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Brandon WebbBrandon Webb is a combat-decorated Navy SEAL sniper turned entrepreneur and best-selling author who has built two brands into eight-figure businesses. Brandon is the Founder, CEO, and Publisher of SOFREP Media, the world’s leading military culture, defense, and foreign policy news site. Millions of people read from SOFREP every month, and it’s regularly featured on some of the largest news media sites in the world.

Brandon was also the Founder of Crate Club, a membership subscription and kit that includes a variety of self-defense, tactical, and survival gear from first-aid kits to high-quality outdoor equipment. Brandon successfully exited Crate Club in 2020 after bootstrapping it to an eight-figure revenue.

Additionally, as a US Navy Chief, Brandon was head instructor at the Navy SEAL sniper school, which produced some of America’s most legendary snipers.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Brandon Webb explains why he decided to join the Navy at the age of 18
  • What Brandon learned about himself and others as he went through the training process to become a Navy SEAL?
  • Lessons Brandon learned during his training that changed the way he viewed the world
  • What mindset and skills do you need to become a successful sniper or an entrepreneur?
  • Brandon shares what he learned about motivating people as head instructor at the Navy SEAL sniper school
  • The lessons Brandon learned from his first entrepreneurial experience
  • Brandon explains what running SOFREP Media and Crate Club taught him
  • What are the main takeaways from Total Focus?
  • What has propelled Brandon to achieve success?

In this episode…

Are you struggling with success in your personal and professional life? What if you can learn from professionals who have been there?

Brandon Webb learned many lessons throughout his life as a Navy SEAL and as a successful entrepreneur. He has faced many challenges and complex situations in his career and wants to share his insights to help others achieve their goals. To be successful as an entrepreneur, you must adopt a can-do, solution mindset, especially when you’re just starting out. You have to stop chasing many things at once and focus on one opportunity at a time. Once you’re successful, you can continue pursuing other avenues. Brandon’s single most important advice to be successful is about your environment — it’s who you surround yourself with and your mentors, people who are where you want to be, your peer group, and putting yourself in situations that cause you to grow.

In this episode of the Top Business Leaders Show, Chad Franzen is joined by Brandon Webb, a combat-decorated Navy SEAL sniper turned entrepreneur and best-selling author. Brandon shares how his Navy SEAL experience relates to running a business. He talks about the interpersonal tactics he used to be a good head instructor that carry over to managing people, what he learned from his first entrepreneurial venture, and other experiences that helped him become a successful entrepreneur.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:04 

Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show, powered by Rise25 Media. We feature top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world.

Chad Franzen  0:20 

Chad Franzen here Co-host of the Top Business Leaders Show where we feature CEOs, entrepreneurs and top leaders in the business world. This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses reach their dream relationships and connect them with more clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships and get ROI through done-for-you podcasts. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships, there’s no better way to do it than to profile the people and companies you admire most. To learn more go to rise25.com or email us at [email protected] Brandon Webb is a combat-decorated Navy SEAL sniper turned entrepreneur who has built two brands into an eight-figure business. As a US Navy Chief, he was head instructor at the Navy SEAL sniper school, which produce some of America’s most legendary snipers. Brandon, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?

Brandon Webb  1:08 

Good. Thanks for having me, Chad.

Chad Franzen  1:10 

Hey, so you left home and joined the Navy when you were 16 years old? Why did you do that?

Brandon Webb  1:15 

So I left home at 16. I joined the Navy when I was 18. The short version is I grew up as a kid very young kid working on a scuba diving boats, had a ton of boating experience. By the time my parents took a family on a sailing trip to New Zealand, we sailed from Ventura, California all the way down to Baja, Mexico mainland, Acapulco over to the Marcus Islands and the French Polynesia. My dad and I had a big blow-up argument Tahiti, and he said, “Look, I know you kind of didn’t want to go on this trip. You’ve made that very vocal.” Which I did in the beginning. And he said, “I think it’s time to go your own way.” So I found a boat that was sailing to Hawaii. My mom was a wreck. My sister and mom were crying and off I went. And to be honest, I probably cried myself to sleep the first couple nights on that boat going, what the hell did I just do? But yeah, it worked out. I think my dad and I still have a good relationship to this day. We had our ups and downs, but we built back a really good relationship. And so I was very independent from 16. And then I joined the Navy to be a SEAL because I read a book called Rogue Warrior, which was the founder of SEAL Team Six Dick Marcinko’s book. I had originally wanted to be a fighter pilot. And before Top Gun. Top Gun just made me want it even more. But I had such a weird academic record, home school and I didn’t have the grades to get into an academy to be honest and no money for college. So I said, well, I grew up in the scuba diving industry, been diving since I was 12. The SEAL thing sounds cool and it’s challenging and I get my college paid for by the GI bill. So I join the Navy. But that’s the story.

