#StartupsEverywhere: Bellevue, W.A.

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Matthew “Griff” Griffin, Co-Founder and CEO, Combat Flip Flops

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.

the-cashmagh-combat-flip-flops.jpg

Startups Give Back

The day after Thanksgiving kicks off a weekend of shopping, ending with Cyber Monday. This year, a record number of Americans shopped online. But what if the gift you purchased helped send girls to school in Afghanistan or helped clear landmines in foreign countries. Combat Flip Flops, co-founded by Matthew Griffin, does just that! After serving in the military, Griff founded this startup to make a difference in foreign policy. While he leaned on resources from The Bunker Labs, Griff hopes that policymakers consider tax incentives for veteran entrepreneurs, as well as social impact ventures.

Tell me about you. What’s your background?

I am a father, husband, dog owner, mountain biker, skier, and yogi. I am a 2001 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point with a degree in Engineering Management. I served in the 75th Ranger Regiment as a Rifle Company Fire Support Officer with three tours to Afghanistan and one tour to Iraq with 2d Ranger Battalion.  Post service, I worked a variety of jobs in the defense sector that lead to revelation of “Business, Not Bullets.” In 2012, I co-founded Combat Flip Flops with my Ranger Buddy, Donald Lee, and brother, Andy Sewrey.

What is Combat Flip Flops? Why did you start Combat Flip Flops?

Combat Flip Flops is an apparel company that specializes in creating footwear out of boot soles for those affected by conflict. The company continues its philanthropic vision in Afghanistan and the company donates funds to put an Afghan girl in school for one day with every product sold. I co-founded Combat Flip Flops in the pursuit of showing the American population it’s possible to have a desirable foreign policy outcome that doesn’t involve war.

As you started your company, what was the biggest challenge you faced? What was the biggest surprise?

The biggest challenge was learning the balance between sales, marketing, finance, and operations.  You can’t chase shiny balls as everything will fall apart. You have to figure out how to be comfortable being uncomfortable while learning your way through all of the learning experiences of entrepreneurship.

The biggest surprise is how fast it goes. Time simply flies.  

How has your military experience impacted your career as an entrepreneur?

The military experience focused on planning, hard work, and a great deal of hardship to accomplish a team goal. That directly transfers to entrepreneurship.  Plan, work hard, endure the suffering, and celebrate all wins as team wins.

Are there specific public policies or government initiatives that have enabled startup growth for veteran entrepreneurs ?

We’ve never used any, so we can’t speak to them.  The Bunker Labs is a fantastic national non-profit incubator that is building veteran businesses.

How can policymakers encourage more entrepreneurship for veterans? What about encouraging more social impact ventures?

This veteran one is easy.  Veteran entrepreneurs should receive and exemption of self employment tax.  Starting a business is expensive and paying an additional 15 percent of personal income as a business owner is ridiculous.  Veterans starting business should be given a little advantage by removing this tax.

The same could be said for social impact ventures.

What is your goal for the next year? The next 5 years?

In one year, my goal is to hit our one year goals. In five years, I want to be in a position to support my girls transitioning to college.

Best advice in one sentence.

Wake up everyday, give thanks you’re alive, work your body, then work your plan.

Engine works to ensure that policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of our lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email jen@engine.is. Give us your feedback here.