Episode 294 Ruben Ayala Triple Nikel: Empowering Veteran Style Transcript

This transcript is from episode 294 with guest Ruben Ayala.

Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we are focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let’s get on with the show.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. I’m your host Scott DeLuzio, and today my guest is Ruben Ayala. Uh, he’s the founder and CEO of Triple Nikel, a lifestyle brand that celebrates diversity in their apparel and designs and Ruben. Also served as an officer in the Green Berets for 13 years. He brings a wealth of experience in leadership and teamwork to all of his entrepreneurial endeavors.

And so we’re gonna dive into Ruben’s journey as a veteran, his transition to entrepreneurship and his work with Triple Nikels. [00:01:00] So welcome to the show, Ruben. I’m glad to have you here.

Ruben Ayala: Hey, I’m happy to be here, Scott. I appreciate the invitation.

Scott DeLuzio: Absolutely. Um, for the listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with you and your story, uh, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ruben Ayala: Absolutely. Yeah. There, there’s, uh, there’s not much to cover, so it’ll be brief. So for those who don’t know who I am, Ruben Ayala, uh, I got a weird name because I’m, I’m Puerto Rican. That’s where I was born and raised. Uh, I did partial uh, raising here in Texas in San Antonio. My mother and I moved to the United States.

Uh, Early in the, in the eighties and did a lot of, uh, for my formidable years here in Texas, from Texas, I joined the Army, spent, uh, spent a lot of time doing a lot of different jobs. So I got a lot of empathy for, for all of the, uh, the mechanisms that make the, uh, military grow. Yeah, I finished up my career as a special forces officer, but I also spent time as a, as an admin clerk, [00:02:00] uh, as a legal specialist, as a, you know, when I was enlisted as an officer, I was also in, in, in the infantry.

So I, I got, I got a pretty good background on, you know, all the jobs, um, and the service support side, combat arm side, and, and then, uh, when I finished my time in the military, I, I, I went the entrepreneurial route and, and, and, uh, here I am.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, and I, I like how you have the. Well-rounded background with a bunch of different jobs in the military. So it’s not just one job that you did your whole time in the military and that’s all you knew. You, you knew a lot of things. You knew the admin side, you knew the, the infantry side, you knew, you know, e even enlisted versus officer.

Um, you get a really well-rounded experience there and it’s, I think, rare to find somebody with such a diverse background in their military history. Um, either. They get in at one mos and they just stick with that all the way through. Or may, maybe they have a change [00:03:00] somewhere, uh, throughout, but maybe it’s not that, that huge of a change.

Uh, you know, it’s a maybe a similar field that they’re, they’re getting into, uh, you know, on occasion Yeah. You, you get the enlisted going to the officer side. But, um, but yeah, you get. A nice, well-rounded background. And so I think, you know, of any of the guests that I’ve had on here, someone who can speak to the military experience and, and things like that, I think you’re probably the, the guy to talk to because you, you have such a, a wide range of, of everything that you’ve dealt with, and so you know, people that.

You know, uh, maybe we’re in the infantry. They, they can talk to you and relate to you that people who were more in the admin role roles, they can talk to you and relate to you. And, uh, you know, there’s a lot of diversity there in your background there. So I, I like what you had there. Um, And so I, I appreciate your experience and I’m looking forward to getting into this, uh, this interview and talking a little bit more about what it is that you do, uh, with Triple Nikel and, um, the other things that you [00:04:00] have going on.

But I, I think this episode in particular will be a good one just because of that background that I was talking about. So, um, Ruben, can you tell us a little bit more about your experience in the Army?

Uh, you talked a little bit about your background. You, we, before the break, we, we had, um, uh, quite a diverse background that you talked about. Um, you, you had, uh, you know, all sorts of different jobs in the military enlisted officer, um, Specifically, how did your experience serving in the special forces, uh, shape your perspective on things like leadership and teamwork and, and how did you develop as, uh, as, as a leader, as you’re going through all of that?

Ruben Ayala: Yeah, I’ll, I’ll get. Questions. I, I like to joke with people when, when we, when I talk about my background, you know, even though I’m Puerto Rican, I’m, I’m part Jamaican. You know, this is a joke that, you know, Jamaicans, you know, are such hard workers and, you [00:05:00] know, I had so many different jobs and my journey in the military is a testament to my constantly figuring out what it is that I want to do when I grow up.