Chad Franzen  3:18 

Sure to say that being a Navy SEAL is challenging, I think would be an understatement. What can you tell me about the training to become a Navy SEAL?

Brandon Webb  3:27 

So yes, the selection process to become a SEAL, like to get to the point where you can actually start training is about seven months. It’s called buds or basic underwater demolition SEAL training. The demolition part because prior to the SEALs being formed by John F. Kennedy in the 60s, they’re the Navy underwater demolition teams did a lot of work and world war II kind of blowing those beach kind of metal cross obstacles on the beach, at normandy and stuff like that, but I joined class 215. We lost up around 223 ish, and we graduated just over 20 originals seven months later. So extremely tough. 90% washout rate. Most of its mental, it’s designed for a person of average physical ability to make it through. What you realize is that normally people walk around and they just don’t push themselves. Even in the workplace, I see most people do about 50% of what they’re actually capable of doing in a workday. And that’s what SEAL training teaches you really fast. It’s divided into three phases. The first phase is kind of conditioning, where they just throw everything at you physically, mentally, you’re cold wet. That’s about six weeks phase one and that ends with hell week. So they keep you up five and a half days straight no sleep, and you’re doing like two-mile ocean swims at night, very dangerous stuff. There’s a reason they call it high-risk training. We lose guys in training, every couple years we lose a guy. It just kind of comes with the territory. After that is die phase where you learn open circuit, closed circuit babyliss rebreather called the dragger, then you go into kind of like, third phase land warfare, you’re up, you’re learning navigation, weapons, basic tactics. And then you finish and you go to three months of SEAL tactical training, where you really start to learn how to become a SEAL, they really build the foundation. And then we lose guys there too. I’d say 10% attrition because guys are tough enough mentally and physically to make it through SEAL training. But they can’t, some guys are just missing that kind of shoot, move, communicate, they just can’t put it all together. And they ended up being unsafe and kill house, we call it the hostage rescue house. And once you complete that, you get your SEAL pin and then you go to a team and then you typically do another 12-month advance workup with a platoon deploy. When you come back from a deployment, you’re not considered a new guy anymore. So it’s about two years in the pipeline.

Chad Franzen  6:36 

What was your first assignment?

Brandon Webb  6:39 

I chose SEAL Team Three was the West Coast team at the time. SEAL Team Three years responsible for Southwest Asia. So primarily the Middle East. The two teams that were working in the late 90s were SEAL Team Four in South America and Seal Team Three in the Middle East. We’re doing a lot of stuff in the Middle East with enforcing the sanctions against Saddam Hussein like boarding, oil smugglers, taking over the ships and steering them down to UAE.

Chad Franzen  7:11 

After you had completed the training, did you have a totally different kind of self, like, did you look at the world differently? Or did you have a much greater sense of confidence than maybe you did beforehand? I mean, you must have been pretty confident to even try it. But then to finish it. Did you feel like you could go out and almost accomplish anything?

