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Sam Meek just looks like a Marine. He’s tall, husky, and could probably beat you down.
He says his wife has tried to “tone down” his Marine look—today he’s bespectacled and wearing a tropical-themed shirt covered in macaws with khaki shorts and American flag flip-flops—but no matter what, the look still pokes through. Not that he minds.
“I’ve been gaining weight steadily, trying to work out less and less, swear a little bit less, make less eye contact,” he jokes about trying to tone down his Marine-ness.
Today, the 33-year-old is CEO of Sandboxx, a startup in Crystal City’s 1776 tech incubator. Its goal is to improve communication in the military through technology. Sandboxx helps the friends and families of service members create letters through an app, and prints them off and mails them to each individual base. The app also provides a communication platform for people in the military, active or otherwise, to connect to every unit they’ve ever served.
“There was no one creating technology to service the military journey,” Meek says. “We said let’s figure out a way to deliver value to the military and veteran community.”
Meek grew up in Sun Valley, Idaho, a small ski town. He had always been interested in the military, coming from generations of Marines. During his senior year of high school, he watched the Twin Towers fall and it changed him. He was in class when it happened, and his teacher, who was a Navy SEAL, was sobbing.
He had always known he wanted to join the military, but seeing the 9/11 attacks made him speed up that process. He joined the Marines in 2002 and did two tours of Iraq and retired in 2007. After that, he worked at a hedge fund on Wall Street. During that time, about five or six years ago, he was introduced to Major General Ray Smith, a fellow veteran, who asked him to spearhead a communication platform for the military that would become Sandboxx. In 2012, the business had taken over his life and he decided to devote his life to it.
Now, Meek is seeing the fruits of he and his team’s labor. Using the app’s letters platform, wives have been able to send their military spouses the first photos of their newborn children.
“Your mom can pull out her phone, snap a photo of a swing she used to push you on and send it to you, saying ‘I was just thinking about you,'” Meek says. “But when you’re in basic training and boot camp, mom can’t do that. She’s got to go home and find her stationery. The letters platform fundamentally simplifies that, so mom can say I love you.”
Chadwyck Cobb, customer success manager for Sandboxx who conducts user interviews, says that one mother needed the letters platform to send her military son encouraging messages, as he was finding bootcamp incredibly difficult. He had been contemplating harming himself in order to avoid bootcamp. In her efforts to encourage him, she found Sandboxx, downloaded the app, and began sending him letters. Those letters from home helped him and he later became a star in his platoon.
Stories like this have become common among Sandboxx users, Cobb says. And he hopes those good stories continue.