You know, I didn’t have a plan graduating high school. I, I just joined the Army because, you know, my friends were going to college or doing something significant. I was not, I didn’t have good grades. So I found my way into becoming a legal specialist, working with a bunch of lawyers. The lawyers kind of took me under their wing and said, Hey man, you are a knucklehead, but I think you, you have some potential.

He thought about being an officer. So that those conversations led me to becoming an officer. You know, I didn’t have anybody in my family who was that, you know, I, going through R O T C, you saw the guys who were in the Infantry Rangers. They’re like, yeah, this is, this is what you need to do, Ruben. This is where [00:06:00] it’s at.

I was like, okay, I, I guess I can try that. I fell into that, and one thing I failed to mention, I, I spent a short stint as a, as a communications officer, so I was in a signal branch. After I did my branch detail and it was really there when I went into the signal branch that I really, really knew I had to get up out of the signal branch cause I hated it.

And that’s how I ended up in Special Forces. So my trek into the dark side is, we like to say was not one because I planned it that way because I always wanted to be a Green Beret. It was always, it was just, it was outta circumstance, you know? I. I, uh, I started out my career as an officer in Fort Bragg, now Fort Liberty.

In the 82nd, I would always see the SF guys or see the guys, uh, behind the fence in, in Delta. And you know, for me those were things that were not available to me. I didn’t see a lot of people that looked like me there, and [00:07:00] it was just something that was just unattainable, but, Once I, I switched branches up and, and got into the signal branch.

It just, I knew that that wasn’t me. And, and to make the military a career, I wanted to do something that I, I knew I would like, so I just challenged myself to do it and, and, and I made it. And, um, and. And it took a village, you know, to, to take a guy like me who did, didn’t come from that cloth. And, and, um, and I had a lot of good NCOs that helped me, helped me to, uh, to, to get to, to the point where I was able to do my job efficiently.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, it.

Ruben Ayala: So, you know, I. I, I, I can’t sit here and tell you like, man, I was this, I was destined to become this like, great leader cuz that’s, that’s, that, that would be fake. You know, I, I found my, I tripped my way into special forces

Scott DeLuzio: Sure.

Ruben Ayala: and, and, and, uh, you know, and, and I, and, and I was able to do the [00:08:00] job well because I had good NCOs.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And that that’s, you know, honestly that, that’s fair enough because I think a lot of us, uh, get into the military not really knowing what we’re getting ourselves into. Um, you know, some, some people may be lucky and they have, uh, you know, family history where people have been in the military and they’re able to say, Hey, this, you’re signing up for this, this is what you’re gonna do.

You, you, now you’re going into it, you know what you’re gonna expect. But, um, you know, someone I. Who doesn’t necessarily know all of that yet, you kind of have to rely on, you know, the good NCOs. You need to rely on that leadership to help guide you along the path because, um, I think with anything in life, those people, they’ve been there, they’ve done it, they’ve probably made some mistakes along the way, and as a good leader, you don’t want.

To see those other people who are coming up under you to make those same mistakes. It’s kind of, to me, it would just like make me cringe if I’m seeing this, this guy coming up and uh, it’s like, yeah, I remember doing that too. And it’s [00:09:00] like, ah, yeah, he probably should have said something to that guy like, So he didn’t make that mistake too.

Right. Um, but that’s, you know, I think a, a great way to, to look at things is, um, is looking up to that leadership. Um, and even after we get out of the military, there are other people who have been out much longer than, than we’ve been out and. They have gone through a lot of the struggles of transitioning, getting out of the military, the family issues, careers, education, other issues that, that you just go through regular life issues that they may be going through.

Um, They’ve been through those things already, and so why not look at those people? Some of the older, maybe Vietnam era veterans or uh, even even older than that, uh, look at some, some of those people and look to them for advice and wisdom and guidance. If, if they can offer it, um, you know, look to those people and, you know, I, I like to encourage people to reach out to some of the older veterans because they have that [00:10:00] wisdom and advice that they can impart on you and, and help you out along the way.

They’ve already made the mistakes, right?

Ruben Ayala: Absolutely.

Scott DeLuzio: and a, so after leaving the military, you transitioned into entrepreneurship. We talked about that a little bit earlier, but h how did your military background influence your entrepreneurial journey? I.

