Interview With Matt Miller | Owner of School Spirit Vending | High Speed Low Drag Podcast

matt millerWelcome to High Speed Low Drag, the podcast for veterans and soldiers transitioning into the civilian world. War veteran John Lee Dumas interviews other veterans who are crushing both business and life, revealing the path they took to achieve outstanding success. Veterans, are you prepared to ignite?

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High Speed Nation, John Lee Dumas here and I am fired up to bring you our featured guest today, Matt Miller. Matt, are you prepared to ignite?

Matt: Let’s do it!

John: All right!

Matt graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1989 and was an Air Force pilot for nine years. Post-military, Matt worked in both the medical and advertising fields before venturing out on his own in 2011 to grow his school fundraising company, School Spirit Vending. Today, Matt and his team provide passive fund-raising for over 1500 schools in 23 states.

Matt, I have given High Speed Nation just a little insight so share more about you personally then expound upon the biz.

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Matt: Yeah, John. Thanks for having me on, first off.

I spent my time in the military, like you said, for nine years. Loved the time that I was able to do things I could have never dreamed of doing while I was growing up but finally got to a point where I knew I could do better financially and have more freedoms, getting out on my own.

Like you said, I spent a bunch of time in the medical device selling world and then in advertising and got a little bit frustrated with the limits there. It always seemed like whatever company I was working for, the rules got changed midway through things and they were never in my favor.

So I decided to change all that. I started my business moonlighting literally with candy and gum ball machines to start with about nine years ago. I had about $32 to my name to start a business at that time. Found a used candy and gum ball machine on eBay, went and learned from the guy a little bit, picked up the machine and went out and started to teach myself vending. And of course things have morphed from just candy and gum balls to where we do our fundraising stuff in schools selling stickers, believe it or not, today.

John: Love that, Matt. So we’re really going to be doing a deep dive into your military and air force specifically and then post-military of course because you have a lot of interesting stories to share. But before all that, we always start with a success quote. So share your quote and why you chose to share it.

Zig ZiglarMatt: My quote is I believe from Zig Ziglar. It is essentially:

“Help enough other people get what they want and you’ll be taken care of.”

And over the last 7 or 8 years, that’s kind of the mantra I’ve lived my life by. And in all the businesses that I run today, it’s a win-win situation where I found a way to help others along the way and in by doing so, I’m benefitting myself.

John: Well, Matt, that’s definitely a Ziggy Zig quote. That guy has so many of them and that’s just one of the ones that seem to always rise to the top because it is so true that if you help enough other people get what they want, then you can get anything that you want but it has to be in that order.

Now let’s kind of keep these themes and move for and let’s talk about specifically your military experience first and within that, just one story because we only have so much time. So what would that one story that you want to tell us today that you consider your most pivotal moment in the military?

Matt: Well, at the Air Force Academy, first off I first went to the Academy purely to go to school away from home. I had no military aspirations, had no family in the military previously. Found out about the school, found out that it was equivalent to a full ride scholarship and got me the opportunity to go to school away from home.

So here I am junior year at the academy, three years in, one year to go and we have to decide what our career path is going to be. Now I found out along the way — because the Academy puts out a lot of pilots obviously for the Air Force — and I found along the way that if you were medically qualified to fly, which I was, and chose not to become a pilot, you had to go talk to the three-star general in charge of the Academy and tell him why you didn’t want to fly.

Well, I had never had any dreams or aspirations to become a pilot. Believe it or not, it just kind of happened, function of going to the Academy. I chose not to get the face time with the general and became a pilot, as ridiculous as that sounds.

John: Well, I don’t want to say ridiculous but it is a pretty pivotal moment and you definitely had I’m sure a lot of different paths in life open up before you because of it. And what would you say the lesson is that you want to pull out of this, Matt? We can always pull out some lesson out of every single story, out of every major decision in our life. What would be the one that you want to talk about with High Speed Nation today?

Matt: Man, I guess the biggest lesson I’d have from all of that is just to set your dreams and goals high. I grew up in a little town in Illinois, west of Chicago, about 8,000 people in the town. It had been 20 years since anyone had gone to a military academy prior to me. Of course nobody I knew flew. And despite the odd way that I became a pilot, to have had the opportunity to go to the academy which is a pretty highly regarded school in our country, but then also to be able to travel the world and fly for nine years, looking back now was just phenomenal.

