Anthony ‘Staz’ Stazicker served an impressive 13 years of distinguished and decorated military service – including ten within the elite forces where he was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for combat actions.
In 2018 he left Special Forces to launch the technical clothing company ThruDark with former marine Louis Tinsley.
Staz – who is also a recent star of Channel 4 show SAS: Who Dares Wins – and Louis had met in 2006 during a mountain training exercise. It was there that they would form a kind of brotherhood that can only be found in the military, an unbreakable bond thicker than blood.
Throughout Staz’s career in the military elite – featuring gunfights, door-kicking operations, and against-the-odds escapes – he learned hard lessons that would later provide crucial intelligence equally applicable to business, innovation and enterprise.
From leading his team as a military demolitions expert during adrenaline pumping raids of makeshift bomb factories to honing discipline and precision as a chief sniper instructor, Staz embodies the focus, endurance and courage needed to thrive in the world of business.
With the publication of his new book “The Hard Road Will Take You Home”, Staz offers up an inspiring personal development and business memoir, with intelligence, insight, and innovations from his time serving with the most resilient fighting force in the world.
He took time out from a hectic schedule to reveal exclusively to Unfiltered the processes and tactics, gathered throughout his career, and explain how he translates them into tools that can be used in any number of settings.
Staz, thanks for your time today. We’re keen to know why you went from Special Forces to business start-ups – that’s quite a career pivot. And how tough was it to make that change?
First off, thank you. I love the look of Unfiltered and I’m very pleased to be able to tell my story to your audience. In answer to your question, I needed a new goal, I needed to aim higher. But since leaving the military I’ve had to go through a transition, moving from the shadows of Special Forces and take that leap of faith jump into the business world. And it’s been a huge learning curve.
It was especially tough because the Special Forces world was all I really knew. We (service personnel), attach so much of our identity to being in the military that it’s a tough transition – and you don’t get that much support from the military.
That’s well reported isn’t it – how it’s not uncommon for men especially to leave an institution like the military and really struggle to adapt?
You’re right. And there’s a lot of similarities with professional athletes and, for example, footballers in that respect. I’ve got a lot of friends from those worlds where you’re in a bubble and you don’t get chance to really think about much else.
Then, when you leave (hopefully on your own terms as I did) you’re forced to adapt to living a new community with all that goes with it.
Fortunately, in the Special Forces we were very adept style of soldier, very solutions-oriented individuals. That’s helped me find my way in business.
What was the toughest challenge for an ex-serviceman to face in launching ThruDark?
It was adjusting to the business world that we live in now. I’m talking specifically about social media and putting yourself in the spotlight. It’s a useful business lesson to learn.
At first myself and Louis tried to remain in the shadows. Across social media platforms and on the website we were kind of ‘blurred out’ of the imagery. It kind of added to the mystique of the brand as well.
But it came to a point where we started to grow and we were told that myself and Louis shoulder be forward facing the camera. People wanted to see who was behind the brand.
It was very unnatural for someone whose role up till then was to be anonymous and hidden from view. But in a business world I’m glad we made that decision. It helped me decide to go on to the TV show SAS: Who Dares Wins which raised the brand profile further.
Did it help that other ex-servicemen had become established and comfortable in the media spotlight too?
Absolutely, if I look at my sort of my peers like Ant Middleton and Foxy [Jason Fox], people that I respect and admire and who’ve they’ve done brilliantly well in the ‘outside world’ then I’m thankful.
They forged that path and helped us to see the obvious benefits from a brand marketing perspective.
But it took a lot of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ moments before I really went for it. Once I had done that, I could see the merits of doing the book too – not so much as an autobiography – but more how what I’ve learned over 13 years of a military career can help in the business world. There are a lot of transferable skills.”
Can we get some insight into those skills and your unique approach to business?
Listen to those who’ve gone before you. First-hand experience is invaluable and it pays to take guidance from those in the know.
For me it was a guy called Steve Clark. A very successful investment entrepreneur. He’s a friend first and foremost, but he’s also a founding investor with ThruDark who’s been on this journey with us from the very beginning.
As with all good business plans, ThruDark was formulated over a few pints in the pub. Steve knew myself and Louis were exiting the military and was keen to understand what our future plans were.
We started talking about how ThruDark, high-level performance clothing and how nobody from our background had done this before. Steve got to see where our passions lie, and where that authenticity and credibility could help in the storytelling of the brand. He provided us with a small side office space where his Clark Investment Group is based and that was it, we were ‘off to the races!’.
Getting the right people on board sounds like a key move, what else did your military training bring to the mix?
With a start-up it’s not too dissimilar to the military in that you’re spinning plates and problem solving a lot of the time at first.
