A former Army infantry officer, Nick Palmisciano is an author, entrepreneur and founder of Ranger Up, a veteran-run apparel company that just so happened to appear on GovX.com last week. An ardent fan of vet culture, hand-to-hand combat, and bourbon, Nick kicked off his brand after saying goodbye to the soul-sucking corporate world.
You formed Ranger Up to be more connected to the military community. How did this inspiration come about?
When I left the military, I thought I wanted to go out and make a bunch of money. I was lucky enough to go to Duke for business school, and then I got a fancy MBA job at age 29. By any metric, I was successful … except I was absolutely fucking miserable. I missed the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself. I needed to do something more worthwhile.
At the same time, I was volunteering teaching MMA and small unit tactics to Duke’s ROTC students. The kids there were always complaining about not being able to get cool T-shirts. Everything was skulls and snakes and “Death From Above.” So, I made some shirts for them out of stuff I bought at Michaels. They encouraged me to sell them online, so I launched RangerUp.com as a hobby.
In short order, I was getting emails from Iraq and Afghanistan thanking me for keeping them amused while they were deployed. It motivated me. I started pouring more and more of time into RU. By 2008, my life was 8:00-6:00 at a Fortune 100 company, 6:30-7:00 for dinner, 7:30-3:00 at Ranger Up, and repeat. On Sundays I would sleep in and try to recharge.
During all of this madness, I had been promoted, but the job started to feel like a distraction. I questioned whether I should stay at a place where I wasn’t giving my full effort. I found out on a Friday that I was going to get promoted again. It would be a raise of about $100k. I knew it would be the golden handcuffs if I accepted, so after the weekend I came in and quit. That’s when I became a real entrepreneur.
I went from making a fortune to making $0. I almost bankrupted myself. But the whole time my singular focus was on our customers.
I went from making a fortune to making $0. Later that year I was able to give myself a raise to $12k a year and then $18k. After a great holiday season, I jumped to $24k. I almost bankrupted myself. The whole time my singular focus was on our customers. I always imagine the guys I served with when I imagine our customers. My goal is to amuse them, educate them, or give them news that I think they should know. And every once in a while they buy something from us which lets us keep doing that.
I wouldn’t run this business for any other community. I don’t even really love clothing. I just think this is the best community in the world. That’s why I do it. That’s why I left the easy life. That’s why I’m an entrepreneur.
Your video and blog content is hilarious. Where does your humor come from?
I think vets are the funniest people on the planet. You are placed in such crappy situations all of the time, so you either get a great sense of humor or you implode.
The thing that bothers me the most is when people who haven’t served assume that military people are boring, robotic, automaton droids that walk around saluting all the time. I think vets are the funniest people on the planet. You are placed in such crappy situations all of the time, so you either get a great sense of humor or you implode. Today, five of us were talking about someone not feeling well, and that evolved into all of us comparing notes on the times we each had dysentery while overseas, which led to a bunch of men laughing about the embarrassing way each of us crapped our pants. In any other crowd, these would be the kind of stories that people would find revolting. In our community, it’s normal.
So we have this great group of men and women here who have all been through some ridiculous situations in service to the nation, and we’re always trying to make each other laugh. When we get it right, that turns into, “Maybe that should be a video?”
Also, our liberal whiskey policy helps.
One of my coworkers just came up to me wearing a Ranger Up shirt. How’s it feel knowing you’re resonating so much with the military and first responder community?
It’s amazing. It’s also really cool to know that we kicked off this industry, which has led to new entrepreneurs and more vet employment. We started in 2006 and there was no one else. We created the market. Then Grunt Style came around a couple years later and mimicked our model with a little bit of a drill sergeant spin and now they have something like 50 employees, then Milifidel, Nine Line, and many others. All in all there are 26 military-inspired brands now. And, of course, there’s also our BFFs - Mat Best and Article 15, who have a completely unique approach. And we know we had something to do with all that—we showed people how to make this work, and we take a lot of pride in that.
I’m not a hero. I’m not a total badass. When a dude missing a leg, or a girl missing her arms meets us and says, “I fucking love you guys” it’s hard not to feel guilty.
On the flip side, it can sometimes be overwhelming. We run into a lot of people who are so excited to meet us and to take pictures with us, and even to get autographs. I know this sounds weird, but it makes me kind of feel terrible. I’m not a hero. I’m not a total badass. I’m a standard issue infantryman. I’m frankly not worthy of that kind of attention. I’m a guy that tries to create a fun environment on the internet. When a dude missing a leg or a girl missing her arms meets you and says, “I fucking love you guys. You guys are my heroes,” it’s hard not to feel guilty, because we’re not worthy of that kind of sentiment. And that isn’t me trying to fish for compliments. We’re honestly not worthy of that attention.
So it’s mixed. I’m proud of the impact that we have had on the community. I love that people love the brand. I’m uncomfortable with the status the community has given us. I’m not sure if that makes sense.
What’s it like working at the Ranger Up office?
It’s a really fun place to work. We have a lot of talented people and we have loads of people with an incredible work ethic. It’s not easy to churn out the products and content that we do, day-in, day-out, but the team always comes through. They’re also motivated by the community. It’s a great feeling for everyone to see the impact of what we do on the veterans and active duty troops we serve.
And also, Jack drops his pants a lot.