Intelius buys Spock, the people search engine

Intelius, a company that performs background checks on people, has acquired Spock, a people search engine, for an undisclosed amount.

The deal was signed today, VentureBeat just confirmed with Spock’s co-founder Jaideep Singh. Unconfirmed rumors of the deal first appeared yesterday on Techcrunch.

We wrote about Spock when it first launched in 2007, and became the first search engine to add a range of new social networking features, including letting users choose what sort of personality tags befitted each Spock profile. For example, if you think I’m conniving, you can tag me “conniving,” and others can vote that tag up or down depending on whether they think it is true.

Spock’s initial marketing launch sparked a little buzz here in Silicon Valley, but over time much more attention continued to go to people-focused sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Facebook remains more closed to users searching data about other people, but LinkedIn, while having less of a community around it, allows open searching. Spock remained more behind the scenes: It was early to create widgets that resided on other sites; it also created syndication deals that powered search on other sites (Friendster, for example).

Spock tried a number of models, we’ve heard, but none of them gained enough traction for it to make money. Singh says the site gets 10 million uniques a month, which is solid growth from two years ago. However, it’s not enough to make enough advertising to cover the cost of 23 full-time employees. It burned through the $8 million it had raised in venture capital from Clearstone and other investors ($1M originally, and then $7 million in a round two years ago), and so knew it had to find a buyer.

While several buyers passed on Intelius, several others made offers, Singh said. “There was strong interest,” he said. Intelius made sense as a buyer, because Intelius charges money to people who want to do background checks on others. Spock fits with that mission, Singh said, because it too recently moved to a mixed free-premium model, where Spock offers users basic information about people, but requires extra payment to get more detailed data. So now, when a user lands on a user’s profile, Spock can also refer the user to Intelius’ service to do a more in-depth background or credit searches. Call it “Spook” if you want. :)

Some controversy surrounds Intelius founder Naveen Jain, stemming from his days at InfoSpace duing the last boom. And Intelius has faced its share of legal disputes. However Spock’s Singh says he checked the evidence, and found that “there’s nothing major there.” On the contrary, Singh said, he found the company’s business execution impressive, and that Jain was running it professionally. “It was the biggest fish, and has the strongest team in the business,” Singh said.

Other parts of Intelius’ business are controversial. Its iSearch business has raised privacy concerns, since it enables easy background checks on just about anyone. Singh said Intelius is potentially on track to hit $1 billion in revenue within 3 years. The company hasn’t taken any outside venture backing, but has manged to climbed to revenues of $35 million in the first quarter alone, and very profitable. It has filed to go public.

Singh also took issue with a contention made by Techcrunch that Jain has had trouble with acquisitions. In fact, Singh noted, all of Jain’s top lieutenants (Ed Petersen, who runs sales and marketing; John Arnold, who runs product; Niraj Shah, VP of engineering; and Kevin Marcus) are founders or executives from companies Jain acquired from MySpace.  That’s proof that Jain has a record of trust with companies he’s acquired, says Singh.

Singh wouldn’t comment on the deal specifics, other than to say it was “successful” and that investors and employers are all “happy.” Singh will stay on to run the search engine side of Intelius’ business, he said.

Other competitors to Intelius are White Pages and Reunion (recently renamed to MyLife), which earlier bought Wink, a competitor to Spock.