How To Quickly Research An Unknown Company

By John Honovich, Published Jul 23, 2019, 11:37am EDT

There are hundreds of companies in the physical security markets, ranging from a flood of new startups to small companies that may or may not be secretly relabeling other companies products. How do you quickly figure out who a company is and what chances they have of success?

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In this guide, we explain how to do this, based on our experience analyzing hundreds of companies over the past decade, including:

  • Why starting with LinkedIn is the right approach
  • What 3 key elements to check for on LinkedIn
  • How to use a LinkedIn premium feature to show trends
  • Why and how to check physical addresses and phone numbers
  • How to check who owns the company's web domain
  • Why online company revenue estimators should be ignored
  • What are the best options for determining / finding revenue
  • How to analyze manufacturer revenue claims
  • What 2 key things to keep in mind when reading manufacturer websites
  • How to use employee reviews (both in the West and China)
  • How to use import records

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More **** ** ******

** **** *** **** ways ** ******** ********* over ****. ** *** have ********** *** ***** we ****** **** ** more ******** ** ***, please ***** ** *** comments.

Comments (23)

Verify:   

Licensing

insurance records

state, federal registration records, and local county documents for this type of record

what we have noticed is the amount of re branding and repackaging of products or look alike products with a slight difference in name or nomaclature specifications 

not sure why or what is legal but the advertising of products and claims with slight differences in verbage so as not to give exacqs on products but make you think your getting the same thing. 

 

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Licensing and local records are good points. I did not think of them since I was focused more on manufacturers / developers but for integrators and service providers, those are definitely more relevant.

As for state records for companies, I have not found them to be helpful for manufacturers / technology companies in the US since very few details are generally included. 

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Thanks for the post! A few thoughts:

  • Is it possible that there is a viable company that does not use linkedin? Obviously, its not doing them any favors by not being on there, but is there ever a case where a company with good stature wouldn't have a linkedin account?
  • How often to unknown companies pop up in a general google search? How often do people use google to search for companies in general? Can/has SEO been a big factor in finding new companies?
  • More of an off-topic question: Do/have companies ever made employees create a linkedin account? There may be individuals that do not or refuse to use social media/get with the times.
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if a company does not maintain a LinkedIn presence with all of its employees represented, it is bogus

LinkedIn can track companies even without a company creating a profile simply based on all the millions of individual people who list their employee (i.e., John Doe posts that he works at LinkedProtestCo and so LinkedIn now knows LinkedInProtestCo exists).

As a practical matter, I've yet to see any substantial manufacturer or tech company not have a LinkedIn profile. Integrators and re-sellers are different, especially if they have only a handful of employees.

I don't know how much search impacts product selection. It does not seem like it has a big effect, e.g., I've never seen anyone say "I get most of customers from google" or "Google is a major driver of my business". By contrast, social media strikes me as a much bigger factor.

There may be companies that require it but most tech people create it for the business benefits of being connected and staying in contact with other tech people.

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I disagree with the assessment that if a company does not maintain a LinkedIn presence with all of its employees represented, it is bogus.  I prefer to not participate with LinkedIn myself, I feel that it is a personal choice to not share my information as I do not with other social media sites.  I am on the technical side of things and I view LinkedIn as primarily a tool for the sales side.  What would I do if the company I work for demanded that I participate on LinkedIn?  Probably quit and try to find out if it's even legal for employers to make such demands.

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if a company does not maintain a LinkedIn presence with all of its employees represented, it is bogus [emphasis added]

That misrepresents my point. No company has 'all of its employees represented'. The point is there is a critical mass of technology company employees on LinkedIn such that virtually every company is represented. That representation (even with outliers with you not on LinkedIn) is more than strong enough to demonstrate the scale / scope of companies.

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For good reasons there are some companies in the security business who absolutely will not use social media.  There are products that only exist in the classified world.

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There are products that only exist in the classified world

On the other hand, the CIA has a LinkedIn profile page:

And Palantir, who has a vast amount of US government classified work has an active LinkedIn profile with ~2,500 employees listed:

To be clear, I am not suggesting these people are discussing classified matters on LinkedIn but companies doing classified work and their employees are on LinkedIn in significant numbers.

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Correct, the CIA isn't disclosing...it is collecting.

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I didn't mean to misrepresent your point, I was just stating how I interpreted statements such as "Under 5 employees, the company is either not legitimate or is an early-stage startup" or "A company without one (LinkedIn profile) is likely to be illegitimate".  To me, this states that if personnel within a company do not choose to participate with a social media site then it is damning the company in your estimation (which carries a lot of weight in this situation), to be illegitimate or worse.  I'm not trying to be difficult about this, but I frankly think there is way too much stock put into believing what these social media sites are waving around in order to toot their own horns.  If you are interested in finding out more about a company, check their website, pick up the phone and call them, maybe check their local BBB, please don't fall into the laziness of relying upon social media to tell you what's wrong and what's right.

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I added a disclaimer up top:

Applies to Manufacturers and Developers, Not Integrators or Resellers

Note: This advice applies to manufacturer and developers, that is people 'building' products and online services. There are certain minimum requirements one needs to do this.

