Q&A: How a Veteran-Founded Brand Strengthens Military Communities

GORUCK founder and Special Forces veteran Jason McCarthy wanted to bring the strength and reliability of his “go bag” from the Special Forces community to his wife, Emily. She was working for the Foreign Service in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, when McCarthy built her and her coworkers a bag similar to the one he used in the military.

What started as a desire to create a bag that was both tough and stylish is now a company that builds quality bags while also leading team-building events, and events for people who want to challenge themselves, physically and mentally.

We spoke with Kit Klein, a partnership manager with GORUCK, who joined the team early on. Klein discovered his passions aligned with the company after searching for a physically challenging event.

What’s the story behind GORUCK?

GORUCK was started by Jason McCarthy back in 2008 after he got out of the Special Forces. He wanted to create a bag that was tough enough for Baghdad while still being sleek enough to be worn in Manhattan. There was no business plan, or launch strategy, or equity raises. There was simply a Special Forces way of life, a community to live up to, and another to build. So, yes we build gear. Yes, we lead events, build teams and strengthen communities. But only because if we didn’t, we’d have to find some other way to change the world, one day at a time.

What were some of the early challenges?

The biggest change is the growth. We had about 20 events total in 2010 and now we can run upwards of 10 events a weekend. Additionally, we used to carry just four products and now we have hundreds of SKUs.

The early challenges were just getting people to hear about our gear. From this problem, we created the Challenge. We used our events to market our gear initially and show how tough it is. What we didn’t see is that the events themselves became extremely popular and grew into their own thing.

What roles do veterans play in the company?

The biggest way we employ veterans is [as our] Cadre. We have over 100 Special Operation Cadre who lead our events. We also have a handful of veterans who work in our headquarters. We have seen a lot of traction with Team Red, White & Blue [an organization that connects veterans with their community through physical activity] in terms of veteran engagement. We run our events and display our gear in a way that is true to our roots. That being said, we like to offer an earned service discount to anyone who was in the military.