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Building a Robust Business with Eugene (Oregon) Angels Investors: Jake Weatherly, CEO of SheerId (Part 3)

Posted on Saturday, May 11th 2013

Sramana: When you set out to deliver an eligibility verification service and technology, did you have specific questions that you wanted to frame the capability around?

Jake Weatherly: One of the things that we uncovered in the early stages in terms of personally identifiable information, where security is a huge concern, is the need to attach that to the customer experience. What are you willing to submit in order to have your eligibility verified?

First, we made a concrete, solid decision that we wanted to create a service that allowed an individual to raise his or hand hand and say that they wanted to have their eligibility checked so that they could move forward with a specific offer. Second, because of my focus and career focus on customer service and support, it was important to build a service that allowed someone to submit information that was already being collected as part of account signup or an online transaction, or it was information that they would be very comfortable submitting in addition to the information that had already been collected.

We found some techniques that would allow for instant verification using things like a social security number. That did not pass our test. Instead we went out to the authoritative databases and worked with those organizations to find out if we would be able to match on things like first name, last name and date of birth. The answer across the board was overwhelmingly yes.

We went out and created select relationships with key data owners in order to prove the model. Then we went to an incubator and surrounded ourselves with seasoned executives, attorneys and accountants. We wanted to get beat up on a weekly basis where we could get holes poked in our idea, the software we were writing, and the infrastructure we were creating. After a 90-day boot camp at Oregon’s Open Technology Business Center, our coaches determined that we were pitch ready.

We then started pitching to investors, friends, and family. The biggest takeaway from that stage was that the most valuable audience for us as we were honing our pitch was family members. These were people who were not immersed in technology. We went from speaking software and technology to speaking real world language. Our idea came down to a simple explanation. You know how you go into a retail store and show an ID card to get a discount because you are a military personnel or student? We think you should be able to do that online as well, and this is how you can do it.

Sramana: When you say you were pitch-ready did that include initial validation by customer?

Jake Weatherly: Definitely. During the initial stage we spent a lot of time using our network and cold calling potential customers. We went for people who went for offers that were protected in a long, drawn-out customer experience that resulted in high cart abandonment rates on their e-commerce sites. We also went to sites that had discounts which were essentially only protected by the honor system and were experiencing a lot of fraud. We worked with some of those companies to get feedback. We learned what the best ways to operate a service like ours. We were able to hone in on both the value proposition that resonated and the techniques that were the lowest barrier to entry to the technical implementation.

This segment is part 3 in the series : Building a Robust Business with Eugene (Oregon) Angels Investors: Jake Weatherly, CEO of SheerId
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