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Words to Avoid in Your YC Application

By Chris Morton on October 13, 2015

BlockScore in Y Combinator S14

I have been through YC twice, including with BlockScore, an identity verification and KYC compliance company from the Summer 2014 batch, and have informally helped many with their applications. A common thread among the applications is the use of words which detract from the meaning that people are trying to convey.

Words to avoid

Remember, the best YC application is one where an unrelated party can understand what you do and how well you have done it in the fewest words possible. The following words can detract from your message:

Buzzwords If the Silicon Valley show didn’t put you off of these words, nothing will. revolutionize, disrupt, synergy, innovate, groundbreaking, world-class, unique, advanced, cutting edge, exclusive, unique, advanced, superior, platform, leverage
Snake oil Even though YC now accepts companies where these words could be true, it’s best to try not to describe potential with trite terms. once in a lifetime, game changer, magic, best of breed, pioneering
Diluters In most cases there are better, more succinct words that could be used that are more specific to your situation. super, very, awesome, really, literally, basically, definitely, golden, amazing, honestly, obviously, great
Informal You can keep a light tone without resorting to informal language. lol, haha, btw, 😀
Offensive It can be easy to accidentally offend - do your best to remember your audience. Swearing probably isn’t justifiable. You can use your imagination!
Tropes Everyone has rockstar developers. Explain why your team is great in other words - these are meaningless! ninja, rockstar, guru
Distractors State your accomplishments and plans with confidence. These words only distract from your point. kind of, sort of, much, just

Make sure to do one final pass to remove any extraneous language. If it isn’t essential, remove it. Brevity and conciseness are more pleasing than wordiness. A good example was someone saying that they “started working towards launching a pilot beta.” The extra words made them sound tentative. I suggested they say “pilot planned for November.”

The same advice applies to your video too. Keep it simple and don’t go overboard; just be normal and follow the advice.

After you submit your application

YC will accelerate your journey but don’t let it be the arbiter of your future. Regardless of whether you get into YC, focus on metrics: user growth, revenue growth, and generating profit. I see many founders pause and then stumble after applying to YC. Don’t let that happen to you.

There is still time to apply

As Sam and PG have mentioned, it isn’t too late to apply. Some of the best YC companies are last minute applicants.

Good luck!

Additional resources

YC application

PG’s guide on how to apply to YC

Sam Altman’s AMA on HN

3 non-obvious ways to improve your YC application by Payable

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Why We Open Source Our Terms of Service

By Alain Meier on October 9, 2015

Terms of service is on GitHub

Most people don’t read terms of service. For some products, it’s not a huge deal - but for ones like ours, it’s imperative that our customers understand what they’re agreeing to. It’s easy to obfuscate your terms of service and update it on a whim forcing your customers to manage their own copies of past terms and create their own red-lined comparisons.

We at BlockScore want to take a different approach to our public contracts. We believe that the burden of contractual clarity is on the seller, not the buyer, so we maintain all of our most important contracts, like our terms of service and privacy policy, in a version controlled repository on GitHub. Not only does this allow customers to track changes that occurred since they signed up, but it also gives them the ability to understand how and why our contracts have evolved to become what they are today.

Our industry, the identity information space, has very complex and stringent regulations. As a result, our contracts and those of our competitors can be difficult to keep track of. We hope that by putting our standard contract online in an easy to understand, versioned format we will be able to help our customers save money on legal overhead. When your customers better understand what you expect of them, they are also better able to comply with your requirements.

We don’t believe that our industry is unique. Many companies can benefit from having more open and transparent contracts. At its most basic level, version controlling your company’s terms of service requires very little work but pays dividends for your customers.

Plans for the future

At the moment, we work with our lawyer to draft new versions of our contracts and then upload the new version in one commit. In the future, we would like to be able to break each change down into its own individual commit affording us the ability to explain every change that occurs. Of course this requires more resources and time, so it will remain something to aspire to for now.

You can read the latest version of our terms on our website.

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New regulations for e-cigarette and vaping compliance under TX SB97

By Chris Morton on October 8, 2015

Vaping and e-cigarette age verification

Vaping and e-cigarettes have become popular and are starting to encounter similar regulation that has controlled tobacco sales. For instance, Texas passed TX SB97 to extend Health and Safety Code, Title 2, Subtitle H, 161.453 beyond tobacco to include vaping and e-cigarettes.

Companies that are either based in Texas or service Texas residents must now verify the age, date of birth, and address of purchasers starting October 1, 2015. While some sellers have temporarily suspended selling to Texas residents, BlockScore can quickly help you comply with this and similar regulations being enacted in other jurisdictions.

