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Social Media links for Shah Below!!
Shah’s Book Recommendation!!!
“The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries
Link to purchase the book is below.
Resources From Shah
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Jason: Hello and welcome to the cavnessHR podcast. I am your host Jason Cavness. Our guest today is Shah Chowdhury. Shah are you ready to be great today?
Shah: I am.
Jason: Shah is the co-founder of Assault Forward, a Veteran-owned apparel and accessories company. He also works in finance for a Fortune-500 financial services company. Shah, who was born and raised in New York City, was commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant from the Florida University ROTC Program on 09/01/2001, ten days before 9-11.
Jason: He served on Active Duty as a Field Artillery Officer from 2001-2005 and deployed to Iraq for fifteen months for OIF-1. He served as a Platoon Leader, Battery Executive Officer and Battery Commander in Baghdad. Shah has been active with IVA, IAVA https://iava.org/ on Capitol Hill for Veterans issues such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill, Veterans suicide and burn pit legislation. He received his MBA from the University of Maryland using his post 9/11 GI Bill.
Jason: Shah, thank you very much for being here. I really appreciate it.
Shah: Thanks, Jason for having me.
Jason: Shah, so what is keeping you busy nowadays? What's your focus right now?
Shah: Yeah, so we have recently launched Assault Forward, which as you mentioned, I co-founded with two friends of mine from the MBA program. We graduated the program July of last year, in 2017. I had the idea in October of 2017 and we launched. Since then we have come together and since January we have been running. So behind the scenes since January to March doing behind the scenes stuff. Finding manufacturers, website, setting up the books and then we went live as of March. So that keeps us pretty busy, it's a full time gig for us. That plus, we all do have our day job. As you mentioned, I work in finance for a Fortune-500 company. But I have a schedule that I manage on my own. So, I know some people in the startup business world say kind-of a side hustle. I don't call this a side hustle, I feel like mentioning because we spend so much time and energy. So basically I have two full-time jobs right now and love it. So, it's keeping us busy.
Jason: Shah, so as you have mentioned you have a full-time job and a start-up, which to me is a full-time job. That makes you have two full time jobs. Most of us can't even handle one full-time job. How do you prioritize your day
Shah: Yeah, great question. So I think, which brought back to the Military, having a certain discipline. So I still get up every morning. I was up today at 5:30 AM, went for a run outside, came back... got ready for the day. So today was my day to come into the WeWork location. We were recently accepted into the WeWork lab Veterans and residence program. We came in, spending the day here. I gotta have both laptops. I have my day job laptop, just in case I need to answer a call or respond to an email and then we are working together on the start-up. So for me, and probably more fortunate in this position than some people. Because I manage my own calendar and it is based on client meetings. But you're right, prioritizing. So if I have client appointments for my day job, you know the main job, then I kind of build stuff around it. So it's always finding time in between. I don't hardly watch T.V. I don't do that. I don't play video games or anything like that. I think there is time in the day it is just about priorities. For me, obviously, it's the job that pays the bills and feed my family, the start-up, and then keeping physically active. That's very still important to me. So, those are kind of my three main things. Of course family time with family. So it is hard, but if you just prioritize and cut out certain things. I don't need to watch nine seasons of Game of Thrones in one week. So that's kind of how I find the time.
Jason C.: People are like "I am not successful" but they are on two volleyball teams, their binge watching everything... You're like what do you expect? You know, they just don't get it.
Shah: Exactly, yeah.
Jason: What kind of tools do you use to keep yourself organized? Any go-to tools that you can talk about?
Shah: Outlook at work, that's for my day job, my primary job. I put everything on there. If I have a call for example like last week I had a call with Macy's. I have definitely been trying to get into Macy's for our product. So I just schedule that on my calendar. That really helps me. Then also we use Asana which is a free app. Kind of a task organizer. So if I have a task, I put it in there. Same with the other co-founders, we all add tasks. That keeps us organized between Outlook and Asana. I love Asana. Asana was recommended by the Bunker Labs, launch stuff online program. So I have kind of used, we use that pretty regularly.
