When it comes to finding the gap in the market to create your incredible entrepreneurial idea, it can be difficult to figure that out. Even more challenging? Deciding if that idea you have is actually needed in the market and if the industry already has something like it. We talk about that and more on today's episode. Episode 111 of the Moments with an MEO podcast is about finding the gap, market research and community with the founder and CEO of TAPs, Bonnie Carroll.
Bonnie Carroll is an American widow who is the president and founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, an organization that provides care, welfare and support to people who have lost a loved one in military service.
On today's episode Bonnie and I discuss:
- How to find gaps in the market
- How community is so empowering and how leveraging that community can help you on your mission
- How Bonnie's love story was turned into a movie
- What happens when your great idea already exists
...and more! Tune in every week for more episodes around military spouse life and entrepreneurship!
Connect with Britt:
Check out MilSO Box here: www.milsobox.com
Bonnie Carroll 0:00
normalising and validating the experience but only doing it because it's authentic. Finding how you can meet that need. Is it for wheelchair ramps? Is it for prosthetic devices? Is it for building homes, identify the need, find out who's doing it, and who's doing best, and where the gaps are, and then see what you can do to fill those gaps of really honest to God, nobody else is.
Welcome, Bonnie, Carol, I am so incredibly excited to welcome you to the moments within me Oh, podcast, how are you today?
Bonnie Carroll 0:42
I'm great. Thank you so much. It's good to be here. And I'm really excited to share what I hope is going to be some interesting points and lessons learned along the way.
I can't even imagine what you're going to bring today. Because just reading other interviews with you has been so inspiring. So I know that whatever you bring today is going to be incredible. Why don't you start with just introducing who you are for our listeners?
Bonnie Carroll 1:07
Great? Well, I'd love to do that. I'm Bonnie Carroll. I'm a military daughter, a military veteran, myself and a military surviving spouse. So I've served in the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve for quite a long time actually retired after a total of 31 years of service. So long time wearing the uniform and really proud to serve my country, I was inspired to serve, because my mom actually flew and World War Two, she was a one of those women aviators. And just it was such an important part of her life, to serve our country to do her part that I knew it was something that I had to make part of my life. And, you know, I always worked in the guard and the reserve was never on active duty except for a few years when I actually served in the guard as a what they call a technician. So that meant I was in uniform, five days a week, a federal civil service technician, but then also still doing my guard weekends as our commander. So a lot of time in service, I met my husband, while I was working in the West Wing of the White House for the President, the President actually interesting circumstance, but introduced us in a roundabout way. And so just oh gosh, happiest happiest times that I will ever have. And he and I had this just wonderful, wonderful marriage, wonderful life together. And that all sadly came to an end when he and seven other soldiers were killed in an army playing crash. After Tom was killed, I set out trying to find the kind of support that I knew had to exist for all those grieving the death of a military loved one. Found it actually didn't exist in this country, there was an organization. So that's I think what we're going to talk a little bit about today is going about when you identify a gap when you see a need. What do you do with that?
