40. How to Become a Third Shift Entrepeneur with Todd Connor

August 31, 2022

40. How to Become a Third Shift Entrepeneur with Todd Connor
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The Scuttlebutt Podcast - The podcast for service members and veterans building a life outside the military.

In this episode, Brock talks with Todd Connor.

Todd is the author of third shift entrepreneur, founder of Bunker Labs, and CEO of Veterans for Political Innovation. In this conversation we talk about startups, a topic Todd is an expert on. We discuss some of the programming Bunker Labs offers to veteran entrepreneurs as well as the origin story of the company. We also dive into Todd's time and passion for the political world. He talks about ranked-choice voting and why it's not only a better system psychologically from the voter perspective but can lead to higher voter turnout. 

Reach out to and follow along with Todd on LinkedIn.


Veterans for Political Innovation

Bunker Labs


(01:45) - What is the most important thing to accomplish in life?

(09:00) - Inspiration for seeing veterans 'fulfill their full potential'

(16:00) - What do veterans actually want?

(19:55) - Origin story of Bunker Labs

(29:15) - Getting started as an entrepreneur by launching your first idea

(39:40) - Validating ideas and ability to pivot

(45:50) - Third Shift Entrepreneur - Realistic stories on entrepreneurship

(58:10) - Todd's current ideas in the hopper

(01:04:25) - The longevity of our political system

(01:09:20) - Veterans for Political Innovation and ranked choice voting

(01:20:00) - How to implement ranked choice voting over the next 5 years


The Scuttlebutt Podcast features discussions on lifestyle, careers, business, and resources for service members. Show host, Brock Briggs, talks with a special guest from the community committed to helping military members build a successful life, inside and outside the service.

Get a weekly episode breakdown, a sneak peek of the next episode and other resources in your inbox for free at https://scuttlebutt.substack.com/.

Follow along:  
• Brock: @BrockHBriggs    
• Instagram: Scuttlebutt_Podcast 
• Send me an email: scuttlebuttpod1@gmail.com


Brock Briggs  0:00  

Hello and welcome to the Scuttlebutt podcast, the podcast for service members both past and present looking to get more from their lives outside the service. I'm your host, Brock Briggs and today I'm speaking with Todd Connor. Todd is the author of Third Shift Entrepreneur, the founder of Bunker Labs and the CEO of Veterans for Political Innovation. We talk a lot about startups in this conversation, a topic Todd is an expert on. Several past guests have participated in Bunker Labs programming, and it was great to hear the origin story of the company and what it's offering to veteran entrepreneurs. 

Todd spent some time debunking press on high flying startups and gave some examples of ways to be what inspired his book, The Third Shift Entrepreneur. We also got to dive into Todd's expertise in the political sector. There are many challenges facing our political system, one of which is the party system and how polarizing it is. We talk about rank choice voting and why it's a better system both psychologically and in terms of getting better voter turnout. One stat Veterans for Political Innovation touts is something that really surprised me, 49% of veterans identify as independent or unaffiliated voters, given the estimated veteran population is roughly 18 million people in the United States. This is absolutely a subject worth exploring and talking further about through a veteran's lens. Please enjoy this conversation with Todd Connor.

Brock Briggs

What is the most important thing that you need to see accomplished in your life?

Todd Connor  1:52  

Oh, Brock. That's easy. 

Brock Briggs  1:57  

Oh, it's easy, good.

Todd Connor  1:57  

Well, it's that my son feels equipped to navigate this world. And that he's been given the moral and intellectual and emotional toolkit he's gonna need to fulfill his full potential. So that's my answer. He's two and a half years old. His name’s Jasper. He's adopted. He's born in Miami. He's funny, you know. And it's interesting with kids because there is just something whether you are a biological parent or an adoptive parent, that just is like immediate, like, the parenting instinct just overwhelms you the minute you hold this child. So that is easily my answer now. It would not have been my answer three years ago.

Brock Briggs  2:57  

I was curious and was gonna kind of, we're gonna get into a little bit of your story and all of the different pools that you've dipped your toe into. But I think when I look at people that are entrepreneurial, maybe I kind of anticipate maybe that their answer will be, you know, like, solve world peace or some kind of really audacious kind of goal. But I think that family is a tremendously high calling. Just for fun, what do you think that it would have been prior to your adoption?

Todd Connor  3:31  

Three years ago? Probably, like, save American democracy, you know, which for me is probably like my second goal. Or maybe third? No, it definitely would have been bigger and audacious things. I think, part of my own, like maturity is realizing, you know, like, I think in your 20s, you think you're gonna play a starring role. And I think maybe the older you get, you realize that you're gonna play a supporting actor role in some things and that's actually okay. And so, yeah, I mean, I think for me, I mean, honestly, the professional, it's more than professional. But the thing I'm trying to solve for, besides raising a good human being, is and being a good husband is American democracy. 

Like I think we're just at this gnarly point in our country, and we'll get into this but that is the thing that I'm drawn to. And I think it's less around you know, if there’s a through line in my life, it's like I get interested in the problem that I and sometimes I don't know why I'm interested. You know, just it's like, it overwhelms you. It's the thing that you just wake up thinking about. And sometimes you wake up thinking about it because you think you're seeing something that other people aren't seeing. And so for me, there's always kind of been this through line of like caring about this country, being sort of an entrepreneur but really not caring about generating and recruiting wealth. Like it's just never been part of my, we can come back to that. 

But it's not part of how I'm wired. I'm just think about entrepreneurship as it applies to solving patriotic challenges. And so, yeah, that's one that keeps me up at night. And we'll talk more about that. But that keeps me up at night, thinking about veterans, fulfilling their full potential gets me up in the morning. So yeah, there's things that I pursue out of anxiety, there's things that I pursue out of love and passion. And but I think if there's a through line, it's more been about like how do I orient you know, my life does this sort of, and I don't think this has been terribly strategic, but just kind of pursue the things that matter to me and have the flexibility to do that.

Brock Briggs  5:53  

While that sounds like such a simple thing, like pursuing the things that you care about, like I don't think a lot of people do that, which is incredibly ironic. Like we live such a very short time on this earth. And it's hard to imagine not, like wanting to spend the brief amount of time that you do have here like working on things and problems that are like meaningful to you.

Todd Connor  6:20  

Yeah, well, and I would say, like I have, there is privilege in being able to pursue, you know, things that are meaningful to you, you know. Like there's the privilege of time, there's the privilege of, you know, not having, you know, not being a state of economic scarcity. Or you know, if you're hungry, if you're, you know, I mean, if you're like the vast majority of people in this country, frankly, like, you don't have the capacity to think about. Like your world, you might just be like I gotta get through this week, and get my kids fed, and get them to school and stay safe and stay housed. And so, I think it's a privilege to be able to, you know, think about and be able to work on things that feel important, you know, beyond like, the survival instincts that I think, you know, a lot of folks have to sort of face. 

And so I'm always very cognizant of the privilege of being able to, like sit and have this conversation with you. Not to mention the fact that, you know, having been in the military, you know, like, you have this sensitivity to the fact that people like didn't come home. People are still deployed. People are doing incredibly difficult things, sacrificial things on active duty. And so I feel like, hopefully, it's a healthy sense of guilt, but a sense of like, blended guilt and opportunity that like, I've been given a lot. I've got to give a lot. And there isn't a day that goes by that I probably don't ask myself, like, am I operating at my highest and best use? You know, for whatever I'm needed to do in this moment. And so that requires, like an assessment of what's going on in the world, and also requires a self assessment of like, what am I, you know, what am I billed for? Or what can I offer? 

So, I don't know, yeah, but I think it's, so I don't have any shame on people that are just going to work and providing for their families. Because I think that's a service in and of itself, you know, raising good people. But I think that, those of us that feel like we've got the capacity to do more, I think we have to do more. And there's a lot of veterans that I think feel that. You know, you're having this, you know, you're doing something here, Brock. Hosting this podcast to help inspire other people through storytelling like, I think that's noble. And I think, so I think we're all just kind of asking ourselves the question on any given day, like, are we, you know, doing the best we can with what we've got? And for some people that doesn't, you know, it's just getting through the days and for other people that's maybe doing more, but I think that's a little bit of the guiding question for me at least. 

