Jeff Stibel is looking to reinvent an age-old business. So far, it’s going pretty well.
Last year, the Web entrepreneur bought a struggling division of data provider Dun & Bradstreet that specialized in credit reports for small businesses. Since then, he has turned it into one of L.A.’s fastest-growing businesses by broadening its offerings to capitalize on the emerging field of online reputation monitoring.
What started with eight people last summer has mushroomed to 75 employees, and Stibel expects that to double by next year. Companywide, there are more than 500 employees in seven offices.
“We bought a very old, stagnant business, a business that was not growing,” said Stibel, who moved the company to Malibu after the acquisition. “We needed to shake things up.”
In addition to providing credit reports and related services to small businesses, Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., which is independent from Dun & Bradstreet, now specializes in what it calls “credibility solutions,” or monitoring a company’s online presence. That can include everything from Better Business Bureau complaints to Yelp reviews to Twitter chatter.
Unlike some other reputation management companies, Credibility Corp. does not seek to repair a company’s reputation, but instead gives a company a sense of how it is viewed. While credit services still constitute the majority of revenue, Stibel said the credibility side is fueling double-digit percentage growth in its annual sales.
He would not disclose the company’s revenue, but said it is “pretty substantial.”
The move puts the company in a nascent but growing field dedicated to helping people and companies discover and manage what is being said about them on the Internet. Reputation.com Inc., a five-year-old Redwood City company, is considered a pioneer in online reputation management.
“The field of reputation is growing,” said Michael Fertik, chief executive of Reputation. “Every transaction in your life involves and revolves around the Internet. Decisions are made about you based on the Internet.”
While Credibility Corp. caters to companies, Reputation focuses primarily on people – and both businesses have grown rapidly. Fertik said Reputation’s revenue has grown by 400 percent annually since it was founded in 2006.
Fertik, who has met and talked with Stibel, praised Credibility Corp. for packaging its credit reports and online reputation business together, noting they both involve how a business is perceived by outsiders.
“It’s a pretty good idea to bundle this all together,” he said.
Though he’s just 38, Stibel has had plenty of experience in Internet ventures.
After attending graduate school at Providence, R.I.’s Brown University, the Connecticut native co-founded Simpli, a search engine company that was sold to NetZero Inc. in 2000. More recently, Stibel was chief executive of Web.com, which provides site design and other services to businesses.
Though Dun & Bradstreet is known primarily for providing information about public and private companies, it was not exactly a major competitor. Still, Stibel knew some of the executives at the Short Hills, N.J., company. Last summer, he caught wind of an opportunity to buy its Self-Awareness Solutions division, which was languishing as the company put most of its resources toward serving larger companies.
Stibel raised $200 million from Great Hill Partners, a Boston private-equity firm, putting half toward the purchase and the remainder toward investment in the new business.
Though the company had no L.A. presence previously, Stibel located the headquarters in Malibu, where he lives.
“The L.A. market has become a small-business hub and most of our customers are small businesses,” Stibel said. “I am a huge believer in this market.”
The company has been bulking up locally, and Stibel has brought in some familiar faces. Earlier this year, he hired Sam Paisley, who had previously worked as chief financial officer alongside Stibel at Westlake Village’s ValueClick Inc.
But while the company looks to penetrate a new market, it continues to put resources into its traditional business. Credit services, including compiling credit reports, remain the largest part of the business: About two-thirds of its employees are credit advisers. The credit reports are assembled with available data, including public filings, as well as input from companies.
Meanwhile, the online reputation management industry has been criticized for allegedly underhanded tactics, including companies that write fake positive reviews of a client in order to keep business. Stibel said his company will be able to avoid such controversy because it does not offer repair services.
“Our goal isn’t to help a business game the system, it’s to help a business understand the system,” he said.
Credibility Corp. typically provides its services on a subscription basis, allowing companies to check their credit and credibility profiles in real time. Stibel said the company has hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
To continue its fast growth, the company is preparing to overhaul its products in the coming months, adding more features and giving users more data to assess their online presence. Some of that seems outside its reputation business, including plans to provide customers with the ability to track whether government-mandated licenses are up to date.
Judy Gray, a co-founder and producer of the Ski Dazzle Los Angeles Ski Show and Snowboard Expo, said she has been using Dun & Bradstreet’s services for decades and has remained a customer of Credibility Corp.
Now she is eyeing the company’s reputation services. Her company maintains a significant online presence in order to generate interest for the annual convention, she said, and it helps to know what is being said online.
“We think it’s the next logical step for D&B to offer a service like this,” Gray said. “Misinformation can get out, so you want to stick with people who can verify your credibility.”
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