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Among the many things Texas is known for, barbecue is at the top of the list. And Jason Murph, founder and CEO of Grill Your Ass Off, is making sure the world knows more about the fine art of cooking over fire. His company, headquartered in Salado, produces and sells unique seasonings, condiments, jerky, utensils and gear.
Murph served in the U.S. Army as an Infantryman, and when an injury ended his career prematurely, he made it his mission to give back to the Veteran community. A portion of the company’s proceeds goes to Veteran and First Responder organizations, including The Independence Fund and Heroes Sports. Moreover, each product is embellished with a military theme so that Veterans can gift it to each other. The aim is to elicit a laugh or positive memory.
Ahead of Veterans Day this year, GYAO and Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum are partnering to create the Sailor Jerry Ironsides BBQ Sauce. GYAO will donate 50 percent of the profits from this new sauce to The Independence Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to helping catastrophically wounded Veterans and their families.
In honor of Veterans Day, we are featuring Murph, a small business owner with service on his agenda. Here is why he started his company, how he financed it and his message to entrepreneurial military members across the country.
Can you tell me about the origin of your business?
I started in 2016. A mixture of things led up to it. I was medically discharged, so I had to leave before I wanted to. It was a job I dreamed of as a kid, but I was injured and had to have my ankle reconstructed. They botched the operation, though.
I was in Washington D.C., and there’s not a lot of spices compared to Texas, so I started experimenting with what I could get and figuring out what tasted good.
I still didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, so I used the GI bill to get an airplane pilot’s license. I moved to Houston for the training and a few months into it I found being a pilot extremely boring. It was like driving a school bus!
So I did some soul searching. After having a few drinks with my dad, I decided to start Grill Your Ass Off. The name is dark humor, which we use a lot in the military to get through hard times.
Then one night I went to Fiverr and connected with a kid from Venezuela. He drew our first logo, a donkey sitting on a grill, for $15. And that was how I began.
Everything then and now is made in Texas.
How do Veterans and active duty military personnel react to your products?
They love it! Once we started brainstorming product names and ideas, I reached out to the people I served with to find out what they wanted. Food brings us together. It’s about camaraderie. I include military nomenclature on everything. It gives them a connection to time and service.
This is really important. The suicide rate among people who serve in the military is really high. (Veterans are at 57 percent higher risk of suicide than those who haven’t served, reports the nonprofit organization Stop Soldier Suicide). If we can have one Veteran see the product and it brings back a happy memory or reminds them to check in with others to say, “come over for dinner, I just got some kick-ass seasoning,” it can save a life.
What kinds of financial issues do Veterans face?
One of the unique downfalls of being an employee of the Department of Defense is the job security. You get paid on the first and 15th of the month, always. It’s a problem because people can get too comfortable, even though they’re not making enough.
A lot of active duty military members are on food assistance programs They underpay. There are financial planning services, but not a lot of people have the time to use them. That’s why our products are competitively priced. We want them to be affordable.
Was it challenging for you to launch? Can you describe the process?
We have a lot of sayings in the military and one is, “If you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.”
Well, I did prepare for what I thought would happen, but that was not the case! I created a killer product and brand and I thought if I knocked on a lot of doors it would be smooth sailing, that everyone would want what I was selling. But a lot of doors closed in my face. I had to change my business plan, and when I took it directly to the consumer through events and social media, it all came together.
How did you finance your business?
I didn’t take out any loans. Instead, I started it with $11,000 that I had in my bank account and did the first few shows with it. My product sold well, then I used the proceeds for more shows.
Then I got a line of credit. In 2017 we started seeing tremendous growth. I was getting ready for Black Friday, so I had to invest in a lot of inventory. I couldn’t float the money, so got a line of credit at the beginning of November. I knew I had a small window to pay it off with little to no interest, and that’s what I did.
What about credit cards? Which do you have, and why?
I have three that I use often. [I use] The Business Platinum Card® from American Express and the American Express® Business Gold Card. The annual fees are expensive (currently $695 for the Platinum and $295 for the Gold) but it is totally worth it. The benefits are amazing. For example, I travel for business with my employees and I can get them into the airport lounge with me. It covers dinner and alcohol for all of us. That alone pays for the cost of the cards.
Then I have the Capital One Spark Cash Plus that offers 2 cash back on all purchases. I utilize this card for my company’s big expenses because I get the most return from the process. All I have to do is pay my bill on time and for the total amount due. Why would I miss out on that?
Is keeping good credit important to you?
Yes, very. If I want to take out a loan for my business, I can. Good credit gives me power when I need it.
What message do you have for other Veterans who may want to start a small business?
Do your homework. Take advantage of what’s out there for Veterans. Our brothers and sisters who are first responders can get great benefits too. Look up what your local, state and federal government provides to people who served.
Don’t give up on starting your own business, but know that some days will be very hard. Just like they are in the military.