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From War Zones To Healing Zones: An Army Veteran's Inspiring Journey To Transform Addiction Treatment

Nick Padlo, Army Veteran & Founder of Sophros Recovery

Tell us about you and your military background:

My name is Nick Padlo, and I am located in Jacksonville Florida. After high school, I headed to college at West Point, where I served as the Cadet Honor Captain my senior year. From 2003-2008, I served as a Military Intelligence Officer in the US Army, leaving my time in service as a Captain. I was stationed with 25th Infantry Division in Honolulu Hawaii, with two combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq for 27 months.

While in Afghanistan, I was attached to 2-27 Infantry Wolfhounds as the S-2 (intelligence officer). Located on the Eastern border of Afghanistan, our most exciting mission was securing the first Presidential election in Afghanistan. After months of preparation to secure the voting sites, it was such an honor to see the excitement on the faces of the local villagers, as they felt like a part of something bigger, perhaps for the first time.

In Iraq, I was assigned to a “MITT Team,” embedded in the Iraqi Army. Throughout the year, we had the opportunity to live alongside the local Iraqis and watch them become a more professional fighting force. This experience with the local culture was unparalleled, and while learning a lot myself, we were able to instill pride in the Iraqi team as they learned how to apply discipline and modern approaches to their operations.

Tell us about your business:

Sophros Recovery is an addiction and mental health treatment center located in Jacksonville Florida. We launched in October of 2021, with the goal of changing the landscape of addiction treatment in North Florida. We provide partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient services for those struggling with addiction and mental health challenges. Essentially, we provide a combination of group therapy, individual therapy, medical support, and case management, which is all designed to provide a set of tools for clients to be able to navigate their recovery, free from drugs and alcohol. As much as we have a focus on abstinence, the majority of our time is spent addressing the underlying mental health reasons why we drink or use in the first place.

Our mission is to help clients regain their lives. We will soon be expanding to Tampa, where we will launch our second location in early 2024. I got the idea based on my own experience in my personal recovery, where I noticed that there were many quality residential treatment centers, but the next level of care did not have the same quality of care.

Describe how you got the business started:

From our initial idea, it took us about 10 months to launch and serve our first clients. During that process, we completed licensing, accreditation, hiring, building a clinical program, and training our initial staff. Overall, we raised about $1mm to get started. In the beginning, we had two primary challenges: being new/unknown and being out of network with insurance policies. As a result, our first clients were gained due to longstanding relationships with team members and other treatment providers, who were willing to give us a shot. Over time, we were able to quickly establish a reputation for the highest quality service and also get in-network contracts completed, making treatment more affordable for clients.

Tell us why you wanted to become an entrepreneur:

When I left my role as an Army officer, I never thought that I would end up as an entrepreneur. My background, of course, was within leadership in a large organization. During my time at Stanford Business School, however, I fell in love with entrepreneurship. The possibility to build something that can “change lives, change institutions, and change the world” was alluring. After a couple of years in strategy consulting, I felt like my business tool kit was complete enough to make the leap.

“I don’t think anyone is ever really “ready,” but at some point, you just have to go and figure it out along the way!”

I started this journey with The Pet Loss Center, which provided support to pet parents through their worst days when their pets passed away. After growing to 8 locations across the US, we sold in 2020, and now with Sophros Recovery. Now that I have made the switch, I don’t think that I could ever go back to working with a big company. The ability to build a culture, focus on a mission, and make strategic decisions quickly is unparalleled.

Describe how your military background prepared you for entrepreneurship:

The biggest things that translated from the military to entrepreneurship were culture building and leadership. I specifically remember the strong culture in 2-27IN, Wolfhounds. The team was united around these earned black PT shirts, our motto, and the history of the unit. I’ve tried to replicate this same love for a unit within each of my companies through outings, focus on vision, and celebration as a core value. Often when people think of military leadership, they think of the hard side of it from movies, which wouldn’t translate well to entrepreneurship. On the contrary, I think that the core of military leadership is trust. We invest in the lives of our people, not just at a surface level, but the whole person. This respect and love for the whole person translates very well to entrepreneurial leadership where the job goes beyond the office and job description. That family-like environment can pay massive dividends in building an amazing and cohesive team.

