Announcing New Feature – Adding Your Entry in People Search

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We had received requests from some users of People Search that they were not able to find their own entries in the search and would be keen to have their details entered. Till now, we were asking such requests to be sent by mail. And these were then added to the People Search database.

We are pleased to bring the user entry feature online through a web form, doing away with the need for sending details via mail. The option shows up in the form of a message ‘Unable to find your record! Click here to add your details’, just below the People Search entry fields, after a search has been done.

Once the web form has been submitted, the details start showing up in the People Search results after a few hours. The record is clearly marked as ‘User generated record’ in the search results to distinguish it from the publicly available records.

We hope that this feature will make the People Search even more useful. Your feedback is always welcome.

Recalling the Launch Day – Look Inside our Startup

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I recently chanced up this excellent blog – Why founding a three-person startup with zero revenue is better than working for Goldman Sachs from Antonio Garcia-Martinez, Co-Founder of Adgrok (I thank Lalit Manral for sharing this on Facebook). The startup life which Antonio brings out so vividly is probably experienced in one way or another by most of the startups, including JantaKhoj.

It is more than four months since we went live with JantaKhoj.com. But the day of the launch, 27th April 2010, is still so very crystal clear in my memory. After shifting the public beta launch date a few times, the pressure was really intense to go ahead with it on that day. The last minute testing and checks went on through most of the day. The temperatures were rising – both within and around the team. The summer in Hyderabad is relentless and this year was no different. The legendary power-cuts during the peak summer months were back in full swing.

Generally we used to get around one hour of power cut at most but as you know, we can always rely on Murphy’s Law to bless us when it is least wanted! So, on that day, the power cut continued for around four hours non-stop. The office building backup generator supported us for around two hours. While the generator does not support the air-conditioning, we survived with the fans. When generator also breathed its last (the building supervisor mentioned something about more diesel being procured but it did not show up till next day!), we continued working with power from the UPS. But yes, the fans were silent now!

The temperatures continued to rise but our valiant warriors of Engineering kept on hammering on the code, well supported by others in the testing. After one and a half hours more, the UPS also ran out of the battery charge! While the laptops continued to work on their own battery and mobile Internet card, the desktops and LAN also fell silent; the Web connectivity too was lost as the broadband line required the power. Clearly not the best of the working situations on the day of launch!

Thankfully the dedicated server hosted on the top-tier datacenter was safely tucked away from all this mess and Suresh (our Head – Engineering) continued to move ahead with the help of laptop and mobile Internet card. Eventually the primary AC power came back (after an outage lasting more than four hours) and everything started humming again – we were back in the business with full strength. Having seen the ‘worst’, we could only go up now. The effort continued till very late evening and finally, at around 1130pm, the site was thrown open for public beta. The next day, we announced it to the world and have thoroughly enjoyed these four months since then.

Announcing Enhanced People Search

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Introduces Advanced Search, Filters, Social Media Profiles and Web Coverage

We are delighted to release the next generation of JantaKhoj People Search. At a high level, the new People Search introduces advanced search, more filters, public social media profiles, pictures, videos, blogs, court records and other Web references.

Advanced search and additional filters allow narrowing down of search results by State, Gender, Age range (minimum to maximum fields), Phone number, Family and neighbours. This had been a consistent request from our users and was one of the highest priority items in the new release.

The new search also adds a whole lot of new panels which index and aggregate information from a wide variety of other public sources:
• Social media profiles (BigAdda, Facebook, Friendster, Fropper, ibibo, MySpace)
• Business networks (LinkedIn)
• Photo sharing sites (Bing, Flickr, Google, Picasa)
• Video sharing sites (Bing, Google, YouTube)
• Blogs
• Court records (coverage across judgements of Supreme Court and most of the High Courts)
• Book results (Google)
• Web links and references
• Phone books
• Patents

We will continue to add more public sources as we go forward. In case, you feel that we have missed out any important source, please do let us know via the Feedback Form or a mail to feedback[at]jantakhoj[dot]com.

Happy searching!

