by Scott R. Tucker

May 4, 2021

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Dean Wegner, Founder of Authentically American

Let us celebrate patriotism with Dean Wegner, the Founder & CEO of Authentically American, a Veteran owned, American-made premium apparel brand, who believes in the American worker, and honors our American heroes. Prescribed to the theory of  “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” 

Episode Highlights:

  • 02:05- Dean Wegner's life and incredible experiences 
  • 03:24- Why be an entrepreneur? 
  • 04:51- Authentically American mission and passion for job creation 
  • 05:35- Do veterans well suited to be an entrepreneur?
  • 07:20- Dean’s Mantra of “It's not what you know, it’s who you know”
  • 09:37- What works in networking to grow your brand? 
  • 15:00- Traditional marketing strategy and leveraging social media platforms
  • 16:30- Dean's personal and professional vision three years from now 
  • 17:35- Sweat-activated print innovation of Authentically American T-shirt

Key Points:

  1. Entrepreneurship is not for everybody in the military because a business will start on a blank sheet of paper, so it's not for someone who relies on SOP or structures. 
  2. To be successful in entrepreneurship, you have to put planning, discipline in a different context, use creative thinking and problem-solving together. 
  3. Invest in people and relationships, because success in this modern economy is not about what you know, but it’s who you know.

Quotes:

  • “You'll have incredible experiences out there, but why not go on your own? It boils down to an opportunity to create jobs, an opportunity to make a difference,  and ultimately an opportunity to leave a legacy.” - Dean Wegner
  • “Networking implies more about the relationship, the key is not just investing with people, but it's the follow-up after.”- Dean Wegner 
  • “Ultimately, a few years from now, people will recognize our brand with the incredible product experience they'll have.”- Dean Wegner

Transcript of episode 028 with Dean Wegner, CEO of Authentically American - It's Who You Know, Not What...

Scott Tucker:   Hey everybody. Welcome back to Veteran Wealth Secrets. I'm Scott Tucker. And thank you so much for joining us once again to talk about, Hey, how do we go from that being stuck in that life of relying on paychecks and government benefits only to creating a life of autonomy and financial control in one of the ways of doing that.

Obviously is not always not the only way, but one of the best ways to do that is some sort of entrepreneurship venture. You always hear about it. If you want to control your life become a business owner. And so that's why I'm so excited to invite on somebody who is really paving the way. Someone I look up to in the West point in, in a community, I have a lot of Westpoint entrepreneurs, but the CEO and founder of authentically American Dean Wagner.

Hey Dean, thank you so much for joining us here on Veteran 

Dean Wegner: Secrets. Scott, I am honored to be a guest and happy to dig into and see where this goes because it's been an incredible journey being an entrepreneur, but it's also not for the faint of heart. It's a.

Scott Tucker: You cut out there right at the 

Dean Wegner: end. Oh, I'm sorry. I was just said, first of all, thank you for being hosting me and I'm honored to be a guest and. You know what? It's been incredible being on this entrepreneurial journey, but it's not for the faint of heart. It's incredible energizing, but it's a little scary.

Scott Tucker: Oh no, no doubt. There are so many times where I'm just like, yeah, this is amazing. And then the next day could be like, what am I doing? I'm making so many, this is horrible. It's not working. But first off they tell us a little about a bit about you, your background, how long were you in the military?

What led you to. Want to say, Hey, I want to create a, awesome apparel business. That's authentically American. I'm assuming that means everything's made in the States and so on. But what led you from getting out of the military? When did that happen? What was it like for you to hear.

Dean Wegner: Scott, I'll start out with personally first that's, it gives me an opportunity to share what's most important to me. And I always start off with my Christian faith that's first and foremost, and then family is incredibly important to me. My wife and I just celebrated 26 years and we've got four amazing kids.

We've got two daughters, 22 and 19. We have a 16 year old son and we also have a 10 year old son. We adopted from Ethiopia. So that's the personal side and from a military standpoint. So you and I are both West point grads. I graduated in 1993 and when aviation went to flight school, learn how to fly helicopters.

Then had an opportunity, unique opportunity to go to the army special forces ranger school, and to see how the other half lived and served seven years active duty. And I had some incredible business experience with larger companies, a big five consulting firm. KPMG also worked at Proctor and gamble on brands like crest and tide and business development, sales and marketing spent time at another consumer packaged goods company, Mars working on brands like m&ms and stickers.

