5 leadership lessons from the Navy that can apply to business, according to the CEO of fast-growing game startup Hunt A Killer

  • Ryan Hogan is a Navy veteran and the CEO and cofounder of the immersive gaming company Hunt A Killer.
  • The company, ranked number 6 on the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest-growing companies in the US, expects to hit over $51 million in revenues by the end of 2020.
  • Hogan shared the lessons he has learned from his time in the Navy in 2002, which he says he's used to make a success of his business.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Hunt A Killer counts itself as a pandemic success story, predicting that its subscription game business with double its revenue in 2020.

The company delivers subscription horror, sci-fi, and mystery games to your door, tying together two trends: the boom in board games and the rise of subscription e-commerce.

 CEO Ryan Hogan has had an unusual route to success: He joined the Navy in 2002 as an aviation warfare systems operator. While on active duty, he graduated in marketing and management at the University of Maryland, founded a military apparel company in 2008, and was CEO of entertainment company RSP Live. Both businesses failed within a couple of years after launch.

"The interesting thing about the military is the mentality of never giving up … we may lose the battles, but we're gonna win the wars," Hogan tells Business Insider.

Hunt A Killer might be his shot. The company says it posted revenue of $27 million in 2019, according to figures the company shared with Business Insider. 

It was named one of the World's Most Innovative Companies in 2019 by Fast Company and was ranked number 6 on the Inc. 5,000 list of fastest-growing companies in the US. 

Hunt A Killer claims to have sent over two million game boxes, hit 100,000 subscribers, and forecasts $51 million in revenue by the end of 2020. 

Hogan revealed the five lessons he has learned from the Navy with which he credits his business success.

Learn the importance of over-communication

Back in 2008, Hogan's commanding officer was lieutenant commander J.D. McBryde, whom he considered something of a mentor.

"I learned a lot from him, and a key takeaway was that even when there was no update, that was an update. Under-communication wasn't an option," he said.

During a military operation in May 2008, Hogan's team was floating off the coast of Thailand when news came of Cyclone Nargis — a storm that made landfall in Myanmar and killed more than 84,500 people across Asia. The team's mission was changing by the hour. Hogan's commanding officer, McBryde, instead of staying silent or showing a lack of trust in subordinates, kept the team in the loop even when the update was, 'We don't know yet'.

"That kind of transparency allowed us to feel like a team and that we were part of the process. I believe that a sense of transparency is important for team development," Hogan said.

Every leader should stop pretending to have all the answers and be transparent — especially during tough times, Hogan added. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hogan has sent weekly videos to the company in which he outlines challenges and the state of the company.  

Each quarter he also sends an employee survey to get a sense of how everyone is feeling and take steps forward to maintain everyone's wellbeing.

Have contingencies for multiple scenarios

"My military training taught me to be prepared for as many scenarios as possible because it's usually what you aren't prepared for that kills you, or your business," he told Business Insider.

Hogan said he follows a 'What will kill us next' model in his company. It helps him create contingency plans in case anything goes wrong.

The team identifies potential problems, picks the one that would have the biggest impact on the business, and then works on solutions.

Don't be afraid to fail

Hogan echoed one of the most common pieces of advice from successful entrepreneurs — don't be afraid to fail. He said he learned to overcome fear coming out of the military and while growing as an entrepreneur. 

Despite the failure of his earlier businesses, Hogan said he wasn't put off entrepreneurship.

"Failure can be the greatest teacher. It's important to just take the first step, and keep taking steps forward to grow a business, not letting fear hold you back … And stay resilient to make sure your end goal is still attainable," he said.

Check your team members' wellbeing

Hogan said trusting his leaders and team members was key to successfully achieving military missions. 

"I have had some amazing officers and senior enlisted advisers who helped me along the way. I looked up to them, trusted their decisions, and learned that you have to instill trust with those in the ranks below you to keep an operation running smoothly and efficiently, and vice versa," Hogan said.

Building trust improves team members' creativity and confidence. It also means checking on employees and keeping open communications.

Be respectful

While in the military, Hogan learned to show and have respect for the people he served with, and for his team. 

Same with business, "having respect for your team is critical," Hogan said.

While at Hunt A Killer there are many moving parts including design, creative, and marketing. Employees as well as leaders have to show respect for each other to ensure both teams and the company thrive. "Respecting everyone's creativity, and work has helped grow Hunt A Killer to what it is today," said Hogan.

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