Startup That Uncovers Internet Secrets Just Raised $3.2M
Washington Business Journal — 18 Sep 2018 — District startup Sayari, which has crafted a kind of search engine to track corruption, corporate transactions and bad actors in emerging markets, has raised $3.2 million to fund its expansion. The company’s service is a little nebulous, so let’s take a minute to review how works:
Sayari combs the web for scanned documents and other public records that are not indexed by Google or have text that is searchable. The startup specializes in “hard-to-see” countries such as China, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Mexico and sub-Saharan Africa.
The startup then gathers, translates and makes that information easily available to subscribers through its online platform. Subscribers can use Sayari’s information for a variety of purposes, such as doing due diligence on potential customers or suppliers, anticipating potential public relations problems and avoiding potential bad actors in areas of the world where a wrong step could result in fines.
“It’s just sitting out there, but it’s not searchable or necessarily usable in its native format — and that might be Iraqi trade licenses that are just images of documents,” Chief Operating Officer Benjamin Power told me. “Our sweet spot is emerging, frontier and offshore markets.” Power and CEO Farley Mesko founded the corporate transparency company in 2015. Mesko had previously been a special correspondent for The East African magazine and a freelance journalist covering developing countries and conflict zones, eventually becoming COO at C4ADS, a nonprofit that provides data-driven analysis and reporting on global conflicts security issues. Power had also worked at C4ADS.
While Sayari started out as a risk assessment company, the founders quickly realized the search engine they had built for internal use was their real product. Banks can use it to perform more diligence on companies or people before doing business with them. Governments can use the data to track illicit sales or embargo violations. Nonprofits or media organizations can track bad actors from their corporate trail. Sayari declined to name specific customers, but federal records show the Office of Naval Intelligence issued a contract for four licenses to use Sayari, while the Broadcasting Board of Governors has also used Sayari.
The new Series A funding round was led by McLean venture fund Lavrock Ventures, which invests in the cybersecurity and national security space. Daniel Hanks, general partner at Lavrock, will join Sayari’s board, telling me in an interview that Sayari offers a crucial research tool in an age when a misstep could lead to huge fines or an increase in terrorism. He added that Sayari is adding more than a million records a day. “And I would venture to say that the marginal value of each new Sayari record is higher than the fourth redundant record on a U.S.-based LLC,” he said. “Fortune 50 retailer confirming that their Chinese widget manufacturer is not a front for the North Koreans? Check Sayari. Tracking down a yacht’s ownership information in order to bring down a Central American narco-terrorism ring? Check Sayari. I consider Sayari to be the Hubble telescope of public records data, providing visibility into previously undiscovered territory.”