And again, just incredible experience there, but you ask the question, why go out on your own? Why be an entrepreneur and it really boiled down to an opportunity to go ahead and create jobs and opportunity to make a difference and ultimately for successful with authentically American, an opportunity to leave a legacy.

Scott Tucker: No, that's great. Often you meet entrepreneurs and they got a mission and so on and so forth and they want to grow and scale. But I'm glad you said that thing create jobs because too often in our economy, like people. Employees don't understand like where their job comes from. They just think it's this automatic thing.

It's no, somebody has to take the risks to start this. What do you feel about our veterans? Good to be entrepreneurs it's always assumed Oh, maybe the best thing for veterans, right? Some, but I've noticed no, a lot of people maybe need to follow orders, which type of person coming out of the military.

Have you noticed, or maybe even coming out of the veterans that have been through the corporate grind, like you did that, maybe I one day, just to say, you know what, I want to go see if I can do it myself. 

Dean Wegner: Let me do this. Let me share one quick fun stat. Scott that's ties to job creation because when I graduated from West point in 93, over 50% of the apparel in the US.

Was made in the US today. It's less than 3%. That is all that's made here. And that's really why the heart of our mission is our passion for job creation. So just wanted to level set there and give everyone who's tuning in that benchmark. 

Scott Tucker: Yeah. Wow. I had no idea. I've traveled all around, like Vietnam on a motorcycle.

I just remember passing all these factories. They always said that's where they're making the t-shirts. Oh yeah. Yeah. 

Dean Wegner: The tagline that we came up with is where's yours mate. Got great looking hat. Know, where's yours made. It says US but health and I make a lot of bets and I went 97% of them. Yeah. As brands make a decision to choose the lowest cost option and that's in China, 40% of the apparel around the world is made in China.

And then it's made everywhere else. And only 3% made here. But then to your question on his military, well-suited as a Veteran well-suited to be an entrepreneur, I would say absolutely. Yes, but it's not every entrepreneur. What the military really does. Is that structure and that discipline and that planning.

And I have never been shy of hard work, but I have never worked harder in my life than I ever have right now. By Wednesday lunch, I have 40 hours in and that's sometimes 70, 80, 90 hours a week or more, but it doesn't feel like work. When you're pursuing your passion, when you're pursuing what you love, it doesn't feel like work.

But the reason why I say it's not for everyone in the military, because that structure, that discipline, that planning really helps set you up for success. But. If you rely on those sup's if every question says let me turn to the SOP and see, okay, how do I solve it? When I started authentically American started building the business plan, Scott, it was a blank sheet of paper.

There was no manual. There was no SOP. There's no AR there was nothing. So if you're somebody that relies on that structure to be there, this is not going to be the, No path for, do you choose to choose entrepreneurship? But if you can take that planning and discipline instruction, everything that makes you to be successful in the military and say, okay, let me also provide that creative thinking that problem solving in a different context.

I think those two come together are incredible. That's powerful. 

Scott Tucker: Yeah. . And it's we get so much knowledge in the military and I'm sure you came out of the corporate world feeling ah, I've been through it all. I know how to run a business, but I know you wanted to talk a little bit about your secret today and that it's not so much about what you know, but maybe more about who, could you expand upon that a little bit or a lot, 

Dean Wegner: because more and more, that is one of my favorite mantras.

It's not what you know, It's who, and that can be one of the pitfalls in the military because you work hard, you train hard, you really learn your skill, you learn your discipline, your and your MOS, which you know, that is important. This is not to say, okay, you can't go deep into whatever business, whatever professional, whatever skill you're building, but I would argue even more important are those relationships.

And I know. One story tied back to the military. My last year, Scott in the army was to be in Seoul, South Korea. And that sounded like a fascinating opportunity other than the fact that was be my last year in the army. And my wife and I had just had our firstborn child and I did not want to spend a year away.

From my family that one year, and then also be trying to search for a job, half a world around the way. So I called every general Colonel I knew and couldn't get out of it. And they just said, Dean will be a great opportunity. You got to go. And I. Was assigned to a CW five, who was the gentleman responsible for assigning all the jobs in Korea.

And this turned out to be somebody I played golf with before Scott and we had not just played golf one time, but we had stayed connected. I had helped him out a couple of times. And when it came time to go ahead and assign my job, and I explained to them the situation with my families. It's not going to be easy.

But I've really enjoyed building that relationship with you. You've looked out for me. So let me go ahead and see if I can find a job for you in Seoul. And sure enough, Scott found a job for me. It took an exception because I was a captain. He was able to get me an exception to being a major job, but it was the most incredible year.

And I was able to spend that one year with my family. 