Interview with Yogesh Bhura – Pioneering Guru of Background Verifications Industry in India

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Yogesh Bhura has been a highly successful entrepreneur in the area of background verifications and due diligence. He has co-founded Quest Research (acquired by First Advantage), IntegraScreen (acquired by WorldCheck) and Q2 Consulting. Tarun Bangari (Founder & CEO, JantaKhoj) interviews him in this post.

Tarun (T): How did you get to the idea of founding Quest Research?
Yogesh (Y): Quest Research was formed as a result of common vision between four entrepreneurs/co-founders who wanted to create and grow the Background Screening and Due Diligence segment in Asia Pacific region. Thus Quest Research was formed in 2000 in Hong Kong.

T: How were the early days? How did the firm establish itself? Initial challenges?
Y: Early days were challenging as between 2000 and 2002, world went through a recessionary phase. So recruitment and other business activities were severely impacted. Being a start up with zero base, it could not have been worse than what we went through during that phase – so we remained committed and focussed towards our business objectives and goals. This helped us tremendously as we could capitalise during the rapid growth phase which followed 2002, including the boom in outsourcing industry.

T: What do you think made Quest Research so successful?
Y: Combination of many factors –
• Chemistry between founders even though all four of us belonged to different nationalities
• Our focus on being a profitable and specialist provider of background screening services at pan-Asia region
• Our ability to build a good team of professionals to scale up the business
• Redeployment of cash flow back in growing the business
• We created standards for the industry at Asia Pacific region and our brand was synonymous with the trade name – as an example, most of the companies refer “background check” as “Quest check”, even in their tender documents.

T: What were the prevailing attitudes then around employee background verifications?
Y: Most of the time, the attitude was “we know how to do this ourselves” even though they were either not doing it at all or doing it randomly in-house. However, as progressive organisations started using background screening as a “must have” rather than “good to have”, it was a matter of time that most of the companies started adopting this as a good business practise. During early stage of our business, it was expensive for a firm to adopt this practise – but rapid growth, technology adoption and competition allowed for a sharp fall in prices, thus making it affordable for most companies to adopt them.

T: How competitive was the space? How did you beat the competition?
Y: I think Indian market was and is more competitive than the regional market. Even now, there is good scope for a # 2 or # 3 at regional level but am surprised not too many players have tapped this opportunity. However, landscape in India is just opposite – I am told now there are more than 500 vendors competing for business in India and at ridiculous prices. Often, companies are ignorant of the “value’ they are getting even though they may believe they are getting services at “very cheap cost”. There is disconnect and lack of understanding of what people are buying and selling – leading to disparity in pricing.
This business requires highest standard of integrity as slightest deviation could impact on your reputation, key for sustaining your business. We used to be very upfront and honest with clients about practicality and feasibility of where they wanted to spend money, often at the cost of losing revenue. Predictably, this used to work in our favour in most of the cases. Despite serious competition, we would win more than 70% of new businesses being floated in the domestic market.

T: How did the acquisition by First Advantage(FADV) come around?
Y: Around 2004 and 2005, Quest Research became very popular amongst most of the US based players and almost all of them approached us to acquire us. Our board decided to go for a competitive bidding process and FADV was the most aggressive among all US based players. We saw the trend of local/regional contracts becoming global contracts and hence this acquisition created world’s first single platform to fulfil customer’s global needs. Till then, no US player had any meaningful presence in Asia.

T: How did the idea for IntegraScreen come to you?
Y: Quest Research right from beginning had two divisions – Background Screening and Due Diligence. When FADV acquired background screening division of Quest Research, we decided to retain the Due Diligence business and thus hived it into a new entity – IntegraScreen.

T: What was different about IntegraScreen compared to other players?
Y: While Quest Research was an Asian play, IntegraScreen was a global play. The segments were different but similar to Quest Research experience; IntegraScreen created standards for the industry and helped bring down cost/price per unit for our customers. This ‘affordability’ helped our customers to implement vendor/business partner Due Diligence at global scale.

T: What made you go ahead with IntegraScreen’s acquisition by WorldCheck?
Y: Similar to FADV, we went through a competitive bidding process and World-Check emerged as a winner. World-Check has a phenomenal track record in Anti Money Laundering segment and an undisputed global leader. We saw synergy between their and IntegraScreen’s service offerings.

