Trustify, previously known as FlimFlam, is a D.C.-based start-up that wants to make the process of hiring a private investigator (PI) — on demand, in small and inexpensive blocks of time to conduct surveillance — a whole lot simpler.
With the iPhone app or online platform that Trustify has created, anyone can simply type in the information about why they need to hire an investigator (such as “my partner is cheating on me”), give them an address where they want the investigator to go, and “sit back and wait” for photographs and other evidence. The first hour of surveillance investigation is $99, and each additional hour is $75.
While Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and Betterment are examples of how technology has disrupted (and arguably, enhanced) the video rental business, retail, the music industry, and even the wealth management industry, respectively, this application of technology in the investigative business world caught me by surprise. But as a technology geek who has a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, when I first heard about this I was absolutely fascinated.
I got a chance to sit down with founder Danny Boice a few weeks ago at the Trustify offices in D.C. and learned that Boice’s big vision involves “making private investigator services affordable to the average consumer.” Boice was pretty candid about the fact that they have had to overcome some unforeseen challenges, but I couldn’t help but be excited for them and about the possibilities associated with this new approach. Despite other investigators’ apprehensions, I think Trustify can realize the very real opportunity to service an important niche in the investigative world.
Let’s face it (and my own experience verifies this), there is an enormous demand for these types of services — mostly from people who are “curious” about their partner or loved one. But the process of finding and hiring an investigator, especially for things like surveillance, is laborious. And, certainly for most “casual consumers” of PI services, finding a trusted private investigator is not always easy.
On the flip side, one of the most laborious processes for an investigator is doing the due diligence on the client/consumer. What if the consumer is a stalker? Or has ulterior motives?
Will this work?
I honestly have no idea. But I think this may close up a significant buyer-seller gap that exists in the market — allowing certain clients and PIs to “meet in the middle” when it suits their respective needs.
From a consumer’s perspective, I can certainly see the appeal. I personally see a market that is willing to shell out a few hundred dollars to satisfy their curiosity. While a typical investigative firm would probably not “leave their house” for just a few hours of surveillance, Trustify will satisfy the demand for quick on-demand services.
For the professionals, this new business model could help legions of solo operating investigative firms (and there are literally tens of thousands in the U.S.), pick up a few hours of work a week in between their full-scale surveillance investigations.
Why do I think this has a chance?
First, because the investigative business is absolutely ripe for disruption. The business is also highly fractured, with thousands of small players scattered throughout the country, which makes for an inefficient business model that is primed to have an entrepreneur (enter Boice!) come in and fix the inefficiencies and create a more marketable product.
This is not an industry in which you often see innovation, so it’s encouraging to see someone try to come in and shake things up a bit.
The reaction from other investigators?
Not surprisingly, some of the reactions from the investigative community have been pretty negative. “Too many problems to list,” one investigator told me. “Why don’t they [Trustify] need to be licensed?” asked another.
One thing’s for sure: Trustify will have many more unforeseen problems just like any new start-up does. But entrepreneurs are not ones to shy away from potential problems.
Do they really need to be licensed? I have heard more than one investigator question this, but I don’t see licensing as an issue. Trustify is working as the “middleman” between the investigators and the ultimate consumers. It’s like saying Angie’s List needs to be a licensed plumber because they refer business to plumbers.
As an investigator, I am not going to dismiss Trustify’s idea — and I am also not going to simply ignore them.
After all, I think it’s pretty clear that Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and Betterment are not passing fads.