Scott Tucker: That's great. And I've been to Seoul and I've also been to Tongji Shaw up North souls. Better, better options. No, and much better. Yeah. So in thinking about the Veteran entrepreneurship community, it's it's starting to me that we were at that conference for West point entrepreneurs.

I think I found about it out about it, like a week beforehand. So it's like, all right we're trying this, we're trying to communicate, what have you found. To work when it comes to networking to grow your brand. I think I've almost made the mistake of being too internal to the Veteran community.

Still early on, so it's not hurting me or anything, but I'm just wondering, I'm like, huh, what am I missing? I'm probably obviously missing something. I'm curious if you're running into anything like that or what have you done when it comes to meeting people, growing those relationships to build out your brand.

Dean Wegner: I think Scott, to me sometimes networking, has that negative connotation in my mind because it's not working well, I'm going to not work, but I'm going to go to this conference and say, okay, let me meet Scott. And I wonder what Scott can do for me. And I've really tried to turn that around and say, okay, when I'm there, when I'm meeting people, let me understand Scott story.

And let me understand what he is working on. Let me understand what he's challenged with and how can I help him. And I have just found that has made all the difference in the world because. It's a relationship. I think networking implies, Hey, let me go meet people, get business cards and see what they can do for me.

But I think it's more about the relationships. And I think, at that entrepreneur conference, for example, what, there were a hundred, 150 people there. So there were a ton of people there and you meet a lot of people. I think the other key is not only investing in people, but it's the follow-up after you may meet people.

But if all you do is meet them there for those two days where together, just for that hour, that one evening, when we had that cocktail hour, there's not going to be any relationship building, but if you are intentional and carve out time the next week, the next month to follow up again, that's to me where all the magic happens, because then there's not a rush.

There's not other people all around. There's not a lot of distractions and you really can go ahead and get to know that person better and invest in them. 

Scott Tucker: Yeah. I love the idea of. Networking intentionally in the sense that just share them you're there. People are still going to see you, man that's part of the reason I wanted to do this show, this podcast, I was like, all right, I'm trying to grow. I need to network with not my buddies. love them. But, they're not entrepreneur, not in this space. It's not going to help me out at all. I need to go find people that I want to emulate and Hey, if I can, in, in a little way, maybe over time, it becomes bigger way.

Share them with my audience. I've got a pretty decent LinkedIn following in some other places, but at the same time, Hey, you got to start putting stuff out there and the best way to do it instead of just coming up here and say, Hey, everybody, listen to me, I'm the best for this and that, no go find other people that you want to share with people, that's why I was excited to have you on. 

Dean Wegner: Okay. No, I'll share two more quick examples, Scott, because that was a military example, but a nother example. So I've been very unfortunate. We have investors who believe in authentically American believe in our vision. And there was somebody that was a friend I'd helped her out.

And I had shared that I'm looking for investors and she said, Dean, would you like a big name investor? And I said absolutely. And she said, I think I had just the right person. And she made a phone call. The next day we had a meeting and this was Darrell Waltrip. Who's a NASCAR hall of Famer. And I'm like, this is incredible.

And we had a great discussion and he ultimately joined the authentically American investor team. He helped open the door just by his name alone to our first national media experience on Fox and friends. But. It wasn't because of the incredible business plan we had. It wasn't because of anything.

It was because I had invested in this lady and helped her before. Yeah. That's one powerful example. And I just got news today that going to be back on Fox and friends, this coming Saturday for small business Saturday. So exciting news there. Cause there's, two, two and a half million people that tune into Fox and friends.

And this was a lady I met last October at a conference. And, you can imagine when there's thousands of people at a conference and she's in the PR business and, she met a thousands of people, but she just reached out and said, Hey Dean, I just remember you. And I had a great discussion.

We've built a good rapport. You've kept in touch with me. Could you be there on Fox and friends on Saturday, it's going to be remote via Skype. And I'm like, rhetorical question. But to get that exposure again. So I think it's not just within the military community, but as you spread out and, get outside of that military community, it's even more important to invest in those relationships.

Yeah. 

Scott Tucker: And I think the moral of that story there is, it's not just about the right. Hey, what can I do for you right now? What can you do for me right now? Everybody's gonna get to be moving along in their path. You're going to be changing. You might see opportunities for other people pop into your world, but that's going to happen for other folks as well.

So you gotta be doing things. Hey, if it's direct email or phone calls. Sure. That's great. But in this day and age, even if you're just active on social media, You're still reminding them you exist, maybe you're not communicating. And so it's a great way. And I think not enough Veteran business owners are using the social media in networking.

