Another successful acquisition has come for a Triangle tech company.
Raleigh-based certification software startup Atlas Certified was acquired as the calendar flipped to 2022 by CLEAR (NYSE: YOU), a New York-headquartered identity verification platform used primarily in airports and stadiums. CLEAR went public last summer and has a network of global offices.
CLEAR defines its mission as enabling frictionless and safe journeys using identity, and said Atlas will be a cornerstone of its vision and technology moving forward.
Atlas, which automates the verification, monitoring and status changes for professional licenses at companies like HomeAdvisor and Care.com, is a natural company to bring on board in CLEAR’s growth trajectory. (We originally profiled Atlas in November, 2020).
Atlas CEO and Founder David Johnson said the acquisition process was intense but led to a wonderful result for the company. While the specific financial details are undisclosed, Johnson was happy with the outcome and said the acquisition allows for Atlas to see its vision through. The deal officially closed on Dec. 30, 2021.
“We started building this in 2015,” Johnson said. “With CLEAR, we really have the ability now to see if we can take this from where we built it—which is pretty amazing with the companies we’re working with—to really changing how these individual profiles are viewed and how they’re processed.”
Atlas was originally founded after Johnson noticed tech corporations who were customers at his prior data service company would receive so many applicants for engineering positions and had no way to verify who had the correct credentials.
What began as a way to verify technical certifications transformed into an overall solution for higher-compliance companies to ensure contractors and daycare workers had the correct credentials. These market verticals are full of companies that present much higher risk if the workers do not have the proper certifications. This drove Atlas’s product development to include automated monitoring to keep certifications current.
Background checks are often antiquated and controlled by just a few companies, but Atlas and CLEAR have been geared to create proactive, constantly updated profiles for companies.
The discussion to get here began in October of last year. Since CLEAR is a public company, the process was especially intense, Johnson said. Every call included at least 11 lawyers on the line. But Johnson said ultimately this showed CLEAR’s commitment to the business.
The two companies were originally introduced by a Duke college friend of Johnson’s who had worked with the CLEAR founders. They saw the potential of Atlas being implemented within their own company, and once the conversation started, it all moved very quickly, Johnson said.
That didn’t mean Johnson was fully convinced at every point of the process they would reach a successful acquisition. There were certainly times where doubts crept in.
“We absolutely had moments where we thought we had to go in a different direction,” Johnson said.
As a CEO in charge of six employees, Johnson had to wrestle with the best way to keep workers aware of the pending acquisition without saying anything too soon.
“I want to be as transparent as possible,” Johnson said. “But you also want to have reasonable expectations. Our thought was, we were probably going to raise money and continue to grow Atlas. This was just a fantastic opportunity.”
It was a delicate balance of information and expectations, Johnson said.
“A lot of things can go wrong as you go through due diligence, at no fault of anyone,” Johnson added. “So I did not want to get to a point where everyone expected to go through the acquisition and then be disappointed and have some performance or attitude adjustment.”
Atlas Certified originally had no plans of being acquired at this stage. In fact, they were actually looking to raise more funding and forge ahead on their own. But Johnson said this was the perfect fit and opportunity with CLEAR’s resources and complementary vision.
“We’re first and foremost trying to understand the status of these represented licenses for our customers who are these big brands,” Johnson said. “But the next phase is helping individuals avoid these archaic background checks so they can share with their employers in a really self-sovereign way.”
With the acquisition deal in hand, Johnson is now the GM of Credentials at CLEAR, and Atlas is beginning the process of becoming integrated into CLEAR’s larger product. As someone with strong ties to the Triangle tech ecosystem, having attended Duke for undergrad and launched Atlas in Raleigh, Johnson also feels a responsibility to help foster the entrepreneurial community.
“I love being part of the community,” Johnson said. “I know a lot of entrepreneurs. We’ve had successes, but not to the level of some of the bigger cities.”
With local universities like Duke, UNC and NC State regularly delivering top talent, the region is amazing for entrepreneurship, he said. It just needs to increase its visibility on the national stage, Johnson believes, and hopefully Atlas’s acquisition will be a part of that.
“Each one of these visible exits, where you’re selling to a public company or are going public, really helps foster the community but also brings a lot of nationwide and worldwide attention to the fact that we are up-and-coming and this is a place people should invest and look at,” Johnson said.