A couple of years ago, while a little bored, awaiting the birth of my son, I Googled the avuncular doctor who was caring for me at the time. To my horror, I discovered that the link appearing topmost wasn’t straightforward information about his practice or even a positive Yelp review (of which there were many), but instead a blogger’s tirade that accused him of extreme negligence decades ago.
Whether or not the blogger’s portrayal was accurate (I couldn’t bring myself to mention it and that doctor has since retired), it’s those kinds of damaging links that the startup ReputationDefender exists to obliterate, and on which its investors are hoping it will thrive.
In fact, they’re gambling on it. ReputationDefender originally raised a $2.6 million Series A last fall, from investors like Mike Maples and European Founders Fund. Now, according to a new regulatory filing, it’s expanded that offering and plans to raise $5.3 million instead. (The filing, which doesn’t list investors, says it’s more than halfway there, having secured $3.3 million.)
The Redwood City, Calif.-based startup, founded in 2006 by Harvard law school grad Michael Fertik, works its magic by contacting Internet sites like social networks and politely requesting that they play ball. If the non-legal means don’t work, ReputationDefender introduces its customers to lawyers with whom it says it often has “pre-negotiated, competitive rates.” (At that point, the customer and attorney stop involving the company, so it’s in ReputationDefender’s interests to solve the problem itself.)
ReputationDefender has a straightforward business model, charging customers $14.95 a month for a month-to-month plan, $12.95 a month if they sign up for a year, and $9.95 a month for a two-year contract. The company insists that it can’t charge a one-time fee because the databases that house personal information repopulate their data frequently, meaning the company can’t just kill the data once; to keep it dead and offline requires constant monitoring and updating.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this startup. It’s rooted by a useful concept, but it doesn’t strike me as a scalable business. After all, now that JuicyCampus.com is dead, I’d guess the number of people who get defamed or libeled online is actually on the smaller side — and the number willing to pay an ongoing subscription fee to clean up their online image smaller still.
There also doesn’t appear to be much in the way of barriers to entry to the “online reputation management” business. Reputation Armor and DefendMyName.com are just a couple of ReputationDefender’s competitors.