Brock Briggs  8:58  

You said, one of the things that you really, that gets you up in the morning is like, wanting to see veterans fulfill their like higher potential. What made you care about that? Aside from like, just having served in the Navy yourself?

Todd Connor  9:15  

Yeah. Well, you know, it's interesting, I didn't come from a military background. So I joined the Navy, I joined ROTC, and I was pretty ignorant on what that meant. I did not know. And I think I was just a starry eyed optimistic freshman in college. And you know, I think if I had met someone in my freshman year who encouraged me to join, you know, the Peace Corps, I probably would have done that. Or if someone had encouraged me to join, you know, AmeriCorps, I might have done that or Teach for America. I'm better than that. But I met someone who was in the ROTC unit and they introduced me to ROTC and I just thought that this was interesting, and this is challenging. 

And it's important that we have people serve our country. I think, having gone through the military and come out the other side, I really am compelled by this belief that. And this is based on having read a lot. And again, I'll go back to this idea that like some ideas just stick to you. And I'm not sure why they stick to you. But here's an idea that sticks to me. And it's this, if our military isn't representative of all sectors of society, it's gonna be hugely problematic for how we like function as a democracy. So it's not enough that we have, here's the problem I worry about. And it's a weird problem to worry about, I worry that if in 20 years we don't have any military veterans that are represented as fortune 500 CEOs or aren't represented is hedge fund managers or aren't represented as technology managers. 

There's, you know, it'll be like a different implication if we don't have the military community represented in those higher echelons like those more vaulted exclusive places. I worry about what that means for the state of our democracy, if military service looks like something that holds you back versus something that propels you forward, not just for the people that are looking for a pathway out of a low income community, but for people who have options. You know, go to fancy schools could do other things, but choose to be in the military. It's important to me, and thinking about the American Enterprise, that being in the military is something that propels you forward and doesn't hold you back. 

And so to that end, I think entrepreneurship is really important because it's about stoking veterans' potential. It's not just about talking about what they need when they get out of a service. It's talking about what they want when they get out of service. And so I've had this kind of interesting reality. I think, when I got out of the Navy, I found myself in a ton of rooms that didn't have any military veterans except myself because I didn't come from the military community. I didn't return to the military community. And so it became important to me this idea of representation that we can't just have non veterans talking about what veterans need, and trying to solve for that. We really need veterans talking about what veterans want, and then getting after what they want after service. 

And so that it was it sounds like a tagline. But to me, it felt very personal. But like, if we don't honor the dreams of veterans, that in some ways is as worse as not honoring what their needs are. And that we kind of have to do both. But we tend to focus the whole conversation about what veterans need as opposed to what they want. So I think, I don't know why that's a problem that sticks with me or thinking about American democracy. But I think there's something that, for me, is a little bit of like systems thinking of, you know, what's wrong with the system? And how do you fix it? And so I've just been interested in veterans and American democracy, and maybe that's because those are things that I've done or have been close to, but yeah, I don't know. What are the things that keep you interested or give you passion?

Brock Briggs  13:20  

I think that I feel similar in a lot of ways. We were talking before we started recording, and I was kind of giving you a brief outline of like how I came to start this podcast. And it literally felt like, there was something that got turned on in like my brain or my heart or I don't know, somewhere. And it just, like you said, it's the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. And I see a lot of my friends and even family members who have like served or whatever that I don't. They have the ability I think to do more. But I don't know if too comfortable is the right word, but certainly not thriving for that higher tier of, I don't know if it's accomplishment or doing something big that will make an impact. 

And I don't think that that's for everybody. And maybe I just like I feel that I need to do that and therefore think that everybody needs to. But I would at least say that more people ought to think like that. And being part of the veteran community. I feel surrounded by friends that are like, well, I don't know what else I would do so I'm just gonna stay in. And that there's nothing that hurts me more than that. And it's not because people shouldn't stay in. We absolutely need career military people. But I think that that's a different conversation and you're choosing to serve because you want to. And not just because you wanna show up and you need a job. So that's where a little bit of this podcast kind of came to be as like, hey, let's, I want to make people aware of how to pursue this career or how to do this thing. 

And I find myself particularly interested in entrepreneurship. And so I happen to talk to a lot of like entrepreneurs, but I think that they do that same thing. It's different type of thinking. And those are the people that are gonna kind of help bring the economy, the world, the veteran community, whatever to the next level. You mentioned the difference between like what veterans need and want. A lot of the conversation that you hear, especially in the news and with like veteran service organizations is like veterans need this. They need like better care. They need better benefits. They need, need, need. I don't think that I've ever heard somebody talk about what veterans want. What is it that you think that they want?

Todd Connor  16:22  

I think they want to continue to serve. I think they wanna be recognized. I think they wanna be challenged. I think they wanna be meaningful contributors in our society and they want the pathway, they want the means to do that, you know. So like, I think they wanna start businesses. I think they wanna run for office. I think they wanna start companies. I think they wanna, let’s say, start businesses. I think they want to start nonprofits. I think they wanna start podcasts. I think they wanna lead conversations. I think, you know, the thing about being in the military is, and this is maybe a broader analogue for our societies, people belong, you know. It's like, even if it's dysfunctional, you know, you belong. 

Even if morale is low, you know, that, like, you're in the suck with the person on your left and your right. And there's a sense of like defined space and belonging and participation. And I think when you leave that, it's really disorienting to live in a society that's all too often anonymized, where we confuse, you know, hating the same people with being in a community of people. You know, hating the same things isn't the same as loving the same things. And one is a shared, you know, contempt. The other is like a shared love, those things are very different. So I think veterans along with the rest of us want, which is like to belong, to be able to pursue the things that matter to us. 

You know, if we have things that matter to us and which most people do, and to feel like you're in a community of people to do that with. So yeah, like, I think if everyone, you know, we don't we talk a lot about the economic needs of folks, and this is in military beyond. But we have a sort of a crisis of purpose, I think, in this country as well. And there's a crisis of purpose that happens when military veterans leave the service, which is you're just not sure what your next mission is. And I think that's worse than that's as bad as being physically ill, maybe worse, sort of a crisis of conscious, a crisis of identity. You know, if you don't know what you're supposed to be doing. And so that's a harder thing to answer. 

But giving people a job is like necessary but not sufficient. Making sure that people aren't homeless is necessary, but it's not sufficient. Making sure that they have healthcare is necessary, but not sufficient. What we really need and oh, veterans is sort of a life after service that is bigger and better than had they not served. And if people think that joining the military makes your life smaller, then they're not gonna join. If they think it makes your life bigger than they will. They think that it's a path to opportunity, then they'll do it. If they think it somehow slows you down or creates a dead end, and they won't and so. 

So that's important, not only for the individual person who joins the military, but it's also important for what it says about us as a society. And that's, again, I'll just say, you know, it's the harder thing to solve for. Which is like, leaning into the ambitions of people, not just the needs of people. But I think it's where we need to go if we're to, you know, not just solve like military veterans transition, that's sort of a headline but really like build the society in which everyone belongs and people feel purpose driven.

Brock Briggs  19:59  

I would love to hear about where the origin of Bunker Labs came from. I think that you would probably fall into the category of like wanting to solve hard problems. And like that, I would guess that that is an ambition of yours, a couple of things that you care about, raising a child that is a very hard thing to do. And, you know, repairing the American democracy, that's also another very hard thing to do. And a lot of entrepreneurship is kind of rooted in solving hard problems. And so I would love to hear about where Bunker Labs kind of originated from.