Here is the pertinent text from 161.453 referenced in TX SB97:

(a) A person may not mail or ship cigarettes in connection with a delivery sale order unless before mailing or shipping the cigarettes the person accepting the delivery sale order first:

(1) obtains from the prospective customer a certification that includes:

(A) reliable confirmation that the purchaser is at least 18 years of age; and

(B) a statement signed by the prospective purchaser in writing and under penalty of law:

(i) certifying the prospective purchaser’s address and date of birth;

(ii) confirming that the prospective purchaser understands that signing another person’s name to the certification is illegal, that sales of cigarettes to an individual under the age prescribed by Section 161.082 are illegal under state law, and that the purchase of cigarettes by an individual under that age is illegal under state law; and

(iii) confirming that the prospective purchaser wants to receive mailings from a tobacco company;

(2) makes a good faith effort to verify the information contained in the certification provided by the prospective purchaser under Subdivision against a commercially available database

BlockScore is the simplest way to comply with the requirement to verify age, birth date, and address using a commercially available database as stated above. In your checkout flow, you can collect the required information, submit it to BlockScore, and get a response back from BlockScore in under a second.

As with any compliance program, make sure that you check with your attorney and comply with the other provisions in TX SB97 and 161.453.

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Selecting an ID verification provider

By Chris Morton on March 11, 2015

Selecting an ID verification provider

There are many factors to selecting an ID verification provider. This post goes through the important points to consider.

Timeline

The amount of time required to engage, negotiate, implement, and verify varies dramatically between providers. Here are the questions to ask.

  • What is the complete process before I can submit my first verification?
  • How quickly can I get access to a test environment?
  • How long will it take to get implementation guides and developer documentation?
  • Do I need to sign an NDA before any engagement?
  • Do I need to get an office inspection? If so, how quickly can I get one scheduled?

The time between finding BlockScore and going live can be as short as one day. Legacy providers have rigid business processes that can take up to six months.

Cost

The cost of implementing, deploying, and operating an ID verification solution varies dramatically between solutions. The hidden costs of the solution can add up to be significantly more than anticipated. Here are some questions to ask.

  • Are there any setup fees?
  • Are there monthly fees?
  • Does the per verification price include essentials such as watchlist and PEP screening? If not, how much extra are these essential services?
  • Is there an extra charge for high risk address checks?
  • Do I need to amend the contract when I add new services?
  • What is the cost to cancel the contract?

BlockScore offers simple, transparent, inclusive pricing with no setup or monthly fees. See the BlockScore pricing page for more information.

Implementation

The complexity and time to implement a solution varies dramatically between identity verification providers. Here are some questions to ask.

  • Do have have to use your API or can I use a dashboard for manual verifications?
  • Are developer and implementation guides available freely?
  • Are SOAP-aware developers required?
  • Are client libraries available to speed integration?
  • What is required to go live with the solution? Must time be scheduled to go live?
  • Is a test environment available? It is the same version as the production environment?

BlockScore provides freely available client libraries, documentation, and a production-equivalent test environment. When you are ready for live access, submit a request and usually get approved within one day. If you only need occasional verifications, our dashboard has a simple graphical interface to perform verifications with zero programming required.

Remaining in compliance

Verifying someone’s identity is the first step, but how do you ensure that customers do not show up on any watchlists now and in the future? Here are the questions to ask.

  • How many watchlists do you check?
  • Do you check more than OFAC lists?
  • How much does it cost to check watchlists? Do I have to pay per list?
  • Do I have to manually recheck my customers against watchlists or can you do that for me?
  • Do you also check for pollitically exposed persons (PEP)?
  • Do I need to use third-party software to parse through your responses?

BlockScore provides a comprehensive watchlist scanning service for US and international watchlists. The service performs initial scans and perpetual rescans at designated intervals to ensure that your business remains in compliance.

Coverage

As your business expands internationally, you need an ID verification provider that covers the countries in which you expand. Here are the questions to ask.

  • Which countries do you cover?
  • If you add additional countries, do I need to change my implementation?
  • If I submit an international verification and no data is available, am I charged?
  • Is your data limited to credit bureaus or do you have other sources?

BlockScore covers many countries throughout the world and never charges for international verifications where no data is available.

References

Upfront, transparent pricing

Freely available documentation

Simple contract terms

Comprehensive coverage

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New dashboard now available

By Alain Meier on January 14, 2015

For the past few months, we have been working on an improved dashboard experience. All BlockScore businesses will now see it once they login. Though there are dozens of improvements, here are some highlights:

New dashboard homepage

One of our most requested features, search, is now available on the top bar of every page. You can now search universally for all people, companies and candidates and then drill down into specific results using the sidebar.

We have also added the ability to search past results directly using the API. You can read more about how to do that in our documentation.

Brand new interface

The new dashboard now shares the same look and feel as the rest of the BlockScore systems. It is now much easier to find what you are looking for, and we have vastly improved the signup experience and applying for live access. Common actions like verifying new people can now be done right from the dashboard homepage.

