Sramana Mitra: In 2007 when you started with this concept, did you raise money? Did you bootstrap? How did you get the business off the ground?
Josh Levy: We bootstrapped it for a couple of months. My co-founder and I were working out at his house in his living room. Right around the time when I left my last job in finance, I told my boss what I was doing. He actually wrote the first check for $200,000 to get us started. We moved to New York City and got an office in the New Yorker Hotel. Our first office was actually a hotel-turned-office space. We brought on a CTO as our first hire who is actually my CTO in my second startup.
Sramana Mitra: At that point, you were planning to do this verification?
Josh Levy: Yes. We raised that first money and then about a year later, we raised some additional money from high net worth individuals. At that point, we were still sticking with the same business. I think sometimes the pivot can be a wildly different change of direction, or there can be iterations. At one point, we actually had three simultaneous iterations running. One was the seal. Another was more of a B2B data product. The third was BeenVerified as it is today, which is direct to the consumer. We were trying to validate and find a market fit across the three of them.
After about two years, the money that we had ran out. The defining moment that changed the trajectory of BeenVerified was when we produced a television commercial with our last few dollars as crazy as that might sound as a strategy. We went on TV with a product. Instantly, the servers started crashing. It was that moment where you could see that the demand was there. We put all of our attention into building a better product. We’ve been working on that for the last five to six years.
Sramana Mitra: The $200,000 that you raised, did that last a whole two-year period?
Josh Levy: I would say about a year later, we raised another $600,000.
Sramana Mitra: That was also from friends and family?
Josh Levy: Yes, something like friends and family – high net worth angel investors.
Sramana Mitra: People who knew you from before?
Josh Levy: Correct.
Sramana Mitra: Tell me more about the pivot itself. Where were you going to take the company after the pivot?
Josh Levy: I think the simple idea was that there is a lot of information out there. There is a lot of public data out there. Even though it’s public, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily free or easy to access. Our very simple value proposition was we just wanted to make public data easy, accessible, affordable, and make it unlimited. Historically before BeenVerified, if you were to buy public data, everything was very much transactional. We looked at it more like ancestry or a Netflix for example where you would be a subscriber and just always have access. You never have to make this decision about, “Should I run a search? Should I look up who called me? Should I look up that person I’m dating?” You could just always have access to data. That was a big bet that we made. So far it’s working.