Tell us about some of your obstacles and challenges, and how you overcame them:

The biggest challenge I had in entrepreneurship was learning to accept failure. Before entrepreneurship, everything felt like a pretty smooth path.

“Learning to be an entrepreneur includes learning to handle setbacks because they happen all the time.”

Unfortunately, this led me through some pretty tough times in 2018. I struggled with my mental health, and I found myself coping with alcohol and drugs. This led me to a path of my own personal recovery, without which, Sophros Recovery never would have been possible.I went to residential treatment in 2018, and the things I learned about how to navigate my relationship with myself, my life, and the world around me paid massive dividends in my life.

After treatment, I went to Cambodia for 3.5 months, where I lived at a temple practicing mindfulness and yoga 8 hours a day. This taught me how to live in the present moment, without judgment. This entire process and the struggles that I had personally allowed me to better deal with life’s challenges, and more importantly, it motivated me to start Sophros Recovery, where we can help other people who are struggling with the same issues that I dealt with earlier.

Describe how you’re doing today and what the future looks like:

In October of 2021, we started with 4 team members at Sophros, and just 20 months later, we are up to 20 employees. The team itself is both highly talented and very cohesive. We treat each other like friends and family, and we provide support to each other constantly, which is incredibly important in a growth company. Over that time, we have also seen revenue grow to over $3mm/year, and we are launching another location to service clients in Tampa.

Our approach to marketing was to define what makes us different than the other providers and then spread that message through many channels. We have 2 business development reps who spend time in the city talking to providers, and we have done many additional things like news spots, paid commercials, long form radio podcast series, social media, google ads, local fairs, and other events.

In the end, our vision for Sophros is to replicate the concept into multiple other markets. We believe that in doing so, we can expand our reach to help many more clients regain their lives from the grips of alcohol, drugs, and mental health challenges.

Share some advice with your fellow veteran entrepreneurs:

One of the best pieces of advice that I received as an entrepreneur is that “it’s never as good or as bad as you think.” I remember the initial stress over losing an account, having an employee leave, or missing budget for a month. But the reality is that we can only control so much, and we just have to trust that if we put the work in, it will all work out. Things change from day to day, and my mindfulness practice has been very helpful in keeping me centered through the ups and downs of small business.

As far as education and training go, I was fortunate to have been able to get an MBA, so I knew a little about a lot of different things. But the reality is that you don’t need that background, as you will learn things as you go. If there are any areas you are weak in, then either outsource or study that specifically (e.g., accounting, marketing, logistics).

A network can also be very valuable to help you bounce around business problems. Organizations ranging from YPO to Vistage can be very helpful in solving the “it’s lonely at the top” problem. Currently, I’m in a group called C12 that meets monthly, and I find that connection incredibly useful.

When it comes to spending money, it’s easier to spend early on talent and marketing if you have the ability. They say “fail fast” in Silicon Valley circles, but it isn’t necessarily about that.

“Launch fast. Be ready for the growth.”

If you don’t spend on marketing up front, then you will have an empty facility, with salaries and other costs eating away at your balance sheet. If you spend on marketing and not talent, then you won’t be prepared for the growth. Get the right people in, and build something nice…then, you will have a better chance at success.

As far as books and resources, I recommend spending that time working on yourself, so that you can show up for your team. Whether that involves books on mindfulness, leadership, organizational growth, or whatever it is, make yourself stronger for your team. This also means taking time for self care. I have a tendency to go go go, but if I’m not recharging myself, then I can’t show up as the best version of me for the men and women that depend on me each day.

As Veterans, we have proven that we can do hard things. Now it’s time to take those lessons and build something that will “change lives, change organizations, and change the world.”

 Where can we go to learn more: