Soldier to Startup

During the humanitarian crisis of Kabul collapsing I was seconded to the Home Office providing aid to 10,000 individuals. That same year I was training members of the Royal Air Force to deploy globally on operations, earlier this month I joined startup


Having won the opportunity by pitching an innovation project to the Royal Air Force to take part in the Percy Hobart Fellowship, a bespoke programme conceptualized by the Public Team offered to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in a bid to drive velocity into innovation within the Armed Forces.

The fellowship is a melting pot of lectures, presentations and solo projects geared towards disrupting the status quo, identifying problems and creatively seeking methods to clear blockers.

Culminating in an opportunity to see this in the flesh with a work placement in the heart of a tech startup pioneering the way forward in their unique space. Very quickly I recognised the similarities between the two environments, the military and a startup. The differences are vast, but little is gained from comparison. I dove in and began to formulate a process in which I could assimilate rapidly to the new workplace and understand how to maximize the opportunity and my own productivity to this market leading AI platform.

Jumping in, I spent hours consuming information, following links to related articles, marrying up the processes, models and plans.

Reaching out and speaking to every member of the team, understanding where my own skills and attitude could fit into their daily work lives. Communication of this calibre was easily managed in a remarkably hospitable environment like After each conversation the realisation of the tenacity of the team at large grew. This could only have been created by  the binding vision that the team were following, each project running independently of another but linked intrinsically. In short, it was fascinating.

A term the Armed Forces employ is Mission Command. Simply, once a team is aligned with the goal, the method in which they achieve the result is of their own devising. This is a practice I witnessed put to work in a completely new perspective. It was exciting to see ownership of projects in such a light.

This practice is not limited to the full time members, after a few short days at an all hands meeting I was asked to brief on the projects I was involved within and where I wanted to take them. A smattering of nerves were there but the confidence instilled in me to commit fully to the team was astounding.


Within days I was adding value and leading my own schedule. Pursuing avenues of interest and providing leads that I wanted to follow. The ability to work at this pace was liberating and as a result I found I was producing more, investigating more thoroughly and planning far more efficiently.

Arguably there are many facets that align the military and startup culture. The ability to get things done, interrogation of leads and searching for every opportunity. Utilizing the drive to follow through and maintain the ability to pivot to where necessary. Fostering an understanding of patterns and anticipating the needs of those around you in order to best succeed as a team and ultimately achieve ground breaking results. Communicating at all levels, assuming nothing and questioning everything, leading an empirical and logical attitude to learning and assimilating experiences.

Startups, similar to the Armed Forces, attract a certain type of individual. One that thrives in working in uncertainty, that’s happy to pave the way for others, that’s as equally content in working as a team as they are individually. Above all they need to welcome feedback, input and are willing to work in transparency, avoiding isolation.

From my perspective working within a startup is simply exciting, liberating and equally challenging. An element of faith, and pride, has to be in the work you undertake.

Mike Cornell

Gunslinger and absolute bad man.

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