FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Businesses, non-profits and even the government have long been wary of offering exclusive deals online to military personnel, veterans and their families.
The problem, as two former Army Rangers realized, is that veterans and those on active duty weren't being provided with any sort of digital identification to show that they qualify.
So Matt Thompson, a Stafford High School graduate, and Blake Hall, whom he met at Harvard Business School, have teamed up to provide a solution.
They've founded Troop ID, a McLean-based business that allows people to digitally verify their military credentials in order to get the same sorts of discounts and other benefits online that are already available in bricks-and-mortar locations.
Participating partners, which include Baltimore-based sports apparel outfitter Under Armour and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, get a Troop ID widget to put on the checkout page of their website.
The concept is appealing because so many people shop online, especially those stationed at bases in rural areas, said Thompson, who served four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"When I think of the different places that I've been stationed, most were out in the boonies and I didn't have access to the brands I wanted," he said.
Currently, about 1,000 active-duty military, veterans and their spouses are signing up through TroopID.com each day. The company has a total of 125,000 members so far.
"It's an efficient way for them to prove who they are, and we hold that information with the upmost secrecy and privacy," Thompson said.
Military personnel and veterans can set up an account with Troop ID by going onto its website and entering such personal identification information as their Social Security number and date of service or their .mil email address. The information is then checked against a government database.
Once verified, members select an email address and password that becomes their digital ID card, and they control how much of their personal information is shared.
"Certain retail brands and organizations need different information in order to provide benefits," Thompson said. "If it's a 10 percent discount, all they need to know is if someone has been in the military. For higher levels of transactions, organizations may need more information."
Thompson is a Virginia Military Institute graduate who spent 11 years in the Army. When he got out, he was looking for new opportunities and enrolled in the Harvard Business School.
"You learn so many skills in combat that are invaluable when running your own company," he said. "You have to be flexible and make decisions fast and operate under pressure."
He and Hall discussed their military experiences while they were at Harvard, and began developing what would become their company as a yearlong academic study. They formed a limited-liability company with Hall as CEO and Thompson as COO in 2010 with the goal of rewarding people for their military service. They launched two businesses, TroopSwap and Troop ID, the following year.
TroopSwap.com is a members-only site that offers daily deals and discounts from local and national businesses exclusively to those who serve or have served in the military and their spouses. Thompson likened it to livingsocial.com and retailmenot.com.
Troop ID was initially used just on the TroopSwap site and was made available to third parties on Veterans Day last year. The first to sign up was Under Armour, which has long offered a 10 percent discount to active duty service members and veterans who show a military ID at its stores. It now offers the same discount to them online.
Other participants are Overstock.com, which waives the $19.95 membership fee for those who verify with Troop ID, and the Department of Veterans Affairs Innovation Initiative, which offers them a free, one-year membership in its TechShop program.
Thompson said that Troop ID is approaching a number of Fortune 500 companies about joining the program, and hopes to sign some of them up soon.
"The conversations have been very rewarding," he said. "It's given me a way to continue to serve now that I'm out of uniform."