Start-Ups.Co really enjoyed interviewing the brilliant entrepreneur; Ms. ‘JL Law'; Co-Founder of the Los Angeles – USA start-up “Verify Investor”.
Below, is the full interview that we have conducted :
What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
We verify that investors are “accredited investors” as defined by the SEC. Recent federal laws required most private companies raising capital through any form of general solicitation (advertising, pitching events in front of the public, email and social media blasts, etc.) to verify that their investors are truly “accredited investors”. They cannot rely on a simple questionnaire or subscription agreement, but must review supporting evidence to support an investor’s status as an “accredited investor”. Companies and funds need us when they are raising money, and investors need us when they are investing. Our startup provides that service to all groups in a legally compliant manner through VerifyInvestor.com. We’re fast, simple, affordable, and provide the highest quality in the industry for accredited investor verification.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
Verify Investor, LLC was formed in July 2013. We launched our verification platform, VerifyInvestor.com, in November 2013. We’ve successfully closed a seed round consisting of friends and strategic investors. We’ve also been partnering with some great websites and companies that will utilize our platform to ensure compliance with their capital raises.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
We have a pretty basic business model. We charge a per verification fee for users of our platform, with discounts available for bulk orders. For intermediaries, such as capital raising marketplaces, or professional advisors (lawyers, investment bankers, etc.) we also provide white-label or API solutions. We can offer revenue sharing with those partners or provide their clients/members with discounts. We expect that most of the paying users of our site will be companies raising money or intermediaries that help them. Investors may pay for a verification on themselves, but it’s free for them if they refer our service to the company or intermediary who then pays for it.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
The company is founded by my brother, JT, and myself, so I guess we a long time ago courtesy of our parents. JT acts as the company’s CFO, and I act as the company’s CEO. We have a fantastic US-based development team that poured many hours into making sure our site looks good and operates smoothly. Brandon Foo is our Director of Operations, which really means that he helps out with a little bit of everything. We also have had a tremendous amount of help from friends who have invested money, shared relationships, and volunteered time and energy with us.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
Our founders are dealmakers and potential users of our own product. We built this to serve a need for ourselves, not to profit from others on a product we didn’t fully understand. A few of our competitors have products that aren’t even legally compliant!
We are the leaders in the marketplace when it comes to security, confidentiality, and privacy. We have a unique redaction tool. We collect less information than our competitors, have invested in technology to safeguard the information we collect, and don’t have any internal conflicts of interest that might cause us to collect unnecessary personal info or misuse such info.
We are very simple and easy to use. It takes only a minute to set up an account and most users that need verification can complete our workflowin 3-5 minutes.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
The company has been growing quite steadily. Our company has established important partnerships that will fuel our growth, some of them with some very prominent and notable companies. We’re also fortunate enough that some venture capitalists and investors in the US and overseas in other countries have counted on us for their accredited investor verification needs. We’ve also been identified as the compliance solution for several companies that are using public capital raising platforms to conduct their raise.
We launched our product shortly after the laws became effective and have improved on the original product several times already. During that time, we also successfully closed a seed investment round with friends and strategic investors. We expect our business to be self-sustaining, so we’ll be around for a long while.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
Our competitors generally fall into the following categories and our advantages against them are explained briefly:
1) lawyers and other professionals – We are cheaper, faster, and much easier to deal with greater security and privacy.
2) Background search companies – We are cheaper and understand capital raising and securities better.
3) Wealth management firms – They are doing this to gain a list of rich folks that they can market to. Need I say more?
4) Internet entrepreneurs – We generally know the laws better and have more experience in the area of capital raising and dealmaking. We also have a service that focuses primarily on quality and compliance as opposed to getting rich quick.
