- April 11, 2017
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- in Veteran Stories
CPT Scott Davidson USA. RET, President of Vets GSA, is a business owner who recognizes the importance of detail and planning for a business startup. Vets GSA is in the business of GSA (General Administration Agency) schedule consulting and proposal services. The company supports businesses who work directly with the federal government, in all areas of contract procurement, proposals, GSA schedules, contracts, and compliance.
Davidson's experience began with a college education. "I sort of did the reverse route," he laughs, "I went to college first, then was enlisted." In the Army, he began in the Signal Corps and was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Next, Davidson went to Officer Candidate School and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. From Fort Bliss, he was deployed for the first time to Iraq for the 2003 invasion, marching with the 1st Marine Division's Task Force Tarawa into Baghdad. After he left active duty, Davidson transitioned into an Army Reserve unit, from which he was picked up for another tour in Iraq, beginning in 2006. Unfortunately, this deployment became the end of his military career; he was injured, and medically retired in June of 2007. He retired as a captain.
After his military service, Davidson's civilian job provided much of the inspiration for the company he would soon start. "I was working mostly contracting and proposals for some large businesses," says Davidson, "When I decided to go out on my own, it was a natural fit because of my experience."
He decided to begin his business when he realized a desire for independence that wasn't fulfilled in his job at the time: "It's funny when I say it- but I was actually tired of making other people money. I'd had tremendous success where I was in the corporate world, but I was only seeing a small trickle-down effect of that. So I said to myself, there's no reason to continue down this path. I knew I could do it on my own- I could provide the same service that I was already providing in a corporate role, in a stand-alone business."
Vets GSA began quite humbly- with one computer, in Davidson's home. "I started it in the additional bedroom in my house with one laptop. Any profit that we made went right back into the business, and we started to grow. Now, we employ 4 additional people and 18 part time consultants on our normal routine staff. So it's come pretty far- an explosive type of growth, but all good."
One of Davidson's biggest accomplishments- and one of the most challenging aspects of owning a business- is taking on the responsibility of the consequences of his decisions. "Owning a business yourself is kind of a double- edged sword," he says. "The tough part about it is that all the failures are yours. If something goes wrong, everything falls on you, especially at the beginning. You have to accept the fact that you're not the best at what you do, and you're going to make mistakes along the way- even after you've been learning for a while, you'll make mistakes. You have to take any criticism and take those mistakes and learn from them because if you don't, you're going to fail. No one will come back and work with you. Being an owner is the greatest thing in the world- but it's also very difficult because you're the only one there."
Despite the current success of Vets GSA, Davidson admits that there were certainly bumps along the way: "One of the bigger mistakes I believe I made was not being prepared. I should've spent a little more time before I started the business to refine my internal processes, go through the paperwork, and make sure everything was fine-tuned. I was in a rush to get to the market, and some of my first few experiences were rough. I just didn't have the tools and templates that I needed- they were on a "C" level when they should've been on an "A" level. "
"The reality is, all it would've taken was for me to take a little more time, to wait, to correct my position, before I did stuff like that. Everybody wants to rush to the market, but there's just no reason for it. The market will still be there two weeks later."
Through experiences such as these, Davidson has found market research and planning to be crucial steps. "There should be a need. You're going to have to find the background, do your research and know how to properly plan for this. Don't jump in without planning. There's no reason for it- the little extra time you spend planning in the beginning will pay off in the future, so you don't run into major issues."
His military experience and skill also helped him to get through rough periods in his start-up process. Concerning military skills he found useful in the business world, Davidson says: "The best thing that's translated is knowing that if you put your mind to something, you can get it done. In the military, you work as a team, but you're also independent. That works well (in business ownership) because you can 'carry the day', as they say- leadership is a big thing, especially when you get to the point where you have to manage people and interact with other businesses."
The shift from military to civilian life has a set of unique challenges, says Davidson. "I saw firsthand, when I was recovering in the hospital, people in the same recovery unit, everyone wounded or hurt. They all get the same knock on the door with someone saying, 'Hey, you're going to be a civilian now. You are going in front of a Medical Board and most likely we're retiring you.' I see these soldiers, who are maybe E4's, 20-21 years old, with no college education or only a partial one, and they have no idea what they're going to do."
According to Davidson, this is where the value of a program such as the VA Business Accelerator comes in: "Veterans need to know what's available in the real world- to be shown that they can take the skills they have and create a business. By mixing your military skills with business skills, you should be able to start a business or just know in general how a business works, so you're not so institutionalized in the military. Specifically, I'd say there's value in the VA Accelerator particularly for wounded veterans, who have that career cut short- and there are a lot of them out there. But I'd also say, just in general, after 4 years or even 20 years in the military, [a veteran] has to know about the real world, and how things work. You need to take off the uniform and put on a suit, so to speak."
Davidson's own transition to civilian life, and starting his business, was particularly successful. In its four years of operation, Vets GSA has grown quickly. Today, the business works with over 185 active clients, including Fortune 500 companies. Davidson is looking to continue to steadily grow the company, and has planned a shift for the coming years: "We're going to refocus our government support market- moving away from supporting federal agencies, into supporting mainly commercial customers, which has yielded the best results for us as a company."
His final advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Based on what I've learned, owning a business is the greatest thing, but you have to be passionate about what you do. Whatever you do well, if you can figure out how to make it work for you, that's great. It's ok to go outside of your comfort zone, but the basis of what you do should be what you love."
Vets GSA's website is available at the following link: http://www.govconops.com/