Jason: So, you talked about it briefly, but tell us a story about Assault Forward, how it came about? What your vision is going forward.
Shah: Yeah, so all three of us served in the Army. We were officers, we went through college, went through and graduated and got commissioned. We got out and we all have professional day jobs and we wanted to represent our Veteran status. But you know the Veteran companies that are out there now, which we love them all, no disrespect to them like Grunt Style, 9-Line... they are great companies. But they focus on graphic t-shirts. That is kind of their focus and stuff that you can't really wear in a professional work environment. So we are like "Hey, there are no Veteran companies out there to represent guys like us, who wear a suit and tie or a jacket to work" and we are in the D.C. metro area. A very professional area, most people wear a jacket and a tie for the most part. He's like "hey there's nothing out there for us." We all had some kind of lapel pin, whether it's the Army flag, the American Flag, so we said hey, we should do something different from everybody.
Shah: My buddy Joe, he kind of made a prototype, it was just for us. A forward flag. People who don't know, in the Army, we wore, kind of a reverse American flag on our right shoulder and that is to simulate, imagine charging forward on the battlefield, somehow the stars are to the front and flowing back. So that is kind of a special meaning for us. That is how we wore it when we were deployed and he had a prototype of the "backwards" or reverse-baring flag lapel pin.
Shah: We had it on for just our own personal use. Then we realized a lot of people were asking us about it. Like a lot of civilians who don't understand. "Hey why is that flag backwards?" Then we would tell the story like it's not backwards. People were saying "Oh, that's a pretty cool story." After hearing it for about twenty or thirty times, a light bulb went off. Like "Hey, maybe we should expand to see what we can do". So we kind of launched it in October. We started with that idea after so many conversations of people stopping us asking us about it. So we said okay, people like the lapel pin, people, as veterans, the professional veterans, we found a space. We didn't want to go compete with the Grunt Style. So we wanted to do something a little different so that is how we came up with Assault Forward.
Jason: So how are you marketing your company? Are you just doing local marketing, nation-wide, like social media... How are you working through that?
Shah: We are strictly eCommerce. We are not in any physical stores. We're 100% online, we're not even on Amazon yet. We are working on getting on Amazon. But we are primarily doing social media marketing. So a lot of Facebook, Instagram. We are not experts, but we use that pretty religiously. We do a lot of posts on there. We have done some in-person events, like some conferences. Face-to-face, it's been good with our target market. Obviously, professional Veterans and patriotic Americans. But we are primarily eCommerce and that's how we are doing the marketing. Social media, mainly Facebook and Instagram.
Jason: Can you talk about how being a Veteran has helped you with your startup, how those skills have transferred to help you be a great startup founder?
Shah: Yeah, so I think that is a great question. As a Veteran you learn certain things like mission that have been tasked, you know being task-oriented. Having a startup as you know, a startup, you have a big picture vision. But then there are certain things that have to get done. You can't run an eCommerce site without a website, without credit card processing and things. So, any kind of thing that we try to formulate a list, every time we meet we have an agenda with four to six-seven things we have to get done. We focus on those tasks that help with the mission. Plus, having like when we talked about before, how do we manage things. When the Army taught time management, go for a run and then start the day. It has a bit of an up-tempo throughout the day. Like I said, the Army has definitely helped me with that.
Jason: Can you talk a little bit about the burn pit legislation you're working on because I do not think that most people know what that really is. I don't think they realize what a burn pit is and what Veterans have to go through. So can you talk about that a little bit?
Shah: Sure. I volunteer with, very active with IAVA. Which is Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. So, their primary offices are in D.C and New York. The burn pit, for people who do not know, when early in the Iraq war and I didn't spend time in Afghanistan. But I think they had burn pits over there as well. Where it was a way for US service members to get rid of human waste garbage. When we rolled into Baghdad, it was May 2003, we saw black smoke coming from everywhere. So I thought initially, it was the Iraq Army burning the oil fields, that's what I thought. But when we finally pulled into our Operating Base. We saw it was soldiers burning human feces, trash and it creates this toxic kind of fumes and I think they use jet fuel. There was some kind of fuel they used that was pretty toxic.
