JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA (Dean Siemon) – A few years ago, former Army Ranger Matthew Griffin submitted a picture of him and his staff on a helicopter with product from their Combat Flip Flops company as part of the application to the hit reality-television show “Shark Tank.”
While there was no immediate response, Griffin, who served as a fire support officer with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, continued to develop the brand. It was on a random Tuesday a few months ago when Griffin received a phone call from California that he let go to voicemail.
It was one of the producers of the show looking for small companies to appear on the show. The wait was probably for the best as Griffin admits they are more ready now than before to pitch Combat Flip Flops. The show featuring Combat Flip Flops aired Feb. 5.
Griffin and his business partner, Donald Lee, a former Army captain who also served with the 2-75 Rngr., weren’t nervous appearing in front of famous business investors. In fact, they were excited to share their company’s growth since starting in 2011.
“We know our product down to the glue,” Griffin said. “We manufactured about 4,000 pairs in my garage in Issaquah.”
The investors took notice of the pair’s knowledge and their cause – supporting the war-torn communities where their products are manufactured. Mark Cuban, Daymond John and Lori Greiner teamed up to make an offer. After a little back and forth, Griffin and Lee were able to counter the “sharks” with an offer of $300,000 for 30 percent equity split between the three investors, who accepted.
Griffin said the experience was beneficial for the company because it exposed it on national television, calling it a big boost for a brand that started in 2011 with the belief that “businesses are better than bullets,” – words Griffin said during his initial pitch to the investors.
Before becoming the chief executive officer of his own company, Griffin served three tours in Afghanistan and another in Iraq during his five years in the Army. After his service ended, Griffin was hired to become the director of military sales for Remote Medical International. The job sent him to Afghanistan where he helped with managing imports and exports of pharmaceuticals and other supplies.
During a visit to a combat boot factory in Kabul, he saw a flip-flop on a table that used the sole of a combat boot. It was designed for Afghan Soldiers in garrison to be able to have footwear they could remove easily for prayer. After talking with the factory about making more, Griffin established a domain name for Combat Flip Flops.
The company launched in 2011 with the main production starting in Afghanistan and other products made in other countries affected by military conflict. Griffin wanted to have the new company operate out of the Pacific Northwest.
If Griffin or anyone on his staff needs to meet with someone, it usually only requires a 15- to 20-minute drive from the U.S. headquarters in Issaquah.
“There is a great entrepreneurial vibe here,” Griffin said. “We have mentors here who can help get young start-ups going.”
The military background that both Griffin and Lee developed during their time in the Army has been a great asset to being able to develop and build their company, they said. While each brings different mindsets – Griffin says he’s more positive and Lee is the “perpetual nay-sayer” – the two have been able to build a strong team by identifying each other’s weaknesses.
“It’s the ability to communicate in a direct manner that we’ve found successful,” Griffin said.
With the exposure they hope to gain from their appearance on “Shark Tank,” Griffin said the goal is for Combat Flip Flops to improve production and capacity to meet higher demands for its products. The company is also looking to hire more employees at its factories overseas to help war-impacted communities.
As a former service member who has found success in the world of business, Griffin said he does have advice for others who want to transition from the military to civilian entrepreneurship. He tells veterans not to be afraid to ask for help from mentors and understand the responsibility required. It will be the most difficult and most rewarding job, he said.
“From a very young age, (the military) forces responsibility on (its) people,” Griffin said. “The military does a great job training those entrepreneurial muscles and (service members) don’t even know it.”
For more information about the company, visit combatflipflops.com.