Todd Connor  20:37  

Yeah, I mean, I'll tell you, I think it's less about, I don't think I solve like the hardest problems. I what Bunker Labs is, and hopefully Veterans for Political Innovation is, or Emerson house is actually like a solution I see very readily that just hasn't been brought to life yet. So it's not like solving world hunger, you know. It's actually, you know, the genesis of Bunker Labs was, I was in Chicago at 1871, which is a big co working space, and there was a lot happening in like 2013 2014, you know. Incubators were coming online, co working. It’s weird to think back because this is like not even 10 years ago, but all that stuff was pretty new at the time. You know, it was like this emerging thing. 

And I remember the first time I walked into 1871, I just was like, I got chills because it was, you know, people on laptops and like on skateboards and like hoodies. And you know, just like that whole tech culture. Some of it was just window dressing, but you know, there was something like very energetic happening, and this whole idea that there could be like a community of people that are starting things just felt intoxicating. And so I was there. And they were launching programs for women and programs for like hard tech, and all these kind of different categories. And I just saw that this is like an emerging conversation, entrepreneurship’s a big deal, supporting military veterans is a big deal. 

And I hadn't seen something that was coming together at that intersection in places like 1871. There was, you know, academic training, like, you know, IBM F has been doing. I didn't know of, I'd never heard of IBMF. I'd never heard of some of the other folks that were doing some things. But there were other organizations that were doing entrepreneurship for veterans. But I hadn't seen anything where I was in a way that I kind of envisioned it. So it was more like an obvious idea whose time has come. At least, that's what I felt. And so I put together you know, what you do when you have an idea like that, at least in my mind. And I wrote about this in the book, you can talk about, but you give it a name, you bring it to life through like sometimes a PowerPoint presentation, or through like an announcement. But you give it a shape, you know, and a name. 

So we just said we're gonna create something. We're gonna have veterans meet up at 1871. We're gonna have a casual gathering called the brain trust. And we're gonna call it the Bunker. And then people started to mention, in reference, the Bunker and the brain trust. And you know, this is just sort of, people heard about it, showed up in person. We just kind of started rolling that way. And then it was a kind of a right idea at the right time where organizations that cared about veterans and cared about entrepreneurship, sort of saw this as being at the intersection of those two things. And then, you know, hopefully, some good execution as well. But a lot of, I don't know if it's luck, I mean, some of this is luck. Some of it is just the skill set of like, seeing that an idea whose time has come. 

And I think it was that. It was an idea whose time had come with like a good name, and some, you know, good execution. And it was a lot of people other than me that were helping, you know, bring this thing to life, you know. Brandon and Tom Day and John Dallas and other people that were involved in the early days helping bring it to life. So that was sort of the genesis, and then it, you know, grew and scaled from there. Nut it really, you know, I think it's about if you see something that feels really specific to the corner of the world in which you live. And if in particular, it's something that you would want, you know, that's a good starting point for starting a business or a nonprofit or just pursuing an idea. 

And really, I tell people, like, don't worry about business or business models, like is it an idea? Is there something that you want or you need that isn't there yet? And if you have the capacity to build it in such a way that you would use it or you would, you know, want it, then that's, you know, that's a good place to start, right? Your podcast, Brock is a great example of this. You know, you're asking questions because you told me this that you're interested in and people that you wanna hear from. So that's like, a great way to start anything is like thinking about yourself as a customer. 

And that's what I felt. I had started a business in Chicago. I didn't have the support of the military community, but I thought it would have been great to have the support of other people that were trying to start businesses. And also, what I knew for myself was I don't wanna sit through a bunch of classes. That's not it for me, like I already have an MBA. I'm not, I don't think my gap is sitting through like another marketing class. What my gap is a community of people here in Chicago, who are also veterans who are also starting businesses. And if that could be created, I would definitely opt into that, like a mastermind group, you know. So I was very clear on what I personally would have wanted and what I would not have wanted, and we built and designed what, you know, we wanted for ourselves. 

And that was like, the most authentic place to build something. So yeah, that was kind of the genesis of Bunker Labs. And you know, I stepped down as CEO in 2020. And it's still going on doing great things. And there's like an amazing team, wonderful ambassadors that lead the local chapters on a volunteer basis, who are themselves entrepreneurs. We've always tried to keep it authentic like a peer to peer community, you know. We are in this together. We are, there's no hierarchy. It's like, I'm in this with you, as an entrepreneur, as a Navy veteran myself. And that's, I think, you know, keeps us honest about what we're doing.

Brock Briggs  26:26  

I think that that structure is incredibly important for military members because the last thing that any service member wants when they get out is to go into another organization where, like, the hierarchy or like rank structure is held over them. And it's not super conducive to generating good ideas. I think that that's very evident just in all branches of the service anyway. But even more, so I think it's time to like open kind of peel back the layers and foster that kind of creativity and realize that it's, you're all on an even playing field.

Todd Connor  27:05  

Yeah, it's tricky to you with entrepreneurship, because, you know, if you ask someone, like, how do you help people start businesses, the go to instinct for a lot of people is, like build a course, that's like 12 weeks long. And, you know, require them to sit and, you know, participate in all the sessions or whatnot. And on the one hand, that seems perfectly logical. But on the other hand, you know, entrepreneurship is about building people's capacity for what they need to learn for themselves. And so, if you put up a structure in which compliance was required, you're almost like diminishing the entrepreneurial skill set that we need to actually cultivate. You know, and so, you know, it's like, if you're just sitting in a classroom, taking notes once a week about how to start a business. 

And that's the extent of it, you know, you're actually not doing or becoming the person that you need to become to be a successful entrepreneur. You know, you actually need to go out and shape your own learning journey. And so we really tried to create an environment that wasn't just like classroom driven, but was having the cohort of people articulate what it is that they need to learn, or are usually more importantly, who they need to meet from a subject matter expertise, or from a mentor standpoint, and then getting those things tied together. So yeah, entrepreneurship is a particularly tricky endeavor because if you design the wrong model, you can actually diminish their entrepreneurial skill set without even realizing it. You know, trying to do the right thing, but there might be collateral damage in the result of that.

Brock Briggs  28:42  

Yeah, I think that there's so many people online that are like very eager to say, like, oh, this is the precise formula about how you go about doing this. But as you highlighted, everybody kind of has something different to learn. You know, they've got a different kind of mental block or lack of experience in some area that is just extremely. It's personal. And it's specific to that person. That said, and you maybe kind of alluded to this, we don't totally have to go down this rabbit hole. But what do you think is the most important first step or first like two or three things that somebody can be doing to kind of like launch an idea? Is that get connected with a couple people? Is it just build something and get an MVP out? Is it read a million books? That's kind of the pathway I've gone and not do something? Yeah. I'd love to hear from you.

Todd Connor  29:40  

Yeah, I think it's great. I mean, it's a great question. I tell everyone to do it for free before you get paid and offer something for free. And watch people's reaction to it. I think there's a myth in entrepreneurship that is just about like running through, you know, 100 phone calls and getting to that one yes. I actually think that's deeply flawed advice because it gives a call 100 people and one person says, yes, it's like 99 people like. Did you listen to what the other 99 people said about this thing not being helpful.So I think there's a requirement for entrepreneurs, I think, to be really fixated on the problem that they wanna solve and very detached from the solution that they're building

So let me give you an example. And let's talk about, you know, early days of Bunker Labs. We would have a meet up. And you know, like some of them were just complete duds. And the one instinct that a lot of people kind of go do is like, we have to be more aggressive in telling people to come to our event. The other instinct is like, this event that people just didn't like, you know. So what would they have needed to have been excited about coming, you know. And I think it requires a little bit of an emotional detachment for founders to listen to customers and people be like, I just don't like it, you know, or it's nice but I don't need it. Or I liked it, but I'm not gonna use it again. 

So I think the task for anyone is to build some beta version, let people use it for free. And observe, honestly, whether or not people really like it, whether they need it, whether they would choose to use it again. And then it's that second part of like observing that can be hard. So if you said to me, you know, I wanna launch a media company. And I wanna create programming that appeals to, you know, military veterans. I would say, go create a piece of content that appeals to military veterans. Use your iPhone, post it in some public channels. And let's see if you have a sense of what content is that military veterans want. And you can do that for free. 

