Bob Louthan, CEO VeteranCrowd, interview
Announcing a new Veteran led business conference!
Robert P. Louthan is Founder and CEO of VeteranCrowd. A 1982 graduate of VMI, and a 1986 UVA/Darden MBA, Bob has over 35 years of business experience, including over 23 years in Venture Capital, Private Equity, Mergers and Acquisitions. Commissioned a Combat Engineer in the USAR, serving fourteen years. He holds the Series 7, 24, 28, 63, 79 and 99 licenses, and has served in various capacities as a Director of privately held companies and in leadership of civic, business and alumni organizations. Bob is the immediate Past President of the VMI Alumni Association. Bob is an accomplished speaker and panelist presenting to conferences, foundations, and business and civic associations.
[Butch sarma] Our first question, Bob, if you would tell us a little bit about your company, why you founded it, the markets that you serve and your typical clients. [Bob Louthan] Thank you, Butch, I founded VeteranCrowd in 2014, but I trace its roots back to 2008 when the financial markets imploded. When things went south, I looked at 15 years worth of deals and did a lot of analysis. One of the things that jumped off the page was that every time we worked with a company that had military veterans in the leadership team, we had a positive outcome. So being a VMI grad living here in Virginia where there's a high concentration of veterans, I decided to focus the practice on that, and it's been very rewarding.
So we work exclusively with businesses that have military veterans in the lead management team, the people that are making the decisions when nobody's looking, setting the standards for the company. That's turned out to be a very good strategy for us. It's allowed us to expand from being a regional firm to have a national footprint.
[Butch Sarma] That's great news. I'm glad. I'm going to ask a quick follow up question on that. When we think about a national perspective. You're based here in Virginia. Are you working deals on the west coast as well? [Bob Louthan] I am, I see a number of deals from Southern California, the San Diego area as an example where, you've got a high concentration, certainly that part of the country. We have two deals in Texas right now, one in New York, one in Kentucky and we are working with a company in Virginia Beach. If you place pins in the map, there's a high concentration following the coastline across the bottom half the country through Texas and over to southern California. We see companies from other parts of the country, but four states have the highest concentrations of veterans. Virginia, Florida, Texas, and California have significant veteran populations. So we see a lot from those four states.
[Butch sarma] Could you describe what services your company offers? [Bob Louthan] We're entrepreneurial and evolving. I've been an investment banker doing merger and acquisition work for almost 25 years as well as providing venture capital and helping companies raise money. Our business provides M&A advisory services, Reg D and Reg A plus offerings, crowdfunding for securities, and we are licensed broker-dealers regulated under the SEC and FINRA.
[Butch Sarma] Bob, I want to pick up again on the, on the types of services that you offer. You mentioned that you do M&A consulting, services to support regulations D and A, crowdfunding to help companies with investment, and then you're a licensed broker-dealer. Are Those services available throughout Virginia and the United States? [Bob Louthan] Yes, we can offer those services in all 50 states and see the concentration in certain regions.
[Butch Sarma] Well, let's move onto our second question. When you think about growing your company, it's an entrepreneurial business in a niche in the financial services sector. What are you doing across the spectrum for marketing to grow your brand and grow awareness to reach potential veteran led businesses? [Bob Louthan] So we've launched a significant, a new initiative at VeteranCrowd. We're building a connected community of military veteran led businesses. If I talk to 100 military veteran led businesses - there are 2.5 million by the way, so there's a lot. If I talked to 100 of them, six or seven really need the kinds of services that we provide. The other 93, 94 companies think VeteranCrowd is wonderful, but they really aren't ready to buy anything from us. So we've discovered putting together a military veteran led business community and tying them together is an opportunity to create a networked community. We're going to provide the network other tools and help them find the things that they need. They need payroll services or they need a fractional CFO. They need health insurance. So we've been able to go out on behalf of these companies and make introductions to other service providers who then discount their fees. In some cases, these service providers give us a referral fee that helps us maintain our business and allows us to invest in the network. It's a win for the veteran led company because they save money, and a win for the vendors, because they want to do business with military veteran led businesses. Military veterans pay their bills and they do what they say they're going to do. Service providers love that customer, so we're saving them the customer acquisition costs through our referrals and introductions. And then it's a win for us because we're able to cultivate a great relationship with military veteran led businesses outside of the scope of the services that we can provide. We're tapping into social media - we find that Linkedin and Twitter had been the two venues that we get the most traction. And we are launching a conference series. We want to bring these companies together in one place where they can meet, network, grow and share opportunities to do business with one another. And so that's something that's just over the horizon for VeteranCrowd.
