Our Story

Are you a scuba diver if no one will let you dive?

 

How it all began.

The idea for Merit began during a winter holiday scuba trip in 2014. A friend forgets his PADI card… Is he a certified scuba diver? Yes, he passed, but is he a scuba diver if no one will let him dive?

The story continues...

At the time, Merit CEO Tomer Kagan was running his first start up, Quixey, a mobile search company. This notion of certification and proof of that stuck with him… more examples of scenarios popped up – employment verification, nursing licenses – there's wide range of industries and sectors that this same situation affects.

In February 2016, Jake Orrin, who was running partnerships at Quixey, left to pursue what is now Merit. Tomer joined him nearly a year later. It was just an idea, and they reached out to a handful of organizations that provide certifications to see where the need was, and worked on a prototype that launched that summer. They saw real interest. College clubs, non-profits... organizations started using Merit.

It is a free service supported by premium services such as training and on-boarding help, as well as tools, for example, advanced analytics. A typical SaaS model.

What is a merit?

A single merit is a personal or professional accomplishment that can act as a qualification. These are the verified and unique components of someone’s identity. By digitally capturing merits making them readily available and verifiable, the people who hold these merits can take advantage of relevant opportunities, achieve their own goals, and ultimately shape their futures.

We all have unique, and often quite varied identities. You work somewhere. You're a member of a group. You went to school here. You took these classes to learn these new skills. You've excelled at this hobby and accomplished these quantifiable goals. If you ask someone to prove this? Here’s a laminated card, a diploma, an email certificate, a print out. It’s a mess. And it’s hard to verify and trust how real these achievements are.

 

Merit is the solution.

We create the tools for organizations to issue merits to their members. They then can verify, track, and manage the qualifications of the members, while protecting their data and creating more persistent relationships with their members.

This can be very powerful. We are taking disparate, unlinked paper-based systems in sectors of the economy and connecting them digitally. It sounds simple, but there is tremendous complexity in how organizations talk to each other and the rules they have to follow in order to create and verify qualifications. We mirror that and make it frictionless.

 

Why Merit matters.

Let's zoom out for a moment just to give Merit some context. The internet evolved very nicely to prioritize efficiency and as it relates to identity, this has meant that Internet has been largely about declared identity – what we say about ourselves. It’s on LinkedIn for employers. Facebook for friends.

It has worked. We are more connected and know more about each other than we did before. But this came at a meaningful cost: Truth.

LinkedIn is just one example, of course. While LinkedIn is amazing for declared identity, it doesn’t hold up when you’re talking about verified truth. One online lending firm found that 23 percent of people they polled admitted they were prone to lying on their LinkedIn profile, especially when it came to “my skills.” And 11 percent stated “my profile is almost entirely made up of things I have never done.”

In our own survey work, we found that a little over half of people don’t really trust what they read on LinkedIn. When it comes to hiring a manager, that’s even more extreme – 80 percent of people don’t trust what people say about themselves online.

They shouldn’t believe it – it isn’t verified, it’s just declared.

And yet, the fabric of society has always operated on identifying truth. The biggest institutions in the world are about reinforcing truth, their function is to state what is true about people – their identities and their accomplishments. Merit takes this existing world of trust and digitizes it to make it much more accessible, portable, and transparent. We are building a network of truth. And we believe that more truth leads to more trust. There is real opportunity for individuals when their qualifications and accomplishments in life are known and verified.

Let us give you a sense of this as we share a little about the first industry we decided to really go deep in: skydiving.

 

Merit’s first, best customer:  the skydiving industry.

The US Parachute Association (USPA) was very eager for better verification and became our first big pilot customer in early 2017. We wanted to find one industry that had complexity and diverse stakeholders with unique use cases for verification. Skydiving has that in spades, and also the crucial need for loops of information flow. It was the ideal for customer for us, and one that we can model other industries around. Merit has built a core framework that most industries can use.

Skydiving has multiple licenses, memberships, at times 600 to 900 courses available across organizations ranging from water training (where they throw you into a pool) to teaching divers how to jump out of helicopters and hot air balloons – it’s all about collecting information across the industry. Even buying gear is regulated. And there is scale: 500,000 people in the US do 3 million jumps a year.

Your first tandem jump is the first class in seven that qualifies you for independent skydiving. Here’s the thing: If you lose the paper from that initial jump, you have to redo the jump. Each skydiver has a log book where their instructor pencils in their jump, the location, the conditions, who else jumped, and the type of jump – then the skydiver takes that book with them. The dropzone sends the notes to USPA showing a skydiver has passed the seven qualifying jumps.

So this is interesting – you’re not in control of your identity here. If the dropzone mistakenly doesn’t do this, too bad. If they do, then the USPA used to send out a physical card that you are responsible for taking to your next jump. With Merit, the USPA now is updating qualifications real-time and skydivers have control of their data. They allow a requesting dropzone access to their qualifications.

Let’s say you take your water training class at a dropzone, the dropzone updates this in Merit, and the USPA issues your merit. If you go to do a water jump at another location, that dropzone asks the USPA via Merit if you have the qualification. You approve their request and the USPA shares your water training merit with that dropzone. You’re good to go in minutes. If your license was suspended just minutes before – they would see that. The information flow is immediate.

It took us over a year to understand how every player in the skydiving industry works and the hub and spoke nature of the relationships Merit has to replicate online. Burble is the largest booking and manifest management system of the skydiving industry. We have APIs that Burble hooks into – so that nearly 200 dropzones could pull and push information from that.

We’ve meaningfully partnered with an industry, not just a customer – and that’s our model going forward. 

 

Merit for Florida community emergency response.

The Florida Department of Volunteer Emergency Management Services uses Merit to track and manage its Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) responders for disaster planning. Previously knowing which volunteer attended what training, or has expertise, was a messy mix of paper-based documentation, emails, and spreadsheets. Florida took its 9,000 volunteers from around the state and surrounding communities that had a combined set of 100,000 skills and issued merits, so that the state and local disaster response teams would have clear visibility into who does what. This matters when it comes to deploying volunteers. Knowing that someone has a language skill or a certification to do CPR is essential in an emergency. It can save the state time, and time can save lives.

We heard from a fire chief in Florida that Merit has really changed how he does his job. He’s responsible for the accurate tracking of dozens of credentials for more than 225 personnel. Now this is online, and it’s been very helpful for his HR staff. Here’s why – each volunteer knows their credentials, has easy access to them, and is no longer constantly checking in to see if they are credentialed, or if their credentials are up to date. It sounds minor, but when you add up how often he has to do this – it’s major gains in efficiency.

It’s also potentially a massive cost-saving too. In the last hurricane, with a $2 billion bill, only 75% was paid by FEMA. State/municipalities were on the hook for 25% of the bill because they weren’t able to show volunteers’ hours. They have had an ineffective system for collecting hours served. Merit is preparing to collect that data for the next hurricane, which could save Florida tens to even hundreds of millions of dollars.

Merit for Virginia hairdressers, plumbers, and tattoo artists.

We are rolling out Merit for the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. This is vast in another way: 45 major industries at least, including hairdressers, plumbers, real estate brokers, painters, contractors, tattoo artists — 310,000 people annually. The verifications that say they are legally allowed to do what they do will be stored and verified on Merit.

There is an immense range of industries and entities where Merit can transform how people’s skills are officially recognized and verified. In the public arena, the Virginia Department of Labor is just one example. In the 1950s, approximately 5 percent of U.S. workers had an occupational license, meaning they completed additional schooling or training (and paid the necessary fees) and passed an exam to be licensed to practice the profession in a certain state.

Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 23 percent of full-time workers have a license. Nationally, 37 million people need licenses or certifications to do their jobs today and that number is rapidly increasing. This is also true in the private sector, where companies offer ongoing training for employees. And then there’s the world of hobbies from sailing to needlepointing that require regular testing and recording of accomplishments to qualify people for new experiences.

Crystal ball.

The immense opportunity here is connecting systems that today are completely separate. Today we have Florida emergency response. What if Georgia and other states jumped onto Merit too… then a Florida CERT responder could take their qualifications with them, across state lines to Georgia, to help in an emergency. And wouldn’t it be a better world if developers could build tools so that FEMA could quickly search for the CERT responders in a given mile radius who happen to speak Mandarin and are also registered nurses?

Also, qualifications and expertise have much more value when they’re tracked and easily verified. For example, you register as a CERT in Chicago, you often don’t get called unless your city gets the call. But if you have opted in to be part of nationwide CERT, then you might get called for emergencies you can help with outside of your immediate area. This is motivating for these volunteers – they want to help.

Also, people can see their paths more clearly if they have knowledge around the certifications that others like them have chosen to take. A skydiver might see that one more class gets her qualified for night dives. A forklift driver could learn that a CPR certification opens up new jobs.

We will always be listening to our members, organizations, and developers and adapting to their needs to evolve over time and unlock the potential of a world where accomplishments and qualifications are easily found, managed, and verified.