By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
When Deanne Herber and her daughters started a podcast in 2020, they had the modest goal of amusing family and friends with stories about their life as a military family.
Quickly, they discovered that military families around the globe were tuning in to their show, Kids in Combat Boots. As listeners laughed along with the family, they found comfort in hearing the hosts talk about their experiences growing up in an active military family.
Herber saw in the growing listenership a community with unmet needs. In response, she decided to turn the podcast into a business designed to support and celebrate military kids.
The family is uniquely positioned to understand the needs of military kids.
Herber is a military veteran. “I joined the military out of high school. I was in the Air Force and then re-enlisted. I did some time with the Reserves after 9/11,” she explained. “My ex-husband, and their dad, was career Army… When 9/11 happened, his unit was mobilized, and we stayed in… When he exited the military, he entered the foreign service, so we never left that lifestyle of moving and uprooting our family every couple of years.”
Her daughters followed in Herber’s footsteps. “Vanessa will be 25 in a few weeks. She is currently a Second Lieutenant and a logistics officer at Shaw Air Force base,” she said. “Paige, my second, is 21. She is a junior at Florida State studying criminology and business, but she’s also participating in Air Force R.O.T.C. and plans on commissioning upon her graduation.”
“As military parents, we tell ourselves our kids are resilient, and they are. They’re incredibly resilient, they’re incredibly resourceful. But we forget that some of these events are still traumatic and they’re hard. We’re so busy moving and setting up a new household and dealing with our own hardships that we sometimes forget to check in with our kids…Until my girls and I started really talking about these experiences as adults, I thought they were having the same, or similar, experience I did. I didn’t realize their experiences were so different.”
This realization drives Herber to serve the 1.6 million kids whose families are either in active-duty forces, the National Guard, or the Reserves. The impact of that involvement lasts a lifetime.
“My kids, who are adults, still consider themselves to be military kids. That is a label they carry with them. They go into adulthood struggling to answer questions like ‘where are you from?’ ‘where did you grow up?’ We found our audience is broader than that 1.6 million. But when we look at who we really want to recognize, it is our kids in the trenches. The ones doing the work,” she said.
Herber is the founder and sole employee of Kids in Combat Boots, but she is not working alone. “I work very closely with my two adult children,” she said. “We consider ourselves co-founders. While I am doing the bulk of the work from day-to-day, they are very much a part of the decision-making process.”
The daily work for the business has been substantial. Not only is the company one of the 26 finalists in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest, Kids in Combat Boots is also enrolled in the current MKE Tech Hub’s incubator FOR-M cohort, and is participating in Command Post, a business development program through the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce, all while working with SCORE.
The revenue model for the company is still being developed. Herber envisions a tiered membership program, supplemented with advertising revenue, along with other forms of sponsorship. The initial membership program will focus on access to community-building tools and a recognition program that will offer awards that document and validate kids’ unique service to the country.
Kids in Combat Boots is doing a targeted relaunch of the podcast and website in the coming weeks. At that time the company will recruit beta testers who will help share the program to meet the needs of other military kids, just like them.
“We want to make a good product for them, and we want to do them justice. We want to honor them because their service is probably one of the most difficult. They have no say in it. We want to do our best work for them. That’s what keeps us going,” she said.
To listen to the Kids in Combat Boots podcast, or learn more about this emerging company, click here.