How five lessons I learned in the CIA helped me build a successful brand

In 2008 my wife Katy and I moved to Denver and we were inspired by our local community’s dedication to the environment. This sparked our vision for what would become RuMe, a brand that provides practical, functional and durable products that could be reused and incorporated into everyday life. Katy led the creative while I oversaw the day-to-day management and operations.

From my past corporate experience, I had gained a wealth of knowledge and expertise but my most powerful experience came from my time with the Central Intelligence Agency. I worked as an analyst in the Central Eurasian Operations. The CIA is guided by a set of professional ethos of which I’ve held onto since leaving and have incorporated into my professional life.

Here are five of those ethos that I believe can serve as lessons for anyone starting a business:

  1. In the CIA we are taught to be Nation first, Agency before unit, and mission before self. It is a strong lesson in priorities and one that was essential in the chaos that comes with a startup and the demands of a rapid growth business. As RuMe grew, we had to continuously come back to our core purpose and focus, which was service to our customers, first and above all. Our products are solutions for our customers, designed and tailored to their needs.
  2. I was taught to uphold the highest standards in order to maintain the Nation’s trust. RuMe was started because my wife and I saw a lack of products that were well-made and stylish in the reusable accessories market. We sought to make a better, quality bag and accomplished that goal with our first product the reusable RuMe Bag. Since then we’ve strived to live up to the high standards that we’ve set for our products and to maintain our customers trust with quality, value and style.
  3. The CIA is built on the best talent that our Nation has to offer, made up of diverse backgrounds and expertise. My goal was to replicate that level of high-caliber of talent across all categories of our business. Therefore we have brought on talented individuals to strengthen our Denver-based executive team, including folks from Chanel and Groupon.
  4. In the CIA you accomplish difficult, high-stakes tasks, managing risk without shying away from it. Founding a startup is filled with risk assessment and having the courage to make quick decisions enabled the company to overcome its greatest product failures. Learning from mistakes is key element of the culture of our business.
  5. While in the CIA we collaborated internally and externally to underpin the best outcomes. I’ve strived to do the same at RuMe and we pride ourselves on working together. As we grow, we strive to keep an entrepreneurial culture that fosters creative thinking. We created an internal product development program called RuMe Idol where team members can pitch new ideas to the management team each month which brings the opportunity to ideate and create to the entire company.

Today RuMe’s product line has evolved into a complete lifestyle collection and are the choice of leading retailers and premier corporate brands. Over the years the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that having a great idea for a product or a brand will just get you started but having a strong set of ethos is essential to success.

As co-founder and CEO of RuMe, Jae Lee oversees the day-to-day management and operations of the fast-growing company, which designs and distributes environmentally friendly and functional everyday products. Lee’s areas of operational expertise include sales, product development and marketing.