T: How would you summarize the background verifications industry in India today?
Y: Even though I don’t have enough visibility, I do understand that it is still highly fragmented and competitive and there is a serious need for consolidation whether through acquisitions or other mechanism. I think the industry is under-invested on technology leading to high cost and low service levels for end-customers. I believe consolidation would help bring investments in technology to bring down cost and improve service levels.
Except for FADV, no serious US player has considered India for ridiculously low productivity – when they compare revenue per employee in India vis-a-vis US or for that matter even productivity per employee, it appears scary to them. However, I see this as an opportunity for us to improve this through use of technology and database.

T: How would you compare it to equivalent space in a developed economy like USA?
Y: USA is highly technology driven market – the average turnaround time is 2-3 days where as it is weeks in India. This has helped in a very stable pricing environment as delivery/processes are predictable. In most of Asian countries, the required information is either not digitised or not easily accessible, resulting in huge delay in fulfilment. Ironically, despite India having a low cost environment in most of goods and services, cost of background screening is higher in India than US!

T: Why has B2C (individual consumer) verification market lagged in India?
Y: Awareness, Accessibility and Affordability are three key factors responsible for scaling up of any segment. It is a matter of when rather than if. Also if we can improvise on productivity and reduce cost/price, this would help accelerate growth of this segment. I am hopeful on this as I know few players who are focused on Tenant Screening, Student Screening and Matrimonial Screening – these are early days but have tremendous potential.

T: What is your new venture – Q2 Consulting about?
Y: Q2 is based in Singapore and provides informational resources to governments, multinationals and the background check industry.

T: Thank you very much for joining us today. And best of luck with Q2-Consulting!

People Search – Privacy Concerns

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This post is in continuation to the earlier one on People Search – A Brief Introduction and Landscape Review and goes deeper to address some of concerns which accompany People Search services.

Such services have become mainstream in the developed world. For example, USA itself has dozens of such providers with Intelius and USSearch (now acquired by Intelius) as the two largest players in the paid online people search space. These two providers have indexed billions of public records related to US residents, covering the entire spectrum from light weight information (like contact details including address, phone numbers, family members) to more serious stuff (like property registrations, value of the property owned, criminal and court records, sex offender registry, income, bankruptcy). The sources of such records encompass telephone directories, utility company records, tenancy and property registration records, business records, court and criminal records among other. If you doubt me, I invite you to go ahead and search for ‘Tarunendra Bangari’ (my full name) on www.ussearch.com.

People Search Screenshot 1

The 4 results shown are mostly accurate (except the age as I still have a long way to go before 90!) but of course, you have to pay up anywhere from $1.95 to $39.95 to get all the details.

People Search Screenshot 2

The point which I am driving home here is that with paid reports, you can get to know my full name, date of birth, relatives, neighbours, average income, address, phone numbers, address history, criminal and court records! (Caveat: Of course, since I was in USA only from 2000-2004, some of this information will be outdated.)

Now let us focus on the Indian context. To the extent I am aware of, there is no such provider of People Search services except JantaKhoj. Just like the other global People Search providers, JantaKhoj has relied exclusively on public records. It means that these records are either publicly available on the Internet (though they may not be so easy to find) or available in the public domain for anybody to access.

JantaKhoj does not disclose these various sources of public records, primarily due to business and competitive reasons. But this non-disclosure does not indicate that we have resorted to using clandestine or unscrupulous third party lists which are available all over the market. Each and every record shown within the JantaKhoj People Search is backed by a publicly available link (URL) or source, which was indexed by JantaKhoj. JantaKhoj has also deployed deep web data extraction technology which means that quite a few of the records may not even show up on regular search engines like Google.

We have kept the privacy concerns of the individuals at the highest consideration. Our Privacy Policy clearly mentions how individuals can have their records removed from the People Search service. As and when we receive such requests, we take action on them as per the timeframes mentioned in the policy. The challenge is to explain to the concerned individuals that this information is already available in other public sources and even if we suppress our records, the information will still be available on the original sources.

The more interesting bit is that we have received a fairly large number of requests of people who were not able to find or view their own records in the People Search and have requested inclusion of their details. This number continues to go up every day. While we process these requests on a case by case basis right now, we are in the process of releasing a web request form which will allow users to have their details included in the search database with great ease.

In summary, while the concept of People Search is relatively new to India and causes privacy concerns occasionally, in the longer term, this segment of web based search is poised for explosive growth in the coming years.

Scouring for the Hidden Skeletons: The State of Matrimonial Verification Services in India

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A friend recently entered, what his family considered as ‘the marriage-able age’. He has done well – gone to a reputed engineering institute, bagged a prestigious job in the campus interview, went abroad for a long term project and finally settled in Bangalore. In short, time was ripe for the bride-hunting to begin and it had begun in all earnest.

I met the guy sometime back, while on a trip to Bangalore and while we sipped latte at Barista, I asked him about the criteria being considered when his parents were looking at a prospective bride. He said a lot of things, but the gist was:
1. They were keen to verify the job she had mentioned in her online profile.
2. They were checking her personal background including the education.
3. They were trying to check the background of the family. Were they really the kind of nice people they projected themselves to be, or were there some hidden skeletons in the cupboard?

Fair enough. For both parties. You would love to know that much before tying the knot for life. And even fairer since arranged marriages still rule the Indian matrimonial landscape.

The state of matrimonial verification services in India
The problem is how do we carry out such verifications? As an off-shoot of the arranged marriage scenario, the Indian matrimonial landscape is flooded with websites and databases about prospective brides and grooms (BharatMatrimony, Shaadi, Jeevansathi, SimplyMarry, to name just a few), but there is hardly any satisfactory way to run a background check.

Therefore, people generally inquire about the whereabouts personally, or in some extreme cases, employ the service of a private investigation agency. The former is too informal and the latter quite expensive. Unfortunately, there is no single, unified database for such checks, and if someone decides to hide something, it is well-nigh impossible to figure it out before the marriage.

Solution
This is where a service like JantaKhoj might be relevant. JantaKhoj brings to the reach of individuals the best of consumer services like matrimonial, tenant, domestic help, and driver verifications that have so far been under-served. For citizens, it means a considerable relief from the uncertainties that abound in a typical urban setting. Given that personal information is poorly integrated and is haphazard, JantaKhoj is a definitive move ahead. So the next time you want to carry out matrimonial verification, you know where to head to.

Stop worrying. Start the Khoj!

Education Verification in India: The Problem and Some Solutions

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The Problem:
About a year ago, Ashwin (name changed), a friend of mine, had the most horrid experience of his life. He had secured high score in GRE, was selected for a prestigious US university and was all set to fly high and far. There was a small issue, the university he applied for, asked for a transcript for his degree. As it turned out, his institute didn’t have a transcription facility. So they directed him to the University. The university had a single point of contact for the transcript services and that person was on leave for a week.

My friend went nuts and ran around every possible place before somehow managing to get it done, well, just about in the nick of time.

Such problems are frequent in India. It is particularly common for those bright students who studied in India and then managed to bag scholarships abroad. Higher education aside, there are other reasons too when one might need education verification services. Suppose you want to check the background of your employee. Or, something more delicate, like checking the background of a prospective groom. Now how do you go about that?

What is absent?
Now most of the universities have started maintaining online records of their students. However, development of the system and implementation going forward will be fast but retrospectively will take time, they have a huge data to transfer from the old system to the new online model. So, a unified, centralized educational database will still be absent. Yes, you can go to the universities and check the old records, but there are hurdles associated with that. Thanks to the endless sinewy protocols in Indian academic institutes, it can take a long time for the university authorities to find and verify the record you are looking for.

What is the solution?
Now, what could be the solution for this problem? The universities themselves can take the step and solve the issue by creating a centralized, online database. To curb the malpractice of fake degrees, the universities can issue smart cards to students. Students can provide their smart card number to the prospective employer or foreign universities for reconfirmation. Additionally, the Indian universities should come together to set up the equivalent of National Student Clearinghouse in USA. This would go a very long way in streamlining the education verifications.

