White Pages

When most people hear the name WhitePages, they think of the back half of the paper-bound Yellow Pages books where our pre-Internet selves searched for the names and contact information of local residents. (Personally, I think of TV strongmen ripping these books in half with their bare hands, but I’m a bit abnormal.) WhitePages.com however, an analogous but unaffiliated online business, has spent the last 17 years bringing the identity database concept into the digital age. Today, it’s a full fledged big data business of the highest order.

While the company is the number one destination for consumers searching for personal contact info, attracting more than 50 million monthly unique visitors and 15 million monthly active users of its mobile apps, while processing more than 2 billion searches annually, that’s not the full story. Surprisingly, 30 percent of WhitePages’ traffic comes from businesses. Today, the company officially addressed this increasingly valuable audience with the launch of WhitePages PRO, a premium service targeted at business users.

The company describes the WhitePages PRO, which is available via Web interface and an API, as delivering businesses a “full 360 degree view of their customer.” Companies use this information in validating identity, detecting fraud, improving marketing effectiveness, and reducing customer service efficiency. The company began offering these business-focused solutions in 2012, before it had ever built a unifying platform.

Over the nearly two decades since WhitePages was founded, the company has assembled a proprietary “contact graph” database of over 300 million verified identities from publicly available and user submitted data. Today, the company processes more than 1 billion new records monthly, according to CEO Alex Algard, and is constantly updating, cleansing, and expanding the existing database.

A common use case for a business using WhitePages PRO will be ecommerce merchants forced to process credit card payments without seeing the physical credit card and owner identification. In the case of these “card not present’ transactions, the merchant assumes full liability in the case of fraud, making verifying identity especially critical. This is increasingly difficult in a mobile-phone dominated where it is becoming less and less common for a phone number to be tied to a single home or business address.

Of this challenge, Algard says:

Consumers continue to cut the cord and opt for mobile only, taking their numbers with them when they move. This has made it increasingly difficult for businesses to verify users through the often disparate mobile and address information they provide. PRO allows businesses to match even more of their customers with contact data in real time, not only helping them to improve efficiencies but also improving how they serve their customers.

WhitePages PRO looks at information including the cardholder name, billing address, IP address or other location location, and other available signals, comparing this data against its own proprietary contact database. The result is an “Identity Score” that businesses can use in determining whether to process a potential transaction or flag it for further review. WhitePages cites an average reduction in manual transaction reviews by 20 percent across its beta clients.

“Many merchants spend more time reviewing legitimate orders than fraudulent ones,” Algard says. “Our identity score product is designed to help merchants quickly validate consumer contact information, so that they can speed up orders and hit their revenue goals quicker.”

Thanks to the company’s API, this functionality can be integrated with existing CRM, ecommerce, and telephony platforms. Similar applications exist in the financial services and call center industries, among other obvious categories.

In one case study with LCD display manufacturer Vizio, WhitePages PRO was able to reduce the average customer service call time by 31 seconds. Perhaps equally impressive is that it took only two days to fully integrate the product with the company’s existing call center software. Other clients experiencing similar success include Ann Inc. (parent company to Ann Taylor) and Oakley.

WhitePages raised $45 million in a massive 2005 Series A round that included Technology Crossover Ventures and Providence Equity Partners, the company’s only financing to date. Today, the company is profitable, charging businesses on a SaaS basis and consumer a pay per query fee for access to its records database.

The company has no direct competitors, Algard argues, although data behemoth LexisNexis offers a comparable solution with slightly different use cases. LexisNexis offers a far broader look at each individual, including criminal, financial, and medical records, but is less current and thus useful when it comes to verifying identity, according to the (admittedly biased) WhitePages CEO. Other companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and even Apple are assembling competing identity databases as a byproduct of their core businesses, but have a long way to go to match WhitePages depth – they have also yet to show any intention of commercializing these database for identity verification.

What’s clear is that the the world is shrinking in terms of businesses regularly interacting with consumers in far corners of the globe. In these scenarios, the ability to verify identity is of paramount importance. The company’s brand may invoke visions of an outdate consumer-product, but big data is the currency du jour in the enterprise today. With a foundation that took two decades to lay down, today’s launch was a long time coming, but really, it should come as little surprise.

[Image via TVNooz]

    1. Neil Patel
      Advisor