Ruben Ayala: Good question. So in, in special forces, you know, we Special forces, I, I, I like to say is, uh, is a great pathway to entrepreneurship because the way that the, the branch is, is a raid where the rubber meets the road is the 18. So, you know, you remember growing up. In the eighties, you had the A team. So the A team, you have 12 individuals, and on the NCO side of the house you have two of each primary mos.[00:11:00]

So you can do split team ops. And when we deploy, we go to, we go to these austere environments and, and we’re entrusted with so much responsibility and it, um, sometimes a lot of money. It, it, you’re almost like a small business setting up shop with, you know, books that you have to keep, logistics that you have to maintain.

Um, sometimes you have to run a small town or a small city. Uh, because you’re running your own base camp, so you, you are developing a lot of skills that are equatable to business. So coming out, I knew I wanted to do something on my own cuz I have a very creative mindset. So what I did, I went back to school.

Because I never ran a business before, so I knew I needed, I needed some help to take those skills and, and those desires I had and, but translate them to real world stuff. So I, I [00:12:00] applied to the University of Texas, uh, executive MBA program, got accepted, which is a two year cohort. And I utilized that time to reset, to just do a reset on Ruben.

Like I need to be able to talk to people that are not, In the military, I need to understand the way the corporate mindset works and just kind of mail back into society. So that’s what I did for the first two years that I got out and developed my business plan to start my first company. And, and that was a vending company.

So I created a, uh, a healthy vending company, which ended up being a really successful vending company over the past few years. So that was, that was, that was the first thing I did when I got out. So, absolutely. Uh, being an SF set me up for success. It gave me that confidence. Plus, it’s a cool job, you know, so when, when people talk to you about your, your job, it’s like, oh [00:13:00] man, you were a Green Beret, man.

That’s badass. Yeah, it is badass. You know, sometimes now, you know, being so far removed from it, you know, almost 10 years, I think about it. Like, damn, man, that was weird. I can’t, I can’t, can’t but not believe I did all that. But, you know, I. It’s cool. And you know, it’s, it’s, uh, it’s, it’s, I had very fond memories.

I’m glad I did it. Um, but it, it definitely has helped me out,

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And the, the way you put it too is, is interesting that, uh, you know, running, uh, a base, it’s, it’s almost like running a, a small city or a small town, uh, where. You have all the logistics. You, you have to get food onto the base, you have to get, you know, supplies, uh, you know, ammunition and medical, and there’s all sorts of different things that, that go into it.

Uh, even mail, uh, you know, when, when you’re down range mail gets delivered, you have to get all that stuff sorted and figured out. There’s a lot that goes into it. [00:14:00] And, and so yeah, it’s really is similar to running a business, um, where you have to figure out, you know, inventory levels like, you know, Uh, are we?

Ruben Ayala: Dude, I, I, I, I’ll give you, I’ll give you a quick, quick vignette. Right. So my, my first time deployed as a, as a 18 commander, uh, in special forces. We went to Afghanistan and the ideally, The, the primary mission set for, for Special Forces is uws Unconventional Warfare, and we went to Afghanistan early enough to where we were, there were certain bases that were still being run by Special Forces teams.

So it’s a, it’s a, it’s an inherent mission that Special Forces does, and we went to our own base camp. We had to pay our soldiers, so literally we would have a, a, a line. Every month and we’d have to dish out payroll. We had [00:15:00] all of the facilities there we had to take care of. We had civilian contractors that essentially worked for us and reported to us.

So generators went down. We were responsible for that. We had a, uh, a mess facility. We were responsible for. We had three ops on the border of Pakistan. We were responsible for if they got attacked, if, uh, something got damaged, we had to fix that. We had tractors, we had vehicles. Um, we had soldiers from 18th Airborne Corps assigned to us with artillery, all kinds of, so, so on our base, we had, you know, I’m responsible automatically for about 600 people and, uh, we have landing zones, we have resupplies that are coming in through parachute or, you know, through jingle trucks, whatever the case may be.

And, you know, people need to eat. They need to, they, we need to control that. And this is a 12 man team. And oh, by the way, We still have our primary mission of conducting direct action, conducting, you know, [00:16:00] foreign internal defense. Sometimes we gotta u do uw so at night we’re doing our job. In the daytime we’re running a city and it’s, and it’s extremely difficult man, and you’re doing that, you know, day in and day out and it’s exhausting.

Um, but again, those, those. Those, uh, stories and those experiences, those are the types of things that give me the confidence to be able to come out here daily and just crush it in the civilian

Scott DeLuzio: No, that’s, that’s great. And it, it’s, it’s great experience. Ruben, a lot of people I’ve spoken to have had a difficult time with their transition out of the military.

