5 Questions with Tom Cox, Veteran Entrepreneur

Nov 11, 2020
Tom Cox

I was a combat medic and a satellite controller in the U.S. Army, worked at the NSA during 9/11, and started my first startup in 2010, which is still going strong 10 years later. I'm incredibly proud of that first startup. My second startup was formed in 2016. I attended PBC that year and was accepted into Techstars Boulder in 2017. My time at Techstars was an amazingly wonderful journey.

I started Candl to help connect those who need connectivity the most — refugees. We were building hardware when we started, but during Techstars we pivoted to a software-only solution that allows users to change their cell service provider without changing their SIM card. We called this the Carrier Store. We continued to help refugees by allowing people to donate data to those who need it most.

I finished my MBA in 2010 with a focus in entrepreneurship, and am currently working in the satellite industry on developing new technologies for space-based communications satellites.

01. What's one lesson you would share with your younger self?

Revenue matters more than anything else when you are just starting out. It's the one metric above all others that proves you have the ability to become a self-sufficient entity. Scale and investment can come later, but prove to yourself and investors first and foremost that you are indeed an entrepreneur who can close business.

02. What exceptional person has made a difference in your life — and how?

I met Omar Alabbas, who was a Syrian refugee, in 2016 as I was beginning to build my company Candl. His story touched me so profoundly that I pivoted the purpose of my company to focus on helping connect those who need connectivity the most. He's living the life of his dreams now and travels around the world helping young people learn about entrepreneurship.

03. What advice would you give to other founders who share your situation or background?

Build a business first, and then build a brand, company, team, etc. Everything is a vanity metric outside of revenue. Once you have revenue, by all means scale, grow, evolve, etc. But prove that your concept works financially before investing tons of your (and other's) money into an enterprise.

04. What drives you?

I believe that connectivity should be a fundamental human right. I've spent my entire adult life working in communications technologies like wireless and satellite, and believe in the transformative capability that high speed connectivity can have on those who are without connectivity, known colloquially as “the Other Three Billion.”

05. What makes you YOU?

I had a pretty traumatic childhood, and didn't believe in myself, until I joined the Army and went through Basic Training. I knew going into Basic that I would fail out. But something happened - I started to grow, learn, and get better at everything, and eventually I graduated. I didn't really know what pride felt like before then. Ever since Basic, I've re-built my perspective on life and know that I can grow in the direction I want to if I work hard at it.

I tell my entrepreneurial stories candidly. There's great stuff and awful stuff in there. When someone reaches out to me for mentorship or advice, I give them straight truths from my perspective and my experience. I encourage anyone interested in entrepreneurship to learn the good and bad so they are as prepared as possible for the journey ahead of them.

Sometimes, the person you are cannot get you where you need to go. So you have to become a better version of yourself.

Patriot Boot Camp has been on a mission to assemble and activate an inclusive community that advances military members, veterans, military spouses in their mission to become creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs leading the new economy. Learn more about their programs.