5) Capital raising platforms – We’re usually more legally compliant and safer to use since we are a dedicated verification service without internal conflicts of interest.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
The greatest obstacle we faced as a company was the fact that the general public was unaware of how the new laws worked or that there even were new laws. Beyond that, many folks are resisting the new laws, thinking that they don’t need to comply. There was and still is a lot of misinformation in the marketplace. We haven’t overcome all of the misinformation, but are doing so by educating folks properly.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
The key thing that outsiders, and even many of our competitors, don’t understand is the severity of securities laws. The securities industry is not an area to take chances. You don’t ignore the laws. You don’t try to wing it yourself. And you don’t take chances using a second-rate solution that is not committed to legal compliance. The benefits of chancing it just aren’t worth the potential liability. The key isn’t to pick any service to handle accredited investor verification needs. You really have to balance assurance of legal compliance, pricing, confidentiality and security, and ease-of-use. Dealmakers have been telling us that we are the #1 solution taking all of these factors into consideration and that we are the strongest value in the marketplace. Of course, we at VerifyInvestor.com, won’t argue with that.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
We will succeed because we have conservative business practices and a commitment to quality, confidentiality, and value. We have a clear understanding of what it takes to be legally compliant as well as what it takes to ensure investor protections. We are not taking any chances with the product because when it comes to securities regulations, the government doesn’t joke around. Our competitors generally don’t have pure business practices that focus on user protections and values. We trust that the marketplace will turn to us as the #1 trusted solution for their accredited investor verification needs.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
This is actually one of the selling points of our startup. We don’t need to expand into other areas. We didn’t start this business to become the next internet tycoon. We started this business because there was a need for a reliable and ethical provider of accredited investor verifications, and we weren’t comfortable referring our clients and friends to any of the other providers out there. As long as our users don’t tell us they want us to expand, we don’t plan on expanding into other businesses. Most of our competitors are already expanding into other services and that’s coming at the cost of the confidentiality and privacy of their users.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
It started out with my legal practice. A lot of clients asked if my law firm could help them verify that their investors were accredited. We could, but not at a price point which I thought was reasonable. I searched the marketplace to see if there was anyone that could do it well, but I found many providers that were not legally compliant and most of them collected too much information of their users and had other products/services that might incentivize them to misuse the personal information of their users. I consulted with my co-founder, JT, and we both realized that there was no provider out there that we would use ourselves, much less refer to our clients, friends, and colleagues. We had no choice but to build out the service for our own needs.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to give advice than it is to run a business. Day in and day out, as a lawyer, investor, board member, advisor, and friend, I give advice to countless entrepreneurs and companies. Heck, people even pay me for it. Well, it sure is different when you’re put behind the driver’s seat. I didn’t listen to some of my own advice and paid the penalty for it at times. I made a ton of rookie mistakes even though they were the same mistakes that I’ve advised others not to make. I’ve always been a business person, but this is the first internet startup I’ve really ever been a founder with. The experience has taught me to better understand and appreciate the entrepreneurs and companies I work with and am friends with.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Six months from now, I think our biggest problem will continue to be the lack of understanding and appreciation for the new laws by the general public. Due to the amount of misinformation out in the marketplace, including misinformation spread by competitors that might not fully understand the space and special interest groups that have hidden agendas with the new laws, many folks are not being exposed to the realities of the new laws. We recently communicated with a professor of entrepreneurship who was also an executive member of an angel investment group, and he thought that compliance was not necessary because he had heard the rules were not in place yet! We thought that was pretty egregious misinformation given his position. In time, as with all new laws, people will figure out the truth. Six months from now, however, I think we’ll still be battling to get the truth out there.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
I’ll lay out some of our benefits, but if you look at our response to why we’re better than our competitors, you’ll appreciate how these benefits really manifest themselves. Our product provides a solution for something that the law requires, so I suppose the key benefit for a user is that we ensure their legal compliance with the law. In a nutshell, our other benefits are that we’re simple, reliable, confidential, secure, and affordable. I’ve touched base on each of these already in answering the question above, so I won’t repeat them here.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Typically, word of mouth. Our best referral source has been lawyers and other deal professionals practicing at prestigious or noteworthy firms. These are professionals that count on their reputation to gain business and that may have professional liability if something is improperly done. They care deeply about legal compliance, security, privacy, and other matters which might affect their deals. Luckily, our solution has been well-received by this group and that’s turned them into our biggest referral source. We haven’t spent any money on SEO, advertising, or social media just yet, although we plan to.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our current customers fall into three categories: 1) companies or funds that raise money, 2) investors that invest money, and 3) intermediaries (platforms/professional advisors, etc.) who help with capital raising. In a nutshell, anyone that requires accredited investor verification on an investor or any investor that needs to be verified is a target user.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
