College friends. Trial and error. A road trip. And most important, an intense will to move forward no matter what. All these elements played a part in Spokeo’s success, according to Co-founder and CEO Harrison Tang.
Launched in 2006 as a social network aggregator, Spokeo has evolved into a people search engine with multiple business and consumer
applications, including fraud prevention and identity confirmation for contacts made through social media.
“Spokeo uses Spokeo to fight fraud,” says Tang with his infectious affability. In addition, the company is also a leader in out of the box initiatives, including a recent event. “No one had thought of marrying a recruiting event with a dating hookup, but it turned out to be amazing. It takes that mentality to do something different and valuable.” And that’s the essence of Spokeo.
“Solving problems isn’t about knowing the answers right away. It’s about the attitude, the process, and the methodology.”
Perhaps one of the most compelling things about Tang is that this is the first and only job he has had so far. Spokeo has evolved from a company literally run out of his parent’s basement at various times with four college friends, to what is now a $78M venture with over 200 employees. Those college friends? They are still very much part of the core of the company.
“I’m very lucky that at Stanford they picked these perfect teammates. The competitive advantage I had in grabbing talent over Google was literally the peer pressure.”
College roommate and co-founder Mike Daly is his polar opposite, but Tang credits this as one of the reasons their working relationship works so well. Daly loves ’60s rock and was a soccer captain; Tang is a violin guy and isn’t big on sports.
“The biggest lesson I learned at Stanford is about attitude,” Tang says. “I am not afraid of problems because solving problems isn’t about knowing the answers right away. It’s about the attitude, the process, and the methodology of how you find the answer.”
Tang is also quick to point out that his family, in particular his father, helped drive Spokeo’s success. “The most important thing he said to me was that success is not about how smart you are, it’s not about your IQ, it’s about who lasts until the very end. He said, ‘Just do everything you can to survive.’ And we did. If we didn’t survive in 2008 with the way the economy was, then we wouldn’t be here today.
“In retrospect, we were a little ahead of the curve,” Tang says, referencing Spokeo’s decision in 2008 to employ a subscription model at the same time everyone else was offering free services. “The business model change in 2008 was definitely one of the big pivotal moments for us,” he says.
“We stand for innovation, transparency, and respect.”
Spokeo is the rare case of a tech company that got its start in Northern California but eventually decided to put its long-term roots down in Southern California. “Pasadena is a great place to be,” says Tang, and he points to how much creative talent there is in the area. “Pasadena doesn’t get as much attention as Silicon Valley but it actually has a lot of engineering heritage behind it.”
Tang is proud of the company’s culture, and at times waxes philosophical. “We stand for innovation, transparency, and respect. Culture isn’t just about what you see. What you see is a reflection of what you believe in. In Chinese there is a saying that in a group of three people, there’s always one mentor. In other words, mentors are all around us at all times.”
Spokeo continues to push the envelope. Tang tells us that they are working toward becoming a people intelligence platform. “I don’t know whether these things will work or not but we definitely have to try,” he says. We will be watching to see what’s next.