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Military communications app to roll out new feature to help increase retainment

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

The Arlington-based mobile app Sandboxx plans to roll out a new chatroom feature for military recruits and their families, in an attempt to increase communication and minimize dropouts.

Sandboxx plans to introduce “Muster” within a month.

The chatroom, which aims to mimic Slack, is for individual military recruiting stations for recruiters and new recruits in the delayed entry program, Sam Meek, app founder and veteran, told ARLnow.

The goal of Muster is to make sure that its users would be “getting that comradery experience in our military journey before basic training,” Meek said. Moreover, this new feature aims to help military recruiters measure the engagement of recruits in those programs.

Sandboxx “Muster” mobile app (courtesy Sandboxx)

The mobile app, profiled by ARLnow in 2016, is a communications app that lets family and friends write and send letters to their loved ones in basic training, as well as allowing military members to connect with other units.

Other recently added features include the digital wallet. That addition allows military members to receive gift cards from relatives and friends for purchases at the military exchange stores during basic training and beyond.

The new feature is an attempt to bring back the fellowship among new recruits that diminished during the pandemic.

Prior to Covid hitting, “a lot of our folks in the recruiting stations would get together once a week or once a month, and they work out and they talk about the ethos of the military journey,” Meek said.

However, once the pandemic arrived, those meetings disappeared. “Sandboxx is bringing back this kind of digital comradery,” he said. The new feature would also allow families and friends of each recruit to form a chat group in the app, where Sandboxx would upload information about the military.

“Not only can [users] read that, but they can communicate it and talk about it directly in their Muster chat,” Meek added.

Keeping new recruits engaged and reducing dropout rates are major goals for Sandboxx.

“One of the things we’re doing is making sure that we can keep really high engagement and we can help those recruiters keep those young 18-year-old and 19-year-old men and women in the delayed entry program and make sure they shift to basic training,” Meek said.

He added that preventing recruits from dropping out is “the biggest uphill battle” military recruiters are facing currently. Recruitment is also another challenge due to the pandemic and high employment rates.

Currently, the U.S. military is not recruiting enough people into most of its service branches. The Department of Defense has only attracted a total rate of 85% recruits across the Army, Navy, the Marine Corps, Air Force and Space Force in fiscal year 2022.

Sandboxx is expected to keep up the new service member’s interest in the military by communicating with each recruit’s family and friends about benefits of joining the military.

“When that individual, if they do get cold feet and they start to get a little nervous about the military journey, the friends and family around them can assure them that this was a fabulous decision,” Meek said.

Another goal of Sandboxx this year is getting all the basic training facilities on board with the app. The company hopes to have an employee working with every military exchange and command to promote the app to the new recruits.

Since the app’s launch in 2014, it has accumulated around six million users to total, with nearly 600,000 new ones joining in the past year alone. The company also added 60 new employees since 2016 and raised around $9 million in the latest round of fundraising last year, Meek said.

The app has attracted almost all Marine and Navy members that joined in the last five years, while a lower proportion of Army and Air Force recruits joined the app. Overall, around 70% of new military recruits join the app, Meek said.

Apart from reducing comradery among the recruits, the pandemic also brought new user trends for the app. When the military suspended the basic training graduations in 2020, more users, especially parents, continued using the app for a longer period.

“We saw the new military parents really leveraging Sandboxx in a much bigger way to support their loved ones through basic training and all the way through the end,” Meek said. “Where in the past, our users would begin to use Sandboxx a little bit less and less for the basic training portion of the app towards graduation.”

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