Either they didn’t plan well enough or had a plan. They thought was great and it fell apart after getting out of the military. Um, what was your transition like getting outta the military? Did you have a plan? Uh, I know getting into the military, you said there wasn’t much of a plan, but getting out, did you have a plan or did you see entrepreneurship as [00:17:00] something that was in your future?

Um, and did you have any challenges or setbacks along the way?

Ruben Ayala: Yeah. I, I would say yes to all the above. You know, there was, I had a plan, you know, it was, you know, man, it’s, it’s, I, I forgot who said it. You know, if you, if you know, if you wanna see God laugh, you know, come up with, with a plan, uh, something like that, I don’t know, man. But yeah, I, I had a plan. But my plan got derailed like 20 times.

But the, the, the, the long story short to my plan where it all began, I was, I think I was coming back from Iraq, um, uh, on r and r and I was walking through the airport and I stopped to get a magazine cause I had a long flight to. Kuwait, I think it was, or Saudi, I don’t remember. But I picked up an, an entrepreneur magazine and I saw the magazine that had like the, the [00:18:00] top five fattest cities in, in America.

So I saw it. San Antonio was like number two at the time, and I know that that’s where I wanted to retire, so, And then I also picked up a muscle and fitness magazine or something like that. And in it, there was a company in California that was doing healthy vending. So I read it and I said, oh man, that would be a really cool idea if I can do something like that in San Antonio, cuz it’s like top five fattest cities.

I think it could correlate man. And you know at, at that point, The deployment, the, the deployments during that period from 2000, shoot, from 2001 to 2000 12, 13, 14 were just crazy and I’m just tired. So I wanted like a cool job. I envisioned me being this guy that people see me on the street, he’s a nobody and just want the most [00:19:00] boring job.

So vending sounded. Like a very

Scott DeLuzio: you go. Right.

Ruben Ayala: So, so that was, that was the seed that was planted and that was on my way back to Iraq. So fast forward going through the MBA program, developing that plan, putting it together, I purchased five vending machines and the first 12 months, those five vending machines sat in the garage, man, because I couldn’t put ’em anywhere.

So, And it was just hard, you know, it was a hard sell, man. I mean, I’m in the city where people love Big Red and Barbara Co. So like why would I get a, why would I want a healthy vending service? So, you know, my initial foray into entrepreneurship was, was a bust. I couldn’t sell the concept, but once it took cold, I was able to, Just continue to push it.

And it’s those experiences that we talked about before, [00:20:00] setbacks, you know, in the military, all of those experiences of, you know, being deployed and facing hardship. You know, I was able to draw back on that. Um, transitioning as a whole was extremely difficult for me. I think the first four to five years were really hard, you know, finding people that you can, That you can really relate to.

I empathize with people. When you come from a tribe, it doesn’t matter if you’re in an infantry, it doesn’t matter if you’re admin, the military is a tribe, you know, and I think when you develop that common court language and uh, that set of experiences with, with friends, it’s hard to find that in the civilian sector.

That sense of urgency, sense of responsibility, and that was extremely difficult for me and. I started to, and doing that in entrepreneurship is really tough. So I see that a lot with veteran entrepreneurs. [00:21:00] Things don’t happen as you plant it in your head and it’s lonely at the top. When, and, and when I say top, it’s not like you’re making a million dollars, it’s just top because you are the boss even if you don’t have employees.

So it, it was extremely difficult for me until I. I got to the point where I was able to hire people and the first people I hired were, were, were my buddies, the veterans, the the guys in my SF community. So I hired, I had the first set of hires were two, two retired, 18 Zulu, which for people who don’t know who are a, what a team Zulu is, is a retired E eight.

So I had two e eight special forces guys working for me. We like to say we were like the deadliest vending company in the United States. So we’re, we’re, we are, we’re, you know, replenishing vending [00:22:00] machines all through San Antonio, you know, with a bunch of like barrel chested killers and stocking Snickers.

It was, it was pretty cool. But yeah, man, as a whole, it took about four to five years to, to. To get grounded, man. It’s, it’s a tough endeavor.

Scott DeLuzio: I’m glad you said that, that it, it took time. It’s not like an overnight success story where it, it’s like you, you had this idea today, you started implementing it tomorrow, and then by the next day, boom, you’re, you’re rolling in it because everything’s just on track to, to be successful. You stumble along the way, you make mistakes, you, you learn things along the way.

I think that’s the most important thing, and you grow from that and that. I think is probably what helped you get into what you’re doing now with triple Nikel and uh, and everything like that. So could you tell us a little bit about the company and, and its mission where you know everything about the company?

Where did the idea come from and, and all that kind of [00:23:00] stuff.

Ruben Ayala: Yeah, real quick. Uh, so triple Nikel came from a, uh, uh, from a circumstance. So January 1st, 2020. Just wanna put it out there. I was not thinking about starting. A clothing company. We started triple Nikel on November 11th, 2020, so when the pandemic hit in March and everything closed down, all of our locations, 90% of ’em, not an exaggeration, closed down.

So I was stuck at home. I couldn’t work because my kids were not in school. So that gave me the opportunity to see what was going on. In the community as a whole. So it gave me a chance to plug back in. So, and, and because I’m a veteran, I’m getting targeted on social media, you know, all of the different companies that are veteran-owned.

So, and what I saw a lot of in that time [00:24:00] was this, this propagation of, you know, if you’re a veteran, you’re like, this, this, uh, hyper, hyper commando and you’re, you’re doing all these, these crazy things. And, and, and I, I saw that as absurd. Uh, number one. Number two, with, with the killing of George Floyd, Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor, the division that was going on in the country with the, the election cycle.

I saw a lot of messages of hate coming out of these veteran-owned companies, which I found appalling as well. And three, I saw a lot of lack of diversity in a lot of the, uh, veteran-owned companies. You know, if you, if I was a, you know, my son. If I’m looking at going into the military, I want to support these made in the usa patriotic brands.

I would think that if you’re a veteran, you gotta be this big white dude with tattoos and a huge beard. And again, I found that weird, you know, especially with my background. So [00:25:00] at that point, I decided I wanted to do something different. And going back to the leadership, like if I didn’t like something, then I needed to step in and do something.

So the easiest thing for me to do was like, okay, let’s create a clothing company. I don’t know how to make clothing, but let’s create a clothing company that’s the antithesis of all this. And let’s, let’s sprinkle in some unity. Let’s sprinkle in some music. We like hip hop, so let’s do it with hip hop and let’s sprinkle in the communities that we come from and celebrate those instead of, I’m gonna throw punch you in the face.

Or I’m, I’m going to take this bullet and I’m gonna make it go inside you and I’m gonna love it. So especially with the, you know, with all these suicides that we have going on in our community, I didn’t think that the messages that were propagated by these companies were really helpful to that. So triple Nikel is a byproduct of what, what I saw, uh, in, in the middle of 2020.

[00:26:00] Um, and, and that’s really how the company came to be.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And I know from my experience serving in the Army, the, I, I was an man, I, I deployed to Afghanistan. The people that we served with were from all different backgrounds. Uh, you know, the, what you’re talking about, you know, the, you know, the. White guy, white bearded, uh, guy with tattoos and everything like there were, so, it was such a diverse background of people from all walks of life, people who came from affluent backgrounds, people who came from, uh, you know, inner city, uh, areas.

People who were white, people who were black, people who were Puerto Rican, people who were Asian and other, just all over the place. Like we, it was just such a huge mixture of people. Um, I couldn’t. Describe in like one sentence, what is your typical soldier or typical veteran? Because there, there’d be so [00:27:00] many different adjectives going into this, to, to describe somebody in so many different backgrounds and, and every, like, you, you can’t, you couldn’t do it and use like proper English grammar.

Like you, you couldn’t do it. Um, and so yeah, when I, when I heard about this, I, I was thinking to myself like, um, you know what? What is it that, that you’re trying to achieve with this? But, um, then I started looking around at, you know, some of the other brands that are out there and I, I don’t wanna call out anybody and, and name names or anything like that.

But, um, yeah, there, there is a lot that is out there that isn’t necessarily representative of. The military, and like you said, if your son was looking to join the military, would he look at that like, oh, well maybe this job isn’t for me. Um, you know, I don’t know. May, maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. But, um, you know, it, it certainly is another way to, to think about this.

So, um, yeah, it’s, it’s definitely a, a, a cool idea. And, and how you wrapped it around the. Not only the veteran culture, but your, your [00:28:00] communities, your, um, your, your interests, the music and, and things like that. I think that all wraps everything, uh, nicely together.

Um, Ruben, a lot of veterans have trouble in their transition out of the military. We talked a little bit about your transition earlier, uh, in this episode, but as an entrepreneur, what advice do you have for the veterans who might be listening to this episode who are interested in starting their own business, but maybe just don’t know where to start?