Some days they’re complex problems, some days that are relatively simple ones – but you’re always seeking out solutions and learning best practices – on your feet very quickly.
In the Special Forces you’re seeing how much information you can assimilate quickly. You’re looking at all possible outcomes – and when you do that in business then you’re also setting the foundations for success.
And you’ve come a long way with the brand in a relatively short space of time?
Well, we’re now up to 35 staff at the moment, not including external agency support. So, in total it’s around 50 total. But I remember myself, Louis and Steve sat at our first board meeting and Steve flashes up the first P&L (profit and loss statement) that I’ve ever seen in a spreadsheet.
I just started laughing and saying to them both, ‘What the hell are we doing?’ But I soon learnt that these were things I had to learn to understand very quicky. That it’s a key part of business. In that short time myself and Louis have had the best business course training anybody could do. No Harvard education or formal business degree courses – just learning as we go, every day. To be successful you need to actively do every role in the business. That way you get to know what it entails and that way you can be honest about it when you’re employing someone else to do it.
At the beginning you’re forced to do everything – from sourcing and buying materials to packing the boxes and shipping it out yourself. But it’s blood good training.
With many ‘casualties’ along the way?
Sure, you’re going to get stuff wrong too. We fast forward to where we are today and we’ve got very smart, bright, capable people who are subject matter experts in different departments. But, of course, there have been changes over that time too. In a start-up you’re kind of on a surfboard and the waves you’re riding are getting bigger all the time.
And some people drop off at certain times. Initially there are people that can ride the wave that then can’t ride later on and momentum grows and the wave gets bigger, and that’s fine.
How do you get the right people around you? Do you have a kind of a tick list of qualities you’re looking for?
Great question. I think back to the Special Forces selection process which I think is probably the most difficult job interview in the world.
You’re constantly being assessed over a six to nine to 12-month period. It’s intense and rightly so. It’s got exacting standards that can’t slip.
There are elements of that which we’ve pulled across into the way that we look at people we bring on board, especially as the business grows. We’ve had to adapt to change depending on key roles.
So, if we’re looking at a financial director, for example, I then have to leave it to the CEO or somebody that has more experience in that world than me to make the assessment and get the right person. I would never try and wing it or blag people because in our world – the Special Forces – you’d get found out very quickly, with potentially life-threatening repercussion if you did.
In the book you emphasise the importance of honesty in business management too. And not being afraid to say ‘I don’t know’?
Absolutely, and you have to be prepared to sometimes stick your hand up in a room full of people and say; ‘I’m sorry, can somebody explain what that means?’
I’m not afraid to do that. Having that strength of character, asking questions, deferring to those who are better placed to advice, listening to others and not letting your ego lead your head are crucial lessons.
And you look for that in the people you employ too?
Yes. Fundamentally people get through the door on their qualifications, they have a first stage gate interview and then they’ll meet myself and Louis.
We’ll look at aspects of their personality, depending on what the job role is. I don’t really look at the CVs because I’m confident in the people at the previous stage and the selection process.
Again, as in the military, the soldiers being selected for Special Forces are already very competent soldiers. The next stage is digging down into the detail.
Then, once you join the squad, you’re then on a probation period. That’s when you’re in ‘real world training’. As we move the business forward, we also find that some people are happy to sort of stay where they are, while other people want to progress.
How does that adaptability you picked up in the Special Forces translate to running your business?
For myself personally I now focus a lot on the brand marketing side – content, photography, videography, the website, social media side of things, this kind of stuff.
It’s not just me. We’ve got some fantastic, multi-skilled individuals too so we’re kind of ‘Jack of all, Master of none’. The term I like to us is that we’re force multipliers.
It’s a concept that comes from military science – force multiplication means a factor or a combination of factors that dramatically increase the effectiveness of your group, relative to what they’d be able to achieve without these factors.
We’re happy to try stuff out of our comfort zone. We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘how can I learn that?’ ‘How can I add value further down the line.’
And when things do go wrong, what’s an ex-Special Forces operative’s approach to that?
Business is all about failing. But it’s about failing fast and failing forward. And crucially it about learning from it. When we roll through processes, like for example, during a busy period like the build-up to Black Friday, there’s so much work that goes on and so many ‘moving parts’ that things can go wrong.
From the warehouse supply, to ensuring systems speak to each other, to getting the goods to the customer to then following them up and getting feedback on their user experience. So many potential areas for things to go wrong.
And they do go wrong and a lot of the time you’re fighting fires. That’s where the business debriefs have to really work well. Your approach should be; ‘OK, what’s happened and how quickly can we fix that rectify that what was the issue?’
Don’t let that happen again and learn from it.