Shah: So with that, it is kind of becoming the Agent Orange for our generation for the post 9/11 Veterans. A lot of Veterans were exposed to it. I, myself didn't do the actual burning in the burn pits. But my soldiers did and we were there, kind of inhaling those fumes. Part of that is you have years after, you have a lot of Veterans going to the V.A. and talking about chronic issues, problems, health issues that they didn't have before. So the Burn Pit Accountability Act actually is when a Veteran goes to the VA., the doctor or the nurse to ask the Veteran whom they are interviewing "Hey, have you been exposed to burn pits, yes or no?" They have to enter it in the data base so they can potentially get the care that they need, treatments specifically for burn pit exposure. So when I got out of the Army, burn pits were not even on the radar and now it is. I think because it is kind of being put as the "Agent Orange" for our generation. So very important issue, obviously bi-partisan support across the board. So we had some good congressmen signing up for that. So that is what I did a few months back.
Jason : Thank you for your work on this. Shah next, talk about a time you were successful in the past, what you learned from your success and what we can learn from your success in the past?
Shah: So one of my goals of my life was to have my own business before the age of 40. I know you have a question, where did I fail? Which kind of goes into this one. But part of it is just executing and eventually we had a vision. We wanted to do something, had the idea and we just went and actually just got it done. We went, we had the idea. You hear a lot of people, you come across other aspiring entrepreneurs "oh I have an Idea, I have an idea" and it never goes past an idea. I have a lot more ideas actually, but this is the first one where it actually went past idea to actual execution phase to actually making money. That's where we are at now, you see we are still growing. But up to this point, it has been a success for us. We have a lot of building the brand awareness, building sales, actually having something where I can say, aside from being an aspiring entrepreneur, I am... we actually do have a legit small business. So that is the success.
Jason: So of course like you said, that follow up question: Talk about a time you failed in the past, the lessons you learned from this and what we can learn.
Shah: So again, I had at least two other ideas. Businesses that I tried to launch and that failed. I never got it off the ground. What I learned from that... it was I was just trying to do something that sounded not cool, but I thought it was easy. But I didn't have a passion for it. So one was a commercial cleaning company. Somebody gave me the idea "Hey, you can do a Veteran branded commercial cleaning company" and it sounded good and because they said it was a pretty low capital startup. I think I started. I tried it. I didn't really fully commit to it, I didn't have the passion for it, so it failed there.
Shah: There was another one we had an idea for a Veteran type, a Veteran focused Uber type thing. I didn't have a passion for it, but it was a cool idea in the sense that we were trying to take advantage of the Uber trend thing. But there was just too many moving pieces. It was like a three-sided market. But again I didn't have a passion for it. So I learned that if I want to be successful in a business. I have to have a certain passion for it and it has to be manageable into an execution phase. So right now what we are doing, this, I love it. It is not even work for me. I get up every day and I love working, again because it is not work. So I learned that I need to have a passion and I need, again to surround myself with the right team
Jason: People tell me all the time about their startup ideas and I tell them "if you're not waking up thinking about it and going to sleep thinking about it, you might not want to do it. You might not be passionate enough about it.'
Shah: No, you are 100% right like with Assault Forward now. Every day we wake up, we are constantly grinding on it and we are always thinking about it. I talk to my wife about it all the time. She's given us ideas and she says "I see the fire in your eye" We love it and the first time that I have conviction in my heart that I know we are going to be successful. Which I couldn't say that before. I have listened to a lot of podcasts from entrepreneurs, successful entrepreneurs and they ask them "Well, how did you know?" And they say "Well, I just knew" and I never understood that, but now I get it. Because that is where we are now.
Jason: Can you talk about someone who has helped you in the past and how they helped you.
