SheerID is an eligibility verification service for online commerce, based in Eugene. Co-founded in 2010 by CEO Jake Weatherly, President David Shear and CMO Marci Hansen, the company currently provides its service to companies like Spotify, Foot Locker, PGA TOUR, and Costco. We recently sat down with Jake Weatherly to talk about the company and its history, and find out how it’s been able to gain such great market traction in just a few years.
What was the initial genesis of SheerID?
Living in a college town, everywhere we went, we kept noticing how hard it was for students to verify their eligibility and redeem discounts they deserved. We saw that at the airport, in the University library, and even at the college bookstore. As the pattern started to emerge and the pain point became obvious to us, David and I conducted extensive research to uncover what solutions existed. We were stunned that there weren’t companies already verifying eligibility for exclusive student discounts.
Once you had that initial idea, how did you go about developing, testing, evolving, and growing the concept?
I tapped Alex Boone, our EVP of Technology, and sold him on the idea. After hours of testing, Alex confirmed that it was possible to build an API that could perform a binary verification against data sources. From there we spent a lot of time researching data options until we found the right partner for authoritative student data. Upon starting to do TAM research for students, we uncovered there might be an even bigger opportunity around military discounts, so we began developing those two products in parallel.
What were some of the initial hurdles that you encountered as you were entering the market and lining up new clients?
When looking at the classic product life cycle, we realized that we were at the extreme end of the introduction and education phase. So while it was great to not have competition, there was a lot of education to do in the marketplace before we could sell our product.
What were the key pain points that SheerID looked to solve in the market when you launched and how have those evolved as you’ve scaled up?
At our core, we have always been a verification company. We set out to streamline the eligibility verification process for our clients and their customers. Along the way, we have been surprised at how our clients integrate our solutions. For example, we knew from the beginning that we had the capability to host our clients’ verification, but we thought they would be more interested in our API and hosting it themselves. However, because we frequently work with decision makers on the operations and marketing side of the house, the fact that we can get a SheerID-hosted verification solution up and running in six business days with minimal IT support has been a big advantage.
SheerID started with Students and Military, which seems like a great group based on retailer promotions/deals – was there a focus on lining up these two groups first?
There are 34 million members of the military community and 21 million college students. That made them the biggest opportunity for our target prospects.
Was there a measured approach to growth after Students and Military, or more of a database/records access reason for how SheerID has entered the market?
We’ve always gotten a positive response from data partners we’ve approached because our API is designed to ask for a binary response and doesn’t see or transmit PII (personally identifiable information).
As we gained traction and on-boarded new clients, we uncovered two new pain points. Many software companies and other business that offered student discounts wanted to offer academic discounts so adding teacher and faculty satisfied their criteria. We also discovered that several of our clients who offered military discounts to show their appreciation also wanted to extend their offers to first responders. Both new products were client-driven.
Talk a bit about founding and growing the company in Eugene from a community standpoint.
Eugene has been a terrific place to start our company. The cost of living is affordable and the quality of life can’t be beat. Founding our business in Eugene has allowed me to maintain a healthy work/life balance and spend time with my family.
How important is it to maintain a great company culture as you scale up?
Maintaining our company culture is super important to us. We’re a family-friendly, environmentally conscious company. Once a month, we host a family movie night at our office. We encourage our employees to bike to work and stay active by organizing hikes and other outdoor activities. When we opened our new office in Portland, there was definitely a look and feel we wanted to replicate. For example, our desks in both offices are made from recycled doors, and we made it a priority to create comfortable seating areas where our employees can relax and brainstorm. We want our remote employees to feel like they’re a part of the SheerID family. We supply our offices with healthy snacks and high quality coffee, and we’ve signed our remote employees up for Graze subscriptions and coffee subscriptions so that they can enjoy those perks too. We try to create an environment that is very inclusive.
What do you think the biggest opportunities and challenges are on the horizon?
Our core business will always be verification, but our API is so flexible that there are many products we can create and different directions we can take. We’re very aware that in order to meet our goal of doubling revenue this year, we need to scale with focus and choose our next products and opportunities in a calculated fashion.
If your present day self could go back in time and tell your former self some advice, what would it be?
Don’t waste time worrying about the fact that every business planning professional out there says you should never start a business that doesn’t have competition. This idea has legs, so relax, dig in, and enjoy the ride.