A Q&A with Unite US co-founder and Chief Business Officer Taylor Justice. The New York City-based startup, which is a social application that helps veterans find needed resources and connect with other veterans, closed a $2 million Seed funding round in late August from Scout Ventures and other, undisclosed, investors. It was founded in 2012 by Justice, Dan Brillman, Kareem Elsirafy and Andrew Price.
SUB: Please describe Unite US and your primary innovation.
Justice: Unite US is a hyper-local technology platform utilizing interactive mapping to connect the military community to much needed resources. The Unite US digital ecosystems allow anyone to easily discover and connect with resources near them—think Yelp. Unite US’ peer-to-peer community management platform utilizes internal and external data to facilitate authentic connections between the military, families, and supporters to their local resources including: government, corporations, educators, services, businesses, and civilian supporters willing to lend assistance. Based on needs, location, and interests, members and their families can find, as well as provide, guidance in a plethora of areas—creating community engagement and conversations with peers and entities at the local level. Founded by three members of the United States Armed Forces, Unite US is designed to help veterans and their families make sense of the resources available to them—ultimately uniting all entities under one platform.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Justice: There is a 60 million [person] military community population within the United States, which includes active duty military personnel, military families—dependents, and veterans. We believe this community will represent only a portion of Unite US’ user base. With a focus on engaging the military population within local communities, our desire is to involve civilian supporters into this process. Since military members are transitioning into the ‘civilian sector,’ it’s imperative to incorporate civilians and their respective entities into our solution.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Justice: Unite US is an aggregator of data and users in an effort to facilitate connections between veterans and their families with needed resources. That said, we do not have direct competitors and we are looking to partner with anyone and everyone to help provide the most comprehensive resource solution for our target market. Our biggest competitor will be bureaucracies that are apprehensive to revitalizing an archaic system.
SUB: What differentiates Unite US from the competition?
Justice: Because of the mere scope of the issue Unite US has targeted, coupled with the resources needed to provide such a solution, no one has taken a look at the veteran transition problem from a holistic approach; no one has thought to tackle this problem from beginning-to-end, until Unite US. Unite US’ technology has created a new market and has not only reengineered the veteran transition process, but we also believe our technology will be the evolution of social media in and of itself.
SUB: When was the company founded, and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Justice: The company’s inception was a little over a year ago in early 2012, but officially incorporated at the beginning of 2013. While still in idea phase, we spent time finding the right team to tackle this problem. Once the management and technology team were in place, we started raising the necessary capital to build a technology platform sophisticated enough to manage and connect the hundreds of thousands of resources and millions of individuals to each other with the versatility to evolve over time, accommodating the demand of the market.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Unite US? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Justice: Each of the founders experienced their own challenges transitioning into the civilian sector, which allowed Unite US to manifest from an immersed outlook. Consequently, while at Columbia Business School, [co-founder] Dan Brillman wrote a study on the need for a holistic technology platform for transitioning veterans. At Columbia, Dan met Kareem Elsirafy, a former Marine who helped him define the best approach for a solution and materialized the technology for its execution. Shortly after, Dan met me while I was applying to Columbia Business School, and he was looking at the veteran transition from a consulting standpoint bringing in the business development solution to the project. The three of us melded our personal experiences and our unique takes on plausible solutions and formed Unite US.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Justice: Unite US was derived to reflect an all-encompassing action that innately promotes engagement to and from everyone from veterans and supporters to the biggest corporations and small family businesses. We wanted to be the unifying digital platform that united the public and private sectors, as well as the plethora of resources and military members out there. The ‘US’ has multiple meanings, both created from ‘U.S.’—United States—and also ‘US’—the military community—which allows for multiple interpretations and nicknames.
SUB: You recently raised a $2 million Seed funding round. Why was this a good time to raise outside funding?
Justice: Like any technology startup, in order to take a prototype to the next level a capital infusion is required. However, our urgency to raise capital wasn’t solely to build our technology, but around timing and demand for transitioning veterans to find what they are looking for. The current veteran transition process is already at a dire state, but over the next four years one million service members will transition into the civilian sector. The current systems available are barely limping along and cannot handle the number of transitioning veterans. This, coupled with the tidal wave of additional veterans about to hit the civilian sector, will surely handicap the current systems—leaving veterans and their families to bear the brunt. The Unite US solution was designed and built to easily handle this influx of veterans while also providing an avenue for the hundreds of thousands of resources and millions of civilian supporters to engage and better serve veterans and their families.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds?
Justice: The majority of the funding will be allocated to technology and business development to continually enhance our product and processes, in an effort to maintain the most impactful and efficient resource for the veteran community. In addition, Unite US is focused not only on providing a discovery solution with the platform, but also through practice by capitalizing on the talent pool of transitioning veterans and their families and bringing the best and brightest to join our team. We’ve secured a run rate of two years and additional revenue generated within this timeline will extend the runway.
SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?
Justice: As mentioned, Unite US has a run rate of at least two years. The need for an additional round of funding prior to two years would mean that the solution is making a significant impact and exceeding our initial expectations. In hoping that is a problem we encounter, we will need to raise additional funds to match the market’s demand.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Justice: Building something that has never been seen before brings its own unique challenges. Our mission is to demystify an already complex and challenging environment, which requires stripping down this clustered system and building an intuitive, efficient, and sustainable solution. Finding the right mix of information and applicable resources that drives all users and entities to the same goal takes time to get just right.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Justice: Our platform is completely free for individuals, veterans, families and civilian supporters. We monetize through a plethora of services we provide to entities including large organizations, corporations, and education institutions, to name a few, who need to manage their veteran initiatives and compile large amounts of data.
SUB: What are your goals for Unite US over the next year or so?
Justice: Unite US’ main priority, in addition to adding features to our platform, is to onboard partners: non-profits, corporations, education institutions, and government agencies. Our holistic approach requires buy-in from these entities. Unite US is close to our public launch date and the response from these large entities to join our team has been overwhelming.
Unite US – www.uniteus.com