Finding the Signal in the Noise

Local technology company, VERAFI, recently re-headquartered to Whitefish with help from Two Bear Capital and specializes in private intelligence and due diligence

By Maggie Dresser
Verafi in downtown Whitefish on Feb. 19, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

After more than a decade of practicing law as an environmental lawyer, Chris Albert decided to shift directions and become an attorney for the CIA. But after a series of psychological tests, he was instead recruited as a collection management officer for the agency, gathering intelligence and making sure the “needs of policy makers” were met and ensuring case officers were on track.

During his six years at the CIA, Albert met Nic McKinley, who worked as a collection management officer and a variety of other agency roles.

“The commonality between Nic and I really centered on a frustration with bureaucracy,” Albert said. “We bonded over that in the field, but then we took it to the next level and stayed in touch.”

Their experiences working for the CIA revealed a gap in the private sector, and Albert and McKinley saw the need for technological developments within the private sector to “enhance open source collection information.” In other words, they wanted to come up with an efficient method to track down fraud in a world with excess information.

In 2019, McKinley started a technology company that provided an efficient and thorough due-diligence report, specializing in angel and venture capital investment and pre-hire processes. He later recruited Albert for the business and rebranded it, calling the private intelligence company VERAFI.

Soon, the cofounders launched the rebranded company, where they create software that helps identify fraud and saves clients hours of fact checking in a single report, preventing potentially large financial losses and providing extensive background checks on individuals beyond a standard check.

“All the information someone needs to make a confident decision is out there,” McKinley said. “The problem is there’s too much information. There’s so much noise it can be very hard to find that signal … Our technology scours the web. We’re just combing it down so we can eliminate false positives.”

VERAFI’s clients range from banks and venture capital investment companies to schools.

“The key is doing the deeper dive more efficiently,” Albert said. “Less clicks to get the information. It’s about efficiency.”

In one recent case, a school system conducted a standard background check on an employee who turned out to be a pedophile. The school then hired VERAFI to conduct a more extensive background check to prevent future fraud.

“These situations happen a lot but nobody wants to talk about them,” McKinley said. “Sometimes they make the media, but more often than not they don’t because it’s embarrassing. No one wants to admit that they got scammed or defrauded.”

“We come in to help discover what the truth is and help them make that confident decision,” McKinley continued.

Before VERAFI came to the market, McKinley and Albert noticed that background checks and due-diligence technology hadn’t changed in roughly 20 years. Once McKinley and Albert launched the company, Two Bear Capital took on VERAFI as a portfolio company, re-headquartering the company to Whitefish.

While McKinley and Albert wait for their new office to be remodeled at Two Bear Capital, they are currently operating out of a temporary office space in downtown Whitefish with six full-time employees and eight contractors, most who work remotely.

McKinley and Albert are prioritizing local hiring before branching out nationally, and they recently hired employees from Columbia Falls, Bigfork and Bozeman, while their lead software engineer lives outside of Whitefish.

McKinley says they haven’t had an issue finding qualified employees locally, and other than a few circumstances, they’ve been able hire mostly in Montana.

In the next 24 months, they hope to have 25 employees at VERAFI with a goal of company expansion.

“Our goal is to grow this company big enough that anybody who needs to do due diligence for pre-employment or pre-investment or litigation support, they will be able to afford to do so,” McKinley said.

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