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."

The Bayou City has been named the top Texas metro for minority entrepreneurial success. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Houston reigns as the top major metro area in Texas for successful minority entrepreneurs, a new study shows.

The Houston area ranks No. 11 in the study, done by lending marketplace LendingTree, with Dallas-Fort Worth at No. 17, Austin at No. 29, and San Antonio at No. 34. In all, the study measures the success of minority entrepreneurs in the country's 50 largest metro areas.

Houston is no stranger to high marks for its minority-entrepreneur environment.

In 2017, Expert Market ranked Houston the No. 1 city in the U.S. for minority entrepreneurs. A year earlier, Rice University's Kinder Institute noted that the Houston area ranked sixth in the U.S. for metro-area concentrations of minority entrepreneurs.

For its ranking, LendingTree looked at four metrics:

  • Percentage of self-employed minorities in each metro area. (It's 2.5 percent in Houston).
  • Minority businesses ownership parity. A metro area scores well in this regard if the share of minority-owned businesses aligns with the percentage of minority residents. (Houston received a score of 59 in this category, with 100 being a perfect score.)
  • Percentage of minority-owned businesses that posted at least $500,000 in annual revenue. (It's 46.7 percent in Houston.)
  • Percentage of minority-owned businesses that have operated for at least six years. (It's 56.2 percent in Houston).

Ingrid Robinson, president of the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council, credits the Houston area's strong showing in the LendingTree study to a number of factors.

For one thing, minority entrepreneurs in Houston enjoy access to a vast array of resources at each stage of a business' growth, she says. For example, Houston Minority Supplier Development Council tailors its programs, seminars, and services to minority businesses in four revenue categories, ranging from less than $1 million a year to more than $50 million a year.

Furthermore, Robinson says, business development groups in the Houston area work more collaboratively than they do in many other regions.

"We truly try not to duplicate efforts, but to support one another and direct minority entrepreneurs to the appropriate organization that can best meet their needs," she says.

Robinson underscores the diversity of industries in the Houston area, including energy, healthcare, and aerospace. This diversity helps sustain business activity during tough economic times, she says.

Then, there's the fact that Houston is diverse in its demographics. A report released by Rice University proclaimed Houston is the most racially and ethnically diverse major metro area in the U.S. More than 145 languages are spoken throughout the region by a robust mix of white, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian residents.

"Houston is the only place in America that you can go to today that reflects the demographics projected for our entire country in 20 years," Robinson says. "So we have the opportunity to lead the way in showing the rest of our nation that minority business is good business for everyone."

Minority-owned businesses in the Houston area enjoy strong support from local, county, and state elected officials, Robinson says.

"The tone set by our governing bodies to ensure the broadest inclusion of minority entrepreneurs in governmental contracts makes Houston attractive to individuals seeking opportunities," Robinson says.

During his 2015 election campaign, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner stressed that a competitive business environment — including a thriving community of minority-owned, woman-owned and small businesses — "is critical to Houston's future economic health."