SFC Evan Hafer (Army Special Operations, OIF, OEF Veteran)
“The quiet professional.” A term used in the broad spectrum of our Special Operations and, more specifically, the Green Berets. There is a man who strikes out on his own path and finds a certain calm in the layers of darkness that exist in our entropic world. He goes where others will not in the altruistic service of something greater than himself. It may be for country, the brotherhood, some more intrinsic, ancestral belief, but it’s almost always rooted in a constant desire to better oneself. The culture of our Special Forces is a hardened, spartan environment where the work is expected to be done at an elite level without praise or gratitude. Suffice it to say, Evan Hafer was already prepared for this journey long before Selection even began. His path and pursuit in the humble Northern Idaho forests as the son of a logger is what established that foundation even before he was afforded his birthright. You see, to know the life of a logger is to know the broader vision of ardor, struggle, grit, and determination with no illusions of grandeur or glory. To look into this lifestyle is to gain a porthole view of an older version of America, although certainly imperfect (as any time in our world history has been), a more honest time where a man’s word was his bond, sweat-soaked toil was the goal, and putting food on the table for your family was the driving necessity. In fact, our country depended on this vein of strenuous labor as the backbone for the greater good of structuring our nation’s economy and the growth of our ideology as Americans.
It then becomes obvious as to why Hafer has attained some of his ultimate goals in the military, and as the founder of a business that’s quickly becoming a household name. The endurance and effort is titanic as Evan would readily admit, but the tactical action taken is calculated to a degree few understand. In other words, Black Rifle Coffee at its current level didn’t happen overnight. Nothing substantial or enduring ever does. Every decision was made with the knowledge that any movement executed with haste could potentially send the company towards a breakneck demise. This same knowledge is what drove him to surround himself with a tribe of innovators, free-thinking creatives, and businessmen that understood the logistics of what makes a company top-tier. Everything about Evan’s formation of BRCC is about humbly acknowledging that he doesn’t have all the answers. So, what does he do within that realization? He brings in those that do have the answers. The substructure of Black Rifle was constructed through an amalgamation of adaptive traits Hafer has acquired over a lifetime, that’s required an uncompromising work ethic rooted in his ancestral ties. We’ve said enough already, though. This is our first in a series of projects specifically addressing entrepreneurship, more specifically the veteran entrepreneur. Here is Evan with his thoughts on creating successful culture.
Can you tell us about growing up and what led you to your path?
EH: I grew up in a family of loggers. My parents and grandparents were all loggers. I was raised in a very small, rural town in northern Idaho. It was a logging community with two mills and about 800 people that lived there. The cornerstone of their economic stability was logging. There was nobody in and around my family that I grew up with that wasn’t somehow associated with the logging industry. I didn’t know anything else but logging. My dad had his own logging company when I was growing up which didn’t consist of much other than a couple of trucks. I grew up watching my father and grandfather own their own businesses. My grandfather was the judge, gravedigger, chainsaw repairman and really just a jack of all trades.
I grew up with these guys that knew exactly what manual labor was but not what working for someone else really was. I was the true definition of a dysfunctional youth. I was in trouble most of the time and a really shitty student. The military was something that I wanted to do from a very young age since the majority of my family had served. It was something that I felt I was supposed to do. You would serve in the military for your country and then come back and take a job in the woods. It was what everybody in my family did.
Did you have that history going back with your dad and grandpa serving in the military?
