After starting AxHill, a government consulting agency, back in 2009, Jonathan Lunardi was exposed to an issue that would forever change his life. Along with fellow co-founder Paul McDonald, Ph.D., the team tasked themselves with leading the U.S. Army and National Guard Bureau in creating a program for veterans focusing on health promotion, risk reduction, and suicide prevention. Lunardi prowled through government agency websites asking the same tough questions that many veterans have upon returning home. “Real answers were hard to find,” says Lundardi.
And thus began his and McDonald’s creation of the DC-based Veteran Central, a recently launched social network created specifically for veterans and their family members. With a three tiered approach of social reintegration, resource centralization and awareness, and employment support, Lunardi hopes that his new network can serve as part of the solution to a very serious problem. I caught up with Lunardi to learn more about his inspiration, the brand’s core focus, marketing strategy, and why they opted to become a for-profit venture.
Tech Cocktail: What was the inspiration behind Veteran Central?
Jonathan Lunardi: The inspiration for Veteran Central came when Paul and I started working on how the re-integration challenges facing our active duty men and women could be improved using modern web and mobile tools. As we began research into the National Guard and Reserve populations, we only saw those issues compounded. Here were our nation’s heroes coming home to communities that didn’t fully understand what they had experienced while deployed, where the traditional support systems enjoyed by the Active Duty in garrison were lacking, and where unemployment was (and still is) high. We looked online for some government or private solutions (figuring there had to be some central site to help veterans) and found an overwhelming number of sites that were often just laundry lists of links to other sites. We knew we had the expertise and technical ability to make a difference by connecting Veteran resources within a trusted, secure online environment that could be accessed by any device, anywhere.
Tech Cocktail: What is Veteran Central’s core focus? Is there any one void in particular that you’re hoping to fill?
1. Social integration and reintegration into communities
2. Resource centralization and awareness
3. Employment support
While there are a lot of “top down” driven solutions (i.e., government websites and job boards), we really feel that a bottom up community-based approach is the only thing that will help address the three issues above. By creating an online tool that focuses on those three areas, users are encouraged to post jobs, start conversations, and support each other, which is very unique compared to all the other veteran websites that are out there.
Tech Cocktail: How do you plan on getting the word out to veterans about this service?
Lunardi: Media is obviously important. We are also hoping our user community spreads the word to their networks. Ultimately, the site will succeed based on our user engagement. We want to leverage the experience of Veterans, Veteran Spouses, Veteran Small Business owners, Veteran employers, etc. who can help the community thrive. No individual can substitute for the collective knowledge of a group of people who have lived through these experiences.
Tech Cocktail: Any reasons in particular to not make Veteran Central a non-profit?
Lunardi: The real question here revolves around intent. When a company states that they are a “non-profit” people think that means they are looking out for the public good. Unfortunately, being a non-profit means there are a lot of regulations and constraints put around how, where, and when you can apply your profit to certain projects. We decided to be a for profit company so that we would have the freedom and flexibility to use our funds at our discretion for the betterment of the site and the Veteran communities that we represent. The site will always be free to our users. We consider ourselves a good example of a “private enterprise delivering public good.”