Exactly? Yes. I would love to back up because I heard this story. And I think it is the coolest thing possible. Okay, so you just said that the President introduced you guys. But if I'm not mistaken, your guys's meeting ended up becoming almost like a movie. How was that? How did you meet your spouse
Bonnie Carroll 3:38
back? This is in the late 80s. At the time that I was working in the White House for President Ronald Reagan, there was this crazy circumstance where these three gray whales were trapped in the ice. And it kind of went viral before there was a social media viral. But it was absolutely captivating to the world, not just even the American audiences. So all of a sudden there were journalists from all over the world flooding into Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point is to really, you know, watch whether or not these three whales were going to survive. And my husband was the military person in charge of that whole operation. And when it got, you know, to that level, that it was just dominating the President Reagan stopped by my office in the West Wing, and he said, Hey, Bonnie said, now, aren't you also in the National Guard? Yes. Oh, call so when you know, find out what's happening and see how we can help, which is the way he operated, which I love about our government that it is for the people. So I called someone I knew Who knew someone who knew someone and it eventually got got to Tom Carroll, and it was love at first phone call. But a book was written about the whale rescue and that book was bought by Universal Studios shortly thereafter. And here it was 20 years later, I get a call from the producers and they're making a movie out of it. It was a major motion picture that a fabulous cast it had. Drew Barrymore played the green piece girl Dermot Mulroney, great actor played my husband. Vanessa Shaw played me and Ted Danson was in a Kristen Bell, John Krasinski, it was fabulous. They filmed the whole thing up in Alaska, and I got to be on on site on set with the cast and really spending a lot of time with them. Of course, you know, you're taking something that lasted over a few months, and you're condensing it into 90 minutes. So some of the things are just a little Hollywood iced and, you know, condensed and so a little different. But you know, that that really did capture the love that that Tom and I had for each other and just his vision as a military leader, to bring together during that time, the Soviets and Greenpeace and the military and the natives and the oil company to work on one project together. So it was incredibly unifying.
It's so incredible to me how much military life is a community in every aspect? We talk about it a lot on the NWA FM podcast, but truly the connection in the community. I mean, you were talking about like phone calls, you know, I called somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, and it got done. And that's so much so military life, even today. And I just, I love that so much.
Bonnie Carroll 6:43
You're exactly where the movie is called big miracle. And it's still out. I think it's certainly on Disney plus, because it was a Universal Studios piece. But you are exactly right. That is how the military works. That's the connection that you have. It's one degree of separation. And even if you don't know someone, you've had a shared experience, take advantage of that. Use that network and build those relationships. You know, when when I talked to folks military leadership, I'll ask them, Have you ever served in Alaska or been there and most military leaders have, you know, at least traveled through, they're gone to Fort Richardson if their army and on Fort Richardson is camp Carol, that was named after actually my family. So it is a memorial tribute. So that just is part of that network, and that that community that brings us together to let us know that we're part of a legacy that transcends our own life and experience, and allows us to do something larger than ourselves.
Wow, I love that so much. So let's just back up slightly and talk about what is taps, which stands for tragedy assistance programs for survivors.
Bonnie Carroll 8:01
Well, I started just saying after Tom's death, I really struggled to find that support system. You know, I was familiar with the kinds of nonprofit organizations that were there after a loss from cancer illness, there's a group for families of fallen police officers, there was a group for victims of homicide. At first I kind of thought, well, grief is grief, you know, I'll just go to one of these groups, and that'll be helpful. And, but it wasn't, those weren't my people. I didn't speak law enforcement cop lingo. And my husband wasn't murdered. So there wasn't a perpetrator and a court date and all of those elements to it, there really had to be a military community. I joined wonderful organizations like Goldstar wives Society of military widows. But again, they were membership associations focused on advocacy for benefits, but really not that peer group of people who are grieving, grieving a unique loss was secondary losses, like the loss of a community and a culture. So after a couple of years of a lot of research needs assessment, gap analysis, talking to everybody I could find in the government and other nonprofits and every survivor I could possibly come across, created taps, boy that, you know, I sure didn't want to start something it already existed. So everything that taps does is unique and to this day, isn't done by anybody else, either in the government or the private sector, was founded just for the broad mission statement, to care for all those grieving the death of a military loved one. Everybody. If you love someone in their life included service to this country and they have died, we are your people. We're the place where you can come To find grief support because grief isn't a mental illness, it isn't a physical injury, we only grieve because we love. Grief really is about love. And you know, you can't take a pill or put a bandage on it. And a lot of people say you should see someone, but it really isn't that kind of a clinical circumstance. So taps is a place where peers come together, where other survivors can help each other heal. Or we can do what is most therapeutic, we've actually received awards from the American Psychological Association, and from the Association of death, education and counseling. Because what we do works, it's a magic of bringing people together in a facilitated environment, with peers who are trained, and those who are new to their grief, to find that way forward, to validate and normalize the experience that we're having to remember and honor our loved ones, to really create a community. So that's the the number one service that taps provides, and then also casework assistance that goes beyond what the government can offer Community Based Care 24/7 helpline, and connections to resources like that additional support and grief and traumatic loss. And TAFs was founded as a nonprofit organization in October of 1994. So we're coming up now on nearly 30 years, but it really is built on survivors helping survivors heal.
