An Interview With Mike Ritland

Expert Dog Trainer, Author and Founder of Trikos


Mike Ritland was born in Waterloo, IA and served 12 years as a US NAVY SEAL in Operation IRAQI Freedom and multiple special forces missions. He served as the Naval Special Warfare Multi Purpose Canine (MPC) Trainer 2011 / 2012. After his service, he began Trikos International, which specializes in providing private protection K9s to government agencies and high-net-worth Individuals.

Trikos International has grown to a global brand and has gained notoriety for its unique training approach and proven success. Ritland has trained hundreds of working dogs for combat and specializes in private protection dog training, military dog training and police dog training.

He has over 18 years experience in importing, breeding, raising, and training multiple breeds of working dogs, and authored 3 New York Times Best Selling books: Trident K9 Warriors, Navy SEAL Dogs and TEAM Dog.

In this interview, Mike emphasizes the number one habit that made him successful. He is committed to doing the best dog training service in the country and works hard to become better every day. He also shares the importance of knowing the product you are selling, your market and your audience.

His biggest piece of advice to entrepreneurs: To be successful, you’ve got to get up everyday and kick life right in the balls. Follow Mike on Twitter to see how hard he kicks!


What was your first business idea? Is there a biggest lesson you learned from it?

My first business idea was to go after big government contracts as it relates to the dog industry. The lesson that I learned from that was while ideas for business on paper or in theory may seem like great ideas, two key concepts have to be met. Number one, is as a company you have to be able to facilitate or execute the contract or the idea that you’re trying to go after.

No matter how bad you want to do it, how much sense it makes, or how much money you think you can make. You’ve got to be very honest with yourself if your logistically, administratively, financially set up to actually be able to execute that contract.

The second part of that that I learned is also from a demand standpoint, is that the demand has to be there in a big enough capacity to justify going after it. One of the key concepts that I pulled away from early on was that there are things that I do now that maybe aren’t necessarily my first choice of what I want to do. They’re close.

They’re things I want to do but I’ve learned that you have to let the demand, the market, and the people determine to a certain extent what you’re going to provide or how you’re going to provide it. You’ve got to tailor those two things. One, you’ve got to be able to do it. Number two, its got to be something that there is demand for.


How did you get the idea for Trikos? Is there something you wanted to do different or better than your competitors?

Trikos was basically la combination of what I first started out doing. Going after government contracts and realizing that it was going to take way more than I had the ability to facilitate when I started to go after them. Two, is for the demand of how many suppliers of contracts there are out there. The demand wasn’t high enough for me to be able to swing it either.

Trikos was essentially born out of that and saying, how can I maintain my influence in the dog industry, but do it in a manner of which, a) I am comfortable with and I believe in and I feel strongly about. But b), it’s something that there’s a high enough demand for and that I can actually pull it off.

In terms of what I wanted to do different or better than my competitors, my stance is I don’t give a shit what you’re doing. Do it better. If that means different then fine but do it better than your competitors. The devil’s in the details. Pay attention to the little things, sweat the little things. Numbers don’t lie and you have to always balance everything to make sure that you’re doing it.

At the end of the day, work harder than they do. Put out a better product than they do. Be more honest with yourself about where your faults lye and what problems you’ve had or mistakes you’ve made and learn from them better. To me that’s the key or the starting point to how to be successful.

What attitude/habits helped make you successful while starting Trikos?

To me, unquestionably, the single most important aspect or attitude habit that I have is perseverance. Whether you want to call it ego, competitiveness, drive, will to succeed. Maybe it’s a combination of all those things.

From my perspective, there are a lot of talented people out there that aren’t successful because they’re fucking lazy. There’s a lot of people who are pretty average, in terms of their competency or their ability to do things, but they work their ass off. They out hustle everybody.

No matter what happens to them, no matter how discouraged you get, no matter how high of a mountain it looks like you’ve got to climb, don’t ever give up. I don’t give a shit how bad it gets and you will succeed. Dust yourself off, stand up, and keep getting after it no matter what happens. That will get you where you want to go. That is unquestionably the single most important thing that’s helped me get to where I am.


What was your biggest business mistake and how you did you come out stronger at the end of the day?

For me, it was going into business, my first dog company. Going into business with people that I trusted without getting it on paper. Basically giving them the benefit of the doubt and not ensuring that my best interest were also being taken care of. What I learned from that is A), you’ve got to do that. Trust is something that has to be earned but it should always be only to a point.

At the end of the day you have to make sure that you’re covered. You’re basis are covered legally. In terms of what deal you’re getting yourself into, what the expectations of you are, and what your expectations of everybody else is. It has to be very very clear cut before you ever agree to do anything.

Don’t go into anything with it just, “yeah it seems like it would be a good deal. Everything will work out and we’ll figure it out as we go.” No. Make sure that you understand everything of what’s going on and what the agreement is before you sign and get into business with somebody. Whether it’s a single contract or a business partnership and everything in between. Make sure that you understand what’s what.


Are you using any Apps that help run and manage your business?

Not really. We use pretty simple platforms, in terms of Google mail but that’s really it. There’s not a lot, from a tech standpoint, no there’s no apps that we really use that help run and manage.

I mean, there’s a couple apps here and there that we may use to do documents or things like that. More administrative stuff, but in terms of big picture stuff that actually helps us run and manage the business. Not really. Unless you count any social media platform, which I wouldn’t.


What are your visions for Trikos? Where do you see it in the next 5 years?