Ruben Ayala: Yeah, there are so many. Different ways, and I think every, every business owner is gonna have a different, a different set of, uh, pieces of advice. Mine would be, would, I’m gonna break it down into a couple areas. Number one is find a mentor or mentors. We talked a little bit about it at the, at the top of the episode. [00:29:00] Just like you would if you were in the military, you’re gonna find that seasoned NCO that that officer who’s gonna put you under his wing and, and kind of guide you through your job, your career, your branch, your or your mos. You need to find a mentor, and it doesn’t have to be specifically in that field that you wanna set up a, a business in, but somebody who’s cut their teeth.

So, and, and, and what, what is a good mentor? Very briefly is somebody who has experience. It’s not somebody who’s, who’s got maybe a day, uh, ahead of you In doing a business, it’s like the people who reach out to you, uh, that are social media experts, but maybe have two followers. You want somebody who has solid, solid experience in, in where you, in, in, in, in, in the fields that you’re heading.

And number two, Cause you need to educate yourself. Um, we all come out with this gift of the GI Bill and if you [00:30:00] don’t know anything about business, I encourage you to use the GI bill. Either go back to school if you got a bachelor’s, look into a Master’s. If the Master’s isn’t for you, then look at programs.

Maybe take an accounting course, maybe take a business course. Utilize that GI Bill to your benefit because it is so golden. Um, the, the last thing I would say is continuing that education with Download Audible. I love Audible and read, you know, starting the clothing company. I would’ve loved nothing more than have Damon Johns as my mentor, or, uh, you know, uh, uh, um, uh, I, I really, I really like, um, Dapper Dan, uh, he’s now, he now works for Louis Vuitton, uh, or to talk to Pharrell, you know, all these guys in the fashion world just to get the, but I can’t, I don’t know them.

You know, I spent all my time in the military growing up fighting wars. So I don’t know anybody. My, my network like [00:31:00] sucks when it comes to clothing. So the next best thing is I download their books and I listen, I take notes and, and use those as lessons learned. So if you can do those three things, you’re gonna be.

Light years ahead of somebody who doesn’t, those doesn’t do those three things. So that, that would be

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And I think that kind of touches on something that we mentioned earlier in this episode, which is to, uh, like when you’re in the military, you were relying on some of the NCOs to help guide you through, you know, your career. And it’s very similar if you can find that mentor in business to help guide you through some of the, the.

Struggles that you’re gonna go through. Inevitably, everybody who starts a business, it’s not smooth sailing from day one. Um, you know, it, it’s rarely smooth sailing ever. You end up having all sorts of things that that come up. And I think having somebody who can help you navigate through some of that stuff [00:32:00] is, is super important.

And, um, you know, building. That relationship with that individual or, or individuals because there may be more than one person who’s helping you out. Um, building that relationship with those people is, is just gonna help guide you in that right direction. So that way when you do stumble, you’re not stumbling alone.

You have somebody who you can, you can count on. Right. I, I think that’s, that’s super critical.

Ruben Ayala: It, it’s, it’s key man. And, and, and just so people understand like how strongly I feel about this, uh, I didn’t build triple Nikel alone. It’s, it’s, it’s by design. If you look at my co-founders, they’re all NCOs retired, you know, so Chris McPhee. Rod Graham, Cortez rigs, all those guys are retired E eights.

You know, rod Graham, he and I served together in seventh group. He was actually my [00:33:00] team sergeant when I was an 18 commander. You know, Chris McFee, our Chief marketing officer, he is also an a retired 18 Zulu and Cortez rigs. He retired, retired, uh, recruiting, uh, first Sergeant. So utilizing I, I, again, you know, it’s, I. I am not like this great leader. I just listen to the good NCOs, the good mentors, and they help just light my path and that, and that’s what these guys have helped me do in creating, uh, the business, what we’re

Scott DeLuzio: know, I, I think you said you’re, you’re not this, you know, great leader or whatever, but I think that’s what makes a great leader, is someone who’s willing to listen to other people and collect feedback and, um, utilize the resources that are available to ’em so that. Again, like you’re just one person.

You can only do so many things on your own. You only have so many ideas, but start bringing in [00:34:00] other people and other ideas. You mix that all into the this business and. It’s going to grow, it’s going to get better. Um, now obviously there’s gonna be times when people have bad ideas or bad, they’re just a bad seed.

But having worked with these people in the military, you know these people, you know who they are, they, you know, their work ethic, you know, uh, you know, the types of things that they can bring to the table. And so when you’re, you’re talking to them, uh, You’re, you know, what you’re getting. And I think that’s maybe an unintended thing that you, you mentioned here, but I think having the people that you served with in the military, if you can bring them into your business, that might be great too because, uh, because you already know how, how you work together, right.

Ruben Ayala: Yes. It, it, yeah. Uh, and that’s the part that I love, you know, being able to, to have those guys we speak the same language, kind of like with the vending company. I just recently sold the vending company cuz triple Nikel is becoming so, uh, it’s growing so [00:35:00] rapidly. I was, I found it challenging to do both so reluctantly I sold it.

But, um, again, by design, the first guys I hired when I started the vending company. We’re, we’re teammates from, from my time in sf. I just feel comfortable being able to rely on those guys that have the same energy that I bring to the table. You know, we, we like to say, you know, we’re constantly running about a five mile pa, five minute per mile pace, you know, for the runners that are out there.

It’s just an analogy. I can’t run five minute miles anymore, but,

Scott DeLuzio: Neither can I.

Ruben Ayala: Theoretically, theoretically, at the, the way that we operate, the, at the rate that I make decisions that I’m able to network with people and make rapid fire decisions and, and strategy, it’s at a very fast rate. And I, I need the people of the same caliber that can keep up.

And, and it’s really cool to have those guys, uh,

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, and [00:36:00] you know, one of the things that I’ve discovered just through doing this podcast and talking to other veterans is one of the things that people. Have the most trouble with getting out of the military is finding a job that not only a job that they like and that they, they’re interested in and will further their career, but finding a job that has coworkers that they can get along with.

And just dealing with the, the people that, um, maybe never served in the military. Rub them the wrong way. They, they don’t like that. So, so having a business like that, where now you’re, you’re, you’re working with the other guys that you served with, I think that that’s a, a cool way to kind of circumvent some of that problem and, and kind of ease your way back into that civilian life.

I, I don’t know that, that might be a good way.

Ruben Ayala: But, but, but, but you know what though, Scott, uh, I’m gonna be honest with you, and then for anybody out there listening, it does not solve that problem because, If you create a, if you create a business, the news [00:37:00] flashes, you still are gonna have

Scott DeLuzio: true.

Ruben Ayala: and, and those customers may not be in the military and those customers are your boss because they’re

Scott DeLuzio: That is true.

Ruben Ayala: So you are gonna deal with you, you have no matter what you do unless you have this remote job where you don’t have to deal with anybody. And, but I think those are rare. Um, you’re gonna have to learn how to work with people. And have to find a good outlet for you to just relieve that stress of not dealing with people of the caliber you used to.

Because, you know, triple Nikelman, we were dealing with that 24 7, uh, same thing when I was inventing, I was dealing with, you know, an eight year old kid. Who has his money stuck in my vending machine is my boss. And you have to, you know, other, you know, I had a lot of high schools here in [00:38:00] San Antonio, the, the, the funniest ones where I go into a high school and high schoolers looking at me like, man, you just wasted your life, bro.

You’re just pushing a dolly like. Looking down at me, you know, and they’re telling me, listen, like, yo, are you stupid, man? Why are you pushing a dolly? And in my mind, I’m like, he’s my boss. You know, if I say something bad to this kid, he can get, he, I can lose his contract. So it’s understanding people and the quicker you can do that, I think the, uh, the more successful you’ll be able to

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, you know what? That’s a good perspective. I hadn’t thought about it the way that you, you put it there. Um, but yeah, you’re right. The the old saying that the customer is always right. I mean, they may not actually technically be always right, but they they are, they’re your boss, right? They, they’re the ones who are paying the bills.

They’re the ones who keep the, the lights on and keep the money coming into the company and without them. You don’t have a business, so Yeah. You’re, you’re, you’re right. Um, I, I do, I [00:39:00] like how you, you put that there and, um, you know, you talked a little bit about, um, networking before too and building those relationships.

Um, and I think that’s another important piece of this, uh, Have you found any other resources, um, that have been helpful to you in starting growing the business with regards to maybe networking or, or things like that? I know you talked about, you know, getting in touch with other people, but, uh, were there any resources that you utilized or were, were you just out there pounding the pavement, trying to, trying to find these, these people to do business with?

Ruben Ayala: That’s a good question and I, again, I say all the above. You gotta do everything. You almost have to be an octopus. But, um, but breaking it down to specifics, uh, number one is LinkedIn. Um, I was never a big user of LinkedIn and I think everything boils down to where you wanna be. And I think it, it goes down to you wanna start a business, you have to be [00:40:00] extremely brutally honest with yourself at what level you wanna operate at.

