Sandboxx: The “Facebook” of the Military

Sandboxx CEO Sam Meek wore sandals, poured two cups of cold brew coffee from the tap, and sat in the lounge chair across from me at his office in Crystal City outside Washington, DC. His large frame leaned in over his knees.

Meek has one of those personalities that fills up the room. His voice sounds like Jack Black, he waves his hands when speaks, and his teeth are rarely hidden in his mouth.

After a career in the United States Marine Corps, Meek “fell into Wall Street,” as he put it, caddying in New York in 2007. There, he met the head of a family office founder who told him to come meet him at his office in Stamford, CT.

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During his first few weeks at WR Capital, Meek remembered sitting next to the man as he called partners to update them on the details of his hedge fund. Meek had a knack for data visualization tools and would put together slide presentations during the call so that by the time it ended, he would send the deck with up-to-the-minute data based on the conversation that just took place.

One day, he was introduced to Major General Ray L. Smith who asked him to help solve a problem for the Marines. Only it wasn’t just for the Marines. It was for military spouses, too.

“When military personnel move, train, deploy and transition, it’s chaos for the spouse and the family,” said Meek. “There was no clear and efficient way for them to get plugged into the local community.”

Community BBQs, best pizza places in town, local trusted businesses – these are things new families needed to know about the area around the base but a single cogent source of information didn’t exist.

“When military personnel move, train, deploy and transition, it’s chaos for the spouse and the family”

That’s when Maj. Gen. Smith and his cofounder Bob Russell asked Meek to begin spearheading Sandboxx, the military technology and social network that builds content and features to simplify the military journey.

Having served for five years in the service, Meek accepted.

What began as a local information portal grew into an end-to-end digital connection and content hub. Meek advanced Sandboxx from a content-driven aide, to a full-fledged military social network – and expanded its benefits beyond just military personnel and their spouses: now, the whole family of the recruit can stay connected and informed with their loved one’s journey.

Sandboxx is like other social networks, but because military life differs from civilian life, the app has significant distinctions.

“When we looked holistically at the military community, we wanted to enable them to connect around the existing social culture – the platoons, detachments, and battalions,” said Meek.

Military members join their “units” in the app and can send messages and updates to one another regardless of where they may be stationed around the globe.

Military members join their “units” in the app and can send messages and updates to one another regardless of where they may be stationed around the globe.

One of the most pronounced differences is how users communicate when they are “off-the-grid”. At any given moment, 200,000 military members are in training or deployed and have no access to phones, computers, or any sort of digital communication. The only way they can receive correspondence from loved ones is through physical mail. Most of these folks are in basic training.

To service this friction point, Sandboxx created Letters – a system that merges the digital habits of the civilian world with the offline physical requirements of the military. A spouse or parent can snap a photo on their mobile device, write an accompanying message, and send it to their recruit in seconds. Sandboxx takes the digital message and converts it into a printed letter and sends it to the recruit on the same day.

Sandboxx processes over 1,000 letters a day. In other words, over 1,000 troops feel encouraged and inspired every day by their support groups back home. The best part? Every Sandboxx letter contains a return envelope and postage so recruits and those deployed can respond immediately.

Meek noted that direct mail is the single, greatest morale booster for service men and women during tough times including boot camp, basic training, and deployment.

Letters is just one feature – Sandboxx simplifies military discount airfare travel planning, helps veterans stay connected to their units, and allows recruiters to advise and encourage recruits along their journey.

The beauty of Sandboxx is the daily inspiration it provides to the men and women protecting our country.

The beauty of Sandboxx is the daily inspiration it provides to the men and women protecting our country.

“The stories I get to hear are what keep me motivated,” said Meek. “When you hear about how a dying veteran searched for a former comrade his entire life and finally found him, or the moment when a husband sees the picture of his first newborn child, or sees his wife with her graduation cap and gown on – this is what makes what we’re doing worth it.”

With wide eyes, Meek could’ve gone on with story after story about how loved ones were reunited and relationships strengthened through Sandboxx.

Knowing that military spending in the United States is at over half a trillion dollars a year, Meek and his growing team have big plans.

“This is just the beginning,” said Meek. A wide smile swept underneath his thick-framed glasses as he took the last sip of his coffee. He stood up to shake my hand. “Lots of work ahead.”

For more information, visit www.sandboxx.us.

Dave Schools is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveSchoools.