Houston software startup pivots to provide digital networking solutions

What started as a way to protect your company from a sketchy business partner has turned into a digital networking tool. Getty Images

Several years ago, David Grimes had a business partner who played dirty. It wasn't until the trial that followed the business wrongdoing that Grimes discovered the man had a history of cheating companies out of money. Grimes envisioned a software service that used public information to research potential investors or associates before signing on the dotted line of a partnership.

"I wanted to find a tool that would alleviate that pain and that risk of doing business," Grimes says. "I couldn't find that tool."

When Grimes met private investigator, Daniel Weiss, at a Christmas party, he picked his brain about this idea of vetting business partners or investors. Turns out, that's exactly what Weiss did already. Together, the two co-founded Houston-based Snap Diligence, a software-as-a-service company that uses its custom algorithm to digitally investigate these potential associates.

The technology would data mine various public information avenues, such as Secretary of State documentation of business owners, managers, and directors, state district court records, and insurance records. It would look at all filings and legal cases of both the person and all the companies they have been associated with. It would even look at that person's contacts and see who you have in common and who you don't know about.

Unintended technology
Now that the tool the Grimes wanted finally existed, and Snap Diligence went into beta in April of 2017. The team reached out to all ages and industries to use the software. In January of 2018, they reconvened and looked at who was using the tool and how they were using it.

"They were mostly people in their 30s," Grimes says. "I didn't think they would have enough experience with risk to appreciate the tool. But what they were using it to connect to new opportunities."

Snap Diligence allowed the users to access new business connections and potential clients based on their already established networks.

"It's not LinkedIn where you sat next to your connection four years ago at a breakfast club," Grimes says. "This is information on people who are actually involved in a business together."

A banker approached Grimes and asked him to datamine all his clients to see all the potential business he could have by finding other companies a client is involved in but that doesn't yet use the bank for.

So, with this new tool, Snap Diligence pivoted about 3 to 4 months ago and now looks at first and second degree of existing relationships for the purpose of targeting new business clients.

"We started running this customer analysis work — and we had to rework our algorithm some — to spit out this batch mining process for customers and how you expand an existing customer relationship into a new opportunity," Grimes says.

The tool has been most popular with commercial insurance and commercial banking, Grimes says. Private equity has been a big player too, although it's not as big as a proponent since they have smaller client bases.

Growth plans on the horizon
The company has a few major clients coming in, Grimes says, and also expects to be able to mine third degree connections soon too. Snap Diligence operates in several states, but as more information is able to be pulled in, the tool will soon grow to more markets.

"SEC data is something we want to add fairly quickly, as well as real estate data," Grimes says. "The key is just importing more and more data that can further fill in the picture of someone's footprint."

With growth on the mind, Grimes recognizes that Houston has with venture and talent. Both are aspects the local innovation community has but needs more of.

"We have plenty of talent here in Houston, but it's harder to find the talent that doesn't mind going into a startup with the risk that comes with it," Grimes says. "Finding the right talent is difficult."

A new report from the Greater Houston Partnership found that Houston saw over $33 billion in foreign investments over the past 10 years. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Throughout the past decade, over 500 foreign-owned companies from 36 countries have planned investments in Houston. The investments are spread across more than 600 deals within 63 industries in Houston. Adding up the amount of disclosed valuations, the total exceeds $33 billion.

The city has a lot to offer these companies from all over the world, says Greater Houston Partnership's senior vice president of research, Patrick Jankowski, in a release.

"These foreign-owned companies came to Houston for a variety of reasons, from being closer to their clients to establishing a beachhead for entering the U.S. market," Jankowski says in the release.

The information is compiled in the new Global Houston report from the GHP that analyzes data on foreign investment over the past decade. The research shows that now

The foreign investment movement greatly impacts the local economy, Jankowski adds.

"It infuses new capital into the region, expands the manufacturing base, helps underpin jobs, facilitates the exchange of ideas and best practices, increases trade, adds to the tax base and stimulates growth," he says.

Aside from the investments, the report found that locally, more than 2,500 Houston manufacturing firms have their hands in global trade. Around 17.3 percent of Houston's economy is related to exports, which amounts to double than what was recorded in 2003, according to the Brookings Institution. The Bayou City regularly leads the nation in exports, such as oil field services, refined products, chemicals, and fabricated metals.

The report also took into account Houston's diversity, which has also evolved over the past 10 years. About one in four residents are born outside the country, and a third of the population growth is attributed to immigrants — who account for 390,000 of the city's new residents. In 2017 alone, foreign-born Houstonians made up almost a third of the total GDP of Houston, or $142.1 billion.

"Over the last couple of decades, Houston's economy has become more diversified," says Bob Harvey, GHP president and CEO, in a news release. "We've surged beyond traditional oil and gas to include a burgeoning energy tech and renewables industry, a thriving life sciences and healthcare sector, and a robust advanced manufacturing ecosystem. And in that time, as this report shows, Houston's trade and investment ties with the rest of the world have grown as well. These global connections are essential to our long-term success."

In 2018, Houston's top five trade partners all increased activity. The top countries are, Mexico ($24.6 billion in 2018, compared to $20.1 billion in 2017), China ($20.3 billion, compared to $18.8 billion in 2017), Brazil ($12.9 billion, compared to $12.6 billion in 2017), The Netherlands ($10.4 billion, compared to $8.6 billion in 2017), and South Korea ($10.3 billion, compared to $6.8 billion in 2017).

By the numbers

Here are some key findings from the report.

  • The Houston/Galveston Customs District handled 289.2 million tons of cargo in 2018, or 33,000 metric tons every hour.
  • The Houston/Galveston Customs District ranked first in the nation in foreign tonnage handled and 7th in the nation by dollar value in 2018.
  • The three ports of Houston, Galveston and Freeport support 343,525 jobs, according to a report from Martin & Associates and Texas A&M University
  • Of Houston's 1.6 million foreign-born residents, 39.8 percent are naturalized (i.e. U.S. citizens). That's up from 32.3 percent a decade ago.
  • Latin America leads among regions of origin for Houston's foreign-born population with 1.02 million people in 2017, up 42 percent from 2008. Asia follows at 409,395, up 37 percent and Africa with 95,017, a 14 percent increase.