Summer of Startups: TRUSTe

Today we’re officially starting our Summer of Startups series, where we (hopefully) take a look at different startup companies, the life and culture at each, and what they’re looking for in prospective employees.

We’re very excited that our first company in this series is such a great one–TRUSTe. You’ve seen their logo all over the internet, on websites ranging from Cisco and Facebook to Zagat and EA games. When you see it, you know it means that the site you’re looking at it adheres to strict privacy standards.

But you probably don’t know very much about TRUSTe themselves. Let’s try and fix that.

1. Can you share the company’s elevator pitch with us?

Consumers care about privacy and want to know which websites can be trusted with their personal information. TRUSTe certifies the privacy practices and policies of websites to our rigorous program standards to ensure that they provide consumers with transparency, accountability and choice, the foundations of online privacy. Websites we certify display a TRUSTe Privacy Seal, which numerous case studies and tests have shown drive increased transactions, registrations and overall engagement on websites.

Here’s some great shots of the TRUSTe Team at a San Francisco Giants game. The stadium is only blocks from their office.

2. How did the company get started? Who had the idea? Was there an “A Ha!” moment?

TRUSTe has had two incarnations, first as a non-profit (1997 to 2007) and now as a for-profit.

In 1996, Lori Fena, Charles Jennings, John Berard and other eCommerce privacy pioneers conceived of TRUSTe at Esther Dyson’s PC Forum. They saw privacy as an issue that had the potential to restrain the evolution of the Internet and online commerce if not properly addressed. TRUSTe formed as a non-profit industry association in 1997. As a non-profit, TRUSTe was better able to bring companies and industry leaders together to address emerging privacy standards. Sponsorships from Microsoft, IBM, and several other companies helped launch TRUSTe, but for most of its run as a non-profit TRUSTe stayed afloat from companies purchasing our online privacy certification services and seals.

By 2005, TRUSTe had grown considerably and many complex privacy and trust issues had emerged (spyware, spam, phishing etc) that required fresh approaches and technology. In addition, there was an expanding opportunity to address the small business market and its growing privacy needs. The non-profit model could no longer meet TRUSTe’s needs – without capital and talent the company could not continue to keep pace with online developments and effectively pursue its mission of building consumer trust on the Internet.

In July 2007, Fran Maier, who had served as Executive Director since 2001, convinced the non-profit board and TRUSTe clients and employees that TRUSTe needed a new business model and investment capital to pursue new technology assets as well as product development and marketing expertise.

3. Tell us about your funding history.

In July 2007, despite several hurdles and naysayers, TRUSTe successfully raised significant capital from esteemed venture capital firm Accel Partners and went through the unusual transition from non-profit to a new company/quasi-Internet-startup. The team hired a number of new people from the security sector, made a technology acquisition, and started building new products.

In June 2010, Chris Babel, who has joined TRUSTe as CEO, assisted by Fran Maier (now President), helped TRUSTe closed a Series B funding round of $12 million, led by new investor Jafco Ventures. The round also included a new investment from DAG Ventures and follow-on investments from returning Series A investors Accel Partners and Baseline Ventures. TRUSTe will put the new funding toward enhancing sales and marketing in order to expand its existing enterprise foothold, while capitalizing on the booming small business market and new certification initiatives in social networking, mobile and advertising.

4. How many employees do you have? Where are they based?

We have a total of 64 employees with the majority (62) based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our offices are conveniently located in the financial district of San Francisco, just a block away from the Montgomery BART stop.

5. How would you describe work life at the company?

We’re a fast-growing, entrepreneurial team focused on accelerating online trust. Things move quickly at our office, we’re always rolling out and testing new products and brainstorming and troubleshooting as new privacy issues arise. I’d also say there’s never a dull day at the office. Privacy is a hot topic and its relevance has only increased as the years have passed. We have thousands of clients, including many of the top online brands such as Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook. You’ll learn a lot working for TRUSTe since the privacy space evolves so frequently.

6. For which roles or functions are you hiring?

Java Developer
SMB Account Sales Executives
Web Developer
QA Engineer

7. What do you look for in potential employees?

Can-do problem-solvers – we’re a relatively small company so we like to see people take initiative and own projects and initiatives We’re also looking for hard workers who can accelerate our development and market penetrations.

8. Do you have any advice for folks new to startup employment?

You need to be agile, willing to work hard, and able to think outside the box to succeed. Most importantly, take initiative: startups offer wonderful opportunities for personal and creative development. There is a lot of room to grow at a start up, but that growth is up to you to initiate.

9. What’s the one thing you would like readers to remember about the company?

Look for the TRUSTe Privacy Seal on websites before handing over your personal information!

10. Is there anything else you would like to share?

We have a dartboard in the office and employees recognized for high performance have the opportunity to throw a dart and win a cash prize dependent on their score.

For more information about TRUSTe, check them out here: For the jobs mentioned above, click here to view TRUSTe’s job page on StartUpHire.

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