Marine veteran turns side gig into security company
Casey Holliday used the GI Bill to earn a degree in computer network security. There was only one problem with that plan.
“I quickly realized I had no interest working in the IT field,” he said.
With his career plans in flux, Holliday opened a CrossFit gym and sold it after five years. While wondering what would come next, his mother asked him to work at a music festival as a bartender, an opportunity to make a little side cash.
Upon hearing about Holliday’s background in the Marine Corps, where Holliday served two combat tours in Iraq before leaving the military in 2009, the festival manager wanted to pick Holliday’s brain about — of all things — security. But of the boots-on-the-ground event kind.
“The owner of the property came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re a Marine, can you help us with this security plan?’” Holliday said. “I love looking at battlefields and how am I gonna plan out an operation. And I drove through the property kind of like a post-battle analysis, essentially, of this event space. And I realized there were some major flaws, and let the guy know there are some things you could do pretty quickly to drastically improve the experience of your guests.”
Apparently the owner was impressed with what he heard.
“He was like, dude, you’re the guy you’re in charge now,” Holliday said. “I’ll pay you X dollars to go ahead and run this. And I’m like, oh, crap, OK.”
Holliday called about 15 friends who he served with who still lived in the Washington, D.C., area to help with the job. The event led to a side gig for Holliday and his crew, who continued doing similar events for about four years before they realized this could be more.
“For three or four years we were developing the platform and didn’t realize what it was, a passion project,” he said.
Hence, the humble beginnings of Battle Tested Security, a veteran-owned and operated company that was created because the founder and CEO accepted a bartending opportunity to make a few extra bucks.
The company became Holliday’s full-time commitment in 2019 and was starting to ramp up operations early in 2020 when the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As businesses and schools closed, the event business dried up, but Holliday was determined to do whatever he could to keep the doors open.
“We hired close to 100 veterans in a six-month window before COVID happened,” Holliday said. That total dwindled to just two full-time employees as the world stayed home and the future of the company was in limbo.
But due to the government funding, Holliday obtained small-business grants to keep his fledgling business going. And as the world started to reopen, opportunities started to follow.
“We started to get phone calls asking if we were still around, because groups were trying to do socially distanced events,” he said. “We went around the country setting up drive-in music festivals. We did a concept where we booked 300 rooms facing the ocean in South Carolina and placed two stages in a courtyard. People watched from their rooms. It gave us enough cash to keep the machine alive.”
Today, Battle Tested Security is alive and thriving. Holliday has hired more than 2,000 veterans to work security events, with a full-time staff of about 60 veterans. His list of clients includes familiar brands, like LiveNation, NASCAR, the NFL and Bonnaroo.
The company has earned high marks in the industry for training and customer service, as Holliday strives to ensure that his employees are approachable and friendly, not intimidating to event attendees.
Battle Tested Security works with organizations like the USO, the Army Reserve and other non-profit organizations to recruit employees. Rob Cox, a retired Army veteran who is veteran outreach and recruiting director, said many of the company’s employees desire the camaraderie they experienced while part of the military.
“I don’t use the word recruiter for myself here because I’m not a recruiter,” he said. “I’m just here to offer the help, the awareness and the information that if you’re a homeless veteran, if you’re down on your luck or something like that and you need a hand or you need other veterans to talk to other veterans to help out, we probably are in your area. And there’s either a few jobs you can do or you know. We have some people you can come hang out with who can help.”