EH: My dad actually broke his back logging when he was 16 years old. He was disqualified from service but the rest of my family served. There were those in my family who had fought in World War II and Vietnam. They’d all served in the Air Force or the Army. We didn’t have anyone that had served in the Navy. When I decided to join I wasn’t a successful student so I joined the National Guard right out of High School. I came back from Basic Training and wanted my life to resemble something better. I discovered I was halfway decent at several things and the military gave me that confidence. Confidence was one thing that I didn’t really have in my teens. It was good to know that, after the experience of Basic Training, I could achieve something, have goals, and that it really only took hard work to get there. This thought pattern changed my entire life at 18 years old. I went from being a dysfunctional, rebellious youth that had a temper to being a pretty driven and dedicated guy. I ended up back in college at the University of Idaho. I became dedicated to becoming a Green Beret. It was between my junior and senior year in college that I went out for selection. The majority of my peers were headed to advanced camp and that was a deciding factor of what branch you would go into. I was selected to go to the Q Course and everyone else I knew went to their branch of service.
I was in the ROTC Program and at the time it was called the “Simultaneous Membership Program.” My college experience was very different since I was working on a farm in the summertime and then training. I was doing manual labor which I truly love and will forever be a part of my DNA. I love blue collar, manual labor and that isn’t something that I could remove from my blood. I’m not afraid of hard work since I watched my entire family do it my whole life. My dad is the hardest working guy I’ve ever known. He’s up at 4 a.m. everyday not trying to inspire but to pay the bills. I’ve watched him for 40 years do that where sleeping in for him means waking up at 5:30 am (laughs). I grew up with that as a template of what it takes to pay the mortgage. My dad didn’t drink, party, or do anything out of his work character. His identity was his work and that’s what he was known for in our community. He was known as the hardest working mother fucker in our town.
I grew up knowing that and had no idea about ski vacations or fucking Disneyland (laughs). I knew if we took time off it was to go get wood for the winter and that was what we considered recreation. When I decided to become a Green Beret I thought that would be the next level of work ethic. I went to selection and thought the guys weren’t working any harder than those I knew in the woods. It was actually easier in a lot of ways. We weren’t packing a fucking greasy chainsaw and hiking up a mountain before daybreak. We weren’t hauling logs up the mountain for 16 hours a day. Becoming a Green Beret for me was like putting a backpack on and humping a rucksack to work for exceedingly long hours. We weren’t doing the amount of work I’d done my whole life, and I didn’t look at it as a super difficult transition. In all actuality, it looked easier to me because the military would provide meals, uniforms and everything else needed.
I was selected and became a Green Beret in 2000. Basic Training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) changed me and gave me some self-assurance. I had the assertiveness to accomplish my goals and dedicate my life to our mission. I was now in a peer group as a Green Beret that always set out to accomplish a task list. I saw what it took to attain those massive goals. I wasn’t the smartest or most physically fit but I never quit. When I became that Green Beret people all wanted to know what the magic recipe was. I told them it was to not fucking quit. We are all born with similar physical and mental faculties but what makes it different is the wherewithal to achieve. It’s built on whether you get up in the morning with the mindset to not fucking stop when things get hard. If you do that then chances are you will be a success in Special Operations and successful in life overall. I’ve seen it over and over again with family members accomplishing things because of not quitting. There was never even that option with them.
I served several years as a Green Beret and that included the invasion of Iraq. War was the third piece of my success. It galvanized a lot of the experience I had in education and showed me that all the obstacles had been removed. You have a lot of intellectual barriers in your life that you create based on rules given to you. I know this sounds a bit philosophical. When we were in war in the invasion we didn’t really have ROE (Rules of Engagement). There was really just a defined mission of an enemy out front and the fact that we had to overthrow a government for the regime change to take place. There were all these rules that had existed in my life to that point. The only thing restricting us in the Special Operations world from success was the capacity of our team. Those faculties are the physical and mental tools you have available on your team. What are the limitations of physics? You would drive through walls and plot your own course because at the end of the day there weren't many restrictions in getting the job done.
You just went and did it. That was incredibly freeing to me. Intellectually, this was the greatest point in my growth. War showed me that rules were arbitrary boundaries that people put up as obstacles in their own way. If you want something, the more substantial mission is to just go and get after it. I spent from 2003 to 2014 deploying either as a Green Beret or a contractor for the CIA. This gave me a significant amount of repetition in working in a very complex environment. It was a lot of split decision making, complex problem solving, leadership and management in an incredibly elaborate environment with a lot on the line to lose. You could lose life, limb or eyesight of your friends or coworkers, plus the possibility of killing someone that didn’t need to be killed.
