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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Lineberger's Rise to Unicorn Status: Key Lessons for Startup Success's journey to becoming a leading digital identity verification company is a testament to the power of innovation and adaptability. Blu Ventures was introduced to (formerly TroopSwap) and closed its first investment with the company in 2011. Since those early days, transformed from a platform providing benefits and discounts to military personnel to a $150M+ digital identity verification company with 120M+ users. Along this road to success, the company has had several pivots and many lessons learned that can provide value to startups and founders everywhere. 

Below is a summary of a conversation between Blake Hall, founder and CEO of, and Noah Sheinbaum of Frontdoor Defense, along with additional background information from Blu partner, Mike Kostoff, who has worked with Blake Hall and along its journey to unicorn status. You can watch the full episode here:

Origin Story of

Blake Hall, a U.S. Army veteran and Harvard Business School graduate, was inspired to found by his experiences both in the military and in academia. The impetus for stemmed from the high incidence of identity theft among veterans and the cumbersome process of verifying military status online. Blake observed that existing verification methods were inefficient and prone to fraud, sparking his idea to create a digital solution that would simplify and secure identity verification.

Initially, Blake and his team faced significant challenges, including market entry and product viability. Early attempts to launch encountered resistance and required several pivots. Despite these hurdles, the team remained committed to their vision, refining their product to meet the needs of their target audience better. They focused on creating a solution that was user-friendly and addressed a specific problem—verifying military status online to access benefits and discounts.

Growth of's growth trajectory involved several critical phases:

  1. Initial Struggles and Pivots: The company faced numerous setbacks in its early days. Initial products did not gain the expected traction, necessitating a series of pivots. Blake and his team learned the importance of adaptability and responsiveness to market feedback.

  2. Focusing on a Niche Market: initially targeted military personnel, addressing their specific needs for secure identity verification. By focusing on this niche vertical, they could fine-tune their product and build a loyal user base.

  3. Product Evolution: Over time, expanded its identity verification offerings beyond the military and veterans to include other groups such as students, first responders, and government employees. The platform evolved into a comprehensive digital wallet that facilitates various forms of identity verification.

  4. Scaling Up: The company's user base grew significantly, reaching 120 million users by early 2024. They secured partnerships with major government agencies and private sector companies, enabling them to offer their services on a larger scale.'s revenue also increased, hitting $150 million annually.

  5. Technology and Security: Investment in robust technology and security measures was crucial. Ensuring the platform could handle high volumes of verification requests while maintaining security and privacy was key to gaining user trust and regulatory approval.

Key Learnings for Other Startups

Blake Hall's journey with offers several valuable lessons for other startups:

  1. Focus on a Specific Problem: Start with a clear understanding of a specific problem and develop a solution that addresses it directly.'s initial focus on military identity verification allowed them to create a targeted and effective product.

  2. Be Prepared to Pivot: Flexibility and willingness to pivot are essential. Early setbacks are common, and the ability to adapt to feedback and change direction can be critical to finding the right product-market fit.

  3. Leverage Mentorship and Guidance: Seeking advice and mentorship from experienced professionals can provide valuable insights and help navigate challenges. Blake highlighted the importance of mentorship in guiding through its early stages.

  4. Build Trust Through Security: For companies dealing with sensitive information, prioritizing security and privacy is crucial. Building a reputation for reliability and trustworthiness can significantly impact user adoption and retention.

  5. Expand Gradually: Start with a focused user group and expand gradually.'s initial success with military personnel and veterans laid the foundation for broader applications. This approach allows for manageable growth and refinement of the product.

  6. Value of Partnerships: Strategic partnerships can facilitate growth and provide access to larger markets.'s collaborations with government agencies and private companies were instrumental in scaling their operations.

  7. Persistence and Resilience: Entrepreneurship involves enduring challenges and setbacks. Persistence and resilience are critical attributes for overcoming obstacles and achieving long-term success.

Blake Hall’s story with underscores the importance of a clear vision, adaptability, strategic focus, and the willingness to learn and evolve. These elements are fundamental to navigating the complex journey from startup to a successful enterprise.


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