San Francisco Chronicle
May 25, 2013
Yinon Weiss spent 10 years in the military, including six years as an elite Green Beret. But without a professional social network to prepare him for a new civilian business life, he said he felt the kind of shock a paratrooper feels when the chute first opens.
“Suddenly, I was in a very different environment,” said Weiss, who grew up in Palo Alto. “I wasn’t familiar with the tools and the lexicon. I didn’t know about investment banking. I didn’t know what an iPhone was. I was a fish out of water.”
So last year, Weiss and business partner Aaron Kletzing, a former U.S. Army officer himself, founded RallyPoint (www.rallypoint.com), a private professional social network that was open only to active members of the U.S. military.
On Monday, Memorial Day, the “LinkedIn for the military” takes a big step by opening the network to former service members. The Boston firm, which already has about 25,000 users, instantly broadens its reach from about 2.5 million active service members to about 25 million veterans.
Service men and women do use LinkedIn, the Mountain View company that operates the world’s largest professional social network. But Weiss said RallyPoint offers social networking connections that active or former military personnel can make only with others who are have served.
“Your military identity is something that stays with someone their whole life,” he said. “For someone who has served, that connection to the military is very powerful.”
RallyPoint uses the “special language of the military” and includes other points of contact not offered in other social networks, Weiss said.
A former Navy submarine officer working at a tech company, for example, will look at a list of specialized military jobs on an applicant’s resume differently than someone who never served because of that “common experience,” Weiss said.
And connecting with someone who served in the same unit or location, or who performed the same job in the military, is “like making a connection with someone you went to high school with,” he said.
The network can also help active service members find new assignments when their current ones are up.
“The military doesn’t post jobs, doesn’t have ( job) recruiters, you don’t apply online anywhere,” he said. “Jobs are not randomly assigned. The best jobs are based on a lot of handshakes and relationships. What we’re doing is bringing transparency to that.”
The company is also finding that enlisted personnel are forming social connections with senior officers, which doesn’t normally happen because of the rigid military hierarchy, he said.
Weiss graduated from UC Berkeley in 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom, but he instead felt a strong calling to enlist in the Marine Corps. He checked into his unit on Sept. 11, 2001.
He became a scout and sniper platoon commander and went on several tours of duty in Iraq. He later was recruited to join the Army Special Forces.
When he returned to civilian life in 2009, he enrolled in Harvard Business School and only then learned about LinkedIn.
Need for social network
While at the business school, he reconnected with fellow student Kletzing, a West Point graduate who had served for five years on active duty. Weiss and Kletzing had met years before while serving in Iraq.
They both realized there was a need for a social network that could help service members, especially those who were looking to transition after long careers in the miliary. Despite websites such as Military.com, “the whole concept of professional networking is not that common within the military,” Weiss said.
By the time many are discharged, “they were well behind their peers, they had not built their networks, they don’t have networking skills, they don’t know the etiquette, they don’t know what to say,” Weiss said.
RallyPoint has recruited advisers such as retired Gen. George Casey, former commander of all military forces in Iraq and a former Army chief of staff; retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, former Air Force chief of staff; and retired Adm. John Harvey, former U.S. Fleet Forces commander.
With angel investments and one of the $100,000 top prizes in the MassChallenge business competition for startups, RallyPoint launched last year with a secure network accessible only by active service members.
Even with the network opening to veterans, the profiles of active personnel are set to private. So veterans can see only active service members who chose to allow themselves to be seen and contacted.
RallyPoint plans to generate revenue in ways similar to LinkedIn, such as selling services to corporate job recruiters looking for former soldiers, universities looking to bring in more veterans, or brands looking for sponsorship and advertising opportunities, Weiss said.
In a related move, Mountain View’s LinkedIn and management consulting firm Accenture released an a new online tool last week that is also designed to help veterans transition to civilian jobs.
The Accenture Military Career Coach includes information and videos on topics such as career planning, resume writing and job interviewing techniques. LinkedIn contributed tips on creating a LinkedIn profile, connecting with peers and establishing a professional identity online.
“Military veterans looking to start a career in the private sector may not be familiar with communicating their military experience and skills in a resume or online profile that translates to civilian work, or have the network to help in their search,” LinkedIn’s Meg Garlinghouse said in a news release.