Brandon Webb  7:35 

Yes, you do get that feeling like wow, I just did something that most people can’t complete. Then I got to SEAL Team Three. I remember my first visit, every morning, if you’re not away on a training trip, you do morning PT or physical training. And I remember this guy, Bill Nalli was old Vietnam veteran, and he kicked our butts like day one. I was in the best shape of my life checking in and Seal Team Three going, “Holy crap. This is even harder.” But this guy was like 50 years old that just crushed us like thousands flutter kicks. Man, it was a wakeup call. I really learned at the SEAL team level. I had it fortunate to have great mentorship, great mentors, and I do believe in surrounding yourself with good people. And you can learn from the bad experiences too. But I had two great mentors, Dan Goulart and Tom Barker. Tom really taught me “Hey, you’re smart, you’re capable. Keep a good attitude, ask questions. And if you don’t know something, just figure it out. Figure it out.” And I remember the team needed a 32 passenger bus driver to drive people on some of the PTs in the morning we drive the Balboa Park in San Diego for these Hill runs. And I said okay, I guess I’m not going to steal Petunia at all I’ll go study the manual and learn how to drive that damn bus. Two weeks later, I have my bus driver license. Then I got my forklift license. So it really taught me that to be solution, have a solution mindset as opposed to problems like look, we’ve all been in the meeting where everyone wants to focus on oh, this is going bad. And this is all the reasons why it can’t happen. But let’s figure out how to make it happen. And that really the work ethic and the can-do solution mindset really came out of my kind of new guy experience at SEAL Team Three and having great mentors.

Chad Franzen  9:36 

Tell me about being a sniper. What kind of mentality and skills do you need to be successful at that?

Brandon Webb  9:41 

Well, you have to be a good shot, which I was not when I joined the teams. I had very little shooting experience. I became very good and one of the top shooters in my platoon and I got selected. Dan my chief pulled me in the office with my friend Glen Doherty and said look, “You two guys are, we need two more snipers, you guys are the best shots, we’re going to send you the school and give you a shot.” And at the time new guys didn’t get to go to the school, was reserved for senior guys. So we’re excited and terrified all at once because we didn’t want to let the platoon down but to be a sniper really, it’s a little bit more of, I would say if you think of it like the volume, when you’re in a kill house with a stack of 16 guys flowing through, clearing rooms and everything. That’s probably like a five to seven on the volume scale snipers out of 10 because you really have to understand like complex situation. A lot of the stuff we do at SEAL snipers, not the traditional way you think just sitting waiting for hours and hours even though we practice that, it’s you’re in a helicopter at night shooting at 45-degree angle on a steel deck, making sure you have frangible ammunition so it doesn’t Ricochet and then kill one of your teammates. And you’re relaying the entire picture to the platoon commander where to hook, you got two boats to rigid hull inflatable it’s coming up alongside a tanker telling them where to hook, these guys lives are at danger. They’re doing 20 30 foot climbs full kit, the Breacher has an oxygen torch on his back to cut in because he’s smugglers well themselves inside, we have to cut a hole in the roof. So the sniper is kind of in the helicopter identifying the ship, calling the platoon coordinating where the guys come in and hook then taking out any targets. So you really have to have a high degree of kind of comprehension patience being able to do simple math but quick calculating for angles when that type of thing.

Chad Franzen  11:58 

You were the head instructor at the Navy SEAL sniper school. What made you want to be an effective instructor for snipers?

Brandon Webb  12:09 

Two things. One, I cared, I gave a shit. I gave up a cushy. We call it shore duty in the Navy. It’s kind of like we take a three-year break and have a very relaxed schedule. I was going to go to be a buds instructor and finish my degree and get my pilot’s license. But a guy named Bob recruited me said look, we need you, you have relevant experience. You just came back from Afghanistan. And we’re overhauling the sniper course, we have a average course. And we want to make it one of the best in the world. So Bob really sold me. And that was at the time look, we’re just invading Afghan and kind of invading Afghanistan to wipe out the terror training camps. We just went into Iraq. So I said, “Okay, I kind of owe it to the guys.” So I went down there as an instructor first. And then Bob recruited me, a guest instructor, I was at advanced sniper training. Then Bob recruited me to come down. And then when he retired, he said, “Look, I’m going to put you in as the course manager. And at the time, I was an e6 filling e8 billet. So I was filling a billet that was two ranks above my pay grade. But the other part, so one, I really cared about what I was doing, and I think that you see that on a lot of good teachers, whether it’s grade school, high school or college. But the other thing that really made an impact on me was we overhauling the sniper program with technology and looking in the mirror at ourselves going, how do we teach better, we brought in some amazing consultants. One of them was a guy called Lanny Basham. And Lanny was a gold medalist and developed this metal management program. And it was really the key components were self-talk, visualization, positive teaching method versus negative and that shows up in coaching if say, kids are playing baseball and you see a kid just not following through on a swing and you’re pointing out all the errors like “Hey, why are you doing this? Your elbows cocked and you’re swinging the bat all wrong.” As opposed to just tell him what to do correctly. Because when you’re beginner, your brain is a sponge. It’s like a blank slate. So why fill it with all sorts of mistakes and errors when you get us give the positive corrections. We did that we saw our 30% failure rate and the sniper program and these are guys that are showing up already motivated, already good at what they do in the SEAL teams, and we’re still failing 30%. When we changed to this mental management program taught them how to combat self-talk and the negative talk in their head and change from negative to positive teaching style, we started graduating everybody. We had like less than 1% attrition rate, and it happened overnight. And when before also like, teaching them how to deal with self-limiting, self-talk and limiting behavior, we’ve all seen people and heard them go, I’m not good with numbers, I’m not good at math, I’m not a good golfer, when you announced that and think that way about yourself, you’ve set that ceiling, right? So when students would ask the instructors, “Hey, what’s a good shooting score?” We would say, I mean, 80% is the minimum. But we would say, “Well, if you’re shooting 90 95, that’s pretty damn good.” When we started, we implemented the mental management course, we said, well, 100 is a great score. And for the first time, guys were shooting hundreds on tests, incredibly complex tests with many variables with wind and moving targets. And it just shows you how when you change that narrative, how powerful it can be. And that is something that I really think that experience helped me transition from military SEAL team to entrepreneur, because, to be honest, brutally honest with you and your audience, a lot of SEALs don’t make it, they don’t make the transition. And it’s like Michael Phelps made that documentary about gold medalists sinking into depression. I think it’s very similar. You’re at the pinnacle of your performance or your career and you have this purpose as a SEAL or a gold medalists. And then when you win, the medal of the games are over now what and it’s kind of the same thing with the SEALs. And so I’m really kind of thinking about writing my next book around mindset, like what makes the .001% able to continue to operate at a high level throughout their career, and not have these ups and downs where a guy’s a professional baseball player, MBA and then they just flames out, loses all his money, falls into depression, because it happens all the time. Extremely successful people across multiple career genres, they reach these highs and they just drop. And so what’s the mindset that kind of separates the Lebron James from the average players, that kind of thing. So, but the mental management stuff is huge for me.

Chad Franzen  17:28 

Yeah, that’s very interesting about kind of setting your own ceiling and maybe trying to avoid that. Tell me about your first entrepreneurial experience.

Brandon Webb  17:37 

So I had this crazy idea to develop a race track with the tactical training facility in Southern California. It was a good concept, definitely was a market need. Because I saw our training in California get pushed to Middle America, we’re sending guys to the Midwest to do sniper training, very expensive. They’re away from their families. And I saw the success of these private facilities on the East Coast. And when I got out and like, I decided I wanted to get into business. My parents were both entrepreneurs. And from very different industries, each of them. Mom was in coffee, tea manufacturing, my dad was a contractor turned developer. But I knew I wanted to get into business. I started this thing just bit off. In hindsight, I’m like, “What was I thinking?” It was like $100 million project. But I just started drinking from the firehouse, and we ended up getting the permits, we raised $4 million, mostly through Angel, one private equity group. And it was a crash course in business for me fundraising, debt equity. Then in dealing with like, the politics of land development in California, especially. We got our entitlements and the housing market collapsed in 2008. And the county got sued by the Sierra Club for our project. We paid it almost 300k for independent environmental report, which came out very, very favorable. But the county got sued. So the housing market collapses, all our investors are like, “Hey, we don’t have any money to give, we’re trying to deal with around our own issues.” And then the county says, “Look, we’ll fight this lawsuit, but you’re going to pay our legal bills.” Like who wants to pay a government employee to kind of drag out a legal process. So it killed the project, and I lost my life-saving. Got a divorce recently after that, then kind of had to like, pick myself up and dust myself off. But when I realized all that I had learned and the knowledge I had gained, it gave me the confidence to kind of go do something else which, I had to get a job, I had families support. I went now worked for the defense industry for L Three Communications for a couple years, which was incredible experience. But it really showed me that I had a taste of entrepreneurship and didn’t want to let it go. So I was moonlighting as a blogger on the side, and it just sold my first book, The Red Circle. And the blog started to take off, or actually, the blog I was running at military.com was taking off and I said, “I can do this myself, like, I’ll start a military culture blog.” And so I did started SOFREP. And then took off right away. Within a year, we had 700,000 and ad commitments, and I was the only employee. So I was like, I have a business there.