The online marketing enough, not that it's required at all. What do you guys do for online, for ready for what's your marketing plan or 

Dean Wegner: strategy? So we use all of the social media now, and I'm more active now than I've ever been, but I'm not super active on social media, but it is absolutely critical.

And I think it's a combination of both Scott, where you've got to take advantage of social media. Like we'll post this week about being back on Fox and friends, and there'll be tens of thousands. If not hundreds of thousands of people that will hear about it through our social media channels. But then there will also be some old fashioned emails and a few phone calls I will make.

And I think it's the combination of the both, because I'll give you one example. I'm in Rochester right now with my oldest son. And any time I travel to a city, I look and say, okay, who is it? I know in that city that haven't caught up with in awhile. That we can maybe grab coffee or grab lunch or grab dinner or a drink or something like that, or just let them know that, Hey, I'm in town.

Maybe the schedule doesn't work out, but they're like, Hey, you thought enough to reach out to me while he's in town. So I think it's really leveraging as much as it can that social media and the power to go ahead and reach a broader community. But then also some of that old fashioned, grab a cup of coffee or a beer.

Scott Tucker: Yeah. And then and then make sure you're following up after that, on social media, for sure. But so tell us three years from now what's happening with authentically American, w what's your vision? Where do you see it going? Both personally and professionally? You mentioned the very beginning, the first thing you said, a faith and family are so important.

So I'm sure you have growth ideas there as well. How do those things combine? What's your vision. 

Dean Wegner: Yep. So the word you mentioned that it's very tied to what we're doing is growth Scott. So our vision to build this iconic American brand, with the brands I've worked with before, crest and tide, and m&ms that threshold for an iconic brand in my mind.

Is a billion dollars. We are a long way from that billion dollar threshold. But we have continued to grow and ramp, and I will tell you in the middle of a global pandemic right now, everybody hates China. Nobody wants stuff that's made in China, things that are made overseas. Everybody loves the fact that we're American made.

We will continue to grow and expand and I've got my twist here, we're in our vintage US flag logo, and we want to build this iconic American Brandon Scott. Since we're doing video, if you don't mind, I'll do a quick kindergarten style show and tell, Oh 

Scott Tucker: please. Yeah. Don't show us the website.

So show how people can 

Dean Wegner: yeah. Here's what, here's, what I've found Scott, because we're very intentional. Everything we produce, no exceptions is made here in American that ties back to job creation, but I've not found any Scott that buys any of our product just because it's American mate. We're a consumer brand and we have to have an amazing product.

Scott Tucker: No, yeah, I would love to see the 

there 

Dean Wegner: you go. One that you and I are both like, so it is Hawa you here, but it's a, T-shirt and I wish you were here in person because you could feel this, you can touch it and be like, you know what, Dean, that's just an incredibly soft t-shirt. If you feel the print on front, it's not that heavy.

Plastisol ink that on a hot summer's day sticks to your chest. It's incredibly shot. It's just an amazing t-shirt by itself. This is where the show and tell comes in because we have this sweat activated print innovation. And, at West point it's all about go army beat Navy. And so when you sweat, 

Scott Tucker: no way this 

Dean Wegner: beat Navy message appears and on the back again, there's our vintage US flags.

You can see that, beat Navy message appear. Does it 

Scott Tucker: work if you just pour beer on yourself for older tailgaters, we say, 

Dean Wegner: but you know what? If you're at a good party and want to have a big trick, this is the case though. And this is a great example, Scott, because people say Dean, forget where it's made.

It's just an amazing product and never seen anything like that. That's the coolest shirt I've seen. And then we talked about it being incredibly soft. And when you have this hidden message up here, So that's what, ultimately three years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, people recognize our brand, but it's more about the incredible product experience they have.

And I'll give you one more example. Since I mentioned being back on Fox and friends. So you want these socks, which are Carolina cotton, then Carolina. They have this fun patriotic design. So the last time I was on Fox and friends hugs, a Tuesday fellow army Veteran. Yeah, he was the host and he's Dean.

I remember when you were here, you gave him to me last time. They're my absolute favorite pair of socks. They're incredibly soft and they better be Pete they're American made. And I said, what'd you do me a favor and mentioned that on national TV. And he absolutely did. Number one is teller. Was that day Scott, right?

Yeah. Right here. So just two examples of when you're a consumer brand, putting the stake in the ground on American made, that's not good enough. We've got to deliver an amazing product experience. 

