Intelius: Bringing Data to Life

Date:   Friday , May 01, 2009

Forbes lists him in its Top 100 Entrepreneurs and he had one of the most successful ventures of the Internet wave in the late 1990s. He dispels the claims about breakthrough technology innovation but strongly believes in properly executing the simplest of ideas. Meet Naveen Jain, one of the most well known Indian entrepreneurs in the U.S. His current venture today, Intelius, offers nothing but vital information that helps people and businesses make day-to-day decisions intelligently. Founded in 2003, the Bellevue based Intelius offers products and services ranging from basic people search and list management to comprehensive HR background checks and one of the best identity theft protection products available.

Pioneering Information Commerce

Post his exit from his prior venture, InfoSpace, Jain teamed with five other friends and fellow entrepreneurs to embark on a new venture. Given his deep knowledge and experience in the Internet space, he had observed that there were fundamentally two business models that worked: 1) Information business, where companies like Yahoo! generated quality content and monetized through ads and 2) E-commerce business, which was successfully deployed by retailers like Amazon.

But realizing the potential of combining both the businesses into one, he opened up the doors with Intelius for a new business called ‘Information Commerce’. “We did not have a breakthrough technology or innovation but we did have an idea that, if brilliantly executed, could definitely set the market abuzz,” says Jain, who believes that the success of a venture in the end always boils down to the effective execution of the initial idea. Having observed that lack of information was the biggest problem for people, the question was how could he help in terms of information that would solve real world problems. Be it the background details about the blind date a woman is about to meet or details of the new ‘friend’ a teenager is on the phone with or screening of a new employee, consumers and businesses were sure to pay for such information.

Leveraging on the opportunity, Intelius used a direct to consumer approach and built a site where people could get complete background information about themselves and others by sourcing the data from publicly available sources. Though it sounds like a simple matter of a simple query on a search engine, one would be surprised to know that the same information couldn’t be found elsewhere online. In order to do so, one would have to know where to find it, whom to ask, and what documentation one would need to access it. This is where Intelius comes into play. Using proprietary semantic technology to link billions of online and offline records from public and professional databases as well as social networking profiles, Intelius categorizes data to create panoramic profiles of individuals. Included in this data are one’s name, bankruptcy liens, judgments, licenses, insurance, address history, phone numbers, marriage and divorce records, and property information which get updated every day on a real-time basis.

But, if all the information about a person is available in the open, there arises a question of identity theft. In 2007, the Federal Trade Commission had received more than 9 million reported cases of identity theft. “The point is valid, but on the contrary at Intelius with Intelius’ Identity Protect feature, we actually help counter this problem,” explains Jain. Every time an Identity Protect subscriber’s information on the public records changes, a notification is sent to the person via email. Additionally, Identity Protect provides up to $25,000 in insurance for financial losses from identity theft. Now that’s a return on investment. Plus, the system monitors all your personal data for an early warning system.

Recently, the company launched a new search service called iSearch. “The idea was to help search long lost friends and contacts with what they remember of that particular person,” says Jain. This free product, powered by Intelius, provides multiple social and business oriented functions in a unique and revolutionary way. Besides simply retrieving information, users can use iSearch as an online business leads service and directory, or an online identity management tool. iSearch accomplishes this by using proprietary semantic technology to link billions of online and offline records from public databases, professional databases, and social networking profiles to instantly categorize and connect data. The result is the creation of panoramic profiles for individuals available in a fast and easy search.

Generating the User Market

Today, apart from individual users and organizations, large Internet players like Yahoo!, Switchbox, and AT&T power their ‘people search’ with Intelius. The company does 6,000 transactions a day ? a good majority of them for people searches. Be it finding the credit history of a person who needs loan or to find whether the person one is dating is a sex-offender or tracking the real identity of the person you are chatting with or screening the background of a new hire, Intelius makes it possible in a few simple clicks.

Over the last few years, the company has witnessed a phenomenal growth, which includes a large customer base of over eight million and acquisition of IntelliSense, an employment-screening firm based in Washington. Last year, despite the current economic slowdown it generated a record revenue of $123 million, a commendable feat. Annually, it has been growing at nearly 40 percent for the past three years and has nearly doubled its headcount to 200.
Jain attributes all the success to his team. “It is the team an entrepreneur surrounds himself with that determines how successfully the business will run. An entrepreneur must identify his own skills and then get a team that complements him. When I started Intelius with five others, all of which had founded one or more companies prior to Intelius and hence were well aware of what it takes to build a successful business,” explains Jain. When asked about the technology used by Intelius Jain explains, “We’ve developed advanced proprietary technology that uses semantics to gather the information from all the publicly available data and synthesizes it to provide the most accurate information in the industry. Apart from that we also have partnerships with mobile operators and government offices for information updates. Like every new venture, we have developed our services by trial and error.”

Also for a young venture a vital challenge is creating a market for its products and if the market exists, the challenge lies in differentiating oneself from the existing players; both of which are time and effort consuming. “Even if one’s product is the hottest one around, there is no use if the entrepreneur has not created a market for it. As for Intelius, despite the presence of search giants like Google and Yahoo!, we created a market by addressing a very basic problem that people and organizations faced on daily basis with simple and efficient solutions for people related search,” says Jain.

Finding New Avenues

Believing that the company is yet to scratch the surface of what it was intended to do, Jain’s ever sharp and creative mind is currently busy identifying newer business opportunities using the already existing solutions. After using the ‘search’ service to help combat identity theft, the next plans are to use the same database to provide additional services like reverse cell phone lookup and information on property and neighborhood. With reverse phone search, users can know who the caller is and the report would include information, when available, associated with residential, business, cell, unlisted, non-published, Internet, pager or pay phone numbers, plus the name, address, carrier, connection status, and more.

Suppose one is looking at a house to buy, then Intelius can help with information about the house, the real estate dealer, earlier tenants, any insurance claims with regard to the house, the people in the neighborhood, and more. And service providers such as dry cleaners can use Intelius to constantly update the information about the residents in the locality and also look for new customers and when a new family moves in.

The opportunities are endless; but it is important to focus on every opportunity individually and succeed in it. “Often startups die of indigestion rather than starvation,” says Jain. Entrepreneurs often tend to lose focus on the initial plan and end up doing too many things at a time, resulting in nothing but failure. “With Intelius, the focus was to build the best service for people search and after having achieved it, we are now ready to explore new opportunities by leveraging what we already have,” he explains.

Currently, the Intelius products and services include background checks, reverse phone verification, property and area report, email lookup, date check, people search, business people search, social Net search, reverse cell phone lookup, identity protect, criminal check, sex-offender check, neighborhood watch, employment and tenant screening, and more.

With plans for new businesses and growth opportunities, Jain is all set to take Intelius through the next wave of growth and effectively make it the next generation integrated search when it comes to people and location based information worldwide. For a person who still believes and follows the values of hard work, honesty, integrity, and education and measures a person’s success with his humility, the goal does not look distant. “For me amassing a vast fortune is not the definition of success, but is measured by a person’s simplicity and humility. Dalai Lama is universally respected not because he is rich but because of his humble nature,” explains Jain.

Giving Back

Never losing sight of the foundation on which Intelius was built, Jain is not only passionate about running a successful business but also about giving back to the community that has given him so much. "Running a successful business and running a successful philanthropy program are very similar; both require identifying a problem and delivering the most effective solution that will have the greatest impact," says Jain. "Like any other company we also want to be financially successful, but more important than that, we never want to forget our core values and the understanding that we are only as good and productive as the communities we do business in.”

While many corporations were cutting back on charitable giving because of the tight economy, Intelius donated nearly $210,000 to local and national non-profit organizations. With just 191 employees, their 2008 contributions set a new corporate giving record. Intelius is actively engaged in many philanthropic activities and has generously contributed to an assortment of organizations dedicated to education, healthcare, and youth and family services.

Having been built by a group of serial entrepreneurs, Intelius is dedicated to fostering the entrepreneurial spirit through education and entrepreneurial programs by focusing resources and effort on educational programs dedicated to cultivating entrepreneurship. Intelius is proud to support organizations like the Kairos Society and Student Achievement Advocacy, which help bring together and nurture young entrepreneurs. Intelius has also established a sizable endowment at the University of Washington intended to provide financial assistance to students pursuing education in business, computer science, and technology. “I believe that entrepreneurs have the power to improve the global economic welfare by constantly seizing opportunities to make products, organizations, and communities better," says Jain. “It’s crucial that we help inspire and support the next generation of business owners, innovators, and entrepreneurs.”