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Inflection Lands Big First Round For Public Records Search

September 02, 2010
Wall Street Journal
by Tomio Geron

Searching for people online makes up a big percentage of search engine queries, but building a company in this space has been challenging for start-ups.

One company, Inflection Inc., is aiming to take on this challenge with a combination of new technology and a focus on comprehensive public records aggregation. Inflection has raised $30 million in Series A financing from Matrix Partners and Sutter Hill Ventures.

Josh Hannah, general partner at Matrix, got to know the Inflection founders by working with them and offering advice for about a year before investing. Inflection, with its large first round, is not a typical Series A funding in that it is not only profitable but has the most cash on its balance sheet it’s ever had, Hannah said.

The company was founded by brothers Matthew and Brian Monahan. Matthew Monahan left college after two years at University of Southern California to start a company called College Shortcuts, eventually selling it at the age of 22. Brian, meanwhile a student at Harvard, had the idea to start a company focusing on improving online access to public records. He left Harvard after two years to start Inflection with Matthew in 2006.

Their first product, Archives.com, provides a way for people to find information on their family history. The site is designed to be easier to use and cheaper than others in the space, such as publicly traded Ancestry.com Inc., Matthew Monahan said. The company has focused on aggregating a wide variety of public records data from census records to court records through digital technology and through sending people to locations across the country to gather data.

A subscription to Archives.com costs $39.95 per year, compared with about $155 per year for Ancestry’s lowest-cost plan. Archives.com has grown to two million members, the company said.

Inflection is now launching a new service, PeopleSmart.com, a people search engine that uses some of the same data as Archives.com but for a different product. For the new service, the company gathers data from contact information directories, public records and social networking sites.

Privacy is a major issue for people search engines and other sites have been criticized for exposing a variety of information to the public. The Monahans say they make it easy for people to opt out and remove their information from the site. They also say they do not provide the email addresses of the person being sought to the company’s customers. One site, Spokeo Inc., has been criticized for the difficulty in removing oneself from its site as well as purported wealth and income information the site posted about people.

The revenue from PeopleSmart is expected to be split between one-time purchases of detailed data on a person, and subscriptions, with some smaller amount from advertising as well.

The PeopleSmart service is targeting consumers, but there are a variety of potential business uses such as employment screenings, background checks and the like. Inflection does not currently have a focus on businesses but that could be developed in the future, the company says.

Other search engines oriented around social media sites, such as Spock Networks Inc. and Wink, never reached massive scale. Spock was acquired by Intelius Inc. and Wink merged with Reunion.com. PeopleSmart will have more data, particularly through public records, than those sites and more features to help people search through a vast amount of data, Matthew Monahan said.

Inflection Lands Big First Round For Public Records Search

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