And what that requires is a little bit of like sweat equity to actually go do the like, go build, create something. And then a little bit of like courage equity to go put it out there and be like, I did this, you know, like, what do you guys think? And to let people actually tell you what they think. And so I think it's the process. You know, here's what it's not. It's not having a big idea, going off collecting a bunch of money, or cashing in a bunch of money and building something, and then wheeling it out like you know, a grand reveal. Like, here it is. Like, what do you guys think? You know, it's not that. That's expensive. That's doing all the work before you know what the people think. So I think it's finding small ways of building and experimenting before you build into the larger thing. 

And I can give you 100 examples of what this looks like in practice. In the book that I wrote, Third Shift Entrepreneur isn't attempted, it actually like breaking this down and demystifying the process because it sounds very ethereal. But it's really not. Like if you said to me, I wanna open up a private childcare facility, I would say start babysitting two kids and create an invoicing process for that and make sure that you are like actually good at watching children, like get video testimonials of the parents of the kids that you're watching, get videos of the kids playing. You know, make sure that you actually like watching kids for six hours a day. Like come to understand what the needs of those kids are from like a food and bathroom and book standpoint, you know, like actually just do the thing on the small scale, which doesn't sound exciting. 

It sounds, it doesn't sound like a big deal. But it's actually I think it's the smart way to step into ideas, any idea. And I mean, even now, Brock, like I'll launch trial balloons or small experiments just to see, like, what the market reaction is and to find out is this worth pursuing? Like, that's the data gathering process that allows you to actually figure out like, does the market actually want what I've got to offer here? And if they don't but you still like doing it, keep doing it. But if you're trying to build a business, then you know, record 100 episodes, and then figure out what were like the 10 most popular? What made those popular and can I kind of replicate that and do more of that going forward?You know, that's kind of the process. So I think it's a creative small experiment, do it for free, see what people think, rinse and repeat, make it bigger, you know. And then invest money if you have to, but only if you have to.

Brock Briggs  35:12  

Entrepreneurship to me seems like such a delicate balance because of like you're saying you're matching things that you are good at versus like, what the public or whoever audience that you identify with wants. And a lot of those things that you just described are not intuitive at all. Like it is so easy to just be like, I wanna like map out the five year plan of like what this might looks like. And you know, how are we gonna monetize this idea before you even know that like one, like you said, if you like it even. I spent six months writing on substack, thinking that I was going to be like a weekly writer, and I had kind of thought that I wanted to be like an independent writer and was thinking about all this stuff. I hated it. Like it was the worst thing. I was like, this is terrible. I can't do this. 

Todd Connor


Brock Briggs

The podcast, on the other hand, is funny because it's actually more work. But it's so much more fun. And so I hear that loud and clear, like that is a something that people who are considering an idea really need to kind of digest and understand.

Todd Connor  36:32  

Yeah, totally. And mapping. Yes, I mean, like, most important to the process of doing these small experiments is like finding out if you actually have the passion to sustain, whatever the thing is.Like it's really important that you be obsessed with the problem that you're trying to solve, you know. Like you wake up thinking about it. You go to bed thinking about it. And that's not just sort of a throwaway line of like, you know, fall in love with your problem. But if you don't really, if you aren't really fixated on this, you're not gonna have the stamina to stay with this problem for months or years.And most problems take months or years to solve. Most businesses take months or years to build. 

And so you need stamina and longevity, like, you got to stay in it. And the question is what allows you to stay in it? And I think it's just being really particularly sort of obsessed with the thing, whatever the thing is. And so yeah, it's really important that you ask yourself honestly, whether you have interest in this. I talked to a buddy of mine this morning. And he was like, hey, I'm working for this hedge fund. They've got a leadership transition. They need coaching. They wanna like do all this marketing, this reframe. They need like mission, vision, values work and I thought of you like, you'd be perfect. And I was talking to him about the challenge that this hedge fund has. And I was very clear on like how they should approach it. 

And like, here's how they can get after some of the cultural challenges and create a vision and a framework. And he's like, great, like, can you come do this work? I mean, could we hire you to come do this work? And like 10 years ago, I would have been like, oh, absolutely, you know. But today, I was like, yeah but I actually just don't care enough about this hedge fund. Like, it's actually just not where I wanna spend my energy, even if I can get paid. And that's a luxury that comes later on. But for me, it's not good enough to know how to solve something. I have to be passionate, intrinsically motivated that like I'm not gonna get bored in six months or two years, or five years, or maybe five years is too long. 

But like six months or two years, you know. I have to stay in this long enough. And so there has to be some intrinsic passion with the problem that you're trying to solve. And oftentimes the coaching for entrepreneurs is they're thinking globally about some big challenge that they've read about in the Wall Street Journal. But usually, I'm trying to like downsize people to like, what's the thing that's right in front of you? You know, I wanna solve the climate crisis. It's like, well put solar panels on your roof. Start there and how does that work? And is it annoying, you know, like to start telling stories, go online, create a blog post about, you know, small ways in which you are reducing your own personal carbon footprint and like, let that be the lead into larger action perhaps, you know. 

So yeah. I mean, what gets celebrated in entrepreneurship is kind of big, audacious ideas. You know, Adam Neumann's back. He just raised a 350 million dollar round for like a new kind of re-envisioning the rental market after having envisioned WeWork which I think is actually like, brilliant and commentary of him, not aside. You know, but that's kind of the image that people have is like big, audacious thinkers and the reality is in entrepreneurship, what most people are doing is small experiments. You know, like 10 small experiments in order to discover what it is that really catches fire. And then like shifting our energy accordingly, you know. So you got to almost be it's less about bravado and like risk taking. 

And it's more about thinking like a scientist like I've got these ideas percolating. Like you know, Brock, you might be saying, I wanna create content that authentically connects with the military community. And so you'd say, like, let me this is like the discipline in my mind, like, let me go create 20 podcast episodes. Let me do like five podcasts episodes, where instead of talking with microphones, like we're both cooking dinner, and like that intersperses like what we're doing. And then like let me film five episodes where we have, you know, very young veterans talking to like very old veterans. And let me do one episode where like instead of being on Zoom, we're sitting together in a living room. And let me do one where we're just riding in a car and listening to music, you know, so like, mixing up the format. 

And this is sort of the discipline. Most people actually don't wanna, a lot of people are scared of trying something and it not working. And they don't wanna take the reputational risk of having done like five episodes, it didn't work, and then they have to go away. So the courage piece is much more about reputational courage to just launch an experiment. And if it doesn't work, be like, okay, didn't work and move on. And I do that a lot. I mean, I think we'd be remiss to think that like, I have some clean, perfect story. It's like, no, I'm launching experiments all the time. I mean, I'm doing much of them right now, you know. So and then but that's the discipline, then you figure out what sticks, and then that's the thing you pursue. At least that's how I think about it.

Brock Briggs  41:49  

I think that there are two important things I wanna drill on that you're just talking about. One, just the flexibility that you have like so early on to try and like maneuver different ways. When you hear those like big Wall Street Journal articles or whatever, it's always pitched in such a way that it's just this one fluid story of like, oh, I just had this idea to create, you know, whatever product and they just started working on it. And then here we are, and it's a billion dollar company. Like, they don't highlight the 15 pivots that they had and complete business model changes that happened along the way. And so I think that early on, it's easy to be incentivized thinking that you need to just do the one thing and just charge forward on that. 

Todd Connor


Brock Briggs

The other thing is that a hard learning that I have had, especially when it comes to feeling like you might need to change ideas or like kind of just drop something and move on is kind of the feeling of being committed to like your friends and family. I don't know who needs to hear this, but your friends and family are never your customers, like they really just aren't. And it doesn't matter what any of them think. I have been like held to that belief of just like kind of wanting to stick with something to show them that and it just, it's terrible. It doesn't work that way. And like you said, more often than not, they're not who you're trying to sell to or build something for anyway.

