any way?
To a degree, yes. It has very little to do with breach, bang, clear, but everything to do with leading, mentoring, and advising. I’m a firm believer in real leadership, team building, and cohesion, but also fostering an environment in which we aren’t in an echo chamber. We’re hiring people for our organization who have diverse backgrounds, show that they can accomplish their own goals, and don’t fit into any neat categories. Unconventional and dynamic personalities thrive when you provide them a lot of freedom, so it requires a good grasp of situational awareness and communication on my end.
It has very little to do with breach, bang, clear, but everything to do with leading, mentoring, and advising.
DJS: What skills from the military translated into entrepreneurship and made you successful in your current role?
Leadership and the ability to create something with nothing. The same principles that will allow you to put a patrol base together, build teams, and execute a mission to textbook standard while completely exhausted, subsequently extend to any entrepreneurial endeavor.
… the same principles that will allow you to put a patrol base together… subsequently extend to any entrepreneurial endeavor.
DJS: Are there other veterans in your workplace? If so, how is that dynamic?
Yes, there are three former Marines, all of whom are very different, but bring that can-do attitude that every employer on the planet wants. They are continuously working and joking in the office and bring great energy to the team. We love having them because you can assign them any task and they’ll just get it done to the best of their abilities.
DJS: If you knew one thing before the transition process that would have made your experience easier, what would that be?
This is a great question because while technology has allowed the transition process to be much more efficient, the ground truth is that you should be networking for months in advance of your separation.
Get as many skills as you can, while you’re in, whether you’re just in for a bit or heading towards retirement. I wish I had CLEP’d college courses while I was in.
Attending networking events that are veteran-centric is another way to get ahead, but realize that the world is full of people who didn’t serve. Meet with people outside of your comfort-zone.
… you should be networking for months in advance of your separation… meet with people outside of your comfort-zone.
DJS: What was the hardest piece of transition?
The shock that employers didn’t understand what I did in the military and I couldn’t articulate my value to them.
DJS: What one piece of advice do you have for anyone reading this?
Network, network, and then network some more. Nowadays veterans have access to such great resources. Bunker Labs, Veterati, Breakline, Service2School…the list goes on. Just jumping on LinkedIn and connecting with people is an incredible stepping stone to success that didn’t exist when I left the service.
Prepare for your departure from the service in the same manner as you planned every meticulous step before leaving the wire. Be ready for things not to go as planned. Have realistic contingency plans if your primary one fails.
Network. Prepare. Have realistic contingency plans if your primary one fails.
Tristan Flannery was born and raised in Frankfurt, Germany. He is a former Sergeant and served with the US ARmy’s 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and 5/20th SBCT, from 1998–2003. He deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004–2014 in support of USG programs as a contractor. From 2014–2017, Tristan worked with non-profits such as DeliverFund, as well as in private and corporate security roles. In 2017 he and Joe Rare founded Zero Hour Media, of which Tristan is the CEO.
Top veteran resources
Zero Hour Media — ZHM helps veteran-owned business to launch, scale and optimize. They help veteran-owned businesses to experience new levels of success and to shift the veteran narrative from “super human” or “super broken” to empowered business and community leaders.
Bunker Labs —Through local chapters across the U.S., Bunker Labs provides educational programming, access to resources, and a thriving local network to help military veterans and their spouses start and grow businesses.
Veterati — Veterati is an innovative mentorship platform that makes being a mentor and finding mentors effortless. Connecting job-seekers to mentors at scale is phase 1 of Veterati’s greater mission: to transform job search from a painful experience into an inspiring journey.
Service2School — Service to School (S2S) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides free college application assistance to transitioning service members and veterans. Service to School empowers veterans to take control of their education by helping them throughout the entire application process.
Are you interested in sharing your story of transition? Or are you a military transition specialist who would like to share some tips? Send me an email at MilitaryTransitionStories@gmail.com
The goal of this series is to bridge the military-civilian divide in three ways: 1) Highlight the incredible skills and value that military veterans of all generations and backgrounds bring into the workplace. 2) Help transitioning veterans understand their true value and therefore aim as high as possible in their employment and educational goals. 3) Discuss the common struggles, pitfalls and indicators of success in veteran transition, in order to provide better transition assistance from both military and civilian sides.