I love that and something that you touched upon, but I just want to bring it to light and bring it to the forefront of the mic, if you will, is that it's not just for those that have been killed in action corrected as for any type of loss around the military member?
Bonnie Carroll 11:56
Absolutely. You know, regardless of the circumstance, or the geography of the death, it's about the life lived, no matter how, where, why when that person has died, if their life included service to this country, then all those who love them, and are grieving their death are welcome and taps, and are eligible for all the support that we have to offer. You're absolutely right. We talk about this with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the you know, the headstones are the same at any national cemetery. It's the same benefits that families are given. So we honor all those who have served and died.
Thank you. What was it like? Being a founder, and I can only imagine, you know, growing up with a mom, who was a pilot in World War Two, which is probably not that common. And then you growing up as someone who became a veteran. So what was it like going okay, I'm gonna create something, and kind of being, you know, the forefront runner of this idea back in 1994?
Bonnie Carroll 13:11
Well, you know, it's interesting, because the Alaska Air Guard actually had back then even 1/3 Female membership, so it was kind of an all. I know who knew? Yeah. So it's, it's interesting that women really have had tremendous opportunities. Living in Alaska, it's a very entrepreneurial environment, but seeing a need, recognizing that it really had to be filled. And thinking about my own background, and drawing on the experiences I'd had working at senior levels of the government serving in the military, having the loss of a loved one, and my husband had recently been promoted to Brigadier General. So that gave me you know, a little more access, because of, you know, his career. And all of those things coming together really gave it a lot of thought and, you know, said wow, if this really is a need, and if I've got the platform, to bring it about, and I've got to do this, and recognizing it was really going to be tough that it was going to require, you know, a couple of years of that 24/7 Just digging in and being the entire, you know, development team and the outreach team and the, you know, the helpline, all of the different departments until there was funding to bring on the staff and until there was that base of support for volunteers to really understand what was going on. But because it was such a need filling so huge vacuum in our country, people pretty quickly got it. When I took our logo, you know, our little our first brochures which I made as professionally as I could, and, you know, had them really look like, you know, this is a really no kidding organization, we're standing out briefings, first briefings at the Pentagon, people looked at it and assumed it had already existed, which was great. They said, Oh, yeah, this is a wonderful organization, oh, this is tremendously helpful. And I went, Okay, well, we'll just go with I think this is our always been there. But I think that's an important point. If you want to start something, I really encourage you not to replicate something that already exists. You know, if you see, if you see a need, first, do your research, do that gap analysis, a needs assessment, and make sure there aren't wonderful organizations that are already out there doing it. And you know, what, if they're not, maybe meeting the exactly that you see could be met, talk to them, see if they can maybe expand their mission, or maybe even partner with you. So that you can now do it. Without the burden of administratively establishing a 501 C three nonprofit, it's very, very difficult. It's very expensive, it's time consuming, we see an awful lot of nonprofits that, you know, just say, Well, you know, my needs weren't X met X, Y, and Z. So I'm going to create an organization to do that for everybody. And then they get so bogged down in the fundraising and the administrative and the government requirements in the tax, a lot of people don't know that you can't raise money in a state unless you register. And you can't register unless you pay a fee. And sometimes those fees are hundreds of dollars. And then you need lawyers and accountants and audits. And you may find out that, who Wow. You know, at the end of the day, I didn't have anything left over to actually meet the the mission that I started out to serve. So I just encourage folks, get involved with organizations already kind of doing close to what you're envisioning. Learn about it, learn about their struggles, their successes, and see if they're, they're open to expanding their mission to make sure what what challenges you've witnessed, are being addressed. But if you find something that isn't addressed anywhere else, then wow, who just buckle in, and get it done and, and make it happen.
