Wow! On January 3 of this year, ID Insight celebrated its 15-year anniversary. Fifteen years ago, identity theft was not quite front-page news, the U.S. had not yet invaded Iraq and President Bush was just completing his second year in office.
I was in my mid-thirties and embarking on a journey that I could never have imagined. Through the first 13 years of my career, I followed the corporate route, progressing from a computer programmer to a data scientist (before we called it that) to running an information-based analytics business. While I enjoyed that period of my career, by 2002 I was ready for a change. I had always wanted to start my own business and the need to scratch that entrepreneurial itch was growing. I didn’t realize how badly I wanted to scratch that itch.
People told me I was crazy; in hindsight, I think they were right.
Over the next few weeks and months, an idea took shape: creating a fraud detection engine that could stop identity theft in its tracks. On January 3, 2003, ID Insight incorporated with a few bucks in the bank and an optimism that we were on to the right thing.
During the next two years, it was the proverbial “two guys in a garage,” building ID Insight by day and consulting by night, all the while trying to convince somebody, anybody to buy the solution we were selling. We had a blueprint for how to build the engine, but the engine was just that – a blueprint.
Those early days were both exciting and maddening – extreme optimism countered with a realization that I still had to pay the bills. I had never felt that vulnerable and exposed – yet never so excited and happy with my work life.
Whether it was divine intervention or just persistence, we finally got a prospective customer to say “yes” in late 2005. They bought our blueprint! While this was terribly exciting, they said it needed to be up and running in six weeks. We had no idea how to do that, nor did we have the money to do it. Thankfully, with help from our technology partners and sacrifices from all of us, we pulled it together and somehow brought our first satisfied customer aboard.
This created a new problem. Now that we had our first large customer, we needed capital to build a data center. Never having raised capital before, I remember asking people “how do you raise money.” The response I got was “just start calling everyone you know.” Over the next few weeks and months, we had raised enough capital to fund the data center expense as well as hire our first employees.
Things progressed, albeit slowly, until 2007 when the FACTA Red Flag mandate was finally published. The new FACTA regulations required financial institutions to screen address changes and new account address discrepancies for the likelihood of identity theft. That was it! This is what we had invented; this was our patent. Our special sauce. With this news that our solution would be mandated by November 1, 2008, the window was now wide open.
We needed to get the word on the street. ID Insight was the company that invented the technology to optimize the screening of address changes and address discrepancies. To do this, we would have to raise capital again. We went back to the well and raised a second round of capital. Per our plan, we quickly built the team to run for the finish line. The only problem was (hindsight 20/20) we only had 12 months to do it. So we began to sprint.
Over those next 12 months, we went from a handful of clients to over 300. While we were happy to add all of these clients, they were mostly smaller institutions that did not generate a lot of volume. I vividly remember November 1, 2008 – two things happened almost simultaneously around that date. First – all financial institutions had carved out their FACTA plans and on that day – our sales “flat-lined” as all financial institutions had made their plans. Second – there was this pesky thing called the “economic collapse.” I remember calling on prospective customers only to be told “Adam – we will be lucky to have the doors open at the bank over the next few months.”
By 2010, this “never say die” attitude and culture resulted in establishing our base. We had become a battle-tested group of fighters that believed they could withstand any storm and anything thrown their way. We had pulled every rabbit out of every hat. We had created new ideas that brought in revenue. And now, financial institutions were coming out of the economic collapse of 2007-2008. They were spending money again and realizing that our solutions were needed to stamp out identity theft.
Over the next seven years, we began to grow and expand our solutions and customer base. Suddenly, we were finding success in other markets such as e-commerce, health care and mortgages. Today, we are serving more than 2,500 customers and recognized as a leader in identity theft detections solutions – especially in the retail banking industry. We serve customers ranging from the top five banks in the country to one-branch credit unions in some of the smallest towns in America.
What I am most proud of is our employees, our shareholders and our board members. While we faced our share of adversity over the years, no one ever lost hope and never stopped believing. We never gave up. We all hung in there and kept on fighting. We are still innovating and still fighting!
I do believe in the adage that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” That persistence and the culture that has emerged continues to impress me. It makes me realize how fortunate we all are to have been a part of this great experiment.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once famously said “it’s not about the destination – it’s about the journey.” And what a journey it’s been – here’s to the next 15 years!