By contrast, there are small integrators and resellers who are not going to have significant online, including LinkedIn, presence. 

That said:

I frankly think there is way too much stock put into believing what these social media sites are waving around in order to toot their own horns. If you are interested in finding out more about a company, check their website, pick up the phone and call them, maybe check their local BBB

I've been doing this a long and with lots of companies. I'll pick up the phone but I do these steps first. They are right such an incredibly high percentage of times and not doing them makes one much more likely to be fooled by a good sales pitch.

check their local BBB

BBB is not relevant to manufacturers and developers. Maybe it's fine for locals service providers.

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I'm with you on this now, perhaps change the title of the article to indicate that this is in reference to manufacturers and developers instead of just "an Unknown Company".

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Another thing is to look at certifications of products such as UL or FCC or IP66 testing. See who the manufacture is listed as. Often if the product is an OEM, it will list the actual manufacturer or their shipping address. 

If they don't post these certifications, ask for them stating that it is required for a project. 

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Great Post!  This year we were advised by an SEO agency (we didn’t end up hiring) that if we wanted to grow our territory we should get mailing addresses from cities we wanted more business from and put the ‘office location’ in the footer of our website.  I’ve done some research and this is a common practice to trick google into representing you have multiple business locations.  The simple process is find a virtual office or friends office pay them $50 a month and report to google (through- google my business) your new additional location.  Google verifies the address by physically mailing an envelope to this location with a verification code.  This verification + the footer address helps tremendously in search results representing fake territory coverage.

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Tom, thanks! That's fascinating. I did not know this was actually an SEO practice. Though, now that you mentioned it, a quick search of 'SEO virtual office' shows its a common, albeit unethical, tactic.

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Fake it till you make it?

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John,

As usual - super good info.  I've been chasing this sorts of information for decades and have a few other tips... Dad was a private detective, and this particular apple didn't fall far from that tree.  (I didn't realize Inc. vetted the self-reported numbers, so I am going to need to add that one to the toolbox!)

A few other tricks to determine size and solvency: 

Physical plant:  Start by chasing down the company address as John described.  Then, look at the parking lot with Google Earth and count the parking spaces... or if the company in question rents a suite in an office building, call the listed realtor/rental agent for that property and get the cost per square foot of similar space in the same building.

Revenue and burn rate:  Using LinkedIn, set up an org chart with names (if you have them) and titles (if you have them); then look at the local employment market and figure out, for example, what a "Senior Software Architect" earns - add 30% to the salary to get a run rate for that person.... then lather, rinse, repeat.  Use a pareto distribution:  the top 20% of the org chart takes in 80% of the salary. 

Look at TechCrunch/CrunchBase (techcrunch.com/tag/crunchbase) for any investments (who/how much, and when!)  You won't see personal debt/obligations in most cases (though ifd you suspect the principals put up personal guarantees, you can always use Zillow to see how much their homes are worth!) 

Intellectual Property:  In the US, visit the US Patent and Trademark Office (patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/search-bool.html) and see if the company (or principals) hold any patents related to the company/industry.  (There are similar sites in other countries.)

Resume sites (e.g. Monster.Com) are great if you can get access to them:  nothing like someone boasting on their resume about "growing the XX division of YY company from $30M to $50M" to earn you another shred of data.

And finally, Google (the verb) the execs and look (deeply) for quotes and article mentions.  There once was a leading privately held automation company which was locked tight as a drum.  However, after an afternoon of looking, I found their HR lead quoted in an obscure human resources journal (mentioned revenue and employee growth... Jackpot!!) 

Enjoyed all the other comments - thanks!!

Happy hunting, all!!

 

 

 

 

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That's good stuff!

You might like: You can make millions counting cars in parking lots from space

Also for US company investments, you can search SEC company filings. Bonus, each company's listing (e.g., here's Knightscope) comes with an RSS feed option so you can get immediate updates on new fundings, announcements, etc. The downside, most companies do not need to file with the SEC.

I've found estimating burn rate to be really hard. You certainly can roughly estimate employee costs but there are other costs (e.g., advertising or marketing) that are harder to do (e.g., many companies spend small fortunes in online advertising).

Another thing that comes to mind, with LinkedIn premium or sales or whatever they call it, there is an option to get alerts for job changes, which can help get notifications for people joining or leaving.

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Great reference & guiding template :)  

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Update: added a section on researching import records, e.g.:

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Update: just added a section about using whois searches to help uncover who is behind a company, excerpt:

As an example, take Iris Thermal Scanner - Fever Screening System, the company's background is vague at best and no names of actual people are listed. However, by checking them with Whois via GoDaddy, their registrar, it reveals that the person who registered it:

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One thing I often do both on LinkedIn and on the company's web page is check the open jobs or Careers link. It gives me an idea what skills they are looking for and what products or services they are working on. A company with no open positions can't be doing too well.

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Update: Inc 5000 is no longer (as of the 2020 report) publicly showing company revenue, just percentage growth. To the best of my understanding, they are now charging for access to such data as part of their "Inc. 5000 Company Data Pro".

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