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Two Veterans & An Acquisition

We Are The Mighty Acquires the Military Influencer Brand

When 1st Sgt. Curtez Riggs was preparing to retire from the Army in 2018, his side gig — the Military Influencer Conference (MIC) — was establishing itself as the premier gathering of entrepreneurs, leaders, and creatives in the military space. Riggs had put into action his first rule of entrepreneurship: Maintain a steady paycheck while pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams.

“I had all the pay and benefits through service that allowed me to take the risk of starting a business,” Riggs said, who transitioned from active-duty entrepreneur to military-veteran entrepreneur. “Most individuals wait until they are done with something fully and then try to launch a business to support their habits and lifestyle. It’s rare that it works out like that.”

Today, Riggs’ goal is to grow MIC into the military version of South by Southwest (SXSW), the multi-day Texas conference and festival celebrating the tech, film, and music industries. In order to achieve that objective, Riggs is putting into action his second rule of entrepreneurship: Know your skill set.

“As a founder, you know when you are operating outside of your skills. I started to realize that in late 2020,” he said. “I knew the conference, the brand, had the ability to grow to be a SXSW that serves the military community, where we have a conference, large-scale supplier-diversity trade show, an emphasis on helping service members transition into entrepreneurship or finding their way into another job. There could be a comedy night, movie releases.”

As a solo entrepreneur, Riggs didn’t have the connections or resources to bring that dream to fruition, but another veteran-led company did. We Are The Mighty, the military community’s leading digital publisher and media agency, is acquiring Military Influencer, with Riggs assuming the role of President of Events and Activations.

“We joined forces to make MIC a much larger event than if either one of us did it independently,” Air Force veteran Mark Harper, CEO of We Are The Mighty, said. “Curtez brings so much to MIC - his relationships, his institutional knowledge, and an unrivaled passion for the military community. When we leverage that experience and couple it with WATM’s production, event, and marketing capabilities, MIC will be unstoppable. This partnership will ensure Military Influencer is not just successful, but also sustainable.”

The military teaches discipline, resiliency, tenacity, and perseverance, all of which are hallmarks of successful entrepreneurs. But Riggs acknowledges a successful business partnership between veterans requires more than shared time in uniform.

“It’s important for me to know that if you served for two years or 30, you are still grounded by the values we learned in service,” Riggs said, pointing out that not all veterans carry military values such as integrity and acceptance of diversity into civilian life.

Riggs’ entrepreneurial journey began in Flint, Michigan, where as a child he collected discarded glass bottles and cans from neighborhood baseball diamonds, cashing in the refundable ‘trash” for 10-cents each. Harper, on the other hand, describes himself as an “accidental” entrepreneur. While enrolled in the UCLA Anderson MBA program, Harper developed a business plan for the launch of a high-end headphone that became the Audeze brand. He spent three years with the startup before joining We Are The Mighty in 2014.

As a Black entrepreneur, Riggs has had to overcome added roadblocks while building Military Influencer.

“When you get into the public facing entrepreneurial world, there are a lot of people who haven’t taken me seriously,” he explained. “Mentorship opportunities have been incredibly limited. Until I found the right circles, access to capital and resources was always a challenge, especially for a minority entrepreneur.”

But, Riggs says, each “no” he encountered turned into a “new opportunity to connect with someone else.” He maintains his experience is a lesson for all entrepreneurs.

“The majority of people you talk to or attempt to connect with, right upfront they are going to tell you ‘no,’” Riggs said. “But you have to keep going. The more people you talk to, eventually you start to find individuals who will accept you, support you, and provide the mentorship and resources you need.” 

Riggs added, “One of the lessons I learned early in my entrepreneurial journey was the importance of a growth mentality. There are so many great, free programs like Bunker Labs, Patriot Boot Camp, the Institute for Veterans & Military Families, and other organizations designed to help veteran entrepreneurs. Taking advantage of these offerings will pay dividends. They’ll help you hone your strengths, and maybe more importantly, help you identify your weaknesses. Knowing your vulnerabilities and having enough humility to bring in key people to augment those gaps is critical for success. This mentality is one of the main reasons I was excited to partner with WATM for Military Influencer.”

While many companies were forced to shutter because of the COVID-19 pandemic, both MIC and WATM found ways to pivot in order to expand their offerings to not just survive, but thrive.   

“Service teaches you many life-long lessons,” Harper explained. “Whether on the battlefield or in a boardroom, the ability to adjust a plan is certainly one of those skills.” 

Riggs agreed. 

“We found ways to grow at a time when people around us didn’t have the ability to flex,” he said. “MIC and WATM is an exciting partnership that just makes sense.”

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