SABM Podcast: Turning Photos into Custom Paintings With Brendan Aronson, USNA '12, Wharton Graduate, and Veteran Entrepreneur

Posted by Benjamin Strusnik on

Author Image

Abigail Pfriem

Entrepreneurship has to be one of the hardest, yet most rewarding career experiences there is. Paintru co-founder and CFO, Brendan Aronson, recently chatted with Scott from The Service Academy Business Mastermind (SABM) Group, a community of Academy grads who create exponential value for each other through new learning, collaboration, and connections.

The episode digs into several key topics spanning from taking risks to pursue your own company versus a set path, the key attributes of Academy grads that Brendan believes are an essential support to business success, and how to follow a passion and pursue true work-life balance.

Listen to the episode to learn more about:

  • Brendan's experience working with fellow USNA grads 
  • What it's like to run a business with lifelong friends
  • Taking the leap of pursuing entrepreneurship over a career in finance at a prestigious firm
  • Finding a true calling for a career and meaning within one
  • Exploring market verticals to find success
  • Transforming lessons learned in The Marines to victories within business

Starting Paintru


"So, you're the co-founder and CFO of a pretty cool company called Paintru. I still have to figure out which picture I want to send you guys so I can get it turned into a painting on my wall. Really cool concept. I think a lot of people will enjoy learning about your company today and also, what led you to start the company. Why don't we start there? What is Paintru and why did you guys start it?"


"Paintru is a custom artwork company. We have two different lines of business. Our primary line of business is our direct-to-consumer line. As you mentioned, you're thinking about a photo that you want to have turned into a painting – that's what we do all day.

Converting Images into Personalized Art Pieces

Every day, we work with our clients and customers to elevate their memories by turning them into hand-painted artwork. We paint for a myriad of different occasions, whether it's for wedding gifts, to commemorate a great trip that you took.

My favorite paintings are when we take a travel photo that has beautiful colors of, say a sunset, that was taken on a trip that was really meaningful for you and a partner or a friend then turn that into a hand-painted piece of artwork. Artists can match any style that you'd like. Oftentimes with travel photos, customers will have them painted in an impressionist style."

Transforming Photographs into Unique Paintings

Heavy palette oil impressionist landscape painting

Learn more about how Paintru artists can turn your #travelgram photos into an incredible painting >

Working with Academy Grads and Friends


""I was looking on your about page and all your team members, I think, are Navy grads–I love it. What's that like?

I just had a call yesterday with someone who just graduated from Wharton business school. Within the first week of school, he met a West Point grad, and a month later they started working on the business concept together. Now, they've graduated and they're business partners–I think that's so cool. What's it like for you, being in business with other academy graduates?""


""The values that people hold when they go into the service academies when they graduate, as they complete their military careers, are exactly the types of values and character traits that you want in a business partner, they are trustworthy, they are hardworking, they're diligent. They're focused on execution. The most important quality is that they are just fantastic teammates.""

Learn more about Paintru's Military discount program through GovX >

Paintru: a team of artists, entrepreneurs, veterans & visionaries

Paintru: a team of artists, entrepreneurs, veterans & visionaries

Betting On Yourself and Taking the Entrepreneurial Leap


""it has been the single best decision that I've ever made.

Now, I think that there is value to going to places that have a reputable ""brand name"" and think it can be helpful to you early in your career. As I evaluated my own personal career, I was a Naval academy grad, I was a Marine infantry officer, I was a Goldman guy for a little bit, I was a Wharton MBA. It just kind of came to the point of like, how long am I going to delay gratification? And, do I really not? How, how could I possibly be unwilling to bet on myself?

You know, I think I'm hardworking. And I think I'm talented and capable. If I am not willing to bet on myself, who is? Ultimately this was a multi-year process of coming to this decision of ""I'm going to launch my own business"". It was terrifying to be Frank. It still is a lot of the time, but you know, I have a roof over my head. I have enough food on my plate. I get to wake up every single day and I just fire out a bed like I'm shot out of a cannon. So, I couldn't be happier with the decision. It's fantastic. I recommend it to anyone.""

My co-founder JD Kamin recently had a baby. The night that caught her was born, I was on a call with JD to congratulate him on this meaningful moment in his life and the birth of his firstborn son. And he was, of course, just overcome with emotion about it. Then he said to me, ""you know, this is one of the most meaningful events of my life. And also, did you see that painting? We sold 20 minutes ago. That was a pretty sweet sale, wasn't it?""

That's what you're looking for in a teammate and a partner–someone who's just going to be fired up about that Shopify notification of selling a painting.

What entrepreneurship provides to you is you own it. This is an asset that you own, and you'll never be as fired up about making money for someone else as you are about doing it for yourself. When you're growing the thing that becomes your passion, you care about it and love it like a child. It takes time and effort and labor, and the more effort that you put into it, and the more time, the more you get out of it.""

Finding Work-Life Balance


""You hear about this work-life balance, right? And it's like almost the way that people teach you from the HR department about work-life balance is that work is separated from life in a lot of regards. What you just described was kind of an example of where that it's combined like work is life and life is work.

I think if you're doing what you love doing, doing what you do best during the day, and have got a team around you to support you, I don't see why, if you have four or five real focus hours a day, why you need to spend any more time than that. This frees up a lot of time to spend a lot of time with your family.

At the end of the day, there's the work in life. I think that they can be combined when you're doing something that you love. It's something where there are two things I think that aren't necessarily separate.""


""It's an interesting point that you make about work-life balance for a few reasons.

First–culturally in the United States, if you ask someone, oh, "what do you do?", they come back and tell you about what they do for work. If you ask someone elsewhere in the world, "what do you do?", they'll say, "oh, I like to surf and I ski and I like to travel". It's just not thought of the same way.

One of the reasons why I did not accept my full-time offer at Goldman was that I wanted to, it was time, right? It was, this is this limited resource I have to take advantage of. Ironically, now I do a startup that I spend countless hours on every week. But, I think the key point of differentiation is that you spend your time and you budget your time.

[Running my own business] you have the autonomy over your time to say, this is time that I'm setting aside to pour into my business and put my, my time and effort and skills into the business. On this Friday night, for example, I'm not doing it. I'm going to spend time with my family. I'm going to go to check out that new museum that I wanted to see, I'm going to do the things that are critical to me being a happy and fulfilled human being. And no one else can dictate my time because I worked for myself.""

Learn more about Paintru's story >
Crafting Custom Paintings from Images

About Scott, Founder of SABM

Scott Mackes

Scott Mackes, USNA class of '01, has dedicated his career to supporting the success of fellow military veterans interested in building new businesses. He founded SABM Group to create a platform rich with resources, information, insight, and professional guidance to advance business ideas and opportunities through a trusted network.

SABM is a place for academy graduates to share their knowledge, experience, and networks to make the community stronger.

About Brendan, Paintru Cofounder & CFO


Brendan was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and attended the US Naval Academy for his undergraduate education.

He served as a US Marine officer for 6 years following graduation before pursuing an MBA from The Wharton School.

Wharton Journal: Brendan Aronson: Marine to Co-Founder of Paintru

Although Brendan's artistic expression exclusively manifests via excel spreadsheets, his favorite artist is, quite unoriginally, Michelangelo (who is also his favorite mutant ninja turtle).