Early Affirm employees raise $70M for SentiLink, an identity verification startup

SentiLink, an identity verification technology startup, has raised $70 million in a Series B funding round led by Craft Ventures.

Felicis Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and NYCA also participated in the financing, which brings the company’s total raised to $85 million since its 2017 inception. The company declined to reveal at what valuation the money was raised, saying only it was “at a very high multiple” of its 2019 $15 million Series A led by a16z.

Naftali Harris and Max Blumenfeld founded SentiLink in mid-2017 after their experience working as data scientists at Affirm, where they built out the company’s risk function. At one point during their tenure at the installment loan provider, they came across a “peculiar” fraud case, where 12 identities applied for loans using the same name and date of birth but 12 different Social Security numbers. 

The pair was surprised to discover that all 12 of the identities had real credit reports with 750+ credit scores despite not being real people. It was then they realized how big a problem identity verification was and how poorly it was done, and founded SentiLink with Affirm CEO and founder Max Levchin’s blessing and investment.

San Francisco-based SentiLink aims to help banks, lenders and financial institutions detect fraud at the point of application through a real-time API. Specifically, those APIs detect fake and stolen identities for new account applications. For example, before a bank issues a new credit card, it will send the application information to SentiLink. SentiLink’s models and technology assess the credit card application for various fraud risks, including identity theft and synthetic fraud. If SentiLink detects the application as high risk, the bank will ask for more information or reject the application. 

SentiLink works with more than 100 financial institutions, including three of the top 10 banks in the U.S. It has verified several hundred million applications to date, and saw its revenue grow by “5x” over the last year, according to Harris.

Craft Ventures co-founder and general partner David Sacks said SentiLink’s growth trajectory is “one of the fastest” he’s ever seen.

“Their traction with companies from new startups to major U.S. banks is impressive,” he added. “All of this stems from the team’s deep understanding of fraud and identity. I learned about fraud attacks I didn’t even think were possible from talking with Naftali and Max.”

Harris said the company was a few months away from profitability before its Series B but decided the opportunity was “too big to grow slowly.” So it opted to put off profitability so it could expand more “aggressively.” 

With the slew of companies in the space out there, it can be hard to differentiate what makes one unique compared to others.

To Harris, the biggest differentiation in SentiLink’s approach is how much it emphasizes “deep understanding of fraud and identity in our models.”

“We have a team of fraud investigators that manually review applications every day looking for fraud, and we use their insights and discoveries in our fraud models and technology,” he told TechCrunch. “This deep understanding is so important to us that every Friday the entire company spends an hour reviewing fraud cases.”

SentiLink, Harris added, focuses on “deeply” understanding fraud and identity, and then using technology to productionalize these insights.  Those discoveries include the deterioration of phone/name match data and uncovering “same name” fraud. 

“This deep understanding is so important that SentiLink employs a team of risk analysts whose full time job is to investigate new kinds of fraud and discover what the fraudsters are doing,” the company says. 

SentiLink, like so many other startups, saw an increase in business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The various government assistance programs were rife with fraud. This had a cascading effect throughout financial services, where fraudsters that had successfully stolen government money attempted to launder it into the financial system,” Harris said. “As a result we’ve been very busy, particularly with checking and savings accounts that until now have had relatively little fraud.”

The startup plans to use its new capital to build out its product suite and do some hiring. Today it has 25 employees, with five accepted offers, and expects to end the year with a headcount of 45-50.

“Identity verification has so many aspects to it and approaches, and so we plan to significantly expand our product suite beyond the scoring API that we’ve started with,” Harris told TechCrunch. “Part of this will include continuing to invest heavily in our product team, part of this will involve partnering with other companies, and it may also include acquisitions.” 

At the end of September, for example, the company plans to launch a KYC (“Know Your Customer”) solution.   

Mike Marg, a principal at Craft, said Harris and Blumenfeld’s experience at Affirm “was a clear sign they were experts on this subject.”

“We love it when founders have an earned secret or insight around a massive problem that outsiders don’t understand, and SentiLink is a perfect example of this,” he said. “Their fast growth only validated that the problem they were solving for customers was urgent and painful.”

Other companies in the identity verification space that have recently raised money include Persona and Socure.