Special Forces Soldier Turned CEO Shares How It Helped Him Build a Company

Matt Ryder

When Matt Ryder was an Australian Special Forces soldier serving in hotspots in the Middle East, including Afghanistan, he likely didn't know at the time that the skill sets he had developed as a highly trained military commando would take him to later heights of success outside the battlefield as well. But after finishing his military service and going through a tough transition to military life, he found parallels between the discipline and work ethic he developed in the military and what it takes to succeed in sales.

This led to him becoming a top producing salesperson for a company where he was earning a seven figure income. Matt used that success as a stepping stone to then becoming the CEO of a sales training company, 7th Level, which has successfully trained more than 100,000 salespeople worldwide using a proprietary sales philosophy called Neuro Emotional Persuasion Questioning. We caught up with Matt to gain some of the lessons he learned in Special Forces that he believes can give entrepreneurs an advantage as well.

What was the transition from the special forces to the private sector like? What challenges did you experience?

Matt Ryder: The transition was tough. A lot of someone's identity can be locked up in being an "operator". Coming to terms with the fact that you no longer kick doors in for a living and you won't be that guy anymore, I looked for new challenges and actually found business very rewarding. The real challenges came from having a lack of empathy and not accepting people who could not or would not match my work ethic or drive. I had to chill out a bit without losing the fire. This took years to get right and I think these days I have the right mix of drive and empathy.

Are there lessons from the special forces that you believe have given you an advantage in business?

MR: I have learned that life in general for people in countries like the US, UK, and Australia are really easy; not simple, but easy. So I feel that I have the context of what real hardship is. I also know that we are not guaranteed tomorrow so I try to go to bed every night with the ability to tell myself "I did everything I could today to achieve my goals".

What are some of the daily habits or routines you developed in the military that have also made you more effective in sales?

MR: To be honest, nothing in particular that I do on a day to day basis; however, I pull from my military experiences daily. I learned to trust my gut and speak with confidence and conviction. I also learned all good plans go by the wayside when you get punched In the face. So I got out of the habit of "needing" a routine or "mindset" to perform at a high level. I remember one day I was sleeping in my sleeping bag, pretty much naked, and we started getting rocketed. I jumped out, put my boots on and started looking for the fight in my underwear. I just had to deal with what was in front of me. I didn't need to meditate or do my morning ritual to perform and get into it.

How did your military experience help prepare you for dealing with setbacks and obstacles in business?

MR: Obstacles are just problems that haven't been solved yet, and to be honest most things are easier to do when you are not getting shot at. I remember once we got ambushed and lost a few of our guys. We were deep into the badlands and I was on a hill on watch (I was a sniper). We got our position found and we started getting lit up from all sides. Me and another guy got stuck on the hill and ended up hiding behind a rock for 6 hours trying not to be hit and trying to call fire in on the guys who were shooting at us. Everytime we moved, another highly accurate shot chipped away at the rock that we were taking cover behind. All we could do was look at each other and laugh. We waited it out until dark fell and we got out of there. We were lucky, a few men lost their lives. So if you think your day is bad, rest assured that someone else's is worse. I try to take that to every day and every situation. Whenever stuff goes wrong I always say to my staff "did anyone try to kill you today? No? Then it's not all bad is it?"

What are some elements of the special forces mindset or lifestyle that you think all salespeople or entrepreneurs should practice?

MR: There are a few. I think humility, humour, and understanding that just because it isn't your fault doesn't mean it's not your problem.

People are too serious and business is not so important that it needs to take over your life. I hire as many ex-Special Forces guys as I can. The first thing I say to them when they start is, "We are not winning wars and there is nothing that can't wait until tomorrow". It all comes back to context and perspective and I think one thing I learned seeing what I saw is that we all need to relax and be grateful for what we have.

I have a fairly dark sense of humour which is born from seeing bad stuff and using humour so it doesn't break your brain. If you can't laugh at things going wrong then all you will do is stress. Just find the silver lining and get on with it.

Last is ownership of problems. There are always reasons why it's too hard to do something, but if you can't take ownership and take a situation that isn't your fault but look at it like it's your problem, then you can't own the solution. We used to get orders that we all thought were crazy and we were going into situations that were just flat out dangerous. That wasn't our fault, but it sure was our problem. So we can all either complain or just find a way to get home safe.