Chad Franzen  20:49 

So yeah, tell me a little bit more about, it’s called SOFREP Media.

Brandon Webb  20:53 

Yeah, so our main site sofrep.com as military culture, defense and foreign policy news. It’s a very niche site with the content. But given this current situation with Ukraine, that’s really where we shine as far as really doing experience base truth fact base reporting, digging into areas that the mainstream media just can’t touch, because they don’t understand the whole command and control of battlefield. And there’s the sourcing isn’t as strong as our writing team. And most of our journalists are former military. So that site was military culture, and doing very well, then my writers started to see that the mainstream press weren’t reporting accurately on what was happening overseas. So we started breaking news. And I didn’t set out to do that. And then when it happened, I’m like, “Okay, this is fine. But none of us went to journalism school, we need to come up with our own ethics around what we do and what we publish and put a publishing board in place.” So I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but ended up today in a really good spot, where we’ve had subscribers with 7 plus years. And they trust us to tell it like it is, whether they like it or not, we don’t spin it, we just have a bias to kind of we try and look at things all different angles and give people different perspectives. When today in America, it’s easy to just kind of choose sides and spout a certain narrative, but we really try and we’ve been critical of every administration to be honest, and just try and call it as we see it, regardless of the politics.

Chad Franzen  22:48 

So that’s one successful brand that you’ve created. You’ve also created another one called Crate Club.

Brandon Webb  22:53 

Yeah, about 2014, we started thinking about is there other ways we can monetize our membership? And we have a gear review site called the Loadout Room, and we decided to do a subscription box and it took off. Was wildly successful, a lot of it had to do with the back when Facebook was you could spend $1 and make $5 back, it was wide open. If you really understood Facebook marketing and retargeting and how to build a good funnel, when you went from zero to almost 15 million in a couple of years. But it was almost too much growth, because we bootstrapped it. But I wish I had in hindsight, when it started taking off taking some money to manage the growth and really hire good people. And it really, the challenges of that business and watching it kind of come off the tracks and then having to sell it in 2020 to a competitor. As that was evolving, I understood that I needed to go back to school. So I went to two year kind of an entrepreneur MBA program at Harvard Business School, and said I need to go back to school and it was transformational for me to do that program with the knowledge but also the network now that I’m a HBS alumni. But that two very different businesses, asset light media, no inventory, no supply chain, asset, heavy complex supply chain, fast growing membership, trying to project inventory to order and track and dealing with third-party logistics providers. It was crazy, but a great experience.

Chad Franzen  24:51 

Sure, sure. So along with everything else, you are an author, you’re a New York Times bestselling author of multiple books, and you’ve written one called Total Focus, about making decisions under pressure, what would you say are some takeaways a reader might gain from that.

Brandon Webb  25:05 

I mean, the biggest takeaway, and that’s just me sharing my own issues with entrepreneurship that I think many entrepreneurs share is a lack of focus, especially in the beginning. We chase so many different things. And then yet, in my experience, nothing came to fruition until I had focus. And it was through a conversation, I met with a mentor of mine. But that was the main thing, like, look, you can buy capacity, if you’re successful later on. But in the beginning, you really got to focus, one, maybe two opportunities. And you’re Elon Musk, and you’re worth 100 plus billion dollars, you can do a lot of things. You can start multiple companies and hire great teams. But when you’re a startup entrepreneur, I haven’t seen or come across anyone in my path yet that has chased three, four different opportunities and been successful. It’s always been like, oh, God, I got to focus on this one thing and obsess over it, see it to fruition. So that was a total focus was just kind of sharing my own entrepreneurial journey. And realizing there’s a time that you have to focus, especially in the beginning when you’re starting out.

Chad Franzen  26:33 

And you’re writing a new thriller series, you’ve written some other nonfiction books, but you’re writing a new thriller series, is that right?

