In mid-2015, I was looking for a new apartment in Boston to call my own. By July, I found the perfect apartment – the place I’m still living in today. However, I was pretty late to finding it, and on the Friday that I decided to move on the opportunity, the realtor heavily implied that I needed to turn in my lease agreement by Monday to be guaranteed the room.
I was tasked with a surprisingly painful feat: finding a notary public on the weekend. A notary public is a public officer who, among many other things, witnesses and authenticates the execution of various contracts and legal documents. In my case, I needed someone to notarize my apartment’s rental agreement.
This was doubly difficult because I was staying at my parents’ house in Paxton, a small town right outside Worcester. I made calls and calls throughout the weekend, but everything around me was closed. On Sunday morning, I finally found a funeral home in Worcester that was kind enough to notarize my lease agreement, but it was absurdly stressful getting to that point.
I sure wish I’d had access to a company like Notarize back then.
Legally Notarize Your Documents Online. Anytime.
Notarize offers users 24/7 access to a notary public, 365 days per year, through its website and iPhone app. Here’s how it works:
First, the user uploads a document to Notarize, either via email, a cloud service like Dropbox, or by taking a picture of it (the same way you would take a picture of a check for a banking app). Or, they’ve been sent the document by a business on the Notarize Platform.
Next, Notarize confirms a user’s identity by having them take a picture of their government-issued ID, and by answering a series of questions only the user knows the answers to. The user then annotates their document using Notarize’s in-app tools. Date here, initial there, answer a question, et cetera. Whatever’s required.
Lastly, the user connects with a Notarize agent over a live video call. The notary walks the user through the notarization process, confirming the user’s identity, witnessing as they apply their signature, and notarizing the document.
And that’s it! The final notarized document can be downloaded, shared via email, and/or printed by the user anywhere. Best of all, the document has an X.509 digital certificate attached, which seals the document to ensure it can’t be tampered with after the fact.
Notarize offers their services to customers at multiple levels. For consumers in a situation like mine, it costs $25 to have a document notarized. They also have solutions for SMBs, enterprises, lenders, and title agents, as well as an API for developers who want to integrate Notarize into their apps. These companies can use Notarize to send & collect notarized documents from their customers.
“Notarize is all about helping a business digitize some kind of process or workflow that has been forced to paper,” Founder and CEO Pat Kinsel said. “Helping construction contractors get paid quicker, helping auto insurance companies salvage vehicles, and then the real prize is helping people close their mortgage online.”
How Notarize Came to Be
Notarize was founded by Kinsel 2015. Kinsel previously co-founded Spindle, a structured social search system that created algorithmic timelines, and was the company’s CEO until it was acquired by Twitter in June 2013. This is also where the story for Notarize began, Kinsel explains.
“I needed to claim my Twitter stock before the company went public in 2015. And in order to do that, I needed a registered investment advisor, and he needed power of attorney. That has to be notarized. So I went to the UPS Store on Columbus Ave, got the documents notarized, and sent it off to Morgan Stanley. A couple weeks later, I got a call that the notary had screwed it up. They had stamped it but didn’t sign it, and as a result, it was invalid.”
This gave Kinsel an idea: What if he could make notarizing easier? He proceeded to do six months of research on the topic, trying to figure out why documents needed to be notarized in person. He learned about Virginia’s new law that allows documents to be notarized online over a video call, and after some time, came up with a spec for what a business that remotely notarized documents would look like.
He was also thinking about potential legal issues – can it be made available nationwide or would it be limited just to Virginia? Kinsel decided it could serve a national audience, and it also passed the sniff test for an attorney that Kinsel showed the idea to.
Kinsel brought the idea into Polaris Partners, where he also serves as a Partner.
“When I brought it into Polaris and told them I was going into the notary business, we chuckled because the market just seemed very small. But whatever. I kept working on it and talking about it, and people got excited, so we funded the company and built the first version of the product.”
At the time, Kinsel saw Notarize as a “fun little project” he was working on that tested some cool ideas, but the day it launched in 2015, the company started hearing from “big, big enterprise companies” who were excited about the idea of notarizing documents online. It was just the beginning of Notarize tapping into a $31B market.
The journey of Notarize has been multiple-fold, Kinsel explained. One, build the product. Two, win the customers. And three, change the way things have been done for hundreds of years.
They certainly have numbers one and two taken care of. Kinsel and his team have built the Back Bay-based business into a 57-person company that serves over 2,000 businesses. Boston is home to the engineering, product, and marketing teams, while Virginia, naturally, is where Notarize keeps its full-time notary publics, as well as their sales, legal, and business development teams.
As for number three, Notarize is working intently on that front.
“We’ve lobbied across the country, traveling to more than 37 states. Ultimately, we’ve won approval for our product operating across state lines and have also gotten some laws changed. We have Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and some large lenders and title partners on board,” Kinsel said. Specifically, they’ve helped change laws in Texas, Nevada, and Ohio, which will all go into effect on July 1, 2018. These laws allow the company to employ notaries in each state, which the company plans to support as the laws go into effect. Several other states are introducing legislation this year to do the same.
Usually, when we ask a company leader about their future goals, they’ll talk about their hiring or growth plans. Not Kinsel. Kinsel is focused on one thing: his quest to disrupt and conquer.
“It’s our goal that everyone in the country should be able to close their home online, because why wouldn’t you? When it comes time to notarize something, your choices are going to be to leave work and gut your life around it, or you can just pull out your phone and do it in three minutes. We want to help people easily execute the most important transactions of their lives. And we’re going to save businesses insane sums by letting them digitize these important processes.”
Images courtesy of Notarize.