Todd Connor  43:32  

That's exactly it. And honestly, I go back to my 100 conversations. You know, 100 questions of, hey, who would need you know, what people often do is mistake is they try to sell something to someone that's never gonna need that thing. Or they get false validation from like our family, right? So what we really need to do is have a theory about who needs what we're building and get it to them. And then see if they want it and they maybe do but you know,  but yeah and that's the work. It's much more, you know, like, I'll have people call me and sell me on things. This happened a few days ago, I had someone call me. And she was selling cable fiber services, or I don't know what you call it, like fiber. And you know, I'm thinking like, we don't have an office, you know. Like we're all like remote workforce. 

And we don't like we all have home cable. Like so literally, I can't buy what you're selling, but there was no pause in the conversation. If the right first question would have been like, do you use fiber? No, I don't. Okay, awesome. Do you know anyone who does? If not, I’ll let you go, you know, and that's like the right way to move on. So for our ideas, we've got to connect with our audiences and find the new audience for the thing that we're building if they exist. And sometimes we have to create that audience. You know, people don't know what they want until they see it. So, yeah, that can be true too. 

But that's the work early on is getting to those folks that might want to think that we're building. And you know, that takes some discipline, I think, actually, to just do that and stay in it long enough to get to the people that want it. Or you know, be self aware enough to say, like, I built it, no one wants it. That's okay. You know, like, move on, you know. Or like what did they want? In the course of the conversations like, what did I hear they actually did want. And if I'm pretty quick to drop ideas that I've had, if I don't think, you know, people are catching on or want it. It's like, oh, no harm, no foul, let's move on, you know, what do you want? Let's just get to that. And maybe I can build that, you know. So anyway, that wasn't in your question.

Brock Briggs  45:46  

It's okay. I'm tracking with you. You had mentioned that a couple of times. It was a topic I wanted to talk about. You have written a book called Third Shift Entrepreneur. Tell me all about it. I haven't read it yet. But it's now on my reading list after talking to you. It's gonna happen, but I need to hear the kind of the origin. I'd love to hear just about writing it and like what you were looking to kind of solve in this book. 

Todd Connor  46:15  

Well, so I remember your first part of your question or comment before about founder stories. And so I feel like founder stories, like you know how Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook and founding of Instagram, or whatever Spanx or Squarespace. I mean, these stories can feel so hard to access. And there's always a subtext that is rarely honestly shared by founders. And part of the subtext is like luck, of like, being in the right time at the right place. You know, I tell people, Bill Gates, if he was born 10 years earlier or 10 years later, is not Bill Gates. You know, he had to be as talented as he is. 

But he also had to be as talented as he is at the time in which he was because the timing mattered for a set of things that were sort of serendipitous, which doesn't isn't to take credit away from him or what he built, but like, he would probably acknowledge this too, you know. Being in Seattle, having the right networks, like a lot of things came together in a way that was pretty special. So we don't often acknowledge the founder fallacy of listening to a bunch of stories, which can be inspiring but the idea that we're gonna get something instructive from understanding how Facebook came to be is like, I'd say like proceed with caution on that premise. 

So I felt like, because here's the thing, if we say it's all about hard work, then what we're also saying, and we don't acknowledge luck and timing, and you know, other circumstances. Like you know, like people's parents being wealthy, a lot of these founders come from wealthy families, like their family can afford to pay for them to live in San Francisco for the summer, you know. So like, people with real world constraints are often asking very simple questions like, well, how do you live in San Francisco if you're not getting paid? And it's like, yeah, you know, that's a real question. So I want to honor the challenges, the reality, and also the stories of non kind of unicorn founders to understand more everyday entrepreneurship, like how does someone come to open a restaurant who isn't independently wealthy? How does someone open up a management consulting business or, you know, an experienced marketing firm, or, you know, an antique car dealership, or a web storefront for, you know, collectibles of some sort. 

So these are the stories that are not often told, but they are actually the stories that represent the majority of entrepreneurship in this country. So I wrote a book full of these stories. I wrote it as a narrative fiction. I take a store, I mean, I create characters. And one of the lead characters is an Army veteran who is kind of gets out of the military, comes back, gets a job. It's that entering, you know, set up Brock that we talked about, it was like, he's fine financially. But spiritually, he's dying. He has no purpose. And so he is a guy who's unhappy and that unhappiness is like spilling out into his marriage. And his wife is like, dude, you gotta figure this out. Like, you can't be unhappy. 

And he reminds me of a lot of people I know, including myself. And he starts a business as a result of like that unhappiness like he needs to find that creative expression. So it's a fictional book, which is a huge stretch for me to write a fiction book because I'm not really an author, and I'm definitely not a fiction author. So this is a stretch but I felt like writing a fictional narrative was the best way to cut through the noise to create relatable people and characters and stories about how people in the real world are actually starting businesses. And so it's full of stories of people starting businesses. It’s a bunch of stories more than anything.

Brock Briggs  50:12  

I think that we are in need and in more need of stories like that, that are kind of about the people that maybe don't have the billion dollar idea and kind of makes it real for. And I mean, to be honest, not a lot of veterans certainly like talking about veterans and entrepreneurship, not a lot of us are going to be in that position where it's like, hey, we've got all this money, and we're just living in San Francisco trying to like dream up an idea to work on. 

Todd Connor 


Brock Briggs

I wish we could be. I want to be that person. But unfortunately, that's not the case.

Todd Connor  50:51  

It's not the case. And it's not what it's unfortunately not what sells movies. Or, you know, it's just not good fodder for like, headline articles and things like that, which I understand, right? I mean, people are kind of oriented towards billion dollar exits and unicorns and like the mythology of San Francisco founders or Silicon Valley founders. And so, but that's just not the majority of the kinds of businesses that are being created. And so I felt like a moral commitment to tell more honest and nuanced and human stories, you know, that reflects how like real people bring things to life. Because I think if you don't do that, it's not benign. 

Again, if you tell stories that are like I just worked hard, then the implication is if you don't succeed, it's because you didn't work hard. And it's like, no, that's a disservice because a lot of people are out there working their asses off. But why some are succeeding, and some aren't. It has to do with like other variables, including hard work but other things as well. And so yeah, and the good news is, and this is what the, you know, the Manifesto of the book is, you don't have to quit your job. That's why I call it Third Shift Entrepreneur because I wanna, like compel people to create that third shift, you know. Your first shift is your day job, get a day job. Because what if you have that financial sustainability figured out, then that gives you room to experiment and do things, build things. 

Your second shift is your family, you know, your life, your public commitments, your civic commitments, your volunteer commitments, your faith, whatever, your physical health. And then your third shift is the shift that you have to create, it's what you're doing Brock with this podcast. It's the space to experiment and build what's next. And you know, I still kind of operate with that third shift mentality. It's like, I've got things that are on the back burner and I've got new things I'm cooking up on the front burner, you know, it's kind of that. And so I think it's a mentality for how you innovate. And I try to get really practical. I start not with the business, most entrepreneurship books are written about how businesses get started. 

I wanted to write a book that kind of went left of that timeline and started with like who are the people? And what is going on in their lives? Are they discontent? Are they ambitious? Like, what is going on? And how do they actually start the process of building things that eventually turned into businesses that eventually turned into, you know, in some cases, success stories. But there's a whole set of activities that happens before like, you know, we open the doors, and the restaurant is now open, that we don't talk enough about. And that's the stuff that I think is really important if we're gonna start businesses or nonprofits or just bringing ideas to life.

Brock Briggs  53:59  

Did you meet the goal that you were setting out to meet with publishing the book? I think that we were talking earlier about podcasts and like, that's the first thing probably anybody wants to ask about publishing your book. Well, how many copies did you sell? Like, I'm guessing that that probably wasn't the goal when writing the book is to sell a certain amount of copies. So I'm guessing, was something else. Do you feel like that was met?

Todd Connor  54:26  

You know, I'll be honest and say, probably not. You know, I think I wrote the book because I felt very clear what I just got done saying. You know, it's like that we have some more honest stories. We have to give more transparent pathways. We have to acknowledge life constraints, like we have to give a playbook for the everyday entrepreneur that's not launching a venture backed startup. So I felt very compelled to do that. I don't think I thought as much about what is like kind of metric success beyond that like how many books do I wanna sell? You know, what is like? Is there a financial number associated with this? Or is it a function of like, more people reading it in order to start businesses. 

And so I think what I discovered, and this is, again, why we experiments are important. I discovered that this for me was sort of like a two year journey. And I think to make a business out of books, you probably need to make it like a fiber. I don't know, in some cases, 10 year journey if you really wanna be an author. And I don't know that I have the stamina to be an author, as a full time profession. I'm glad I wrote it because I think I had to learn that lesson in some way. And I'm really proud of the book. And I rewrote it like three different times, which is incredibly difficult for me, but part of what I learned like I don't. If you asked me before I wrote the book, I was desperate to wanna write a book and having written a book. I'm not desperate to write another one. 

And so I think there was definitely a lot of personal growth that went on. It was also during COVID. And we adopted our son. And so the stamina required to really live into a business, there's a business model of being an author, which is very different than writing a book. And I was clear on the book I wanted to write. I don't think I was as clear on wanting to be in that business model of being an author. And that's like, fine, actually, you know. And the book isn't done yet. This is the interesting thing. It's like, there's kind of seasonality with some stuff. I've been slow rolling some projects for five or six years. 

And then like, it might take five or six years, but then they kind of get this newfound energy, where it becomes like topical and relevant again, and this book is sort of like that. It's been, it was a lot of work to get it published. And then COVID hit, sort of backburner for a while. And I'm finding new and interesting ways to actually bring it back to life with like, newfound energy with markets back opened up and things like that. So I don't have the final answer on what this book is meant.

Brock Briggs  57:03  

And that's perfectly okay. I'm excited to see how it evolves. And I appreciate your transparency. And like talking about that. I can't imagine how many hours it took to actually put that together. I'm sure that it was substantial.

Todd Connor  57:19  

Yeah, and books don't sell themselves. I mean, so to be, yeah. And, again, I just feel good. Like when people ask me, I need help. I'm like, I'll tell them to buy the book or I'll mail them a copy of the book. I'll just say this is really my best thinking about and best and most honest, and hopefully most helpful, thinking about how to do this. And so it was trying to translate a conversation, I've had 1000 times into sort of a codified piece to make meaning and give instruction about like, you know, this is what I think is an answer or at least what’s worked for me. You know, taking their loot or what I've observed in others.

Brock Briggs  58:04  

Have one more question before we get into kind of the political sphere. And you've alluded to a couple times that you have a few things that you're working on. Are you able to talk about any of those things? I would love to hear about like what you've got cooking right now, and you don't have to give any details of that. But I would love to hear about what you're working on.

Todd Connor  58:26  

Oh, my gosh, well, I keep a journal where I just kind of notice things that are interesting or that are emerging. So we'll talk about Veterans for Political Innovation, but I think we're in. I hope we have to enter into a season of massive political innovation. And there's a lot of tenants to that. I just got done running for State Senate. That was an experiment. You know, it's like I ran for state senate. We ran a great campaign and proud of that. I didn't have enough local connection. I think it was liability. I didn't win. I came in second, but that's okay. You know, I was like, okay, like that's leaning into this idea that, like our politics are what's broken, and I think I can offer something. So let me see what happens. We own a bed and breakfast out here in Northwest Indiana. 

And I'm very interested in this big idea that urban people need rural places to disconnect. And that, you know, a generation ago, the country club might have been the place for people to go if you're a certain demographic with certain affluence. But there's like maybe a replacement product that needs to come online that isn't country clubs and isn't golfing, but it's still in nature, and invites like deeper conversation. So that's sort of a broad idea I've got. In the meantime, we're running a wedding venue. It's called Emerson House, but I'm kind of looking at this being like, and we've owned it for five years. And my thought is like, I'm actually not a risk taker. I try to derisk anything I'm doing where it's like, I'll never quit a job before I have a job. Or leave a business before there's a new business, not just an idea, but like actual revenue coming in for a new business. 

And so Emerson House is sort of something that we're experimenting with. It's working as a wedding venue. That's what the market wants. But I'm kind of like interested in how do you have deeper experiences there given that it's like, on this rolling pasture in the middle of a farm country, and there's a stream and like, people just feel really inspired when they go there. So I don't know. So that like the question of like, what am I experimenting with? I'm experimenting with some things there. Part of how I'm experimenting with that is doing things for free to see what people want. I'm hosting a retreat for people that ran for office and laws because I recognize that they go through this enormous personal sacrifice. 

And I was like, man, I don't think anyone's meeting these people on the other side of that experience and saying, thank you for doing that. And like, let's process and make meaning and hopefully have you leave not feeling bitter about having run for office, but feeling like inspired and grateful and you know. So I just saw like disparate needs like people that ran for office, including myself and others. I've got this retreat space, like let's put those things together and see what happens, you know. And so people are coming together. I'm hosting a bunch of free retreats while we're doing, you know, paid weddings. And it's like this playground of experimentation. So, you know, something will emerge out of that. I don't know what yet, you know, but we've owned it for five years. And I think in five years, it will be very different than what it is today. 

So that's like a living experiments going on. Some philanthropic things around like Indiana, and politics, which I won't get all in to do some leadership stuff. That's sort of experimental that I'm doing. And then the Veterans for Political Innovation stuff, you know. So, but yeah, I mean, I've got, you know, a few things that I'm kind of teasing out. I think it's frustrating for my husband. I think he's someone who doesn't, he's not wired like this, you know, he kind of does one thing. I'll do it for 15 years, and he's good. And part of me has envy. I'm like, God, I would love to like just settle and do one thing and be fine with it. But I've stopped having either pride or shame of how I operate. It's just a question of how I'm built. And so, you know, I'm built to experiment. I think you are as well, Brock. And yeah, so that's what's in the queue, man. I don't know, we'll see what happens.

Brock Briggs  1:02:40  

Just to kind of like, go off on a tangent and brainstorm a little bit here. What you ought to do is, you ought to do like a once a year Bunker Labs, like a headquarters meet up at your location, bring all the chapters out and do like a hackathon for a weekend, or something like that. Or, like, do some kind of like little challenge to like put people in random teams and like match them up or and then like, I don't know, send them out into the community to go like, do something crazy for the weekend with like $1,000. Or some kind of crazy kind of creative, imaginative thing to get like the creative juices flowing and like ability to work with like dynamic teams and stuff. I feel like that would be really interesting.

Todd Connor  1:03:28  

I absolutely love that. I might take up on that. I actually have another friend and kind of collaborating on something’s just fleeting conversation. But I've got a buddy who's really into employee ownership and like helping more companies be employee owned. And so I'm thinking about how could Emerson House be like a co-op experience? And so we get more people owning it. And building value in it through experiences and events and things like that. And that's kind of like a, you know, something that's beyond WeWork and not quite so house, but kind of speaks to those audiences. And so yeah, but I love the idea of a hackathon. Bring Bunker Labs. You should come too.

Brock Briggs  1:04:15  

Yeah, absolutely. You decide you wanna go down that road, just give me a call. I'd love to be involved in any way.

Todd Connor  1:04:19  


Brock Briggs  1:04:23  

I want to kind of take our last kind of topic here and dive into your background in the political sphere. You've got Veterans for Political Innovation going on. Wanna talk about that. What prompted you to wanna run for office? Talk about like the feelings that that's kind of had a feeling like coming in second. I'd love to just kind of dissect all of that and take anything that you can give us.

Todd Connor  1:04:50  

Well, I think that being a citizen is a little bit like being in a marriage. Like if you take citizenships seriously, which a lot of people don't. You know, I think this is maybe to your earlier point. I think a lot of people are living their values and doing the best they can and pursuing things that matter to them. So I don't have a critique on people. But I think this question of citizenship, which is like an appreciation of the history, good and bad of this country, and a sense that this country is actually pretty fragile. And if you've been in the military, you kind of understand how this country works at like an enterprise level. And I think if you understand our history a little bit, you've worked in the enterprise of the United States government. 

And then you understand that it's fragile. I think you have a responsibility to help figure out like, what's the thing that's gonna preserve us for future generations? Kind of sounds like a throwaway line. But, you know, after 2016, that was like a scary moment for me. And this isn't a political podcast. I don't wanna make a political, but I've got a lot of friends that are Republicans and Democrats and everything in between, which is actually where most people are, is in between. But I just felt like a responsibility like being in a marriage, you know, sometimes it breaks your heart, but that's part of being committed, you know. So like, I'm committed to this country.

And I think if you are committed to the country, then that's what citizenship is. And it means that sometimes you're gonna, like, ride the highs and get the benefits of that. And sometimes, it's gonna break your heart, or you've got to, like do hard work to keep it together, keep this marriage together. And so I think our country is in a fragile place. And you know, the bad news is like the country is in a fragile place. The good news is, the people are great. But the systems are deeply flawed, and the systems make us the worst versions of ourselves. And so Veterans for Political Innovation is trying to address the systems of elections that incentivize the most extremes of both parties. 

And you know, if you change the incentive structure, you change everything. So Veterans for Political Innovation is trying to advocate for open primaries and rank choice voting, which, if you do those two things like they're doing now in Alaska and Maine, and are gonna do soon in Nevada, and some other places, you get really different results. You get elected officials who govern more towards the middle than towards the political parties. And that's a good thing.

Brock Briggs  1:07:36  

Will you walk through just what both of those things are? I had to like I had to do a bunch of reading to even understand what they were. So it was like the 

Todd Connor  1:07:46  

Yeah, no to answer your question of like, how do you decide to step into entrepreneurship? Is it reading? Is it other things? For me, sometimes it's reading, sometimes it's action. So I spent the last few years reading, like political scientists, tons of books. I can give you a whole reading list of books that I read, that were not political. Like I don't watch cable news. I'm trying to take a meta view of what is going on that has Republicans believing that like, you know, Democrats wanna destroy America and Democrats believing that Republicans wanna destroy America. Because I actually don't think I know that that's not true, because I have friends on both sides. I know that that's not true. 

But what is going on? What are these conditions that are allowing people to act like the worst versions of themselves, at least online? And how do you change that? So I read a bunch of books, political scientists. One book in particular, called The Politics Industry, written by Michael Porter, who's out of Harvard Business School, really captivated me and it was a very clear diagnosis that the two party system is a duopoly. And duopoly is illegal in the marketplace because they exploit consumers, but political parties are sort of an unregulated duopoly. So there's no mechanism to say that people are being exploited, but we are being exploited by these two parties. 

So read the book, fell in love with the ideas and was like I cannot help but keep thinking about how this is the solution. And it's that energy that you feel when you're like, I can't help but not pursue this. That led me down this rabbit hole of meeting Eric Bronner, who had started Veterans to Political Innovation, him asking me to come alongside as a co-founder and us launching the organization. So what are we advocating? It's called final five voting. So today, if you go vote and most places you pick, there's two elections. There's the general election in November. And then there's a primary election that happens in the spring, usually like in May or whatever. So here's the most people don't understand in American politics. 

Districts are gerrymandered, which means most districts and most states and most cities are represented by either like Republicans or Democrats. Like the majority of that place is either Republicans or Democrats, which means these elections are not decided in the general election. They're decided in the primary. So if it's a Republican state, then it's the Republican primary where the winner is determined. So in Indiana, where we live, you know, the Republican senators are determined in the Republican primary. And the primaries are very low turnout events. So it's like very few people. So, you know, 10% of Americans determined 83% of our elected officials in Congress last cycle. So the math is just that's what the math is. 

So in a normal current system, it's Republican primary or Democratic primary, where people are decided. You pick one ballot or the other. If you're an independent, you can't vote in closed primaries, like you cannot be an independent go vote in a Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, where it's closed primaries. So you actually can't vote, you can vote the general election. But again, most districts are gerrymandered. So you can't win, your vote in the general election doesn't really matter because it's like the state's already 70% Democrat or 70% Republican. So what we're proposing and what some countries are doing, some cities are doing is a open, nonpartisan primary. 

So everyone runs on one ballot and one primary. So if you go vote in the primary, you'd see like 10 names or 20 names. You vote for your top choice, that might be a Republican, might be a Democrat, might be an independent, might be libertarian. The top five vote getters go to the general election. So when you go vote in general, there's five names. And then instead of just picking either the Republican or Democrat, you're picking amongst five. And there are, you know, let's say there's three Republicans and two Democrats, or let's say, two Republicans, two Democrats and one green party. Or one, you know, Nevada Women's working party or Texas Second Amendment party, whatever. You vote and you rank your order and choices. So you vote for your first choice, second choice, third choice, fourth choice, and fifth choice, or if you hate one person, particularly you don't vote for them at all. 

But you vote in order of your preferences. So this is my top choice. This is my second choice. My third choice. This is how lots of decisions in organizations get made through rank choice voting. So instead of just pick your one choice. It’s like, if I asked you, hey, I'm going to Panera. What do you want for lunch? Like, give me your top three choices, you and it's like the same. It's like, well, my first choice is the turkey club. My second choice is soup. And my third choice is whatever. That way, if they're out of your first choice, I can give you your second choice. So this is no different. Your votes get allocated. If your first choice doesn't win, then your vote goes to your second choice. 

And if your second choice doesn't win, what happens is they drop the lowest vote getter until the votes emerge for a vote getter that gets more than 50% of the votes. So there's multiple rounds of voting but it happens automatically, right? So if you like, so this is happening today in Alaska. There are four people, actually three people on a ballot. And everyone's voting for their first choice, second choice and third choice, or they're only voting for one, or they're only voting for two, for the people that they like. But you basically get to vote for who you like. And here's the big point of this. It changes the incentive structure immediately in such a way that it doesn't make sense to tear down the opposition because you need to be people's second choice. 

So right now, there's only two choices, it's winner take all system. So we always vote for like the lesser of two evils. And the cheapest persuasion path is to go negative on other people, as opposed to make arguments for why you're a good choice. And a final four or final five voting system where there's four or five people in the general election ballot, you have to create incentives for people to wanna vote for you, and you actually begin to make appeals to be people's second choice. So you start to be like, hey, if Brock is your guy, you know, I wanna be your second choice because me and Brock are similar in this way. So that like I'm appealing to your audience, and you're starting to feel in my audience, right? 

So the person who's a bomb thrower like doesn't win those elections. It's only the people who kind of have constructive ideas and make appeals that are broadly acceptable. Those are the people that tend to win these elections. And you saw that in New York City, with Eric Adams, who won, who's the current mayor, you know. He's the first African American in like 25 years. He's a former police officer. And he's kind of a pro business moderate, you know, he would not have won a close Democratic primary, but he did win a rank choice voting election because he's like, broadly acceptable to a lot of people. 

And that's, I think, who we should want, you know, leading our government. So that's a long explanation. It's too technical. I'm not doing a great job of explaining it. This is our challenge, but the results speak for themselves. People like rank choice voting, they vote more, and they are overwhelmingly like they're much happier with the choices that they get to vote for and they feel like their voice gets heard more because they get to actually order the choices of like, what they want, who they want.

Brock Briggs  1:15:08  

Yeah, that makes so much more sense to me than just like a binary, like, it's this person or this person. One, like you said, you kind of feel like when you have to manually number them, it like kind of feels like you're still getting to decide. And then you know, at least a complaint about at least from a lot of people in my age demographic is we hate both sides. Like everybody, I think in my kind of category really thinks that both sides are kind of bad. And it doesn't really, neither really kind of truly represents the side or their opinions. 

And also, I think that the rank choice makes a lot more sense from like a human psychology perspective of, I’m just like having all these flashbacks to like college classes about how you properly write questions to people. Like when you're gonna do a survey of like a population to get like a true like a random sample of a population. You don't ask definitive yes-no questions, which is exactly what that is. You asked for, like, hey, put these in order of importance or like, are you less likely or more likely to do this on like a one to five. So that's really interesting. I never really heard that this was being implemented. But that makes a lot of sense to me.