Shah: I have had a lot of mentors throughout my career, even in the military and civilian. But, one of the things that, one specific mentor I had in the Army. I was a 1st Lieutenant and he was a Major and we were in Iraq. He mentions to me "look, you have to have a certain work ethic in this world. No matter if you're tired or hungry. It doesn't matter, people will always have eyes on you." So that has helped me a lot. I have lost contact with this individual. From years we spent time in Iraq, he's helped me just from putting a good foot forward and always kind of executing and doing everything in the task 100%. In the business world, someone who has helped me actually when I got out of the army. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. when I got into the finance world, he actually gave me a shot. A good friend of mine, he is a local. He is from New York, so he like me he is from New York. We are both Mets fans. But the Bank of America had a training program back in 2008 and he gave me a shot because he said: "Hey I appreciate what you have did for the country, you seem like a sharp smart guy." He kind of helped me and coached me and trained me in the financial services world. He always says I appreciate what you did and there's a lot, even though less than 1% of Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there are people like that who have helped local veteran succeeded. He has helped me tremendously.
Jason: So they just came out with a new number on that, the new number they have is 0.45% of 1% now. So it is ridiculously low. They redid the numbers. So, I was kind of shocked. You always here 1%, of this 1%, but actually no 0.45... so you're like "wow". So next, we are going to get a little personal. Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know. Of course, your wife, close family, close friends but people that work with you day to day don't know this about yourself.
Shah: I work out, I go to the gym. But I actively train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When I got out of the army, I had an adrenalin rush that I needed to get out and I wanted to do volunteer firework at first. My wife kind of vetoed that. So then, I kind of thought about the National Guard/Reserves and with that idea, she didn't want me to deploy. I saw UFC once a while back, and I say "oh I want to try Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I started that and I have been training for going on almost seven years and I am a purple belt in jig-jitsu. I have fun. I train three-four times a week and it's usually after the kids are in bed. So again, going back to time management. my kids are in bed usually 8:00, 8:30. Classes start around 8:00. I go from 8:00 to 9:30 or 6:00 to 7:00. I am training Brazilian jiu-jitsu versus watching T.V. That's what I do for fun. It's fun, it's physical. I get to choke people out and try to rip their arms off and vise-versa. So that's something that most people don't know.
Jason C: Shah, I understand here a book you recommend here for our listeners.
Shah: One of my favorite books is “The Lean Startup”. So it is a great book for people that are thinking about business. Are starting their own business or even people who are in charge of a group in a large company. How to get into a project. So it is a great, great book. One of my favorite books. Again, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.
Jason: Shah, I understand you have a gift for our listeners.
Shah: Yeah, so we have our website which is: www.assaultforward.us again assaultforward.us, anything on our website if you use the discount coupon code: cavnessHR C-A-V-N-E-S-S H-R 10% off your order in perpetuity. Because I know most people listen to podcasts at different times. So again, 10% off any order using the coupon code cavnessHR.
Jason: Shah, can you tell us your social media links? For yourself and your company so people can reach out to you.
Shah: Assault Forward is on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Our handle is @AssaultFWD and we are pretty active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well.
Jason: To our listeners, we will have the links to his book recommendations and his discounts and social media links on our show notes. The show notes are at www.cavnesshrblog.com.Shah, we're coming to the end of our talk. Can you provide us with any last minute advice or wisdom on any subject you want to talk about?
Shah: Yes, I think from the business standpoint, just execute like you and I were talking about before. If you have an idea, if you have something you want to do, just go on and do it. One thing I'll suggest from me personally that I use. I am 38 years old, some people think "oh, that's old" some people think that's young and I come across people who are 40, 50 and are like "oh, I am so old. I can't do something." At the end of the day, the average life expectancy now in the US is mid 80's. Someone who is 50 years old, it's not old. You still have a good 30, 40 potential years left on this earth. Make them good years. That's how I see it. You know, I feel young. Ten years ago, I thought 38 was old. I don't feel like I am 38, even though I still think that is young. Again, just live everyday as much as you can. Especially for the brothers and sisters that we lost in conflict. We owe it to them to live the best life. That's my personal tips for anyone who is listening.
Jason: Thank you, that is great advice. Shah, thank you for being a guest today. I know you're a busy person, doing a lot of great things for our country.
Shah: Thank you very much. Thanks, Jason.
Jason: And to our listeners, thanks for your time as well and remember to be great every day.