When Yinon Weiss made the leap from military life to Harvard Business School in 2009, one of the early lessons he learned was about the power of social media. Like most people he knew in military service, Weiss had never used career-building websites such as LinkedIn. But upon his return to civilian life, it seemed that everyone he met was an enthusiastic participant.
“I went from a world of zero networking to a super-saturated world of networking all the time,” said Weiss, who was on active duty for 10 years, serving as a platoon commander in the Marines and a Special Forces officer in the Army.
The more he explored the possibilities of online networking, Weiss said, the more he believed military personnel were missing out on a potentially powerful tool that could help them direct the course of their military careers and land a job once they left. So he, along with fellow veteran and Harvard Business School student Aaron Kletzing, decided to fill the gap.
The result was RallyPoint, a Boston-based online networking site designed for current service members. Weiss said the three-month-old site is aiming for nothing less than a fundamental change in military culture, making it more responsive to the individual skills and desires of its members, and better preparing them for a world beyond the military universe.
“I know that’s a very ambitious goal,” he said.
Currently, military personnel are not encouraged to forge career-building relationships or to reach out and learn about the jobs or postings they might want, Weiss said.
As a result, they may have not have much control over the path they take during their military service and might reenter the private sector without the networking skills essential to finding a job.
The numbers seem to make that case: At 11.7 percent, unemployment among recent veterans was more than 50 percent higher than in the civilian population last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
RallyPoint helps users advance their military careers by helping them connect with other service members, making it easier to research desired positions within the armed forces. Weiss hopes it will also ease the transition to postmilitary work by helping members develop essential networking skills and giving them access to employers who are eager to hire from the military.
Right now, the site is available — for free — only to armed forces personnel. The company has been focusing on expanding its user base and helping those who join build a social media identity within the military, Weiss said.
“If people saw this as just another get-a-job site, that would muddy the waters a little bit,” he said.
In March or April, the site will also open to businesses, which will be charged fees to create pages describing their companies and the jobs available.
RallyPoint’s vision has gained some traction. Angel investors have provided $1.65 million in funding, Weiss said. RallyPoint also received $100,000 as one of the four top winners in the 2012 MassChallenge competition, a start-up and accelerator program in Boston.
“The judges were quite impressed,” said Akhil Nigam, MassChallenge’s president and founder. “People saw a great need and were convinced that they had something special and that the team could execute on that.”
On the surface, RallyPoint is similar to the popular business social network LinkedIn, Weiss acknowledged. Members have profile pages from which they can connect with other service members, and a news feed shows their connections’ recent updates.
One major difference is something called the RallyPoint Universe, an organizational chart that maps out a member’s connections across the military hierarchy. If, for example, someone is interested in looking for a position in a specific unit or division, he can navigate through the chart, find the group he is interested in joining, and see if he has any friends (or friends of friends) there.
“It is a lot easier for me to find connections that I might otherwise not have been able to find on something like LinkedIn,” said Captain Thom Kenney, a civil affairs officer in the Army Reserves and vice president of Equinox, a Cambridge Web development start-up. Kenney said he expects the site to help him better shape his military career.
In addition, he said, his company will use RallyPoint to find prospective employees.
“To be able to do a little bit of searching for people who think like I do, who I know are reliable and trained — to be able to identify them and see where they are could be hugely beneficial,” Kenney said.Sarah Shemkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.