A new app seeks to connect people with an iPhone, at least $60, and the desire to uncover the unknown with a private investigator. It’s like Uber, but for investigating people without their knowledge.
Trustify, which officially launched in the D.C. area this month after a rebranding, allows the user to hire a private investigator for $59 an hour to find old friends, run background checks on new hires, and attempt to dig up dirt on an ex-partner. (The PI makes $30 an hour.) Washington City Paper spoke with Trustify’s CEO Danny Boice about the app’s creation and how it helps “democratize private investigation so that the average consumer could afford it and would use it.”
This interview has been condensed for space and clarity.
How did you get the idea for Trustify?
Like 60 percent of people who are married, I went through a divorce years ago. Mine ended up being pretty bad… What I decided to do was to engage a private investigator. So I went on Google, I started looking around for PIs in the D.C. area, found someone who I thought was good based on the best I could tell on Google search results. Called the guy, took about a week or so to finally get him on the phone, ended up having to pay about a $1,500 retainer, which he blew through in a week. I got nothing back in terms of results.
And I, as being someone who is kind of stubborn, I tried a couple other PIs. Similar results, not quite as bad, not quite as [expensive], but I still ended up wasting thousands of dollars without real results that I could give to my lawyer. So the way I ended up making things work, I found a couple PIs who were younger, more willing to think differently… It worked for me, I got what I needed, and ultimately had my date in court and won. So that led me to realize that private investigators are extremely useful and extremely valuable when you’re in your time of need.
The problem is the way PIs have gotten used to working is very much like lawyers where they demand big retainers, thousands of dollars, they will not do small one- or two-hour jobs. They essentially become a service that only rich people use. Rich people use PIs because they want to augment the local police force, because they have the money to do, because they are not happy with the tips they are getting from the police. Then at Trustify I think we have a chance to change that. I think we can… make it so that [PI service] is affordable. Suddenly it reshapes that traditionally rich-people service and makes it so that average consumer… will use it because it’s trustworthy and fully transparent.
Who do you see your main clientele being with this app?
So far it’s been interesting. It’s average people. It’s not rich people. The age range kind of varies… We got everything from literally jobs that we have, “Hey, go locate my high school sweetheart, who moved away when we were seniors and now we’re adults and I would love to see what she’s up to.” We have someone who wanted us to find a long-lost friend for them so they can invite them to their wedding. We also get a lot of more serious, critically important things like, “I just hired a nanny, something doesn’t seem right. Can you just do a very detailed background check, just to make sure she doesn’t have a record or anything weird like that? And also go watch her for an hour one day when she has my kids at the playground to make sure she’s not screaming at them, going on Facebook ignoring them.” Other things that as a parent that you fear and become like the worst case scenario when you hire someone to watch your kids.
People are starting to meet their potential future partner through Tinder or Match.com or things like this or Hinge. It’s an interesting dynamic that I am starting to notice, where people who meet on these surfaces, hit it off on the surface level, but there’s a kind of an inherent distrust because you met through the Internet and not through friends or family, kind of the old-fashioned way. We are getting more and more people saying, “Hey, I met someone on Tinder. Things are starting to get more serious. Please make sure they’re not married or have a secret family.” I’ve been happily surprised with the fact that, as I suspected, this can really apply to everyone. And that’s how I wanted it to go. I essentially wanted to democratize private investigations so that the average consumer could afford it and would use it.
With all the Tinder-styled requests, is that how “…if my partner is cheating on me” became the first type of question on the app?
We do get a lot of people who have suspicions or just want to know. If you look at statistics, there is an alarmingly high amount of relationships that end due to infidelity as the number one reason. That goes between boyfriend-girlfriend types of relationships and also marriages.
In terms of the launch, I know you’re a D.C. native, what made made D.C. the right place to start Trustify?
I think there was a lot of reasons. One, D.C. is the intelligence capital of the U.S., where there’s just a lot of really talented people on the PI side who have investigative experience in some way, shape, or form. Maybe military, it may be FBI, homeland security, CIA, it may be even local enforcement. You have D.C., Virginia, and Maryland, which all have very strong, well-trained police forces. In terms of finding great PIs to handle the supply side of our network, we thought that was the best place. We also thought, with me being a D.C. native and wanting to support the local tech community and just business community, I’m hiring only full-time employees to be in Washington, D.C. I feel like me growing up here and always being a Washingtonian gave me special access to the talents you need to grow big business. And just personally, I love D.C. I’m never moving from here, I’ll be a Washingtonian for life, and I want to grow a really big business here.
What’s the process like in selecting a PI, with the more than 2,000 you have at this point?
Two of my employees here are former military. They’re intelligence specialists. They’re veterans. One of them actually went back as a civilian consultant for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Their only job all day is to… put [our PIs] through a pretty detailed interview to make sure they are qualified for what they say they can do.
Our screening process is pretty detailed. First the PI has to apply online, through our application form. We request a lot of information from them at that point. They also have to agree to our agreement, which protects the customer, and makes sure everybody abides by our procedures, policies, and processes, all of which revolve around protecting the customer. We’re not going to overcharge, they’re going to communicate, they’re going to make sure that every additional hour they bill is justifiably pre-approved, all of that good stuff.
Once they make it through that, we put them through a background check. We do check all of our PIs to make sure they don’t have any kind of criminal record, they don’t have any kind of business disputes or issues on their record, obviously they’re not sex offenders, no stalking, or even accusations of stalking. All of these things are important.
Then they go to that detailed phone screen. If they make it through that, then they can take their first job. We’ll even put them through a test job, usually as a kind of final step. We’ll give them a target, usually on someone we know, just to make sure they can actually do the work.
Do they have to be a licensed PI prior to the application process?
Yeah… We actually verify if they are a licensed PI. We only work with licensed PIs currently.
Say something goes wrong with a PI you selected and say you do have a kind of stalking kind of issue, how might you address that as a company?
We’re heavily involved with every job. We have technology built so that we have full transparency on any ongoing job. We communicate just as often with the customer as with the PI. We also screen PIs and only licensed PIs who are trained to look for stalking situations. So if a PI becomes a stalker, that means that almost the whole PI… system has failed, but we’re in a better position to identify that because of our technology and our processes than the traditional way.
On the potential customer stalking side, we’re actually better suited to find those out, too. We have technology on our side to look for potential stalking behavior. We have internal staff on our side, who are already trained to look for stalking behavior. And PIs themselves, if you’re a licensed PI, you’ve been trained to identify a client who is a potential stalker and to turn away that business. We’ve actually got three checks and balances there where the traditional kind of way just relies on the PI doing whatever they feel.
Have you faced any criticism from clientele or from PIs so far?
It’s funny, [among] customers there has been zero criticism. It’s been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a new service that a lot of customers have never even known about or considering using before us. We’ve delighted customers better than expected. The PIs, there’s been a little bit of push-back, which you always get I think when you’re going in and disrupting and changing an industry that’s been around… literally since Abraham Lincoln has been president. It’s been kind of… [an] entrenched industry, and a lot of these folks are set in their ways. But the fact that we’ve gotten so many PIs signed up and using this service, I think it speaks for itself.
This post has been updated. A spokesperson for Trustify says PIs make $30 an hour, not $35, as Boice originally told City Paper.