Manage candidates

Our comprehensive watchlist scanning system, Candidates, is now accessible from the dashboard. View your searches and any watchlist hits that may have occurred.

Address autocomplete

We have made using the dashboard to verify users easier than ever before by automatically filling in country subdivisions (like states, provinces and cantons) as well as cities once you enter a postal code.

Activity feed

The new dashboard homepage includes an activity feed that helps you stay on top of what is happening in your business.

Support for international documents

The person verification forms now supports all of the forms of documentation that we support on our API.

Comprehensive verification details

After verifying a person or company, we now display all of the details regarding the verification results as well as icons to indicate whether this response is good, bad or neutral.

We hope you enjoy the improvements. If you have any feedback, please message us at support@blockscore.com. There is a lot more to come in the following weeks!

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Using BlockScore in an app

By Chris Morton on December 8, 2014

BlockScore can be easily implemented in apps. As with any good system design, there are some important points to ensure user data is protected. This post goes through the basics of how to use BlockScore ID verification in an app.

The first step is to design a form to collect the required identity information from your user in your app. From that form, identity information needs to be sent to your server. Always use encrypted channels to communicate between your app, server, and external service providers such as BlockScore. Never store identity information in the app. We also recommend not storing personally identifiable information (PII) on your server because BlockScore can safely store it for you.

The next step is to send the identity information from your server to BlockScore using either our RESTful HTTP API or a client library for your server platform. Many client libraries are available on the BlockScore Github repository. Within a second of sending the information from your server to BlockScore, you will receive a response with valid/invalid, details about the matching pieces of information, and a token to access information about that verification in the future. As mentioned, in lieu of storing the identity information on your server, this token can be used to retrieve identity information from BlockScore.

Once BlockScore has responded with a valid status to your server, store the token in the user’s record. If an invalid status is returned, you may permit the user to retry the verification. We recommend that you limit the number of times the user may retry the verification. A common rate is two verifications per 24 hour period.

BlockScore provides an API key to communicate with our web service. All requests must including this API key. Because this key is also used to retrieve past verification information, it should never be used outside of your server. Never use or store your BlockScore API key on your app.

Optionally, you may request a question set to ensure the person submitting the identity information is the owner of the identity. See BlockScore documentation on implementing question sets.

For app developers with little server development experience, services like Parse provide an easy way to run the necessary server software to support your apps.

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How ID verification works

By Chris Morton on December 6, 2014

BlockScore is an identity verification service that uses many data sources to verify the identity of your customers or users. The goal of the verification is to take information provided by a user, see if the a coherence of that information matches various data sources, and return the results to you for compliance and fraud mitigation.

Unlike single-source providers such as credit bureaus, BlockScore uses not only BlockScore data, but data from many sources to verify identity information. When identity information is submitted, proprietary algorithms compare the identity information provided against various data sources and within a second, return both a simple valid/invalid and details about the match strength of each piece of data provided by the user. For many businesses, a valid/invalid response is sufficient. For more sophisticated risk models, the details can be used.

Optionally, BlockScore offers a question set service, also known as KBA (knowledge-based authentication). After a verification is performed on a person and determined to be valid, you may request a question set comprised of five questions. These questions are used to determine if the owner of the identity is submitting the identity information to you. You may present the user with as few questions as you like. After you collect the answers to the questions from the user, send the answers to BlockScore and you will receive the results in under a second.

In addition to verifying that the identity information is for a real person, the information can also be checked against several watchlists simultaneously. See watchlist scanning for more information on supported lists.

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Best practices for ID verification

By Alain Meier on December 5, 2014

Customers often ask us for the best practices when putting together their BlockScore verification integration. We have seen many custom integrations, some good, some bad. In this article we have compiled a list of tips to maximize pass rates and minimize customer frustration.

Reduce required input fields

For most businesses, your users don’t use your service because of ID verification; they use it in spite of it. Reducing friction is paramount for improving your user experience and this can be achieved by only asking the bare minimum of what is required for your purposes. One convenient optimization is to pre-fill a user’s city and state based on their postal code. Though this isn’t possible for every country in the world, it is possible for most.

One of the most common reasons for a false failure is the use of an incorrect address or nickname. If your customer enters their work address or the address of a home to which they only recently moved, their verification will likely not pass. Let them know that they should use an address that they have associated with their bank of credit card for the best chance of success. In addition, the “name” fields should be labelled “legal name” so as to prompt people not to use nicknames when filling out the form.

Show the correct forms of ID based on country

If you are verifying an international audience, it is best to customize the forms of identity based on the country they live. For instance, if your customer is in the United States, you would use the language SSN and Driver’s License as means of verification. However, if your customer is in Mexico, they can use their Matricula Consular or Passport. This is much clearer and easier to understand than something like document number or ID number.