Debriefing does feature as an important element of the book – from ‘clearing’ missions in the military through those business scenarios. Are they really that similar?
With ThruDark we made them similar. In the case of business it’s a case of let’s move forward and make sure we communicate all that went wrong is known across all channels. That way everybody’s aware of what’s happened. That way we constantly evolve.
It was the same on missions. The debriefs in Special Forces could be savage, absolutely savage. In business it has to be the same – honest, precise, accountable – examining what could be done better next time.
Ok, unlike Special Forces nobody could die – it would be a bad day in the office if that were the case! But you do have to make hot debriefing as effective as possible.
Can you give us an example?
So, we just went on a content photoshoot to Drake’s Island, off the south coast of England. We’ve got to debrief tomorrow and it’ll be ‘Right, let’s lay everything out on the table. Everyone who was involved is there and we go through what went well, what didn’t go well? What could we improve next time? It’ll be very open, very honest. But very effective.
Effective teamworking is something else that is highlighted in your book, that must take on a very special meaning when you were in life-threatening scenarios too?
Yeah, teamwork is important. But I think what sets the military apart is its emphasis on brotherhood. There’s nothing like it. I try my best to nurture that unifying ethos into the team at ThruDark.
We encourage our staff to get involved in things like the gym and jujitsu and learning new skills. We work hard at hiring new talent – but that’s only the starting point. For the success of the organisation those characters need to work well together with honesty and loyalty.
How did your appearance on the SAS: Who Dares Wins show help in that brand awareness?
I think we’re so fortunate now that there are so many opportunities available to entrepreneurs through the correct social media platforms to establish yourself. But you have to use it to your advantage.
When the ThruDark social media platform began we had a handful of people following us. It began to grow but when Foxy did a post wearing some of our stuff on the SAS show I remember messaging Louis just afterwards as we’d seen that the followers got up to 10,000 very quickly.
So, it’s vital to get your brand recognised and today that’s as much through media as advertising – arguably more so. But let me caveat the importance of that.
You have to look at how you’re measuring your success too. You can have a million followers on Instagram but if you’re not monetizing that then what’s the point?
For me using the media channels is about communicating what you do and who you are clearly and in a very short time-span. The seconds that people devote to a post or page are all you’ve got to get your message across.
The same messaging that is clear and concise and consistent in the product as well. So that kind of look in that shape and that silhouette. Look at our Instagram and you’ll see immediately what we’re about.
How, with such constant change, do you keep focused on the core business plan?
Always go back to your primary goals. First and foremost, we wanted to offer technical outdoor clothing that we could put our name to.
We created bespoke one-off summit suits that have stood on all the top 14 (fourteen) 8000m peaks. They’re the F1 Ferrari of our product line – but we still utilise all the technology and fabrics and things that we’ve learned from that suit to bleed it down to our full range of products.
We’ve come a long way. We launched with three products – one of which was an Arctic parker we put out in the middle of summer! We’ve faced countless headwinds – including the impact COVID had on business – but because of our Special Forces background we’re very good at planning you know.
Just like a mission, we look at the most likely course of action, the most dangerous course of action, what could go wrong at the factory, with the fabrics, at the point of sale, etc.
In business the workload is relentless, that’s a side-effect of being successful. I think if you’ve got the passion, fortitude and resilience to keep pushing through – which me and Louis do – that’s really set us up for success in the business.
How do you strike that work-life balance when you’re a hands-on founder growing at such pace?
We’re conscious that there’s only so much cognitive load you can apply to yourself and you have to be conscious of that all the time and try and unplug from that system. There are some days I’ll sit in the car on the drive after a long day just try to decompress. I tell myself ‘I have to disengage from the work, the stress or whatever that I’m thinking of, because there’s a million things going around in my head.
I put the phone on silent and my priorities switch to being a dad and a husband. I have always done the best that I can in whatever I’m doing – whether it’s sweeping the floor or packing boxes at ThruDark right through to being the best dad I can be. put it on silent, and given them the attention and love that they deserve right now
Part of that self-improvement journey is about being self-aware and not bringing any of that stress and stuff home. One of the reasons I left the military was that I’d had a failed marriage. Being in Special Forces was the best job in the world in many ways – but it’s probably the most selfish job as well.
You’re not doing the Special Forces training these days, what do you do to keep physically and mentally fit?
I don’t meditate but for me jujitsu is a form of meditation. It’s being in the moment, and having that sense of awareness. I go to the gym and maintain the discipline I had instilled in me. I practice gratitude and right now I’ve got a great life. Most of my problems are first world problems. I just have to keep reminding myself of that. That’s one other thing that Special Forces taught me – maintain a sense of perspective.