I was making hundreds of decisions a week where lives depended on making good choices. When that’s your field of competition it starts to galvanize your experience and it takes you to a place where nothing in the world is like it. It was at the end of 2014 and I was experiencing a significant amount of psychological issues that were directly contradictory to my individual success. A lot of the drive in my life to that point was somewhat taken away by the repetition of combat. I stopped caring about life, limb, or eyesight. It became all about the mission. It created a very callous individual within that I barely recognized. People ask me how long I was gone or how many rotations I did. I get beat up sometimes because I’ve told them I did 40+ rotations. I was deployed for a decade about 300 days a year to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, or Africa.
All of those places were some of the most remote and hostile regions of our war on terror. They were rotations that were typically 60 days a pop and then a two week rotation back stateside. There were years that I worked between serving as a Green Beret, a National Guardsman and CIA Contractor where it was over 400 days in a row in five different countries that were all combat zones. They were all different missions. I was burned out psychologically and in 2014 I was just fried and completely spent. The agency I was with gave me my walking papers. It was either I quit or they fire me which was the best thing that ever happened to me. The feelings of being a veteran and understanding the military, plus the complexities of war, had all caught up with me. I was a fucking asshole to the 100th degree. I should not have been working anymore in that capacity.
Did the self-developed callousness frighten or scare you?
EH: I realized my own callousness when my daughter was being born and the only fear I had was whether or not I could love her properly. This was my lowest point and I knew I needed to change. When you don’t think you have any form of emotional capacity or feeling inside, that is a scary place. I think that’s where most veterans have issues. It’s because they are callous and don’t feel anymore. When you can’t feel or are just numb to everything that’s fear. Fear is an emotion. I actually took time away and out of that environment to see how far it had gone. I just didn’t feel anything. I’d made the commitment to leave that role and had probably stayed a year longer than I should have. They were right in their choice to want me to leave and I knew that. It was like getting a divorce because it wasn’t a bad partner but just a bad marriage. It was definitely the right choice for me since I had to be on a quest to find my way back. I had to find the emotional capacity to love a child.
The genesis of the company (Black Rifle Coffee Company) was for me to be able to create something. I had been roasting coffee since 2006 and it was something I truly loved. I had developed profound admiration for coffee in the 90’s. I loved the environment of roasting and was very passionate about it. When I left the military I knew that I cared about the veteran community and coffee. It was pretty easy when you start adding additional layers to that. I cared about our Constitutional rights and our veteran community along with coffee, and of course my family. When I started the business I decided to make it about the things I cared about in order to amplify those feelings of passion. If I had gone to work for another company there wouldn't have been the emotional connection to community, family, and the freedom I enjoy. It forced me to be emotionally in touch. I knew I could make a real impact in the world. If you make an impact with your passion, you can see your endeavors pay off for your family and community. The direct context of the relationship of the work you are putting in and the difference you are making within the things you care about is a wonderful thing. When those things are amplified you can’t help but care about all of those things most important to you.
What was it like becoming a Green Beret and stepping into the invasion?
EH: We had no idea how long the invasion would be. Our initial casualty assessment of the invasion was that 50% percent of the team would be killed. We went into the war thinking that we would lose 50% of our team. There were twelve guys and you just figured that only six would be coming back home. I had already kind of written my life off and I think you have to. You have to assume that you are going to be killed. It’s so much easier to function in that environment as a soldier if you think you’re dead before you start. You just don’t care as much. It is incredibly freeing. I can’t remember the exact point that happened for me but it was like a light switch turning on. I just thought of myself as already gone and if I was lucky I would get out of this with one leg. It sounds bad but that’s how I think you should go into those situations. I treated the experience like I’d be fortunate if I got to come back at all, even with missing limbs. I’m not minimizing that, since there are so many that are missing limbs. It’s just how you think. I never expected to live through it since it made it harder to function. I didn’t want to always be concentrating on survival because I felt it was detrimental to the success of the mission.
