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The founders of MilTribe, an online military community marketplace, and third-place winners of the Tech Fuel startup competition, aren’t operating their business in stereotypical start-up fashion. They aren’t self-promoting endlessly on social media, they aren’t hosting flashy launch parties and they aren’t preparing to spend thousands of dollars on advertising.
Instead, they are quietly working with City of San Antonio and Bexar County leaders to build trust and community relationships with their main audience: members of the U.S. military and their families.
MilTribe CEO Tim Kaufeldt, who grew up in a military family, knows what many families and spouses are up against.
PCS, or permanent change of station, occurs for many people in the military every few years, which means that military families must pack up their lives and homes and move to new cities.
Buying and selling new furniture each time a family faces a long-distance move can cost a significant amount of money and time for spouses who often have to pack, sell and buy the furniture on their own. Kaufeldt said that his family moved seven times before he was 16, and it was a lot of work for his mother every time.
Finding work as a military spouse was also important to Kaufeldt’s mother, but for many spouses, PCSing every couple of years can disrupt career advances.
MilTribe hopes to address these two issues, and others, with their online marketplace, M2M Listings, and MilTribe Local, a discounts platform that will be populated by a military spouse sales force selling promotions and coupons to businesses located near military installations. MilTribe is working with The MilSpo Project, short for Military Spouse Project, on developing the sales force.
“Their mission is to educate (military spouses) on business and how to start your own business,” Kaufeldt said. “We want to help them accomplish their mission by building a platform within ours where in our ‘local deals’ section we’re going to build a platform and give spouses all the assets of business cards, sales training and everything else, at no cost to them, for them to go out into their communities and visit local businesses and sell these ad packages.”
Kaufeldt sees this joint endeavor with MilSpo, which has more than 40 chapters around the nation, as a way to improve military spouse employment rates and their capacity to make ends meet.
“By putting them in this program … they’re getting out in the community, they’re learning about customer service, they’re learning about sales, and they’re building their network as they’re working with people,” Kaufeldt said. “While they’re out there, we hope that they find their calling as entrepreneurs and go out there and start doing whatever it is that interests them.”
This community-minded company ethos is also at the core of MilTribe’s approach to signing on corporations to their Exclusive Deals platform.
“There are some military deal sites out there that people built to make money off of bringing deals to the military. Something that we are very, very clear about is that we didn’t start this and create this to go get a bunch of advertising clients to market to the military,” said Kevin La Rue, MilTribe’s CFO. “If businesses are serious about making a serious impact in the military community, there are some opportunities for them to work with us, but they’ve got to be involved in solving the problems in the community and working on some of the causes. (MilTribe was) started to really make an impact and solve problems.”
Kaufeldt said that the company is in talks with a large national pet store chain, and that the company will begin a partnership based on the condition that the chain commit public affairs money to a pet-related charity such as Dogs on Deployment.
“We’ve gone from a nice tech idea to a platform where we’re leveraging these great things that the military needs (and we) turn around and give it right back.”
Kaufeldt said that MilTribe will make a $20 donation to MilSpo for each person who signs up in July. For every item listed on the marketplace, an additional $3 will be donated.
The 80/20 Foundation and South Texas Luxury Experience will each match fundraising up to $5,000. MilTribe plans to follow a one-on, one-off approach for fundraising: the team is fundraising for MilSpo in July, make progress on upcoming projects in August, and then host a fundraiser for veterans in September.
It seems especially fitting that MilTribe is launching in San Antonio, which is often referred to as Military City U.S.A. Kaufeldt said that local leaders, such as Bexar County Veterans Service Officer Queta Marquez and City of San Antonio Director of Military Affairs Juan Ayala, are behind the project. Kaufeldt said that this step is key because as more local leaders learn about Miltribe, word will spread to the families and spouses who can benefit from its mission.
“We could not launch this business in any other city. Mr. Ayala told us this morning that there’s 200,000 veterans and retires in the metroplex area,” Kaufeldt said. “For us to be able to reach out directly and touch them with a message is the kind of marketing that you can’t pay for. It has to come from people’s true interest in what you’re doing.”
Top image: MilTribe CEO Tim Kaufeldt (right) works with CFO Kevin La Rue outside their 8th floor office in Geekdom. Photo by Scott Ball.