At this stage, new customers/users are generally coming from word of mouth from deal professionals. Customers are also finding us from internet searches. The fact that our product is a solution to a law that requires compliance is the starting point, and the advisors in those deals are our biggest referrers. Customers will generally try us because they are forced to comply by law, and we are recommended by their advisors. If a company doesn’t have advisors but conducts a thorough analysis of our competitors, we’re confident that they’ll understand why we are the top solution for the industry.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
They usually say that we are underpricing our services (except for some that are just being greedy and think it should be cheaper or free). They also comment on how easy it was to use and like how little information we collect from users. They generally like and appreciate the care we’ve taken to assure them that their information is being protected. The initial worry by many people was that compliance with the new laws was going to be timely and costly, but we’ve made it simple, fast, easy, and cheap for everyone to comply. While we’re doing that, of course, we’ve taken great pains to protect our users.
20. How are you going to scale?
We don’t need to scale. This is really a service that we built for our own use and for friends and colleagues. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t want to scale. We hope that we will become the standard for accredited investor verifications. We plan to scale on the basis of reputation and quality. However, since it might take a bit of time for the word to get out, we’ll also invest a little bit in marketing and advertising. We think we’ve got the best solution for accredited investor verification needs, and we want everyone to take advantage of what we’ve built.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
It’s a pretty simple service that we offer, so our customers haven’t asked for that much. The two most common “asks” we encountered were demand for a badging system (so that investors could show off that they were verified) and for a white-label API solution. We’re happy to say that we listened to our users and have already developed both capabilities. Now that we’ve built out those features, I’m sure we’ll start seeing requests for other features. If we do, we’ll iterate as appropriate.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
Yes and no. That was part of our original strategy as our founders both do a great deal of international transactions. Since the laws are only US laws, it also means that our solution is not required for compliance in any other country. However, we are international because people in other countries are doing business with the United States and those deals are often affected by US laws. If you’re a US company soliciting funds, the US laws certainly apply to you.
As we expand, we plan to keep all of our main operations here in the US and only expand marketing arms internationally.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
Honestly, we don’t know. The marketplace of accredited investor verifications isn’t really that big. That’s part of the reason that our competitors generally have other businesses/products that they’re focusing on. For us, it’s a matter of doing something that is required by law in the best way possible, and then being able to use that service ourselves and refer it to others with pride and confidence. We haven’t really thought hard about growing exponentially, but we plan to spend some resources on marketing our product and educating potential users out there of our solution.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
Yes. We need folks to join our development team. If you know Ruby on Rails or are a good designer, we’re interested. We also could use more brand ambassadors – people who can help us market and educate the general public on the new laws and why we are the best solution. Lastly, we need another operations person to come help us with all the work that’s coming in. Folks can reach us at info@VerifyInvestor.com.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We expect our business to be self-sustainable without any further outside investment, but we would love to partner with VCs and other funding sources as potential users and referrers of our product. We’ve already partnered with some funding sources so that they can run their portfolio companies through our platform. VCs and funding sources that raise capital from LPs using general solicitation can be users of our service because they are raising capital. Their portfolio companies are also potential users of our service. VCs and funding sources can also be users as investors that need to be verified as accredited, but who are concerned about privacy and confidentiality. Therefore, we can partner with VCs and other funding sources to provide them and their portfolio companies with accredited investor verification services. For partnership opportunities, please reach out to us at info@VerifyInvestor.com.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Just do it. It’s fun, exciting, and awesome. It can get quite stressful sometimes when you’re an entrepreneur, but never give up and allow your friends to help you. Try to involve your network of friends because it’s a lot easier to do anything when you have the proper support and encouragement from others.