I'm currently waging a losing battle. It's a fight against time and nature and after nearly two months of self-isolation, I stink. Now, don't get me wrong. I have showered and shaved along the way but there is just something else lingering around, like the sand that still cakes my boonie cover ten years after a deployment. I just can't shake off the stink of mediocrity that comes from doing the same thing day in and day out.
You don't have to deploy or self-isolate during a pandemic to understand the basics of hygiene. Cleanliness is not only an amazing feeling but also a state of being. From boot camp to deployments, in the military, we learn that a clean mind, body and equipment is key to mission success in any environment. It's that logic that drives the team at BRAVO SIERRA. The team is comprised of Special Operations veterans and a team of rockstar personal care product gurus that have led brands such as Kiehl's and Harmless Harvest, BRAVO SIERRA is a company that believes in achieving peak human performance through hygiene and their products are held to a pretty high standard.
Field testing is the backbone of BRAVO SIERRA's model and it's a process that is rooted in their numerous deployments overseas. Simply, you test your equipment before you go into battle. So when BRAVO SIERRA was setting up shop to design a list of products ranging from body wash to hair gel to deodorant and even moist wipes for some of the most high performing people on earth (military, law enforcement, athletes, etc), it only makes sense that they would go back to the tribe.
In that spirit, I decided to sign up for the field testing trial but instead of testing these products on some mission overseas, I am going to test them in the comfort (not really) of social isolation. After a detailed scrub and shave, which I will not detail, I walked away not only feeling clean but also thinking clean. As I am about to exit the bathroom, my wife casually mentions, "you smell nice." As I look in the mirror, I have something back… Confidence.Like a well-oiled weapon before the rifle range, cleanliness really is the basis for peak performance. So I reached out to Charles Kim, Co-Founder of BRAVO SIERRA and former officer with the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, to understand more about how the hygiene and military worlds really do collide in a positive way at BRAVO SIERRA.
WATM: Most people don't normally think about high-tech hygiene/personal care products in a Special Ops kit bag, but BRAVO SIERRA has cracked the code. How did you guys come up with the idea that crosses between two worlds?
Charles: We're a Human-Centric Company first. We think about the things you put on and in your body, and how that affects your performance. We launched our hygiene products because it's the simplest way to demonstrate who you are.
WATM: How so?
Charles: How you present yourself is actually the best way to exemplify your values and the first building block is hygiene. Think about going to an NCO board. What's the first thing they look at? Hygiene, the way you present yourself. Whether you're going to a board, an interview or a first date, we want our products to highlight the respect and values you have for yourself.
Bravo Sierra team, Charles Kim in lower left. (Courtesy of Charles Kim)
WATM: Does that focus on values and respect come for your military service?
Charles: Military values inspire our company values, but we believe these values should go beyond to the broader population. For me, having that military DNA is a part of who we are but not all. Take my relationship with Justin and Benjamin, the founders and co-CEOs. We come from completely different worlds. They're leaders in the consumer goods world with decades of experience in the food, beverage, and personal care industry, but they wanted to create a brand that is built off unifying values – and there's nothing more unifying than the values of integrity, respect, and selflessness. And we believe in this mission.
WATM: Everything is in a name. Why BRAVO SIERRA?Charles: I'll be the first to admit I had some reservations about the name because it can be reduced to BS or bullshit, right? But that's exactly the point...I think it's beautiful because it's all just tongue and cheek. If you really think about what's in a brand's name like Nike, Adidas, Apple and all these companies, it's essentially just a marketing tool. So we said let's just focus on the people and the values that we care about in the high performance community first. There's no BS in that.
WATM: Fair enough. So my next question is all about you. How did you go from the Ranger Regiment to becoming an entrepreneur?
Charles: It's funny, I haven't talked about this in a really long time. I think I went through what most veterans do: you get out, look at what your peers do, find something that sounds interesting and go try it out. So I worked for two software startups prior to this. It was really fascinating, and I learned a lot around how technology can help us do things better, faster, and more efficiently. At BRAVO SIERRA, we're using the same agile development principles used in building software to rapidly engineer value-based products for our community. We validated this with our hygiene products and are leveraging that same framework to launch our food and nutrition products later this year.
WATM: Anything that you learned in the military that's helped you?
Charles: I've worked for some pretty amazing people and I've also worked for some pretty horrible ones. We all have right? I look at leadership as a way to develop and cultivate people to find certain areas where they can thrive. For me, it was always about using data to improve the process of building something in industries that can use some change, and using this information to make decisions- smarter and faster. But as a leader I knew not everyone would have the same interests so I had to find what each of my team members were passionate about and invest time developing their skills that will ultimately make them successful. It's really that simple. Take care of your people. It's cheesy, but it's true.
WATM: You've made it your mission to test every BRAVO SIERRA product with operators both in the field and in daily life (like me at home). Why was this so important to you/your team?
Charles: We didn't want to make products like how it's been done before. That is, in a vacuum, where the consumer has to discover what they like. Instead, we knew the community we were trying to serve so we thought let's send our products out to the people who will use it and they can validate whether or not the stuff makes sense. So I sent prototypes of our hygiene products to a few former colleagues across the military that I worked with and said let me know what you guys think. It snowballed from there, they shared the products with a few others and few others and we had so much feedback that we had to build a technology loop into our field testing. Now, people can sign up on our website and test our products, from new hygiene products to our flagship nutrition line.
WATM: Who are the primary testers? Are they all military?Charles: We've reached out to everyone from road bikers, CrossFitters, kayakers, hunters to the first responder community, ie. EMT, police and firefighters – really anyone we think pushes themselves to be a better version of themselves every day. Our platform has helped us democratize the process so we can work faster with all this information coming in real time. We're actually flipping the model on its head. We are committed to the mantra that the product you buy tomorrow is going to be better than the one you buy today.
WATM: Any field test success stories?
Charles: Yes! The cleansing bar that we launched in partnership with the Navy SEAL Foundation. It's literally a four-in-one for your entire body - hair, beard, skin and face. When we first sent out our 4-in-1 gel to a lot of the guys deployed overseas, we got the feedback that they had limited water and a gel doesn't really work. I reviewed this information with Benjamin, one of the founders and co-CEOs, and confirmed the data points validated the need for a solid version of the gel. And he was like, 'all right, let's make it right now." Within six months, we identified that there was a market need and we launched the solid cleansing bar.
WATM: You offer 5% of your Revenue (Not Profit) to the MWR and Community Services. Why? What was the story here?
Charles: I'm forever indebted to the military for providing me lifelong friends. And as a company, the military field-testing program – what we call BATTALION - has been crucial to getting us to this point. For us, we always knew we needed to figure out a way to give back to an organization and picked what we believe is universal for the military - the MWR and community services on bases all across the world. My first deployment was as an infantry platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division and the MWR was where everyone went to watch TV, go to the gym or to call their families. It also represents what BRAVO SIERRA is all about at the core; we want to support outlets that support the military community with resources to exercise or to go outside with their family and have fun.
WATM: Where do you see BRAVO SIERRA in 5 years?
Charles: Our motto is that the we believe the human body is our most important system, and our mission is to make products that improve performance potential. In 5 years, I hope that we are known as the de-facto leader in delivering products with purpose - better and faster- ranging from hygiene to food and nutrition, alongside our community of high-performers.
For more information or to sign up as a field tester, click here!