[Butch Sarma] Let’s pick up that theme a little bit on LinkedIn. Could you share how you're using Linkedin and any experience, anecdotes, or metrics about how it's working out for you? [Bob Louthan] So, I wouldn’t describe myself as an expert on Linkedin, but I have over 4,000 contacts. I try to be judicious in who I add - I get a lot of requests, but generally, I seek to make sure that there's a reason for us to be connected. I find that LinkedIn is a really good outlet for some of our content marketing efforts. I've been trying to write more, produce more content, write blog articles on the topics that we hope are of interest to our customer base. We get a lot of hits through LinkedIn and I think we've gotten some traction.
[Butch Sarma] Let's pick up on that idea about content and using LinkedIn effectively. You've recently started a group on Linkedin as well. Tell us about it. [Bob Louthan] Well, we are putting together some regional groups. The first one's called VeteranCrowd Virginia and it's a Linkedin group that would allow military veterans in business, to share content and news using the power that LinkedIn provides. We'd like to launch one in Florida and Texas and have already set those up, but we haven't started to market and solicit members yet. And we may do one for California as well. Our initial goal is to target the four states with the highest veteran concentrations.
[Butch Sarma] Next question is when you think about what you're doing for marketing overall. If you have a takeaway, a single thing that has been really effective for you? [Bob Louthan] We're trying to build the brand, we want to be recognized and we want to be a single source if you will. We want to be the first place that people think of when they think about veteran led businesses. So how do you do that? I was thinking about it this morning before I came over - marketing is sort of like planting in your yard. You spend three years planting and spent 30 years cutting it. So, it takes persistence. You've got to go out there and plant the seeds. You have to put those small bushes in, and you have to give them time to grow. So I think it's persistence and understanding that we have to keep at it. Sometimes it takes 10 years to become an overnight success.
[Butch Sarma] Really good analogy. One of the things that Vidjaa does a lot and we spend time on is the technology of marketing. As the executive and leader of your company, do you have a sense about how much time you spend on technology? [Bob Louthan] It's absolutely integral to our business. Look at the way that we manage an offering as an example. Years ago a lot of that was done on paper. Now we manage the entire offering electronically. All of the information that we gather and prepare for someone to invest, now we capture all of that using platform technology. The communications are all done through the desktop, the laptop, and frankly, we believe very strongly that five years from now, if you can't do everything on a mobile device you will be dead. So all of that is being very thoughtfully baked into this equation and we must be accessible through technology and primarily through the mobile device.
[Butch Sarma] Do you have a final thought or comment about where do you see VeteranCrowd in a year or a year or two? [Bob Louthan] We want to continue to build our brand. And there are two significant developments that we're working on. One is the creation of this network community of military veteran led businesses. Very important and a key element of our strategy. And then the second thing is we are very much looking forward to having the first conference, gathering these military veterans together, getting them all in one room and seeing how that plays out. If we accomplish those two things in the next 24 months, it'll be a lot to talk about.
[Butch Sarma] That'd be great. Well, we'll definitely schedule a follow up with you, or even go visit you at the conference event. Bob, thank you very much for joining us today here on Vidjaa.com. Been a pleasure to have you for our interview. We look forward to keeping up with how you're progressing and how the VeteranCrowd network has grown. [Bob Louthan] Thank you so much. Really appreciate being included.
Listen to the audio file here