Properly format the address field based on country

Every country has its own peculiarities when it comes to addresses. For instance, not every country has postal codes and the subdivision that is referred to as “state” in the United States has a variety of equivalents in other countries such as the Swiss “canton” or the Canadian “province”. If your customers come from across the world, localizing the fields based on language they understand will greatly improve accurate data entry.

Explain why you need the information

Depending on your audience, people may not understand why your business is asking for their sensitive information. Even mammoth companies like Target are subject to being hacked, so it is no wonder people are sometimes a bit weary of handing over their data. A few sentences before the ID verification form as to why you need to collect this info can go a long way towards improving your customer’s trust.

Give them a way to correct a failure

Sometimes good people do not pass the ID verification process. This can happen for a variety of reasons beyond the person’s control, so it is important to provide some form of recourse. Whether that means allowing the customer to upload a scanned physical document or to provide a way to contact support, making sure that people have an alternative means turning away fewer good customers.

After making these simple changes, your BlockScore integration will convert more people and be much more enjoyable to use. If you have any more questions, we’d love to hear from you at support@blockscore.com.

Documentary versus electronic ID verification

By Chris Morton on December 4, 2014

There are many ways to verify an individual’s identity but they broadly fall into two categories: documentary and electronic ID verification.

Documentary ID Verification

Documentary ID verification passport

Documentary ID verification is the method to verify the authenticity of physical documents. When in person or submitting paperwork, copies of documents such as identity cards, birth certificates, legal documents, and utility bills provide the basis to verify the authenticity of the person providing the information. These documents may be certified copies, be embossed with seals, or have holograms to provide evidence of authenticity. The conclusion is that only person possessing these documents and having similar characteristics to the person stated on the documents such as photos, sex, addresses, and schooling is likely to be the person owning the identity.

Advantages

  • Easy to perform sufficient photo ID verification in person
  • Provides sufficient hurdles to deter most fraudulent activity
  • Documents may be the only method available to verify a person’s identity

Disadvantages

  • Challenging to perform when not in person
  • Authenticating most documents is impossible or cost prohibitive because it requires sending the documents to the issuing authority
  • Many types of documents may be not be available due to loss, fire, floor, or insufficient record keeping
  • People are less likely to keep utilities in their names which makes proof of residency challenging

Electronic ID Verification

Electronic ID verification computer

BlockScore provides a electronic ID verification method to verify the identity of a person meaning that only knowledge is required. Information that only the owner of the identity is likely to know is checked against authoritative sources for authenticity. Additionally, the authoritative source may also prompt the person being verified for additional information to further verify his or her authenticity. The additional questions returned from authoritative sources is called question sets or knowledge-based authentication (KBA).

Advantages

  • Easy and cost effective to check against many authoritative sources quickly
  • Additional screenings can easily be performed such as checking against government watchlists
  • Works well over the Internet
  • May fulfill compliance obligations

Disadvantages

  • Authoritative sources may not be available to check against in certain countries and among certain demographics
  • Privacy laws may prohibit using authoritative information to verify a person

Combining documentary and electronic ID verification methods

Businesses can use both documentary and electronic ID verifications together to mitigate risk and comply with regulations. In many jurisdictions, electronic ID verification is required to ensure that it is legal to do business with a person by checking the person against watchlists. Automated documentary ID verification, such as Jumio Netverify, can be added to the user flow as part of the signup process or when certain events occur such as large transactions. Information extracted by using automated documentary ID verification such as Netverify can be sent directly to BlockScore for electronic ID verification simultaneously.

Conclusion

Businesses have options to balance the impact to users and the need to verify the identity of individuals to comply with regulations and mitigate fraud. Documentary, electronic, or both methods of ID verification can be implemented to minimize the impact to users at various places in the signup flow and ongoing relationship. BlockScore provides the easiest-to-implement electronic ID verification service and works with others such as Jumio for documentary ID verification.

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Real-time company and merchant verification

By Alain Meier on July 23, 2014

Company verification is now live on BlockScore

At BlockScore, we provide an API that allows companies to easily verify customer identities. We do all the heavy lifting for you: correlate data across credit bureaus, motor vehicle records, address histories, watchlists, and other records and wrap it all into a simple API that you can integrate into your signup flow. Our vision is to provide the world’s best intelligent identity verification system. Today, we’re announcing the next major milestone in our journey: company verifications.

You can now ensure the information provided by companies with which you do business matches tax IDs and other corporate information for compliance and IRS penalty avoidance. You can verify companies, counterparties, and merchants in real-time without manual processes, and verify that you are not doing business with any sanctioned companies. Company verifications are most useful if:

  • you process payments for merchants that use your service; you have a process to collect incorporation documents from companies as part of your on-boarding process;

  • you need to verify EIN (employer tax identification number) for tax purposes;

We currently can verify US-based companies with more countries on the way.

The company verification API is available in the BlockScore v3 API and covered in the documentation.

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