Name: Nicole Utt
Title: Content Manager
Nicole Utt loves her military community.
As the daughter of a Marine and now the wife of a Marine, she’s found her role in working for one of Washington D.C.’s fastest-growing military tech startups rewarding, challenging, and invigorating.
For someone who considers herself a patriot, Nicole’s role as Sandboxx’s content manager couldn’t be a more perfect fit. Daily, she works on creating relevant content for loved ones like herself who are navigating the unpredictable yet exciting life that is the military.
Here she shares her journey into the Sandboxx world and how she focuses on getting the military community mission-ready everyday with cheerful grace.
A Time for Growth and Change
Long before she became Sandboxx’s content manager, Nicole decided she was going to be proactive in how she lived her life, including choosing her career path.
Even if she’d spent the first 24 years of her life in Colorado, it wasn’t about to stop her from working in the unpredictable startup field in a new city on a new coast.
Her then-boyfriend, Alex, was attending Marines OCS on the east coast, and she knew she wanted to land there once he graduated. They’d been together for a few years, and it was time for a change of scenery.
To do that, she had to get a little creative. She didn’t know anyone on the east coast other than Alex and had no idea where to live, except that she wanted to be in the D.C. area.
That’s how she landed on an air mattress on a friend’s living room floor for six months while working for Sandboxx during its startup phase.
Even though everything about the situation was new and unpredictable, Nicole liked the excitement of it all.
“It was really surreal. This whole time you have this idea of what a company is and what’s going on,” she says of coming onboard to Sandboxx. “You think you know how it works. And it’s kinda like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and you’re completely blown away by the technology and the people you work with.”
How She Discovered Sandboxx by Accident
While Alex attended OCS, Nicole was back in Colorado working in marketing for a local company. In her free time, she sent him handwritten letters. Soon after sending them, she realized she had the wrong address written down for his command.
“Naturally, I was freaking out that he wasn’t going to get my letters,” she says.
So she took to the internet to try and track down the right address. In the process, she found Sandboxx letters and decided to give it a try.
Nicole loved the simplicity of it. It gave her a way to easily communicate with Alex while she continued living her life back home.
That experience planted the seed of what would later bloom into her Sandboxx career.
Once Alex graduated from OCS, Nicole set out to find a remote job that would allow her to work on the east coast. She’s researched a lot of companies, and then it dawned on her that her experience as a military girlfriend could work in her favor.
“I thought, “How cool would it be to work in the military space?,’” she says
She reached out to Sandboxx to inquire about a marketing gig. Sandboxx didn’t have a full-time position, but they did have a marketing internship. While working her full-time job in Colorado, Nicole took on the internship role as a way to get her foot in the door.
She’d wake up early to get some work done for Sandboxx before heading into her 9-to-5 job.
After four months of hard work, Sandboxx leadership asked Nicole if she planned on heading to the D.C. area anytime soon. She told them that had been her goal the whole time.
That was June 2017 and she’s been with Sandboxx ever since.
To her, it felt like a magical place to be working in marketing in a startup in bustling metro D.C.
“I can’t even put into words how surreal it felt,” she says. “I was lucky enough to be there at the early stages and build those foundational blocks of our marketing strategy to what is Sandboxx’s marketing today.”
Helping Users and Recruits Stay Mission Ready
At the start of each day, Nicole hops online to review Sandboxx’s social media channels and see what people are saying. It’s her way of keeping her finger on the pulse of the military community.
It’s also part of her job to ensure users’ questions aren’t being missed.
“We really like to make sure we’re answering everyone’s questions as quickly as possible, especially when it comes to letters because we do know how time sensitive these letters are,” she explains.
Next up, she dives into content and looks at blog topics to see what kind of blog content would resonate well with readers. The goal of the blog is to get it in front of as many eyes in the military community as possible — it hit 1 million views in July — to share valuable information that can’t be found elsewhere.
Analytics play a big role in her daily job performance, too.
She scopes out the top-performing posts, fixes any broken content links, notes potential future topics, and dives into what readers want more of.
Nicole loves to personally pull from her own experience as Alex’s military wife. From moving to preparing for deployments, to having fun with Jayne Wayne days, Nicole embraces the military wife life and hopes others will, too.
And, she wants them to know it’s okay to have your own life outside your service member.
“I think it’s really important for spouses to remember just because their loved one is serving doesn’t mean they can’t find their own mission to follow in life,” she says. “Whether that’s a career or being a parent. They don’t need to sacrifice as much as they think they do to support their service member.”
She’s happy to share personal triumphs and lessons learned if it can help a reader in some way.
“Most of the time I’m trying to find ways in which we can not only help our customers, but help the military community thrive,” she says.
She’s learned to roll with the military life unpredictability, too.
“In the Marine Corps, Marines are trained to adapt and overcome. That has definitely carried over into my life,” Nicole explains.
“It would be really easy to get upset when things don’t go my way or go according to plan, but with the adapt and overcome mentality, I’ve found it easier to cope with life’s hiccups,” she says. “It’s much easier for me to shift my thinking from, “oh goodness, no this is terrible” to “okay, so this isn’t ideal, but how do I get through this?”
Personal Missions and Proud Moments
Even if the Sandboxx team works across various time zones, there’s still a cohesive team effort that takes place.
Nicole adores that aspect of her company.
“For us, Sandboxx is not just a 9 to 5. Everyone is really passionate about the work they do and feels really connected to our mission,” she says. “We strive to enable our military community to be mission-ready, but we also seek to be mission-ready as a company and a team. This is what keeps us moving forward.”
As a military spouse, Nicole easily relates to fellow female users who are missing their boyfriends, fiancés, and husbands.
Without a doubt, the users are the best part of her job, she says.
“Since I went through that, I know how difficult it is to not know what your loved one is doing. It’s a very emotional and unstable time for a lot of people. It’s really an honor to be able to help these families and friends and recruits get through this time and hopefully make it a little bit easier for them. It’s definitely not ever going to be easy, but if we can make it a little easier, it means the world to me to know that we can do that.”
And she can’t help but get teary-eyed when she sees happy photos of loved ones reunited.
It relates so much to her own story as a military wife. She knows what those hugs feel like.
“I feel all the emotions,” she says. “They send us their graduation photos, and I immediately burst into tears. The users are definitely my favorite part of working at Sandboxx.”
Even if she unexpectedly cries a lot at work due to happy tears, Nicole has equally happy moments that don’t involve crying, too.
As someone with a background in graphic design, she had the honor of working on the redesign of the current Sandboxx stationery. She gets excited knowing her military love gets sent with letters recruits write through Sandboxx.
“These are cherished mementos,” she says of the letters. “I feel like a piece of me gets to live on with all of these families.”
The company’s growth has been one of the other big highlights of her career that she knows will continue with each year. Even as a remote employee now, she still gets pumped up about the leaps and bounds Sandboxx is taking in the technology space.
“It’s been so rewarding,” she says. “You always strive for growth. But for me and the Sandboxx team, I think the growth that we see, we don’t just see it as we’ve sent two million letters to date. For us, it’s more we’re helping more military families. Our growth is the number of people we’re helping has increased. We’re really helping create and cultivate this military community that we hope to make a stronger military community.”