Do you wanna be. At the local level, you wanna be at the state level, you wanna be at the national level. You wanna be international. If you wanna operate at a local level. Then start hitting the Chamber of Commerce and getting to know people within your, within your city. And that worked well for me as a vending guy.

I didn’t need to worry about national stuff. But to start a clothing company and you wanna make a national or international impact, oh my God. My, one of my teammates was like, bro, you gotta get on LinkedIn and you need to start. Hitting people up and, and making yourself accessible. And that’s something I never had to do as a local business guy.

So if you’ve never heard of Ruben Ayala before, triple Nikel is is by design. I didn’t have to. And I think that that’s really where, if you wanna start a business, you have to understand at what level you wanna [00:41:00] operate, and that’ll tell you really where you need to focus your efforts at, if that makes

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, I think it does. And I think it’s, it, it’s good, good advice too, because yeah, each business is gonna be a little bit different in terms of, you know, what your market is. You know, do you want that local level? Do you want the national or international level that, you know, statewide even, um, you know, there, there’s a lot of different elements there and it really is gonna help focus where you need to, uh, spend your, your time on.

Ruben, thanks for. Not only your service, um, really do appreciate your service, but also everything that you’re, you shared with us today. I think this. Information is going to be especially useful for those veterans who are maybe just getting out of the military or maybe wanted to start a business.

They’re just not sure where to start. A lot of stuff that we talked about today is really, uh, good stuff. Can you tell, tell the audience though a little bit more about where they can go to find out, uh, more about triple Nikel, uh, check out some of the products that you have and, um, any other [00:42:00] work that you guys are doing there.

Ruben Ayala: Absolutely. Always love to do it. So first thing I want everybody to write down is triple Nikel.com. That’s triple N I K E L. If you want me to do it phonetically, November India kilo echo lima.com. You go to the website there, you’ll be able to look at all our latest collections. You can read our blog posts, which we upload once a week. And stay in touch with, with everything that we got going on. Sign up for our newsletter. Uh, secondly, social media. All of our handles are triple underscore Nikel. So you can find us on Facebook, you can find us on Instagram, you can find us on TikTok, Twitter. We do it all. Uh, we, or we try to at least, you know, we’re a bunch of old guys trying to be hip, right?

So if, if that is not enough, uh, you [00:43:00] can go to Kohl’s. We are in 600 stores nationwide, uh, through Kohl’s. You can go to kohls.com, k o h l s.com, type in triple Nikel. We’ll be there. Uh, later this year, we’re gonna be in a

Scott DeLuzio: Oh, awesome.

Ruben Ayala: so news flash. Oh, hell yeah, man. Where it is? A homecoming. That’s what I told a fees.

Y’all get ready. This is a homecoming. So yeah, man, we, we, we are on this, uh, we’re on this like, I’m on this war path, bro, to, to, to world domination. Um, I’m so stoked to get triple Nikel everywhere. Our 2023 to 25 strategy statement is to become the most widely. Distributed veteran-owned brand in America.

So that’s, that’s the state of triple Nikel today.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, that, I mean, that’s great. Um, And expanding into the, the physical retail [00:44:00] stores, uh, Kohl’s and a fees eventually, you know, later on this year. Um, I think that’s incredible. That just shows the, the growth of the company, um, getting it out there into these different, um, these different places, I think is. Super important for any, any business to have those types of connections. Yeah, sure, you can do everything online, uh, but it will also limit your reach. You, you, you’re gonna not get those people who are in the store looking for, you know, those, those purchases. Um, they’re, they’re gonna end up buying some other brand because there’s gonna be something else filling that, that shelf space, uh, in those stores.

So yeah, having that there I think is, is really important. Um, and for the listeners, the viewers, we’re gonna have the links. That Ruben mentioned in the show notes, uh, for this episode. So you can grab them there. Uh, Ruben, thank you again for taking the time to join us, uh, and sharing your background, your knowledge, [00:45:00] your, your resources that, that you’ve, uh, put together over the last few years.

Um, I really do appreciate it.

Ruben Ayala: Absolutely. It was a pleasure. Uh, it was great to meet you, Scott, and, and spend some time with you today.

Scott DeLuzio: Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to support the show, please check out Scott’s book, Surviving Son on Amazon. All of the sales from that book go directly back into this podcast and work to help veterans in need. You can also follow the Drive On Podcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

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