What was it like with your team when you first got over there?
EH: War was nothing like what I had expected. You grow up watching movies and you have this preconceived glamorous image of war. There is no context to what it really is and you don’t understand the work or heat. You can't feel the heat, hunger or pain in an hour and a half movie. It just isn't possible. You start to realize that there is a full spectrum of things that happen in war all the time that are perceived as courageous or cowardice. You can see that transpire in three seconds. It unfolds right in front of you. True understanding of survival allows you to realize it isn’t how good you at your job, but mostly just luck. Hollywood will indoctrinate people in this thought that courageous, bold, and smart survive. That’s not accurate in war. When you’re in the middle of an extremely kinetic action, It boils down to being just fucking plain lucky sometimes. It doesn't matter how hard you train or how tactically proficient you are. Your life is dictated on how well you can gamble at times. I think the amount of stress or exhilaration you feel becomes so many emotions rolled into one.
The biggest amount of stress initially I felt was never within the act of combat but peer performance in combat of letting your team down. I started to understand how important it is to have a good team and not be the guy that jeopardizes everybody’s life. Taking life is not courageous. It is an incredibly complex and a moral compromise. It compromises your morality on a long term basis and that can cause long term effects on your psyche. It depends on the person, though. It forces you to think about life completely different. I often contemplated, “What is life? What is it like to be an Iraqi? What is life like for them? What is like to be the Iraqi combatant? What does life mean to me?” I was forced into a circumstance where I was measuring life everyday and sometimes every minute. It’s a strange aspect of warfare.
I think combat was good for me in several different ways. It taught me how to measure what’s important. It can all be gone in a matter of seconds. People get caught up in the materialistic aspects of business. Success is defined by a number and that number is typically represented by the things you buy. Combat is one of those things that made me realize I’d much rather have a great family and friends than a considerable amount of wealth. Now I’ll be honest and tell you that I have financial goals but those represent how I am solving the more complex issues in my business. The gross number doesn’t matter all that much if you make a 100 million dollars and you are a 110 million dollars in debt. You could make a 100 million dollars and pocket it all and still be empty and, ethically, a void piece of shit. You could be in a place where you’d done nothing for your community and have no love in your life. Business for me is how are we solving complex problems and who are we doing it with. I want to turn the dollars into opportunity.
What was one of your first experiences in combat when you were really frightened?
EH: I was just outside of Baghdad on our first initial engagement. We had an IED go off in one of our convoys. We thought our third gun truck was completely down. I was turning to my team leader and telling him we needed to get the fuck out of there but we were blocked in. There was traffic everywhere and we were completely stuck in the circumstance. When you have a significant amount of explosions with small arms fire and heavy arms fire those seconds of your life turn into long periods of time (laughs). Every aspect of your DNA is on fire. Your mind is telling you to fight, to fly, and fucking everything else. I equate it with an alert system in your body going off. The alarm system in your body is just repeatedly going off. It’s loud inside and very confusing. I was losing my fucking mind because I wanted to just jump out of my fucking skin. I wanted to get the fuck out. I was driving so I couldn't shoot. I was trying to get the vehicle into a place where we could maneuver it out. We couldn’t because we were completely locked in. My team leader was on the radio and I remember what he was saying very distinctly. “Vehicle three this is vehicle one what is the status.” He was asking what was going on and they were in the fucking mix with the rest of us (laughs). We finally got a break and started plowing ourselves through curbs to get out. My team leader at the end said to all of us, “Just so you know, unless you are offering a solution, just shut the fuck up.”
