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BeenVerified CEO talks about bringing controversial Background Check app to Android

by Brad Spirrison

BeenVerified CEO & co-founder, Josh LevyWhen launched Background Check on iOS devices in 2009, the app was downloaded nearly one million times before being pulled by Apple. Two years later, the company returns to the mobile arena with a new Android app and reconfigured iOS offering.

Users who download the free app can run one background check on individuals they want more information on (sorted by name or email). Thereafter, additional background checks are available via in-app purchases at about $10 a pop.

In this edition of Meet the Makers, CEO and co-founder Josh Levy talks about the advantages for an app like Background Check to launch in Android’s less restrictive environment, how his company persuaded Apple to start offering the app again in the App Store, and why his focus is on mobile despite the marketing and implementation challenges.

Appolicious: Your first iOS app was downloaded more than one million times before Apple removed it from the App Store for, reportedly, privacy concerns. Was this the case, and what did you do in the interim to satisfy Apple for approval this go-round?

Josh Levy: There were no major changes to the app's core functionality. Over time, we had to demonstrate exactly how our service works and where our data comes from. Information like home addresses have always been available even before the Internet - for example in the old physical phonebook. However, the information that BV makes available for the first time through a mobile app, things like criminal records and court records, really help people make informed decisions. One thing we learned is that most people do not fully understand public records, where they come from and how they should be used appropriately. We have had good feedback from this video which explains public records and our service.

APPO: You launched concurrently on Android. Because of the "open" nature of that platform, were you able to develop your app differently and closer to what existed in the first place?

JL: Absolutely. Developing on the Android is a dream. Unless you're knee deep in developing for both iOS and Android, you can't truly appreciate how nice it is to be able to choose what OS functionality you want to build around and more importantly being able to deploy revisions instantly. Waiting a week or two for an app update to be released into the iPhone App store feels like two months to us. Of course, the Apple UI is gorgeous and everything just works amazingly for the user, so there are tradeoffs... I could talk about this all day.

APPO: What's the elevator pitch for your overall service, who is your target market, and why should consumers pay ten dollars a pop for this information (beyond the one-time freebie each month)?

JL: Our target market consists of everyday people who could benefit from easy and affordable access to public record information. Technology is constantly having us meet people online in new and exciting ways, but with that also comes the downside of not knowing much about them. It just makes sense to use BV for things like meeting someone for a first time from an online dating site or going to someone's house to buy a couch off craigslist. We don't think every consumer always needs to pay for our service, which is why we offer one free check per month. Additionally, we wanted to make sure that they always have that one check available whenever they need it. If a user is in a situation where they need more information than a simple Google search provides we offer the option to pay.

APPO: How would you quantify your mobile operations relative to the rest of the business?

JL: The mobile space is developing at a rapid pace and we are confident that there is no better place for our services than right in the palm of your hand. However, as developers, we must also acknowledge that the space is still in its infancy. We know our advantage in mobile is a tremendous asset for us, but monetizing may take some time. Right now, users are not used to paying for mobile services (excluding games), but everyday that's changing. It's certainly tough to quantify but our users want it, so it's a bet we're willing to make.

APPO: Like many users, the first time I tried searching for myself via the iPhone app (and online), I couldn't find any information. Why, and how do you plan to address coverage issues like this moving forward?

JL: Yup, this one is a biggie. No one feels the pain more than our team does on this. We have our big TV in the office with the reviews up there. We love the ones that 5 star us but the ones that say we didn't have such and such information are the ones we're working on daily. The important thing to remember is that we do not create this data, we simply make it easy for users to view. So if it's not out there or we can't legally access it, we don't show it.

Having said that, we're actually in the process of loading updates to over 3100 counties of criminal records data as well as constantly adding more data. We've got a couple additional big updates in the pipeline. The service you see today is just the beginning.

APPO: Are you seeing different trends in terms of how Android users are finding the app relative to iOS?

JL: Now this is where iOS shines. There is nothing better than the App Store for being discovered. iOS users enjoy the thrill of discovering apps and the App Store ecosystem builds on that curiosity. The Android Market at the moment leaves a lot to be desired. However, we're seeing roughly equal traction from our website to downloads. With Android doing 500K+ daily activations, when they get their app store right it's going to be interesting.

APPO: Talk about marketing efforts and how you drive downloads on each platform.

JL: At the moment, it's almost entirely organic. Beyond the app stores, we rely almost entirely on our current BeenVerified users and traffic.

APPO: What are the three biggest things about the mobile media space that keep you up at night. Why?

JL: Ha! This is a good one...

- 1. Not being able to iterate/fail fast enough. If we fail, we like to fail fast in order make things better quickly. A/B testing has gone a long way on the web and is now standard practice. But it is not so easy on mobile. Is one free check a week the optimal approach? One a month? If only we can do quick tests and respond to users instantly, but at this point, it’s not that simple - Android is a little better but still it’s just not the web. Not being able to put our changes live instantly is painful.

- 2. Delivering a great product at a price point that makes sense for mobile. Building our service and getting access to good data is not cheap. Yet, it’s our job to figure out how to make it work.

- 3. Working within the limited confines of the mobile screen real estate. For some apps, this might not be an issue, but for us and thinking about how to display a lot of data on limited space is a challenge. For the moment we've opted to go with a "lighter" version of our reports on the phone but we don't plan to do that for long.