Scott Tucker: I like the fact that you've gone, above and beyond with the creativity. I know a lot of people say, Hey, I want to do a t-shirt company.

And they think the creativity is all about just having a cool design or a cool logo or something like that. But you're really thinking outside the box. I've never seen anything like that. And I live in a Navy town, Navy neighborhood. Yeah. There's a Naval Academy grads running all around my neighborhood.

I'd love to have that shirt so on. I'll definitely be picking it up myself. Last thing. What do you want to, what do you want to promote or anything you got going on that's coming up that people should know about? I 

Dean Wegner: would encourage people Scott, back to, having an amazing product.

If you, as an individual, want to try it authentically American, you say that, Hey, I believe in patriotism, like authentically American, I believe in the American worker and another one of our ethos, Scott, we intentionally donate 10% of our profits. The Veteran first responder charities. And that's a way for us to honor our American heroes.

If you're like, you know what? That brand story sounds like me. And I want to try it out, go to authentically American dot US. And right now for the month of November through mid December, Yeah, we've got a 25% off black Friday type savings gone all the time. Or you can go back, later in December, January, and enter the code founder.

If you're tuning into this later segment later, that'll be good for 25% off. So that's an opportunity as a consumer, you to visit our site. The other side of our business, Scott, if you're familiar with lands, end lands, end USA business owner. Can go and get a Oxford, give a polo, something with your logo on it.

And we have a client side of our business as well. So we have an even bigger client side because that was the way we started. We thought there's amazing brands out there, whether it's Nike under Armour land's end, but there is no American made choice. So that's how we started a business owner of choice.

A high quality American made choice. That's competitively priced. And I will tell you, Scott, right now, you know what that client side of our business is booming because business owners, especially Veteran owned businesses, Veteran operated businesses, their values aligned with who we are. And they want to give us a shot and businesses exploding.

So if you're a business owner, if you're a charity, when we partner with charities, we provide our goods and services at cost. So there's a lot of different opportunities to go ahead and partner with us. 

Scott Tucker: Okay, great. I actually, I was going to, I was going to ask you that cause obviously I've got some logo gear.

I got it off of one of the, Hey, I just want to make one real quick. But no, I definitely want to look into that and recommend, it's just gotten so normal made in China. That you don't even think of looking into that, anymore. As you said, 3% and that's crazy. So obviously it's been an interesting year.

I think people are thinking about things differently. At least half our country still likes being American. So that's a pretty good audience there for you. Dean, who should I, how can people get ahold of you who should be reaching out to you who you looking to connect with right now?

Dean Wegner: So we look to connect with, individual consumers, but where we've really found that sweet spot Scott for us on the client side is what the Veteran that's Veteran owned businesses. That's Veteran operated businesses. That's Veteran focused charities, that's Veteran schools because we've, we've got obviously the West point license to do things like this.

But we're just now adding Citadel, we're adding VMI, we're adding, all these different military schools. We've really said the Veteran really gets, it, understands it. They're a reflection of who we are. So that's really who we're going after right now in the clients. How does that Veteran, because.

You and I have similar values and education and upbringings, and what we stand for is a reflection of what you stand for. 

Scott Tucker: Awesome, Dean, I really appreciate you sharing the story and coming on, sharing your tips and insight for other veterans who might consider entrepreneurship, or just trying to get ahead in whatever they're doing in life to figure out what their sense of purpose is.

You've clearly found yours. And so it's super inspiring. Thanks again. Is there anything else you want to leave 

Dean Wegner: us with? Yeah. The only thing I'll share, because so many people have invested in may, financially and intellectually and relationship wise, it's easy to get a hold of me via LinkedIn, on our website.

It's got my email. So it's very easy to go ahead and track me down. If anyone tuning in, if I can ever help out, they are welcome to reach out to me and I will certainly get back to them. 

Scott Tucker: Cool. Thanks so much again, Dean. Really appreciate having you on. All right, 

Dean Wegner: Scott. It was a pleasure to be guest.

Thanks so much. 

Scott Tucker: All right, everybody. We will see you next time.

About the author 

Scott R. Tucker

Scott R. Tucker is an author, speaker and the founder of US VetWealth, a lifestyle and financial consulting brand that helps service members go from paychecks and government benefits to wealth and liberty. He likes to say, "I Help The 1% Who Serve Our Country Become The 1% Who Influence It." A West Point graduate, serial world traveler, military financial expert, and entrepreneur, Scott brings valuable experience and insight to those who have sacrificed so much in service to our country.

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