We got out of that and all the vehicles were actually intact. What he said to me that day stuck with me throughout the rest of my career. It became about being the guy who was trying to de-escalate the psychological environment. It was later in my career I had a very experienced combat veteran tell me something that stayed with me too. “Psychology is more contagious than the flu. If you have negative forms of psychology and are causing more chaos, then you aren’t contributing to the solution.” That helped me realize what comes out of your mouth needs to help solve the problem. You can cause people to make really bad decisions by adding pressure to the issue. What’s already going on inside is loud and chaotic so don’t add to that with your words. It was my first engagement in combat along with being one of the most important pieces of information that carried me for the next ten years. I just continued to get better at it and I was the youngest member on the team at the time. I became a prominent voice and a leader. You just do what you’re told and hopefully have guys on your team to show you what to do. You should be watching everything going on around you and trying to learn. You learn by repetition and mimicking them. I took on more leadership roles and learned from those initial moments on the teams.
What would you say operationally was your toughest tour?
EH: I don’t think it was ever the tactical circumstances that were the most difficult. It was when I was managing the bigger projects where it was about the internal politics. It was difficult for me to navigate the politically driven mindset. When you are figuratively getting shot in the back by your own people that’s extremely difficult to deal with. You’re charging forward trying to get something accomplished and you have those trying to stop you in your tracks. They don’t want to see you succeed because they want that promotion or they want the accolades. That was fucking tough. There will always be a division in the government between the “me driven” and those that are “mission driven.” That will always exist in come capacity. That divide will continue to live on between those “award driven” and those who are in it to accomplish the mission. If there are people there to serve their own interests and those that want what is best for the greater good you will always find yourself with conflict. The internal war is sometimes more difficult to comprehend and navigate. You expect to get ambushed and shot at but not always metaphorically within your own team. Navigating those issues in Afghanistan during 2011 was the deepest of the depression I dealt with. I started to have internal issues along with trying not to get killed. When you have great ideas in the government there is a lot of bureaucracy that keeps telling you to “shut the fuck up.” I felt like I had a lot of good ideas. I was always trying to optimize and be more effective.
I felt like I was beating my fucking head up against the wall. It was internally frustrating. I began to question if they were even good ideas or if I was just a dumbass. When I got out and started a successful company I realized that not all my ideas were bad (laughs). When I was talking about leadership, management and candor they weren’t just dumb ideas. I knew that they would work within my company. Validating some of my ideas was important to me. It was like the statement, “Success is the best form of revenge.” I sent one of my arch enemies, who was always fighting me within the organization I was with, the Forbes article they wrote about me (laughs). I remember having a super long discourse with him about the responsibility of leaders and organizations. He was combat ineffective and also and an ineffective leader too. Our conversation was all about that. He told me that I would just never know or understand what it was like to be as good as he was. I thought to myself that I was right and he was fucking wrong. When you butt heads with those who are very selfish and ego driven it’s a nasty experience. If you are a guy who likes to fight then you will never eliminate that desire to punch somebody in the face to prove you are right. You can't prove you are right with violence but you can through other means of action.
How important was family support when starting your business?
EH: It was a challenge to start and grow a company. You have to be a master at implementing schedule because if you don’t, there is no time for your family. Your wife will rightfully resent you for it and then you end up fighting with that spouse. It can be the end of the relationship if you’re not careful to balance things and navigate those waters in the proper way. My wife and I had our first child in 2013. We had a newborn the entire time of starting this business. Our second child was born a year and a half ago. We were literally raising two kids at the same time of building a business. My wife stayed home and made that a priority. We didn’t really have a choice with that and daycare was expensive. My wife was helping with the business as far as customer service. She came from the coffee industry and knew coffee. She knew how to brew it very well due to running a coffee shop in Denver for several years.
