For the 1 million U.S. military members who are expected to leave service in the next three years, and the more than 1 million veterans who are currently unemployed, a new free social networking site could be the key to finding work in the private sector.
Like a LinkedIn for the military, RallyPoint was built by two enterprising Iraq War veterans exclusively for members and ex-members of the U.S. Armed Forces. RallyPoint founders Yinon Weiss and Aaron Kletzing first met in Baghdad in 2008 and crossed paths again at Harvard Business School in 2011. Inspired by living where Facebook was conceived and by niche social media successes that followed it, such as Behance for artists and Doximity for doctors, the two sketched out an idea on a napkin at a Harvard Square pub one night.
Weiss, who served 10 years on active duty as a Marine Corps Scout/Sniper Platoon Commander and an Army Special Forces officer, says that LinkedIn is not much use for climbing the career ladder inside the military. “Service members can’t search by language that makes sense in the military, and LinkedIn doesn’t capture rank, military units, stations, or deployment experiences,” he says.
Nor is Facebook the right place for professional military networking. “Rank is incredibly important,” Weiss says. “A senior person is not going to connect with a junior person on Facebook.”
But RallyPoint uses that rigid structure to its advantage. “It makes it very easy to match people with others like themselves. When someone joins from a military unit, he automatically sees everyone else in that unit. Or it says ‘other people like you are reading this or are interested in this’,” Weiss says.
To be sure, persuading anyone to join yet another social network is a tough sell. “It takes a really compelling value proposition to get them to do that,” Weiss says, in B-school parlance. “Our value proposition is unique, which is ‘career management within the military.’”
Backed by $1.6 million in angel funding, he and Kletzing launched RallyPoint out of the Harvard University Innovation Lab on Veterans Day 2012. Access to the site was free, and exclusive to active service members. And since the military had recently liberalized its social media policies, going so far as to encourage commanders to use Facebook, RallyPoint advertised there.
Users came in droves. Master Sergeant Steven Stankovich was one. “I’m already a huge fan,” he says. Based outside of Brussels with a military intelligence group, he says he’s using RallyPoint to “build my own rolodex.” When his tour ends in 2015, he’ll have spent 25 years in the Army. “There’s a page on RallyPoint where you can look for opportunities right around the time you’re looking to get out. It gives you an opportunity to get the feelers out there,” he says.
As a senior career counselor for Fort Myer, Master Sergeant Matt Quick says RallyPoint helps anyone leaving service “build a foundation.” And it can help “to make the transition a lot easier” for someone moving within the service by connecting with people at their new assignment.
What RallyPoint’s founders didn’t foresee was the appeal it would have for ex-military. Within days of launch they were flooded with requests from veterans to open the site up to them too. “We really underestimated the market demand for former military to be involved in this community,” Weiss says.
Long time service members can be tripped up by what he calls “the night and day difference” between how military and civilians manage their careers. “Vets looking for jobs in the private sector aren’t equipped with the skills to market themselves because the military has always told them where to go,” he says. “In the military you don’t post your resume or apply for jobs online.”
The founders quickly expanded their value proposition to include helping veterans navigate the private sector by linking up with others in the ex-military community. On Memorial Day 2013, RallyPoint opened access to them. Now, Weiss says, “Our goal is to consolidate 24 million people—the entire veteran and military community.”
With 35,000 users so far, RallyPoint has far to go, but it’s a community that many service providers consider a gold mine. Insurance companies, financial advisors, real estate brokers, moving companies, recruiters, and universities are among those that want to reach current and ex-military. Weiss says he and Kletzing are in talks with several large financial institutions to develop partnerships, as well as a large distributor of military-related content. But for now, he says, “Generating revenue is not what we’re focused on. Our priority is to build the community.”
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