A Founder’s Tale of Vetrepreneurship

Where Military and Business Meet

by Alana Garrigues

Editor’s Note: In honor of Veteran’s Day and #MyVetBiz week, I sat down with our Cali Green Life founder to find out how he views the intersection between his military career and entrepreneurship.

Edi Santos

Those who meet Cali Green Life Founder Edi Santos know three things about him right off the bat:

  1. He’s proud to be a United State Marine Corps Combat Veteran.
  2. He’s an entrepreneur with a wild spirit of positive energy and big dreams.
  3. He’s a man who will do anything to protect and promote the people he loves.

Within the first thirty seconds of conversation, it is obvious exactly what sort of a man he is. Every decision in his life is made with a sense of integrity and a nod to the core Marine Corps values of honor, courage and commitment. In fact, they’re so important that the three words are emblazoned on all of his work trucks.

In running a Veteran owned business, Edi insists on bringing the ideas of precision and a strong work ethic to every job—bringing the old adage, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right” to light. He’s unafraid of risk and danger, ready to face his fears and make the world a better place.

At the same time, drafting a marketing plan, making a sales call, or revising a business plan is not the same to Edi as it is to a “normal” business school graduate or entrepreneur.

He views every decision from a battleground mindset, always on the lookout for fellow Marines (business owners), allies (partners) and enemies (competitors). Along the way, Edi observes the moves of his enemies. He tries to figure out where or how he’s different, how he can “shock and awe” the market, and devises battle plans and war strategies in his mind.

His instincts are stuck in permanent survival mode, which shines through in the urgency with which he faces tasks.

Perhaps to best understand the Veteran owned business mindset, one must understand where it comes from and how an individual with a military background looks at running a company. Here’s how it all came together in Edi’s mind.

Joining the Marine Corps

Edi joined the Marines fresh out of high school. At the time, he was bouncing around relatives’ couches and homes. The son of a 16-year-old mother, he’d never met his father and never had a solid place to call home.

He saw the Marine Corps as a way out and a way up, an option to get away from working seven days a week as he’d done in high school. But it wasn’t a magic financial bullet; he’d grown up dreaming of serving his country, protecting his fellow man, and making his grandma proud.

“I did know in my head that I was going to go join the Marine Corps and I was going to download something,” said Edi. “I was going to download the concepts, fundamentals of what it’s like for somebody that goes into combat.”

At the time, he didn’t have any idea that he would eventually own a business. He just knew he’d go through Boot Camp, serve for several years and get an education.

College and the Corps

It was around 2003 when a Business Marketing professor made the connection in a most unexpected way. Edi was returning home from a combat tour in Iraq where he’d been injured, and he was wrapping up his Bachelor’s Degree at Cal State Northridge.

The Marketing professor spoke with a thick French accent, and taught one of the most creative outlets within business school. He wasn’t the person one might expect to draw a parallel between the American military and the business world. But that’s exactly what he did, changing Edi’s mindset of what the future could hold.

“He was the one who verbalized a couple things, that marketing was very similar to combat, that it was a strategy,” Edi recalled. “You don’t make the same mistake twice. You’ve got to forecast. You’ve got to know your 4 Ps. You’ve got to know your product. You’ve got to have your marketing… as he was talking about this, everything just kind of glued in together… It was interesting when I heard that for the very first time. He talked about competitors and not going after your competitors directly. Don’t fight that fight. (Instead) look at weaknesses.”

An Altered Mindset

Further Exploring the Relationship Between Business and the Military

Once the connection had been made, Edi looked at his military training through a new lens. He reread Art of War and War Fighting through a business mindset, and found that many of the strategies transferred to business as well.

The concepts of planning, having an arsenal ready (in Marketing terms: website, business cards, brochures), and developing an intelligence as the best way to win a war resonated with him.

“In the Marine Corps, they invest a lot in their officers and what they’re trying to develop is the most dangerous weapon is your mind,” said Edi. “You might have all the weapons, but if you don’t have the right mind to apply the right things and certain tactics, it’s just worthless.”

Veteran Entrepreneurship

Initially, Edi went into sales after he finished his degree. As time progressed, he transitioned into banking and got his MBA. Then, in 2015, he left it all behind to open his own company. At first, it was Cali Green Turf, with a goal to save millions of gallons of water and address the deep drought California was in.

But he quickly opened his mind to the idea of developing an entire arsenal of sustainable solutions to help Californians feel empowered to save the planet. Thus, Cali Green Life was born: turf, solar, paint and water filtration, with infinite possibilities to grow.

It was like going into instant battle, with uncertain finances and an uncertain future, but a conviction that he was doing the right thing, and an ability to think on his feet and make immediate tactical changes.

“As a business owner … if you remove that element of physical danger and put it to a sense of survival, it’s no different,” said Edi. “You have to constantly be looking and forecasting and make tactical moves. There’s no excuses. You take a hit, you take a hit.”