We had to agree on two things. My job was to go out and make sure we could pay our bills while her job was to raise our kids the way we wanted. I would go weeks without seeing my family even though we were in the same city and house. I would leave before they got up and get home long after they had gone to bed. I would sleep on a futon at the office some nights. The first 1 ½ years we were building Black Rifle I probably didn’t sleep more than 4 hours a night. It was extremely detrimental to my mental health and studies show that can actually make you crazy. I was coming from a different frame of mind though where sleep was a crutch. The military mindset of sleep was different and I think that helped me.
What would you say to entrepreneurs coming out of the military?
EH: If you’re coming out of the military and want to start a business you have to be prepared to work harder mentally than you ever have in your entire life. You need to define what a successful company is. Is it being able to pay your mortgage? Is it being able to pay your bills and save? You must have goals and be able to define what success is. There are a lot of people that define their goals as being rich and that’s just crazy. There are varying degrees of being rich. Being rich is truly subjective to the individual and what they are trying to accomplish. I wanted to be able to define what succeeding as a company was for me. When someone is starting a business they have to fixate on becoming good at business not in just trying to be wealthy.
Economic wealth or having additional capital to put into different projects is the result of being good at business. If you’re good at business, the second one will take care of itself. I focus on getting better even to this day and do not define myself as a success. I think it would be ridiculous to call myself a success. I have built a good business but a lot is just luck. My business partners are very good people who have allowed me to run the company for as long as I have. They have entrusted me to run it and I try to do the very best that I can. I’m just a dude that started the company and everyone else has stayed to help me. Without them, I’d have nothing.
Why did you decide to join forces with Jarred Taylor and Mat Best?
EH: I liked Mat (Best) and J.T. (Jarred Taylor) a lot and we always loved hanging out. We make each other laugh constantly. The three of us together tend to make things better when all of us are doing it together. That has been true since day one and hour one of that day. We add value as a group for things. The three of us all have a good work ethic and we’re very loyal to one another. There are no trust issues amongst the group. We are a team of people dedicated to moving forward and making the business a success. I never question if either of them are making good decisions for the company. They are good friends and business partners as well. We have had to make sacrifices as a team and those sacrifices galvanized the formation of our company. We got fucking lucky too (laughs). I know several people that have gotten together with a partner and ended up hating that partner. They screw them over or the partner does that to them. We don’t worry about any of that shit. We don’t have to since we have been at this for over 4 years. We win when the products designed by us sell and the customer allows us to continue to work together. Our commitment to our customer is to continue to make great products and have great service. That’s what they (Matt and J.T.) like and we like working together.
How do you decide to form partnerships ?
EH: You have to see a value proposition in the partnership. Both partners have to bring value. When you agree then you need to ask yourself if you like this person. “Do I trust this person?” Once those criteria are met, your relationship develops the value and mutual respect along with trust. The assurance is built on success and the completion of the product. Through the partnership they are completing things on time and on target. They are under promising and over delivering. It just gets better and better with each relationship. Partnerships don’t succeed when one of those things is disproportionate. In business there is something that is called a “win-win” where you ask how they win and how I win. There is also a “win-lose” and that is only a good deal for one person.
That fucking sucks for the person who loses (laughs). There are a ton of guys who love to do business like that. They are only looking for the win for themselves. That’s not sustainable and will destroy a business after awhile. It will come to a point where no one will want to do business with you. The goal is to create a win-win with our partnerships. We have done so many deals with people that we know when it isn’t a good fit. It’s not that they are bad guys or gals but it comes down to working together. It’s a lot like a marriage when a divorce happens. It doesn't mean they are bad people but it simply means the combination of the two people isn’t good.
What are the most important things you see moving forward from the leadership model?
EH: I think leadership comes from love. If you love your product and your company that is a huge driving factor. It's bigger than hate and greed or anything else. Good leadership always comes from love. When it relates to military it is love of country and selfless service. You are sacrificing yourself for the greater good and typically that comes from making the right decision. You are making those decisions for your men and for your country. It lines up with what you love and believe in. I come from that school which says leadership comes from selfless service. We have all seen leaders that are selfish and trying to lead because it’s an exercise in ego. That is an inferior form of leadership. Great leaders are selfless. The leaders like Patton or MacArthur were definably successful in leadership of armies. They weren't Eisenhower or Washington. You have to look at sacrifice. The good CEOs in business understand that this is a commitment to their employees and customers.
One of the reasons I wanted to bring Tom Davin in was I wanted to spend more time promoting successful people within my company. I want to build the company from within and invest in our people. I think that will do more for the customer because when employees take pride and ownership in where they are, it shows. They are given better opportunities and a better workplace which shows. The future of Black Rifle Coffee and what I see in leadership is really inspiring through people in the company. I have personnel that are truly amazing in this company. They don’t get the accolades they deserve because we have been busy growing the business. The future of Black Rifle Coffee is mostly about making an incredible company full of awesome people. I don’t believe that success is defined by a billion dollar valuation but how happy the people are that work here. Do they truly love and respect the people they work with? If we can create a workplace like that then it’s a win. People go to work every single day and hate their jobs. They fucking hate their jobs and I don’t think you have to live like that.
How do people like Tom (Davin) help with the mission and what you are doing with BRCC?
EH: Tom Davin has been incredibly helpful for the past several years. I like teams and don’t actually like being in charge all of the time. It’s not something I’m comfortable with. I’m not afraid to be in a leadership position but it’s more that I’m apprehensive about making all the choices. I don’t want to make every single decision. It’s very detrimental to a company to tie your identity into the work to the point of you just being the CEO and nothing else. The company is made up of the people who run it every single day. I’m just the founder. Tom, and guys like him, have decades of business experience and leadership. I could have gone and tried to pay for that kind of knowledge. I think there are guys that would be apprehensive in sharing the desk and title that I’m now sharing. I’m more than happy to share the title, the desk, or whatever you want to call it.
I don’t have a huge ego wrapped up in this. I stuff mine into a box and chain that box shut because it’s detrimental. Ego will always kill. That’s a place where you’ve built the Titanic and then you push it offshore and watch it sink. I want as many people tied to this company as possible that are phenomenal decision makers. I want to commit to wise judgement for decades so that this company will be around for a long time. I don’t want people to say they remember the company because it didn’t last. I want to make a true impact. When you have guys like Tom who are successful with everything they do, it inspires you to recruit more like him. You have to have guys like Tom in order to create a truly sustainable brand.
Black Rifle was built around a military theme so how important was it to bring good coffee to the veteran’s space?
EH: The issue for me was when I was deployed the only way I had good coffee was if I brought it myself. I looked at it as a way to serve veterans and not just hipsters in San Francisco. Good coffee is for everybody. I would go into coffee shops and try different locations. I felt uncomfortable going into a lot of the coffee shops in Seattle and San Francisco because a lot of the baristas were assholes (laughs). They were so self-righteous and pretentious. It’s a cup of coffee and while it’s important, these baristas acted like they were creating a work of Picasso’s. You’re making me a latte, not building the Sistine Chapel (laughs). I was known as the “hipster coffee guy” in this group of tactically proficient men. Everybody I talked to and roasted coffee for loved it though.
It means something when you have a great cup of coffee (laughs). I thought to myself, “Holy shit this is good and it’s actually really important.” It’s happened to me at least a hundred times where I thought a good cup of coffee made all the difference. It used to happen when I was making it down range. Guys would stop in and have a cup of my coffee then tell me they would be back tomorrow. When you make somebody something that is truly unique and enjoyable there is a special feeling tied to that. I was always that guy who wanted to take a flavorful cup of coffee from an awesome experience in my favorite places in America and have that same thing again wherever I was. You can replicate a great cup of coffee on a mountain range in Idaho or at a range in Iraq. There are very few things you can replicate and can exist in those two places but coffee is one experience that you can do that with.
If you could look back on your former teammates how do you want them to remember you?
EH: At the end of the day, I’d like my contemporaries to say that I was a solid operator. I think that would be the best thing that could be said about me. You may think that but unless your peers are validating that as a truth, then there is no point in believing it. I want to be remembered as a solid operator. “Was he a good dude?” Who cares about that. “A good dude,” is subjective terminology in the sense of hanging out with someone and drinking beers. I want them to say that they knew if they got in the vehicle and we were getting shot at, we would be shoulder to shoulder. That’s the only thing you can ask for as an operator.
How important is it in the veteran entrepreneur space for veterans to see themselves as successful?
EH: Good leadership is not just isolated to the world of Special Operations. Good leadership in the military is good leadership and doesn't matter where it comes from. I have had fucking bad leaders and I’ve had magnificent leaders. I’ve seen the spectrum across the board from conventional forces to Special Forces. You weigh all those out and learn that leadership is leadership. There is charisma that comes with it and follow through is what it looks like for me. How well can you be trusted? It’s not constrained to combat MOSs or to the Marine Corps (laughs). I was working with a female on a rotation and she was one of the first female managers I had. She was fucking amazing. I’m not trying to sound sexist when I say this but I had never worked for a female before her. Statistically, good leaders are extremely rare. When you have a minority in the divisions there’s even less of a chance you will run into a good leader. I would fucking work for her anywhere or anyplace. She was a badass and phenomenal at her job.
It’s funny because I remember working for this guy at the agency who became a gate guard while he was going to college. He got a job with us and became a case officer to work his way up through the ranks. He didn’t look like a leader. He didn’t match any of the markers in the Special Operations template. He looked kind of nerdy and had a squeaky voice. He was the single most effective leader I have ever worked for in my life. He was single point focused and driven on our mission. He could see things across the board and think ten steps ahead of the curve. Colin Powell once said that he could make a good decision with 20% of the information. This guy I worked with understood all the departments in our office. He could push everything all together in a small amount of time compared to those in a think tank taking weeks to do the exact same thing. He was a solid leader. The previous two guys I worked for were a different. One of them was a fucking degernate and banging all his interns. He was just a fucking lousy guy and a truly incredible example of the dangers of ego. The other guy was one who was absolutely amazing. He had photos of his family on his desk and tons of charts with data that backed up his ideas. He was nice to everybody and the entire staff. He treated everybody consistently the same across the board. It was a powerful way to learn how to treat people and a wonderful example of leadership. In any business, especially the veteran community, you have a wide spectrum of people. You have to know how to lead and treat all people.
There’s a question surrounding the veteran community like a dense, blanketing fog. “How do our skills translate to the civilian world?” Although knowing how to check the headspace and timing on a .50 caliber machine gun, or how to properly setup a L-shaped ambush might not directly translate into polite society; it’s the core traits of soldiering that make us the finest candidates for almost every position back home. Evan is the perfect example of that. Although much of his current success is attributable to those back-breaking days in the Idaho woods, his time as an operator forged those skills into an undeniable core-set of skills that are serving him as the founder of a multi-million dollar company. The pinnacles of success are almost always accompanied by those valleys of descent, but the ethic that drives Evan is what’s catapulted Black Rifle Coffee to its current position.
Our growth as a community insists that we hammer out those characteristics that drive us as Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen; utilizing them in the civilian world to strengthen our posture in society. Self-respect, dignity, honor, sacrifice, teamwork, leadership, loyalty, endurance, and trust are just a few of the traits that make us who we are. Take from the example of men like Evan Hafer who’ve combined those qualities into something tangible. We need more of that in this world. You can find Evan Hafer on Instagram: @evanhafer and on Twitter: @evanhafer. To check out Black Rifle Coffee, go to Instagram: @blackriflecoffee, Facebook: @blackriflecoffeeco, and Twitter: @blckriflecoffee.