It’s the middle of the day. There’s a knock at your door. When you answer it, there’s a man standing on the other side of the door and smiling.
“I’m a United States veteran,” he begins. “And I’d like to offer you the best cup of coffee you’ll ever drink.”
It sounds like a dream of another time: simpler days of Boy Scouts, of victory gardens and smiling neighbors. But it’s the very real dream of business owner and nine-year Navy SEAL veteran Cade Courtley, the founder and operator of Victory Coffees, a subscription-based coffee business on the Cratejoy platform.
“Take a look at veterans,” he says. “Look at the values, the intangibles: courage, accountability, responsibility, pride… never give up, never quit. We’re losing 23 guys a day to suicide. It’s not just PTSD… When I left the military, I was losing my family, my team, and my sense of mission.”
Today, Courtley’s sense of mission is alive and well: give his fellow vets a family and a purpose. And serve a damn good cup of coffee.
‘A sense of normalcy’
Courtley remembers his time with the SEALS fondly: “Every day I went to work and I was challenged, and surrounded by people with whom I’d trust my life. It was amazing,” he says, emphatically. “The best job in the world.”
Still, even the best jobs have hard days—and in the Navy, those hard days meant fear and physical hardship, walking a perilous tightrope between missing home and just wanting to make it to nightfall. In those times, Courtley says, “That cup of coffee was the only sense of normalcy you got. In these hostile environments, doing this very dangerous job, a good cup of coffee became my sanctuary.”
‘In control of my own destiny’
Stateside once more, Courtley set out to bring that sanctuary to the folks back home through his own business, Victory Coffees. Steeped in nostalgic, 1940s branding, the monthly coffee subscription delivers roasts with names like ‘Sailor,’ ‘Leatherneck’ and ‘Admiral’ to customers across the nation.
It was important to Courtley that his business embrace his background as a veteran—he credits his service with building the skillset that helps him succeed as an entrepreneur. The same resourcefulness, persistence and go-getter attitude that helped him succeed on the SEAL teams get him up and moving every day as he tirelessly crafts his brand and product.
“The harder you work, the better you do; if you fail, you have only yourself to blame,” Courtley says. What appealed to him most about being an entrepreneur? “Being in control of my own destiny.”
‘Ten times harder than you think’
Even for the former sniper, though, launching a business hasn’t been a walk in the park.
“It’s going to be ten times harder than you think it is, and you can’t have a Plan B,” Courtley advises aspiring business owners. “Your mindset has to be that there is no Plan B—you have to think, I will be successful or die trying. You’re going to hit those periods where it seems like nothing is happening… and those dry spells can last a long time. But you’ll get through it if you stick with it, and the rain will come.”
He adds, with a rueful chuckle, “And this is coming from a Navy SEAL. I used to plan missions and go into countries that you can’t spell. Running a business is a lot harder than you think.”
This is pretty daunting, coming from a man who used to sneak coffee grounds from his pocket to chew on during four-day sniper recon missions just to buy himself 45 minute periods of wakefulness. But it’s not all bad. Courtley’s thrilled to have found a home with subscription business platform Cratejoy, lauding it as “user-friendly” with “the room to grow as big as we want.”
He also feels great about his market: “83% of Americans drink coffee, and of those, 56% admit to being addicted,” he says. “People are already getting razors and diapers in the mail—why not coffee? If you think about it, I’m saving lives here.”
‘A Victory Army’
Soon, Courtley hopes to save lives in a more literal way: by creating the all-veteran sales force he calls ‘the Victory Army.’ Like Uber or Lyft, the Victory Army model will operate on a flexible, work-as-desired schedule, allowing veterans to act as door-to-door salesmen for Victory on their own time. In that time, though, it will give them a family and a purpose.
“Give veterans a family and mission, and they will out-perform anybody,” Courtley says, blaming the culture shock and difficulty readapting to civilian life for veteran unemployment. “Don’t just look at that resume,” he urges employers. “Open it up a little wider and realize that when this guy was 19, he was in charge of lives in war zones. He will work 26 hours a day until he understands what you need, because he understands accountability.”
Accountability is at the heart of Victory Coffees. In addition to boasting his brand’s organic and fair trade roasts, Courtley has an unswerving commitment to quality. “It’s a buck a cup, and it’s great coffee,” he says. “My K-cups are the strongest in the world—12 grams of espresso per cup. Just try one. I promise you’ll be back for more.”
So why coffee? Because it got him through the trenches. Because the skillset of a veteran is the skillset of a successful entrepreneur. Because he’s helping his fellow vets. But also, in Courtley’s own words: “Why coffee? Because it beats the hell out of getting shot at.”