Marine Corps Veteran Leaves The Corporate World To Capitalizes On Data Science And Supply Chain Management Trends
Ralph Asher, Marine Corps Veteran & Founder of Data Driven Supply Chain
Tell us about who you are and your background in the military:
I’m Ralph Asher and I served as an active-duty officer in the Marine Corps from 2006-2012. I was an active-duty Communications Officer (MOS 0602) for 6 years. That included a tour in California as a Platoon Commander, Company Operations Officer, and Company Executive Officer. I deployed twice, once in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and once in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). The Afghanistan deployment was rewarding because I was in a NATO headquarters in Kandahar, working with an international coalition of military communicators.
After my tour in the operating forces, I spent two years as a Recruiting Station Operations Officer in Indianapolis, Indiana. I separated from active duty and transitioned to the Marine Corps Reserve in 2012, as a junior Captain. I’ve served in various roles as a reservist since then. My current rank in the reserves is Major.
Tell us about your business:
My business is Data Driven Supply Chain, based in Minneapolis - St. Paul, Minnesota. I started it in early 2021, just prior to leaving the corporate world, where I had worked for eight years after active duty.
Data Driven Supply Chain is a consulting firm that uses data science and artificial intelligence to help clients tackle their toughest supply chain problems. Problems may include:
Supply Chain Network Design - where to put facilities and how to use them
Inventory Optimization - how much inventory to hold at each location, by item
Manufacturing Optimization - how to get more product out of the same plant
Clients range from startups to highly respected Fortune 500 companies and stretch from Minnesota to California to Norway. Client industries include CPG, agriculture, auto parts, food processing, electric vehicles, water tech, and more.
Coming up with the idea was easy - I worked in this niche for eight years in the corporate world. Friends who knew me well suggested I try joining a consulting firm. Making the leap to starting an independent business was much harder!
Describe how you got the business started:
From beginning to think about it, to resigning from my full-time job to go into the business, was about a year. I saw that the post-COVID supply chain shocks were creating first-mover advantages in the supply chain analytics field, so I decided to move when I could.
It didn’t cost much to start, under a couple of thousand dollars for everything including a better computer. The real cost was the opportunity cost of no longer getting a regular paycheck!
“Before taking the leap, I took a lot of time talking with different people that I knew would give good advice but be discreet.”
Most had zero idea what I actually would be doing on a technical basis but they had great advice and experience in entrepreneurship and consulting.
It took several months to get my first big client. Because this is a pretty small field, people know each other and that really helped me get started.
Tell us why you wanted to become an entrepreneur:
I knew a few entrepreneurs, both veterans and non-veterans. A fellow Marine vet, whom I served with, began his own IT consulting business and was quite successful at it. My older sister has owned a services business for over twenty years, so I grew up seeing her make that successful. So I saw positive success stories.
I went into entrepreneurship for a few reasons. I am energized by seeing opportunities out in the distance, and planning how to capitalize on those opportunities. I see several major trends in the fields of data science and supply chain management, and I want to orient my company at their confluence.
Additionally, I enjoy the flexibility and sense of empowerment that entrepreneurship brings. That means that I can help my clients improve their supply chain through innovative methods that their competitors aren’t using. That means I can spend some of my company’s resources building analytical capabilities that I know will help my clients in the future.
Describe how your military background prepared you for entrepreneurship:
I would credit the Marine Corps for emphasizing the “figure it out” mentality. The Marine Corps, as the smallest branch, has an ethos of doing more with less, and figuring out how to accomplish the mission no matter what difficulties you’re facing. It’s an excellent mindset to have when you’re thinking about entrepreneurship in the civilian sector.
“Self-confidence, as long as it’s well-founded and justified, will help you go over any possible challenge.”
The Marine Corps also taught me that “readers are leaders.”
Working in a technical field that services a particular business function, I need to be growing in multiple fields simultaneously. You can’t do that without being a constant reader.
If you aren’t continually learning and growing intellectually, you’re stagnating.
Additionally, the Marine Corps teaches you to plan backward, from “actions on the objective.” If I want my business to look like X in 12 months, what actions do I need to take in 6 months to make that happen? For me to be able to take those actions in 6 months, what do I need to do today? Being able to time-phase your actions to achieve goals down the road - I credit the Marine Corps 100% for instilling in me.
Tell us about some of the obstacles and challenges you’ve had and how you overcame them:
Marketing and sales have been an area of growth. I’ve had enough job interviews that I can sell myself as a potential employee. It took time to learn how to properly sell myself - and now my team - as external problem solvers. I’ve improved through practice and plenty of reading.
Just learning the ins and outs of managing a business was new - reading legal documents, figuring out taxes, and managing cashflow. Thankfully there are a lot of great resources, and I lean on professionals to help.
Describe how are you doing today and what the future looks like:
My vision for Data Driven Supply Chain LLC is a boutique firm of about 20-30 teammates that offers customized solutions for our clients’ most difficult supply chain problems. I believe that advances in technology will allow us to model, simulate, and optimize clients’ supply chains in a way that was only a dream a decade ago. I don’t want Data Driven Supply Chain to be all things to all people. I want it to be a few things to the right people, and to do those things very, very well.
Right now, I’m the solo employee, with a few contractors to assist me. I will start bringing on employees when the time is right.
We primarily offer project based consulting. We also offer corporate training in supply chain analytics. Interested individuals can check out https://datadrivensupplychain.com/services-and-case-studies/ for more.
Share some advice with your fellow veteran entrepreneurs:
Understand the gaps in your education and actively seek to improve on them. You may not be in college, but there’s nothing stopping you from finding an introductory corporate finance textbook and reading it cover to cover. Subscribe to newsletters and blogs in the areas you aren’t strong in.
Understand that not all advice is good advice. Listen, but evaluate afterwards. Ray Dalio has some great guidance on how to evaluate advice and opinions.
Read, read, read. Take James Mattis’ advice.
Where can we go to learn more: