By Gunnar Counselman
This is a story about a startup with a focused mission, stumbling into an invention that we realized had much broader application. It’s a sisyphean tale of realizing the magnitude of our purpose, of soul searching, of and ultimately deciding to focus on the technological invention and a broader mission.
The technology is Fidelis’s Learning Relationship Management System (LRM) and the story’s ending isn’t yet written. But I’ll tell you the beginning.
I founded Fidelis in 2011 in order to solve a problem that had touched me and my family for three generations — the military-to-civilian career transition. My grandfather enlisted in the Marines in December 1941 and there was a Counselman on active duty for 62 years until I got out in July of 2003.
I know from personal experience that the age old advice to “get your degree” rings as true for soldiers as everyone else, but sadly, most colleges aren’t built well to serve the needs of soldiers. I was delighted to realize that colleges know that and most of them want help serving this important demographic, so I felt like Fidelis was in a great position.
In founding Fidelis, I was inspired by friends like John Katzman at 2Tor and Paul Freedman at Altius. They’d pioneered unique models whereby their technology companies would partner with traditional schools to build something together that was impossible for the school or company to do independently.
Fidelis was the first such company focused on solving the challenges of a specific population, in our case, the military. We knew right off the bat that the military is a true cross-section of society with a massive range of natural talents, educational and family backgrounds, interests, and ambitions. We had no misgivings that ours would be a heavy lift.
Fidelis was able to form partnerships with a number of first rate schools like the Universities of California, Texas and Florida, as well as Arizona State. We knew that with top flight partners like these, and a million people getting out of the military every three years, that our software had to scale the myriad kinds of support needed by soldiers. Specifically, we needed tools to ensure that every student formed the kinds of relationships that would help them to succeed in the civilian world – particularly focusing on relationships with mentors, peers, companies and coaches – all in the context of a personalized learning plan.
My cofounder, Anoop Jayadevan, began working to integrate tools that would build personal learning plans, coordinate mentors, form communities and connect with companies to get our grads jobs. But none of the solutions we looked at were quite right and after months of trying to integrate them, we decided to quit the integration and build something ourselves.
What started off doing a simple software project that quickly got interesting. The graphic below shows all the point solutions that we needed and the tools that we explored.
Along the way, we realized that what we were building was both really elegant (in our humble opinion), and very generally useful, though we were committed to our mission of military-to-civilian career transition. We eventually called this collection of capabilities an LRM — for Learning Relationship Management system.
Think of it like a CRM – Customer Relationship Management tool, but unlike CRM tools which are for sales – LRM is custom built for learning.
Here’s a video that explains Fidelis’s LRM in 3 minutes.
When we finished the LRM, our partner colleges made it clear that they wanted to use it for all their students, not just their military students. At the same time we slowly came to realize that there were hundreds of Veterans Service Organizations that had resources, will, and desire to solve the military-to-civilian career transition problem — they just needed a software tool to allow them to do the very things that Fidelis built the LRM to do.
So I decided, after considerable agonizing, that the best way to do so was to give them the tools, not to compete with them for veterans and limited resources.
Presently, Fidelis is a Software as a Service company selling our LRM to colleges, companies, the military and membership organizations. We are lucky to have been adopted as a core technology by a number of first rate Veterans organizations including Sentinels of Freedom, 4 Block, Veterans 360, American Military University & Stanford’s Veteran Accelerator.