So instead of limiting myself, even though I didn’t understand it all, just going with it and of course a lot of the reasons why I’m where I am today is because of the lessons learned during that time.

John: So now let’s go talk about specifically your transition out now. Because a lot of our listeners with High Speed Nation, they are really on that edge, like they’re on that curve, they’re just about to transition out or they are currently transitioning out or maybe some listeners have already transitioned out but they really want to maybe kind of hear from you your transition story and some lessons that you learned from that.

So talk us through that, some obstacles you faced and challenges you faced and let’s try to pull out some lessons.

 f18 hornetMatt: Okay. First off, 90% of my buddies that I went to school with and that I flew with, the obvious path was to go to the airlines. In fact, most of them are still doing that today. Because flying wasn’t something that I had aspirations all my life and quite honestly, their divorce rates are extremely high for airline pilots, those were the two main reasons why I chose not to go to the airlines.
Well, it blew everybody’s mind. And in fact, when I went to my first Junior Military Officer Hiring Conference, the biggest obstacle I had to overcome in all the interviews that I went through was “Okay, you’ve been flying for nine years, why should I hire you when you’ve got this expertise that people will pay highly for? Because chances are, you’re just going to walk away in a year or two and go back to flying and our company will have invested all these money on you.”

So one of the biggest challenges I had at that point was convincing people that u did not want to go back to flying on the outside world because most people would have killed to do what I did and I walked away from it completely.

As far as an obstacle, once I got out, I think the biggest thing was financial. We made some stupid decisions early on, got ourselves into some debt because of some early business stuff I had tried to do while I was transitioning. I got to a point to where, literally, here I was, America’s finest, Pilot Academy grad, all that stuff where literally I got turned down at a payday loan place for $100 that I needed to pay a bill of some kind. That was definitely the lowest point I think in my post-military career was I couldn’t come up with $100 for the life of me.

So major, major obstacle, major, major hole that I had found myself in but ultimately that’s what turned me towards figuring this whole entrepreneurship out because the sky’s the limit in this country that we live in for those that are just willing to work hard and persist while everything else is maybe telling them to quit.

John: So Matt, let’s kind of move forward now and talk about a civilian gig that you’ve had where you’re really just digging some tractions. So you’re out of the military now, you got your feet underneath you, what was like an aha moment you had, this idea, this light bulb that went off and then kind of walk us through some steps that you took to turn that light bulb moment into success.

Matt: Okay. I had been working in the advertising industry for 4, 5 years; was frustrated because I was limited in the money I could make and that type of thing and so I was looking to do something on the outside that would provide for me, maybe give me a parachute of sorts or a spare tire in my life.

I had started a vending business selling candy and gum balls to begin with and had kind of grown that over a year-and-a-half or so. Then ’07 to ’08 hit, economy turned south, not nearly as many people were going for the businesses I had vending machines in and I was frustrated because I wasn’t making nearly as much money as I had for my time.

Well, I had four kids in a span of a week come knocking on my door wanting to sell stuff for a fundraiser for their schools. With a couple of years of background in vending coupled with those kids knocking on my doors, I was like “There’s got to be a way that I can utilize my vending experience to get kids off the street and help schools passively fundraise.” So that’s where the whole idea of School Spirit Vending came from, the whole concept of sticker vending and it being a fundraising stream for the 1500 schools that we’re in.

John: Matt, what was the biggest challenge that you faced once you had that idea to bring it into fruition?

Matt: The biggest challenge was I had a buddy of mine who was an elementary PE teacher. He convinced his principal into letting us try our program in their school. And the first couple of months, it was just wildly off-the-charts successful. But from there, I had to figure out how do I bring this to the education market place. I knew nothing about the school system was being operated, how they raised money, I didn’t know any of that stuff.

And I literally went started knocking door-to-door on the schools in my are trying to get principals or school leaders to hear what I had to say and to implement our program. And I just got door after door after door slammed in my face. Ultimately I found out that there were some events that we could attend, that we could exhibit at, where it was a non-threatening way for us to present what we’re doing and in the process, we found the people who were excited about our program and things just took off from there.

John: So Matt, things have taken off and to bring you to present times, what is the one thing that you’re most fired up about today?

