By Claire Barham Apr 13, 2017
The year was 2000. College freshman Tristan Manning, already seated in class, realized he was missing an essential tool: a TI-83 calculator. Desperate, he approached a fellow student and asked, “Can I partner up with you?”
And with this simple plea, a lifelong friendship between Tristan and classmate Mike Skiff began. It’s one that’s stood the test of time – through their college years, through more than a decade of service in the Army, and through the launch of their individual N2 businesses.
After that fateful classroom introduction, Mike and Tristan became best friends and roommates. They shared a lot in common, but one particular interest would shape the course of their lives.
“Coincidentally, we both looked at the opportunity of joining the Army ROTC program at Central Washington University,” Tristan said. “And we both were offered scholarships to do the program. This gave us an active duty commitment following graduation.”
Together, they went through the program successfully. The college boys became Army brothers in 2004 – Mike beginning a career in the HR field and Tristan in medical operations.
Though work paths pushed them in different directions, the friendship remained strong throughout their 11 years of service. So, when Mike felt it was his time to leave the Army, Tristan supported him wholeheartedly.
It’s telling that, when asked to describe Mike in three words, Tristan’s first choice is “family.” Six years into Mike’s military career, he and his wife suffered the loss of their second child at four months old due to a severe heart defect. This was a wake-up call.
“I thought, ‘What do I really want to do with my life? What’s important?’” Mike said. “It’s not that the Army isn’t compatible with a strong family life, but it’s not compatible with staying in one place.”
Over the course of the five years between his son’s passing and his transition to civilian life, he began to blog.
“It was therapeutic. So, I started writing, then got into marketing and online advertising,” Mike said. “I was getting the hang of it, so one day I Googled to see what’s out there in publishing.”
This led him to N2 Publishing. The only opening he came across on the company website happened to be in the same town Mike wanted his family to live. “A divine sign,” he calls it.
By this time, Tristan was also considering a change. After having deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, he was tired. And when Mike mentioned the benefits of the N2 opportunity, Tristan decided to forgo plans in the real estate industry to try his own luck at business ownership.
Military men and women are often seen as risk-takers. It’s certainly not the safest career path, physically speaking. But Mike and Tristan were quick to point out that most are pretty risk-averse. Especially regarding livelihood.
“We come from a background where you get paid a salary. It’s consistent pay,” Tristan said. “You know exactly what you need to do and everything is pretty much planned for you.”
Both men agreed they took an uncharacteristic gamble in starting their own businesses.
“But [the risk] was appealing. There’s no glass ceiling,” Tristan said. “[In the military], you always have a boss over you. The N2 opportunity allowed us to exercise control. It’s our own fault if we succeed or fail.”
But old habits die hard, so one of the biggest selling points for Mike and Tristan was The N2 Playbook: the proven methods and strategies that can bring great success in sales. It spoke to their now-ingrained need for structure, schedules and support. As Mike said, the playbook “definitely reduces the risk.” What’s possibly the most consistent aspect in their transition from Army life to N2, however, is the importance of being there for others.
“In the military, we have this thing called Battle Buddies,” Tristan said. “You’re not supposed to do anything without them. It’s accountability. That way, you never leave one behind. There’s always two of you.”
Today, Mike and Tristan live 15 minutes apart, working from the same office space to build their N2 businesses and to continue pushing each other towards greater success. Through the trials of college, the many life changes that come with Active Duty, and recently through ramp-up these two friends have been there for each other in times of need.
It seems as though Tristan’s initial request to “partner up” with Mike in 2000 was taken to heart. The two are not simply friends. They are Battle Buddies, for work and for life.
Tristan and wife Christina after his
third deployment to Afghanistan
Mike with his family of seven, but soon to be eight!
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