That’s why a sense of conviction is so important.

“(Whether in the military, or as an entrepreneur, you must) go into battle with the concept that you’re going to win,” said Edi. “We don’t go into battle with the concept that we’re going to lose. As long as we’re living in integrity and that’s the spirit of who we are… I am 100% committed to winning this battle without any ounce of doubt. Nothing’s guaranteed, of course. But that type of mentality that you’re going in for (an end result) makes you feel that you really are exploiting every possible resource, whether it’s mental, psychological or emotional, to come into something and truly believe it. You really have to be centered in yourself to make sure that you can execute at the most optimal level.”

Making Mistakes

The Importance of a Plan

Because Edi moved into business ownership with such a sense of urgency, he admits to having made a few mistakes. It’s resulted in more skirmishes and small fires than he might have envisioned, and a little bit of working finagling plans in hindsight—the Marine Corps concept of “Adapt, Adjust and Overcome” has been a business-saving mantra—but it’s all been worth it.

When he sees the gallons of water he’s saved, or the smile on kids’ faces who play on the turf; when he meets payroll and knows that he’s employing others (including fellow veterans), he knows he made the right decision to leave his safety net of the bank behind.

If he had to do it all over, he might have taken a little more time to develop the plan from the outset, rather than cobble it together during operations.

His best advice to others who want to follow in his footsteps: Plan!

“I underestimated the power of planning,” he said. “The Marines, when we go to combat, we create an entire mockup of the area and we rehearse it and who’s going to be where at what time. I think that’s what I would do. You hear it all the time. ‘You need to get your business plan together.’ And here I did it the other way around. Starting a business is just like no different from going into combat. You’re going to take some hits if you don’t plan, and you can never overplan or get too much feedback from other Marines—in other words, other business owners—who can show you some light.”

One of Many

On Why Veterans are Twice as Likely as Non-Veterans to Go Into Business for Themselves

Edi’s story is not uncommon. Veterans are twice as likely as the general public to go into business for themselves, and a full 10% of small businesses are owned by veterans.

Going into battle does feel a bit like opening a business.

“There’s a sense of a safety net that you release,” said Edi. “It has to take a lot of courage and determination to see it through. I think that’s probably the most critical attribute or metric that other veterans see. They have the courage to face difficulties. They have the tenacity to push forward with everything that they have. They have the ability to be optimistic and to work hard. I think that is why a person who’s been in the military and has been through Boot Camp, they sit there and they look at a business venture and they say to themselves, ‘You know what, I know that the odds are against me. Because they are. But somehow I’m going to figure this out.’”

It’s a sense of letting go and trusting in hard work and strategy that is empowering.

“Those core values and the discipline that you learn is truly what gives you the chip in your should to say, “F— it, just go for it.’”

Public Gratitude

Customers Support Veteran Owned Businesses

Edi has found that many of his customers look at comparable estimates and choose Cali Green Life, in large part because of his Veteran background.

Whether it’s a way to show thanks for his service to our country, a military connection forged through family or friends, or trust that the job will be completed with precision and discipline, hiring a Veteran means something to them.

“I think that fundamentally the majority of people in America realize we’re living in an amazing society. I mean, yeah, there’s a lot of bad sh– with our society, but I think that a lot of people are very appreciative… This didn’t happen out of thin air. There were some major sacrifices,” he said. “You start thinking about your history classes, about World War II, about World War I, how this nation got started. I think that people who know that history understand that there were major sacrifices and blood was really shed…. When an individual really understands that someone has pledged their life for the freedom or the benefits that we’re currently reaping, whether you’ve served or not, that’s a very altruistic concept that anyone in this society can want to convey to somebody else who has served.”

Edi is always honored when someone thanks him for his service, although that “Thank you” was initially very hard for him to understand.

“When people tell me when I’m walking around, “Thank you for your service,’ it took me a while to figure that out,” he said. “I didn’t know how to react to that. Now I’ve realized that I had to accept that and say ‘Thank you,’ because I didn’t know what to say before. I just didn’t get it.”

That’s probably what it boils down too: a sincere thank you.

“I think that’s what people are trying to express, just that simple concept of gratitude.”

A Fellow El Segundo Veteran Shares His Story

What it Means to Hire a Veteran Owned Business

Read More…

To learn more about Edi and his commitment to sustainable business, read The Man Behind the Brand, a Q&A.

About Cali Green Life

Cali Green Life recognizes the planet is in peril. We also know that the solution is in your hands.

Cali Green Life makes it easy and affordable for residents, businesses and municipalities to choose a more sustainable lifestyle. We help you save money, save water, save energy, live healthier and ultimately save California by installing artificial turf, solar panels and water filtration systems, and by using eco-friendly paints and the COOLWALL exterior coating system.

Call us for details (800-894-0626) or request a free quote online.

We offer bundle discounts for those interested in multiple upgrades. Ask us about year round discounts for active military personnel, veterans and first responders.

No money down financing available.

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