Matt: I guess I’m most excited about the fact that I’ve gotten to a point in my business to where we’re taken care of. How our model works is we have a distributorship model where we find other professionals, many of them white collar college grads, also a bunch of former military folks, that are looking to supplement what they’re doing full time. And we provide them a system and a process to do that.

What I’m most excited today is how many families across the country our company is impacting. Because there are so many people out there that want to be an entrepreneur but they’re just scared. No one’s ever taught them how to do any of that stuff. And even though it’s not that difficult, it’s not that hard, there are a lot of road blocks, there are a lot of uncertainties. And with our program, we can literally lay out Point A to Point Z scenario, show people exactly how to do things, give them the tools to succeed. And to see these families and these entrepreneurs as part of our team flourishing across the county is the most exciting thing for me today.

John: That’s awesome stuff to hear, Matt. I kind of love painting the picture about how things are actually brought to fruition and then what you’re rocking and rolling with right now. Let’s kind of take that next step and transition into the lightning rounds and this is where you, Matt, get to share incredible resources and simply mind-blowing answers. Sound like a plan?

Matt: Sounds great.

John: What would you say is the most difficult adjustment that you had to make in the civilian world?

Matt: Hands down the most difficult was going from a very regimented environment where literally as you know you’re told what to do 24/7-365 to all of a sudden entering the civilian world where yeah, you’ve got people telling you what to do but ultimately you’ve got control.

That was hard for me because 13 years of regimentation, my four years at the Academy and 9 years flying, to deal with to begin with and to kind of figure out. Once I did though, there was nothing more refreshing.
And I really believe that there’s so much opportunity in our country today and unfortunately, there’s very few people that decide to take advantage of it.

People don’t realize — you and I have been to all over the world, you and I know how people live in other parts of the world and we are so spoiled, we have so much opportunity and in most cases, people just don’t know that, they don’t get it.

John: Love that. What business advice would you pass along to those that are making the transition right now, Matt?

Matt: I think we oftentimes are led to believe that the military is the only way to go, Uncle Sam will take care of you, you got the benefits, you got all that stuff taken care for you —

John: I mean how many times have you heard like “I just need eight more years till I’m 20 years in.”

Matt: Right, yeah, exactly, exactly, and I didn’t get that. So I guess the biggest thing I would tell folks is it’s okay, it’s going to be all right. No, you’re not going to have that parachute that is Uncle Sam out there but there are so much opportunity and there are so many companies that are longing for the skillset that you have, that Uncle Sam has helped you develop, and the entrepreneurial world is right for the people with the military background to kick butt and take names. It’s just a matter of having confidence and realizing that Uncle Sam is not the end-all and be-all.

John: Matt, can you share one of your personal habits that you believe contributes to your success?

Matt: I would say the biggest thing is persistence, you ask anybody that has been around me for any period of time, and I’m like a bulldog. I’ve got an idea, I’ve got something I’m working and I will work and labor at it probably harder than most anybody out there and will stick with things the longest. And I think that’s why we got the success that we got today. Aside from School Spirit Vending, I own and operate several other companies, all of them are growing successfully, but it’s because I didn’t quit. I didn’t roll over and wet on myself when it got tough and I decided just to keep with it and despite the naysayers, do what I knew was right.

John: So good. Matt, if you could recommend one book for our listeners, what would that book be?

how-to-win-friends-coverMatt: Well, I’d love to recommend a couple. First off, the Bible is the foundation of my faith so I’d be remise by not mentioning that to start. But the other two that have been instrumental in my success and foundational would be “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie and “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki.

John: Great classics, High Speed Nation, definitely for the entrepreneur. And Matt, let’s end today literally on fire with you sharing one parting piece of guidance, the best way we can connect with you, then we’ll say goodbye.

Matt: The biggest parting piece of guidance I’d give folks is you can do it. Take advantage of the opportunity in front of you. Even if you got to start small with limited means, small things can become big things if you’re willing to be persistent and be passionate about what you do.

As far as contacting me, my company, like you said, is School Spirit Vending. I can be reached at and if there’s anybody out there in the audience that is looking for a way to create a spare tire, give me a call. We may have opportunity for you in your part of the country.

John: Love that.

Well, High Speed Nation, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you have been hanging out with Matt and myself today so keep up the heat. And, Matt, thank you for being so generous with your time, with your expertise, your experience. High Speed Nation salutes you and we’ll catch you on the flipside.

Matt: Thanks, John. I appreciate you big time.

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