I love that. And you just touched upon a couple ways in which to, once you've found the gap, to go ahead, and you know how to how to bridge that gap, either through organizations doing close to that, or, you know, creating something for yourself, but how do you find the gap? How do you go from Oh, man, like, I need this, to realizing that it's something that you could potentially go on to create yourself?
Bonnie Carroll 17:59
Yeah, you know, and I'll just use my own situation as an example, after my husband was, you know, was killed, the grief was overwhelming and debilitating. And I just had nowhere to turn. So, you know, as I said, went to those other organizations that I thought maybe they would understand. But it wasn't until I got back together with the other widows of those killed in Toms crash, that I found all my gosh, these are my people, they get it, they understand they're walking this journey, they speak my language, they, you know, they know what I'm going through, I can be honest and open with them without judgment. This is a safe space. And we really all came to this aha moment that Oh, wow, peer based emotional support fancy word for coming together with people who are on your same journey. You know, it works. And that's where we can find that support and that way forward. So taking that and then looking at, well, gosh, is it just us or? Or is this really a thing? And looking at, you know, organizations, like I'll use Alcoholics Anonymous, amazing model. They are successful, because they have what they call a sponsor, who can really relate who has walked the journey, who was through it and out on the other side, who can now come back and support you only because they've been there. You know, you can have a doctor tell you well, you know, you're going to experience withdrawal and blah, blah, blah. And you're like, you know, what, if you haven't been where I've been, and you haven't felt what I'm feeling, you have no idea and no credibility. But if you're talking to someone who's been there, someone who's lost their loved one, someone who's been through the pain of that grief, and how overwhelming and debilitating it is, you know, It's just not going to ring true. So we see this for the kids now, taps now has oh my gosh, 10s of 1000s of kids last year, we welcomed 9246 New surviving family members into our organization and 23% of those were children. And for the kids, it's a huge identity shift. If you're a military kid, chances are that's all you've ever known. You know, you're a dependent, and you know what it means to PCs, and you have your own lingo. And you know, you've kind of been in the groove of moving every couple of years if you're active duty. So for our kids, we help them now shift that paradigm from being independent, to now being a legacy of American service and sacrifice in their own right, and let them know they're not alone, introducing them to other kids who have walked this journey, who have grown up or become legacy mentors and can be there for them. So anyway, it's all about normalizing and validating the experience, but only doing it because it's authentic, finding how you can meet that need. Is it for wheelchair ramps? Is it for prosthetic devices? Is it for building homes, identify the need, find out who's doing it and who's doing it best, and where the gaps are, and then see what you can do to fill those gaps have really honest to God nobody else is.
Now you've mentioned a few different ways that networking has really come into play in the growth and the success of taps. And, honestly, taps is more than just a nonprofit or an organization, it's a community. How has networking really played a part in that for you.
Bonnie Carroll 21:51
We leverage our partners in every way. Of course, the military is our number one partner, because whenever someone dies in the military, we rely on those casualty officers, commanders, chaplains, first sergeants to then connect that family with us. So we work really, really hard to strengthen those relationships. We've got former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marty Dempsey, and then the his predecessor, Admiral Mike Mullen, his wife on our board of directors, got other senior military leaders who help us really constantly strengthen those relationships. So the military knows where there is a resource, and they can make that immediate connection, whatever and wherever someone dies. But other partners include other grief support organizations. So we're very big in those networks to make sure that wherever families are in America, they've got that soft landing of other organizations. We have this beautiful I was gonna say sisterhood, but it's also a brotherhood of organizations that do various things for I'll use the term Gold Star families for surviving military families, like gold star wives, American Gold Star Mothers, society of military widows, lots of organizations that do beautiful programs, and we all work together, we all do our piece of it, we share resources and connections with each other. And yeah, one of my favorite expressions is rising tides lifts all ships. So the more we can stay true to our individual missions, and not have that mission creep, and the more that we can elevate and support each other, and champion each other, the better we're all going to do.
