The Heart Of A Lion
December 2021, it's -5 degrees in a tiny garage with a propane furnace blasting. 5,000 feet above sea level in a small rural Montana town retired Navy SEAL Mack Alexander goes to work making leather belts for his small business Mack Belts. There's a few feet of snow on the ground and he won't be able to make it to the post office to drop off his orders until the snowplows come through.
"I remember it being so cold it hurt to breath, making belts with two pairs of gloves on. But I had orders to fulfill, customers I had to serve with my best, my reputation was all I had left."
Back then he was only generating enough sales to pay for his airbnb and buy materials for the next week of incoming orders, but he wasn't complaining because a few months before this he was living in the back of his pickup truck. Not what you would expect from a college graduate and retired Navy SEAL. This is more than an entrepreneur success story, it's a brief overview of a warrior's journey who lost his way and built back after reaching a point of no return.
"Looking back my situation was far worse than I realized and I think that's the downside of why veterans are unique in the way we struggle because no matter how BAD things get, its always ALL GOOD and we treat asking for help like the plague"
Every morning he carefully navigated the icy mountain roads to get a handful of his handmade belts to the local post office in the tiny ranching town of Augusta, Montana. It's here he claims he found the quiet and solitude that he needed to reset. A few years before Mack was an elite war fighter, a Navy SEAL Breacher who deployed to Africa and Yemen in support of the highest tier of special operations missions but after a serious head injury on his final deployment his career was over and he was retired from active duty. But his battle with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) was far from over and the affects of these unseeable wounds would carry him to the darkest place a human can be in, what he calls, "the rock of rock bottoms."
"My life falling apart in the way that it did was a total blessing because I found out who my TRIBE was."
The early and unplanned transition out of the military during the height of COVID-19 hysteria presented a variety of challenges and Mack was unable to find employment while at the same time still working full time in physical therapy. It was while shopping for a dress shirt at a local thrift store that Mack saw an old leather belt for sale for $1. He got the idea that he could turn that leather belt into a dog collar. After doing this a few times he felt the skill of leather crafting was bringing him a sense of peace and purpose. But he wanted to take it a step further and build belts tough enough that his former teammates would want to wear them while operating downrange. So he went to the work bench and designed different styles of belts until he finally perfected what he calls his unbreakable design. Since that day he went all in and to date he has built over 5,000 of his unbreakable belts with his own two hands.
Despite his post military challenges he still believes the lessons he learned during his time in service have propelled him to success in business. He encourages all veterans to apply the same organization, leadership, and creative problem solving skills that they forged in uniform to their new civilian roles.
"Don't isolate, lean on your fellow service members, they are the only ones who understand. Suffering in silence doesn't apply to anything other than pushups, force yourself to be in community, stay in touch with your community and remember the phone works both ways. Always be the first one to call."
"I have gotten my belts into the hands of billionaires, celebrities, pro-fighters and legends of the Special Forces community. But I am most proud of the everyday folks who take my belt with them to work and use it as a tool.
Like most small businesses Mack relies heavily on producing captivating content and taking quality photographs of his belts and posting them to a variety of social media platforms. But it was a LinkedIn post that went viral, reaching nearly six million people, that allowed him to scale his business and build the team beyond just him.
"It was totally an accident, I wasn't trying to sell anything. I was trying to help others who slipped through the cracks and who may be in same situation I was in."
So if you want to take your business viral here are thirteen key things that Mack says is a part of his SUCCESS. Much of these ideals he claims are the root of his company's foundation.
"These are just a fraction of the lessons I've learned from the start-up journey I've been on. I feel it's my duty to pay them forward for the next guy and it's how I give back."
- Share your story, be vulnerable, and don't care what the world thinks about you, your product, or your business.
- Stop trying to fit in and become part of the crowd. You are unique so be YOU. If we think, act, behave and innovate like everyone else then we will always be and produce like everyone else.
- Invest everything back into the business but invest in ways to be different than the competition from every tiny detail of the product and brand.
- Find several mentors, trust their wisdom but realize when you outgrow the guidance and trust your gut when it's time to move on.
- Remember who was there with you at the beginning and when you finally gain traction be highly selective and methodical about who you let in.
- Moderation is not for cowards, balance is key and if you neglect that, your business will suffer and you will go through periods of burnout which will impact a variety of areas of your business.
- In product sales creating scarcity allows you to set the price and ultimately helps you decide how much money is enough.
- Under promise, over deliver, and be the only one in the world doing and selling what you are pushing.
- Make reputation your currency and treat every customer like they are your ONLY customer.
- Quality over quantity needs to be the foundation of your production model. In the beginning invest in ways to maximize the speed of quality of production not quantity.
- Whatever you're doing or selling has to be different. Every industry is ridiculously competitive so if what you are bringing to market isn't new, you will not ever see VIRAL growth.
- Expect to FAIL over and over again. How you handle failure will be the deciding factor of those who QUIT and those who persevere.
- You are truly never out of the fight. Keep Hammering away at your dreams and goals and remember only YOU set the limits.
Since the founding of Mack Belts the brand has grown to gain a serious reputation and is now headquartered in central Florida. Mack has built a highly skilled team that now consists of several top notch professionals that are working around the clock to turn Mack Belts into the next major veteran owned and operated brand. You can learn more and see some of these amazing unbreakable belts at www.MackBelts.com