Where do you see it in the next five years? For me, it’s two fold. One, is keep doing what I’m doing and continue to improve. Every dog that I sell, I learn something new. Continue to work on brand recognition and maintaining the reputation that we have in the industry for what we do and what I feel like we’re good at.

To me, it’s important to: a) maintain that, and b) continue to grow in that department. Big picture – is to rise over the next five years. For me, it’s incredibly important to diversify and be able to predict revenue streams a little better. For me, I think where that lies for us is a subscription based training website and some online training courses.

Ultimately, franchising Trikos to where there are affiliates or franchises all over the country. That are affiliated with us. That are all part of team and growing it from a big picture standpoint. That way, 5 years from now, I’d like to have a minimum of 20 franchise affiliates nationwide and have a good network of trainers out there.


What makes Trikos unique from others? How did you find your competitive advantage?

For me, when I started there weren’t any other, at least to my knowledge, special operation dog guys that were starting companies doing what I was doing. I think there are a couple now but when I started, I believe I was the first again. I could be wrong but all the competitive marketing research that I did, I didn’t see anybody that had the background that I had, in terms of bringing that to the table.

For me, the special operations community has very impeccable reputation as it relates to professionalism and being very thorough, being competent, and being good at what we do. I wanted to basically use that as the backbone of what drives me to be good at whatever it is I’m doing. To me that is the competitive advantage.

My uncommon will to succeed in relation to your average population. Which is why I got through seal training and spent over a decade in the community was because I was very driven to win and succeed at whatever costs it takes to do that. I take that type of mentality, that drive, and that focus in everything I do both professionally and personally.


Do you have a specific question or test when hiring a new employee? What is your hiring secret?

To me, there’s not a specific question. In terms of my test, because of what we do here is such a dynamic physically challenging role. For me, it’s about meeting the person, watching them work with some dogs, seeing them around here, and then do basically a working interview over a several day period.

Because it’s a different working environment. It’s not an office space, where at the end of the day you go home and do whatever. A lot of times we’re spending more time together than you would at a normal job and you’re doing physically active things. You’re doing dangerous things with some of the dogs.

For me, it’s more of a gut feeling and it’s just an on the job working interview. Where I watch them interact with them, how do I get along with them, how do I view them socially, in terms of how they’re going to interact with potential clients, VIP’s, celebrities, or different clients that we may have. To me, it’s very important that they do all of those things well.

That they show up on time. That they give a shit about their appearance, that they do the things that don’t need to be done or I don’t ask them to do. Something as simple as, we’re walking from one building to the next and there’s a piece of trash laying on the ground or something of that nature and they reach down, pick it up, and throw it away just because it’s the right thing to do. To me, little things like that say a lot about a person, in terms of how they’re going to perform for you.

Strangely enough also the way that they keep their vehicle. When they pull up if it’s filthy and there’s trash all over the floor, shit everywhere and it looks like they’re a slob, then chances are they’re probably not going to take as good a care of my facility as I want them to. When it’s a living breathing animals where sanitation is of the up most importance.

To me, I want someone who’s border line OCD, in terms of being organized, clean, and gives a shit about stuff like that. Because it will make the difference between dogs being well-kept, safe and healthy versus ones that won’t. Really it’s not a secret, it’s just a combination of those things and that’s really what I’m looking for.


How do you stay focused on a day-to-day basis? Do you have a key motivator that keeps you going and fighting the good fight?

To me, the day to day focus is actually really easy for us because we’re dealing with dogs. Because it’s not an inanimate piece of inventory sitting on a shelf in a warehouse or a computer screen that you’re looking at with just data on it, it’s very easy to stay motivated. Because you’re working with these living breathing dogs that are making a difference in literally fighting the good fight.

Be it police dogs, military dogs, personal security dogs for high net individuals or celebrities. For me, it’s very easy to stay fired up and motivated because you’re doing an active, dynamic activities with these dogs in getting them from one point to the next to where they can be turn over to a client.

For me, the other component to that is also just having started from nothing and being screwed over basically once and then now restarting and building up to what I have with three New York Times Best Sellers. A good following, in terms of brand in a successful company, several employees. Running the warrior dog foundation for going on 6 years now. We’re actually just over 6 years now with a great reputation and have done a lot of things to save a number of working dogs. It’s just a cyclical motivator that just continues to fire us up and keep us going.


What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in Texas? Where should they start?

To me, Texas is a damn great state to start. I would start with just the website depending on what business they’re looking for to make sure that whatever requirements they need to be met, are met. From a bigger picture standpoint or strategic standpoint Texas is great. There may be some businesses where it’s not good for it. I doubt there’s very many.

To me the big thing is what is my business, what do I want to provide, what do I want to look in to do, and then work backwards from that. Okay, if you’re product is X then where is X going to thrive? Where is it going to be the easiest to sell, store, maintain, or train people how to use? Obviously there’s a lot of intangibles there that are question marks that are going to drive those decisions.

I think a lot of times people try to work forward and in business I think it’ important to work backwards in a lot of instances, where we are essentially saying this is where I’m trying to get, now how do I get there?

I work backwards from that. I do the same thing with dog training. That’s one of the things why I believe so strongly in that principle and that theory is that I know what my finished product needs to look like as a finished trained dog, so now how am I going to get there and then starting from scratch.

Ultimately, just again like I said, being persistent. That’s without a doubt the number one attribute that you need to have if you’re going to be a business person, to be successful is you’ve got to get up everyday and kick life right in the balls. That’s it! Thank you!


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About Ryan James

Half hardworking hermit, half avid adventurer, Ryan founded Startup Savant to simplify entrepreneurship and pay it forward by donating a portion of all revenue to support children's education via