People Search – A Brief Introduction and Landscape Review

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People Search refers to an online service which allows you to enter either name or other personal details to search and find out more about a specific individual. Such services typically gather information from a wide variety of public records. The key advantage of using such services is that you are able to save time by not having to search across a wide range of public websites and sources. It is also important to understand that People Search does not mean searching of suitable candidates for hiring. Also, it does not mean searching for lost or missing individuals.

Such services are already quite well established in most of the developed countries. Many of them are paid services but some are available for free too. For example, this article from TopTenReviews covers the paid People Search services within USA. Another article at Findermind reviews a host of paid and free People Search services. Depending upon what kind of information you already have about the individual, the geography where the person lives, and what information you are looking for, you may have to try out a couple of these services to get the desired results.

While some of these global People Search engines cover the Indian population too, they still tend to perform much better if the person being searched is living in USA, Canada, Europe, and Australia. That is, the coverage on Indians is generally somewhat limited. So, the regular web search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo are used for doing People Search on resident Indians. The advantage of the regular search engines is that they are able to present a really large number of results across a wide range of websites. The disadvantage is that sometimes the number of results may be overwhelming and finding out the relevant details may be very time consuming.

So the need still remains for a search engine which specializes in People Search on resident Indians. This is exactly what JantaKhoj.com aims to provide.

JantaKhoj Completes First Year

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Today, on 23rd June 2010, we have completed one year of existence since our incubation. I would like to thank all our stakeholders – site users, customers, business partners, fans, supporters, critics, investors and promoters, strategic advisors, team members, consultants, and friends and family members. It is through your continued support, faith and guidance that we have reached this point.

In this one year, JantaKhoj has moved from just being an idea to being ‘India’s first and largest people search portal’ offering people search and background verifications to individuals and businesses. While there is still a long way to go, we take pride and pleasure in the fact that we have been able to build something concrete and innovative which has been quite useful to Indian community.

I can vividly recall the day, exactly one year ago, when we started in the single room, rented in the premises of another software company in Madhapur/HiTech area of Hyderabad, armed only with our old laptops and the new business idea. Over the next few months, we shaped out the offerings, refined the business plan, expanded our team and moved to our current office. The public beta launch on 28th April 2010 was the culmination of these long months of hard work and persistence.

The media and blogging community has been very kind to us as our press page shows. We continue to reach out to and build our fan communities on Facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn and Twitter. The site traffic and number of search engine results have continuously increased since the public beta launch. And we continue to get business from individual consumers and companies.

As we celebrate the completion of our first year, we are extremely excited about the next year and look forward to serving our site users and customers with even greater commitment and enthusiasm.

India’s Unique ID (UID) project – Aadhaar – and Background Verifications

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Some of our readers and occasionally, journalists and bloggers have asked us how does our work correlate to that of India’s UID project – Aadhaar. Also, they are curious to know the impact which Aadhaar may have on people search and background verifications.

Firstly, I would like to clarify that we are a ‘for profit’, business-focused start-up and neither we nor our services have any association with Aadhaar. Aadhaar is indeed one of the most ambitious technology projects which India has undertaken and it has the potential to transform the way state’s services are delivered to its citizens.

While the full extent of how Aadhaar will help in personal identification is yet to be understood completely, it does appear that the UID number and the associated smart card (with the biometric and certain personal details stored on it), will allow for verifying if the person is indeed who he or she claims to be. The UID FAQs mention – “Once a person is on the UID database the person will be able to establish identity easily. The UID will become the single source of identity verification. Residents would be spared the hassle of repeatedly providing supporting identity documents each time they wish to access services such as obtaining a bank account, passport, driving license, and so on.”

On privacy and confidentiality, the UID FAQs clearly mention – “In order to protect the right to privacy of the individual the information on the database will not be shared with anyone; all queries will get a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ response”. This official note makes it completely clear that the UID database will NOT be available to third party background verification companies and WILL be available only to certain government departments, government agencies and law enforcement bodies.

Additionally, the UID database is not going to cover elements like educational background, criminal history, work experience and past references. This major point, along with UID database being off-limits for general public including the background verification companies, makes it clear that the need for verifying address, education credentials, work experience, criminal background, and references, will continue to exist.

In summary, it seems that the publicly available people search and background verifications will not be impacted by UID project.