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The Download: Personal turns to partners to grow its customer base

Georgetown-based Personal aims to increase the number of people storing their personal information in its secure network by forming partnerships with companies people already patronize, such as health care providers, banks and insurance companies.

The company plans to announce one such partnership today with FileThis, a Marin County, Calif.-based service that collects bills and statements from firms such as Comcast, Capital One and Amazon, and sends them to Dropbox, Google Drive and other document storage services.

Since 2009, Personal’s mission has been to create an online vault where users store information that’s personal to them — name, address, date of birth, shoe size, retail receipts and medical records, to name a few. They can then share that information with other Personal account holders or companies at their discretion.

The shift to a business model whereby Personal adds users through arrangements with companies that already have customers saves Personal the time and money needed to acquire customers individually.

In turn, the partner company can offer Personal, with its promise of keeping personal data secure and private, to their customers as an added perk, chief executive Shane Green said.

It’s an approach that other consumer-oriented upstarts, including some in the D.C. area such as HelloWallet and WiserTogether , have turned to as the cost and time of attracting people to yet another online service proves challenging.

Green said Personal didn’t pursue this business strategy from the start, in part, because it first had to prove that people would use the service.

“I had plenty of people tell me I can’t imagine people will care enough to manage their data. ‘You need to prove that there’s a product here. You need to prove there is value to the customer and the company for using this,’” Green said. “It was such an abstract idea.”

Personal has also begun charging account holders an annual fee of $29.99 — a tab sometimes picked up by the company’s partners, Green said.

He added that some initial users even raised questions about the nonexistent price tag and preferred to pay a fee because it made the firm’s business model more transparent.

“They felt and told us that the fact that it wasn’t paid created issues and concerns around the true degree to which their privacy and security were being protected,” Green said.

Personal counts 40 employees. The firm has raised nearly $16 million from investors, including Revolution and Grotech Ventures.

Steven Overly is a national reporter covering federal technology and energy policy with a focus on Capitol Hill. He previously covered the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital.



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