George Ishii  26:39 

Yeah, so, before the pandemic, I had this concept for a thriller based on my, before I was a Navy SEAL, I was a search and rescue swimmer for three years at a helicopter squadron in San Diego called HS6. My first deployment with HS6 was on the nucleolar aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln, which is a floating city of about 6000 people, you have the ship’s crew and in the air wing, everyone flies on and populates the ship as an air wing when you deploy overseas to the Gulf, about 6000 people. We had a sexual predator on the boat, they had just integrated women into operational roles. And this guy assaulted I think seven women on the ship, never caught him, just wasn’t the Navy ship, like that’s not really set up to deal with that kind of crime. And it planted the seed for a thriller. And I felt like I had kind of said, at the time, I said all I wanted to say on the nonfiction. I’m like, “Yeah, I told my story. But I love writing. So let’s try fiction.” So I called my friend John, who we’ve written a few books together. None of us had written fiction. And I said, “Look, I have this idea. I’ve got about 25,000 words written to about a quarter of a book, the plot, some characters have developed, and do you want to help me?” And he’s like, “Okay,” but when you’re selling a novel or fiction book, you got to finish the book, nonfiction, you could send a one page proposal. But fiction is like they want to see if you have what it takes. And so we finished it, we had a really good agent kind of help us refine it. And then we sold it to Random House for a record advance in 2020. The first book was called Steal Fear. The second one, I just got the proofs and is called Cold Fear. And it’s a fin X series, fin, no last name is our main hero. And he’s just kind of like, flawed hero that figures out he’s good at solving things. And yeah, this book called Fear Takes Place in Iceland was inspired by a trip I took to Iceland for New Year’s few years back. And, yeah, we’re negotiating TV series right now and pretty excited about it.

Chad Franzen  29:10 

Wow, amazing. I have one final question for you, at first, just kind of tell me how people can find out more about the things you have going on and about your books.

Brandon Webb  29:18 

Yeah, at my author site brandontylerwebb.com. Everything’s there, all my socials. They can find out more than they probably want to know.

Chad Franzen  29:29 

So my last question, you’ve really lived kind of an amazing life, just the training to do the things that you ended up doing are things that most people would be proud to say that they’ve done, let alone doing everything they’ve done. What do you think kind of drives you or what was it about your background that is kind of propelled you to these adventures and the successes that you’ve had?

Brandon Webb  29:53 

I think a combination between my parents being very adventurous and letting me off the leash early, I would call it and letting me learn the hard lessons. I’m a parent today, and the hardest thing to do is sit back and look and let your kids make a mistake that you know they have to make, some lessons, it just they have to learn. And in being strict with also strict guides, my parents were also pretty strict. When I messed up, I got punished severely, but it’s tough. It’s like this combination, because I think I have, eventually I’d love to write a parenting book because my kids all have that hunger. And it’s so nice to see my 20 year old son Hunter now who was born when I was in Afghanistan. Yeah, have a crypto hedge fund, which he’s writing the machine learning code, and he manages our real estate business family office. And he’s doing it since he was 18. And he just loves it. He’s got the hunger. His sister is an artist and has had an eCommerce store since she was 14, got hired by Saks to work the New York flagship over Christmas as the in store artists for Puma. My youngest son Grayson really he’s younger, but he wants to get into business. And so seeing that drive, I’m like, thank God. Whatever the mom and I did, we had a divorce and the kids had some challenges, but we all stuck together. The kids are well traveled, I’ve taken them around all my friends and business community and YPO. My son and daughter came to that Harvard program, I flew them out there so they could be in the classroom with all these different entrepreneurs all over the world. I think, number one is environment is so important, who you surround yourself with and your mentors, your peer group and putting yourself in these situations to grow and kind of be in the right kind of with the right kind of people that who are going or are there where you want to be. That’s so important. Do it but I think all of that was a recipe for making me have the fire.

Chad Franzen  32:25 

Sure. Well, hey, Brandon has really been a pleasure to speak with you. I really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much.

Brandon Webb  32:31 

Yeah. Thanks, Chad. Appreciate it.

Chad Franzen  32:33 

So long, everybody.

Outro  32:34 

Thanks for listening to the Top Business Leaders Show powered by Rise25. Visit rise25.com to check out more episodes of the show and to learn more about how you can start your own podcast.