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How this US Marine officer balances military duties with running a startup

‘Because I’m still on active duty, I will always put my Marines first, no question’

Running a startup is never an easy task. For U.S. Marine Officer J.D. Kameen, those basic challenges are combined with the obstacles that come with a global pandemic hitting the economy just a few months into launching — not to mention being a full-time, active duty Marine officer.

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“As an entrepreneur, you always want to put your company first,” Kameen told FOX Business. “And because I'm still on active duty, I will always put my Marines first, no question. So everything from the business is secondary. That can be really hard. And it's hard for our team to have to understand that and appreciate that. But it's something we've all done at points in our career.”

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Kameen and his wife Liza launched their company, Paintru — a platform that turns people’s photographs into hand-painted artwork — back in September. They work with artists from all over the world, either directly through Instagram or through brokers that represent multiple artists.

Right now, their list of artists and brokers is about 1,500, Kameen said.

Meanwhile, the Paintru team is much smaller. Other than Kameen and Liza, there are only three other people, two of whom are military veterans who had graduated from the Naval Academy like Kameen.

US Marine Officer J.D. Kameen and his wife Liza (pictured) launched their startup Paintru in September. (Courtesy of Paintru)

“We’re a team of five people,” Kameen said. “So really long days and long nights. But it kind of goes back to the original military design of really small, agile teams. We're working really hard. And that's what’s great because we can pass on value to the customer and value to the artist. And we don't have this massive overhead like a company like Uber or Airbnb.”

Before Kameen and Liza launched Paintru, they spent about a year contacting brokers, reaching out to artists on Instagram and vetting their portfolios, he said.

Now, the startup has the capability to produce and ship 10,000 paintings a month — though they’re currently shipping paintings in the hundreds, Kameen said.

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Even as the rest of the economy has struggled during the coronavirus, Paintru has grown significantly.

“From March to April, our revenue is up 74 percent,” he said. “So as people shift out of retail and online, it's like we were the natural shift.”

That success has also come from the strength of the team, Kameen added.

“I think that really the main reason we've been successful is because the other two Naval Academy graduates have a tremendous amount of shipping and receiving international logistics knowledge,” he said. “And there's a lot of stuff in the art industry that had to be solved and they solved it. The team is really nimble and really small but accomplishing really incredible international shipping issues.”

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In the fall, Kameen will be retiring from active duty after more than five years in the Marine Corps.

He said that one of the things he’s realized is that entrepreneurship is a great way for military members to go back to civilian life.

Paintru's revenue was up 74 percent from March to April, Kameen said. (Courtesy of Paintru)

“I try to use this opportunity to show other people that are now transitioning [out of the military], maybe unexpectedly or earlier than they thought, that entrepreneurship is a great option if you can make the leap,” Kameen said. “Because hiring veterans has been a challenge for civilian companies. We're taught so many unique skills … entrepreneurship is such an easy bridge.”

Once he does retire, Kameen said he’s excited to be able to focus on Paintru.

“It'll be a really nice shift to be able to prioritize the business and the business alone,” he said.

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