Finding the right job is often as much about who you know as what you know, a phenomenon with which plenty of people in D.C. are familiar. But military veterans mustering out often lack the kind of network that can help them transition to a new career. Serial entrepreneurs Leah Wald and Diana Tsai plan to fix that problem with their new startup, Veterati, which is raising a $650,000 convertible note round.
Veterati is the answer to a question raised in Tsai’s mind late last year.
“I was running a company in Shanghai at the time. I was reading Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, about Vietnam veterans and how hard things were for them when they came home,” Tsai said. “I wondered it it was still as bad today.”
Tsai spoke with friends of hers who were veterans and found surveys showing that almost 70 percent of veterans said that finding a new job was their biggest challenge. Veterans were often told to look at job boards and classified ads, but that just wasn’t useful. Tsai realized that here was a problem she could help solve, but she couldn’t do it alone. Tsai reached out to Wald, a close friend as well as a fellow entrepreneur, who enthusiastically jumped into brainstorming ways to help veterans find post-military careers.
Previously the head or founder of half a dozen companies between them, Wald and Tsai already had plenty of personal experience with the power of networking. Translating that into a form useable for veterans building that network from scratch needed its own approach though.
“We realized the solution is mentorship,” Tsai said. “Mentors can help you define your goals and lead you to new opportunity.”
At it’s core, Veterati is a platform to connect the veterans in need of a network with volunteer mentors who can help them. The trial stage of the platform put 200 veterans in contact with 800 mentors across a swathe of industries and positions.
“We’re personally talking to everyone, making sure they are vetted,” Wald said. “We look for high-quality expertise.”
Veterati takes data about the veterans and potential mentors, using a proprietary algorithm to help match people best suited to meet. Based on responses after a first meeting, Veterati can improve the match if the first pairing wasn’t a good fit. There’s no quick and easy path from joining Veterati to finding the perfect career as of yet, but that’s why the mentors matter.
“Nobody’s really figured out predictive career matching,” Tsai said. “One way we’re looking at it is like online dating.”
Fittingly, one adviser to Veterati is co-founder of eHarmony Galen Buckwalter. He, along with experts on the military, career hunting and data analysis, have helped shape the details of how Veterati works. Tsai and Wald said that they are having little trouble attracting additional interest and forming potential partnerships as they spread the word about Veterati.
“One way we’re looking at it is like online dating.”
“This is cutting edge in every way,” Tsai said. “We can really help change lives and people can see that.”
Early on, the co-founders envisioned it as a non-profit, but found that it was actually a lot easier to work with veteran groups if they weren’t seen as competition for donation dollars.
“When we became for-profit everybody started loving us,” Wald said. “Everybody wants to partner with us now.”
Veterati plans to bring in revenue by working with companies interested in hiring veterans, most of which don’t have a veteran outreach program. The company will take a commission for each hire a company makes through the website. There are other benefits to being for-profit too. It means that the costs of the company don’t ever fall on the veterans or mentors.
“We’re building something special.”
Ultimately, the revenue is really about improving the platform and expanding who Veterati can reach on both the mentor and veteran sides of the equation. And improving the odds for veterans to find a career they are happy with is the whole point, Tsai and Wald said.
“We’re building something special,” Wald said. “We see Veterati as a powerful tool for change.”