Todd Connor  1:16:32  

You know, and you hit the nail on the head, which is like, it's all about decision theory. It's like if you grew up fundamentalist Christian and you're like, I don't wanna be a fundamentalist Christian anymore. And I'm like, okay, you can become Jewish. And you're like, well, I don't know if I wanna be Jewish, either. I'm like, well, those are your two options. You know, it's like, that's kind of where we've put the country. And they're like, yeah, I actually think I wanna maybe take a break from religion or I wanna actually just go do some like self guided meditation or prayer or like, maybe interested in the Methodist, or, you know, like, so. 

And that's what's interesting, and duopoly is do this. They don't actually wanna expand the conversation because there's no incentive to do that. Coke and Pepsi were dominant market leaders in the 90s. And they ran. You're too young to know this, remember this. But they ran negative campaigns, like they ran negative ads against each other. Because the premise was, you're all gonna drink soda. And the only question is, which one, so if we're Coca Cola, and we like, tell you how crappy Pepsi is, the assumption is like you're just gonna come over and drink more coke. 

And that's kind of the state of affairs. Now, of course, that whole incentive structure explodes on itself, when there's like flavored water or, you know, other like, you know, root beer or, you know, like other options besides two dominant market players, which is why duopolies are illegal, you know. Because there's price control and there's fixing, you know, it's like you can, so it creates a destructive marketplace. So the path out is a productive marketplace that allows more choices to be expressed, more choices to be offered. Ultimately, in my view, like multiparty democracy, that doesn't happen overnight, you know, or even strengthen parties. I mean, it's not about tearing down the Republican Party or Democratic Party, but it is about saying, we wanna more honestly express what people want, and just choosing between the lesser of two evils is like, not it, you know. 

And that's why people aren't participating more and that's why they're frustrated. So we have to, like, that's the issue we've got to solve. The good news is there is a solution. The bad news is like, the solution is actually kind of technical. It's not even about belief systems. It's back to like my Roman Catholic versus, you know, Jewish example. It's like well, what can we do to convince you to like become a Jewish instead of Roman Catholic? It's like, I don't know, you know, but it's like, I just think I don't want that, you know. Like what I want are other options, you know, and the party kind of keeps trying to keep us back in this paradigm of like, well, if you leave Democrat, you've got to become a Republican. And like, do you really wanna be that? If you leave the Republicans, you got to be, what are you gonna be a Democrat? You know, so like it's a false choice. 

Everyone knows it. And we've got to break down the structures that make that choice the reality and it's not enough to create behavioral appeals. Like, can't we just all get along? To me, it's about we don't have the options. So how do we redesign the system to give us better options? And rank choice voting is a way of doing that. And I think I'm on a mission to make it popular, which is hard. Like I don't know how to make this technical intervention popular or widely discussed, but that's why I'm going out you know, going on like every podcast I can and talking about rank choice voting to say, this is actually our path out and both parties are sort of like skeptical in their own different ways because real choice and competition threatens the power structure that exists, which actually threatens both parties. 

You know, here's the dirty little secret. Brock. I'll leave you with this. When there's a crisis, like, or a big political hot button, like Roe vs. Wade being overturned, both parties make money on that. You know, from a business model standpoint, like the donations flowing to both parties. And that's like the perverse incentive structure, which is why duopoly is illegal. Because that shouldn't actually be the case, like when one side loses, like, the power structure of that side should not get stronger. And that's kind of what happens in today's political reality.

Brock Briggs  1:20:47  

Let's say that five years from now, we have rank choice voting widely established across the country. And that's the going standard at the city and kind of municipal level, and then maybe even at a federal level. What things will have needed to happen to make sure and ensure that that system is implemented and works?

Todd Connor  1:21:07  

Great question, Brock. So what it will require is states to enact election law reform. It's not federal. And this is the other thing with our society, like we're all tuned to. I started talking about this, and I'm like rank choice voting, we need it to be implemented in Nevada, Indiana, you know, Arkansas, you know, Illinois, like you name it, and people's mental model. And I think the two parties have conditioned us, this just goes back to national like, well, what about Hillary? Well, what about Trump? And I'm like, none of this has anything to do with Donald Trump or Joe Biden or it has to deal with state legislatures. 

So what we need to get this done, are a bunch of I mean, that, you know, I'd say veterans, for Veterans for Political Innovation, to come to our website, sign up, become state leaders, we'll give you the PowerPoint, we'll give you the book, get smart, and then go talk to elected officials, and start a movement and these movements are local. And I actually think there's a way to get this done in purple states. There's a way to get this done in red states, and there's a way to get this done in blue states. The strategies are gonna be a little bit different because those audiences are different. But we need people to activate state based campaigns to implement rank choice voting. 

And you know, here's the big picture. You don't need all 50 states to implement rank choice voting at the federal level to rationalize our politics. If you get like 10 states implementing rank choice voting, then you get 20 US senators who fundamentally act different than the other 80 because they're not worried about being primary. And that's the whole verb. That's the verb that defines Washington DC. It's everyone worrying about being primaried. So they act more extreme than they are or then they wanna be because they don't wanna get primaried. So it's like, they can't be seen doing building legislation with the other side. Otherwise, they're gonna look soft, they're gonna get primaried. 

So if you take away that threat, and you have a minority block of like 20 US senators from 10 states that are doing things with like a lens of what's reasonable, and what most Americans want. We'll fix the US Senate, but we're not gonna fix it with the current 50/50 split that we've got with people that are trying to thread the needle on narrow, partisan primaries, but it will look very different. We don't need all 50 states. We just need 10. It's kind of like gay marriage, you know. How does gay marriage get implemented nationally? Very slowly and then very quickly, and I think rank choice voting can be the same. So we need veterans to be active in this moment. If you're a patriot, we need you. You don't have to be a partisan. In fact, this is political work that we're doing but it's not. 

It doesn't have to be partisan work. Like we need to show up our problems as a country, our political problems, we need to solve them with political solutions. But you don't need to be a partisan to do it. And I think that's part of our appeal is there's tons of veterans who understand like, dude, like the biggest threat to this country is this political dysfunction. It's this polarization. That's the reason we can't get big things done is because of politics. But if you solve that, then like America can be solved other big issues, you know. So the work at hand, the mission of our generation, I believe, is to fix this political stuff. And you can do it through election reform. But that's the work. We need people to show up for it. So get involved. That's my ask.

Brock Briggs  1:24:41  

I think that that's a very good ask. And if you wanna pound the table about needing change and wanting things to be a certain way, showing up to vote is probably the first thing you should be doing if you're not already. Todd, this has been a really fun conversation. I appreciate your time. Where can people go to find you, connect with you, learn more about you?

Todd Connor  1:25:05  

Well, Brock, thank you for this conversation. I feel like, you know, I don't like listening to myself talk for an hour or so. I hope it was tolerable or people bailed out soon enough to not have to hear me but I'm passionate about election reform. So I'm passionate about entrepreneurship, and I'm grateful for you.I'm grateful for what you're doing. And I commend you. You are a third shift entrepreneur. This is exactly what it looks like. It's just taking the initiative and doing the work and then like discovering what the market wants. And that's what you're doing.So kudos to you. Go ahead and find me on LinkedIn, Todd Connor, and connect with me there, and let's chat. 

You know, if you wanna join me in this political reform work, let's talk. If you wanna talk about entrepreneurship, let's talk. If I can be a shoulder to cry on, let's talk about that as well. And, you know, it's just that I will say this like final thought: it's a privilege of my life to be in this community of veterans. I've gotten so much more out of my service after active duty than I ever probably gave in during my four years. And so it's a real privilege, but it's the community that I love to do work with. And it's the community that I think has the capacity to solve big problems. That's why I stick around. So I'm glad to be your friend now, Brock and stay in touch.

Brock Briggs  1:26:31  

Likewise, I appreciate it. Todd, thank you so much.