I n the business incubator world, the prevailing framework is the Lean Startup proposed by Eric Ries in 2008, which focuses on understanding the needs of your customers to avoid investing valuable time designing features or services they do not want. Based on lean manufacturing principles, the intent is to eliminate wasteful practices during the development phase in order to have a better chance of success without requiring large amounts of outside funding, elaborate business plans or the perfect product. This framework helps startups focus on developing a scalable, repeatable business model. All too often in the nonprofit world, we operate from the mindset of a cause without taking into account the business model.There’s a reason for this phrase: Your 501(c)(3) designation is a tax status, not a business strategy. Helping military veterans is one of the biggest causes out there with the growing recognition that there are many needs to meet. With that in mind, we were determined to develop Veterans Recovery Resources with a focus on a sustainable business model from the outset to help veterans with substance abuse issues not only recover, but thrive over a lifetime. We understood that if our business model was not sustainable, our cause would be irrelevant.
Understanding Our Customers In understanding our customers, Veterans Recovery Resources had a head start, because we are veterans and have lived it. The idea for Veterans Recovery Resources came to me through time and experience. I am a combat veteran of Operation Desert Shield/Storm (1990-91), Kosovo (2005-06) and Kuwait (2015). I also have 12 years as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and over 18 years as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, including an eighteen month tour at the Pentagon in the Office of the Surgeon General (2009-10). I have walked in the shoes of veterans and those in recovery over the last 30 years. I have experienced the challenges facing veterans in receiving the timely and quality care they need, as well as the community fellowship that is key to leading a successful life. But that isn’t enough when you’re starting a new business. We use our personal experience in the military to point out that you really can’t just run on a hunch, even when you’re the one who has lived it. We have to validate it in the market by talking with potential customers, alliances and competitors. We must have a solid grasp on the needs of potential clients and any gaps in the market through primary and secondary research, a continuous process because it constantly changes. This was a key step for