I love that so much. And I love that quote, that's so great. I would love to know where people can connect either with you or with taps and how they can get involved if they're interested. Because like I was telling you before we hit record, a lot of people didn't know what taps was, which is great, because it means they haven't needed taps yet. But where can they go?
Bonnie Carroll 24:04
Well, the two main places, of course, are website taps.org, and then our social media at taps. Org. So follow us go on to the website, we have a whole volunteer Central, lots of ways to get involved. Become a mentor to a military child volunteer in a million different ways. Just get the word out. let folks know that there is an organization if you know of a family that has suffered a loss, they don't have to be alone. We've got wonderful resources available for them and we don't want anyone to miss out or be wandering out there all by themselves.
Awesome. Season three of moments of the memmio is all about the entrepreneur continuing growth and continuing learning so I'm curious what is one thing business or personal that you're learning right now?
Bonnie Carroll 24:57
Oh my gosh. Learning every Every day, and technology is probably the biggest thing. We've just gotten into our use of an app and our use of virtual hybrid programming. So right now, oh my gosh, I've been on so many tutorials and meetings and webinars about right now, it's app. Because when we do an event, we also have an app where people can connect, they can network, they can have an address book, they can do post pictures, they can talk about sessions, do surveys, so much they can offer. And you know, we've all been on Zoom. We're watching this on a virtual platform right now. There's also amazing technology for meetings that get gets people engaged in breakout rooms and special sessions and side chats, we're getting back to in person events, but we will always now have a hybrid component. So while we're at our in person events, you can still be at home and watching it live stream. So you're kind of in the room, we always have a moderator who's on the Zoom. And if somebody pops a question in the chat, they're going to be the person in the room to raise their physically raise their hand, ask the question. So our virtual audience is really present. So I'm learning a lot about virtual participation in this crazy world in which we're living now. But as one of our survivors said, you know, gosh, I probably wouldn't be able to travel all over the country to come to all these events. But she said, Now, taps is actually happening in my living room. So I'm sitting at my dining room table, and I'm logged in, and I'm present events happening, coast to coast. It's been really, really exciting.
It's incredible the power of virtual connection, and online communities. You know, we've talked about communities a lot, we always will on this platform. But you know, having that virtual component is so key now to inviting so many new people that you probably couldn't have reached before. So that's incredible. My very last question for you before I let you go, and it breaks my heart because you're an incredible and motivating speaker, and I really appreciate your time, Bonnie, but how do you embrace being an M E to a military spouse CEO?
Bonnie Carroll 27:23
Oh, you know, I'm so proud of my family's military service. I'm so grateful for the opportunities that serving in the military has afforded me. I think it gives us a tremendous sense of building a community a sense of service. You know, you've heard the expression servant leadership. And that's what they bring. I hope I bring two taps. We now have 120 Give or take staff on board, hard to believe and 1000s of volunteers. But every single one of our staff, are it primarily our survivors themselves, or their military family members, or veterans, best majority are survivors and they bring that personal experience. They come wanting to give back. I think it's just such such an honor to be part of that 1% that a step forward is made a commitment to serve in defense of freedom, and attacks, we honor those whose loved ones have served and died and we carry on as their living legacies. So this has been amazing. Thank you so much. I would love for people. My email addresses email@example.com Super easy. Please reach out if anything we can do to support you or those in your community.
I love that. Thank you so much, Bonnie for your time. I really appreciate it.
Bonnie Carroll 28:49