Ferret Wants To Be a ‘Knight in Shining Armor’ for Investors. Will Ethical Concerns Stand in Its Way?

Caitlin Cook
Caitlin Cook is an editorial intern at dot.LA, currently earning her master's degree in mass communication from California State University, Northridge. A devoted multimedia journalist with an interest in both tech and entertainment, Cook also works as a reporter and production assistant for MUSE TV. She got her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Filmmaking from University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
Ferret Wants To Be a ‘Knight in Shining Armor’ for Investors. Will Ethical Concerns Stand in Its Way?

The way tech veteran and entrepreneur Rob Loughan explains it, he isn't in it for the money. Loughan, best known for founding Octane Software, which sold for $3.2 billion in 2001, wants to change how investors assess their personal and professional networks, despite critics' concerns.


"I want to be seen as kind of like the knight in shining armor, on the white horse, decreasing the amount of bad stuff happening in the world," said Loughan.

The 56-year-old uses an analogy to explain the benefits of his AI-enabled risk analysis tool: an open house. Several, maybe dozens, of people are walking through this person's home, where all of their valuable personal belongings are. What if they've unknowingly let a thief inside?

Ferret, he said, can spot them. The Calabasas-based company uses AI to help users identify risks within their networks or even neighborhoods. Its software scans a person's contacts and makes those individuals' backgrounds, including criminal records, available to users. It's geared toward investors and high-net worth individuals that often go in on high-stakes deals.

\u200bFerret co-founder Rob Loughan

Ferret co-founder Rob Loughan

"The next person can pull up [to your home] in a Maserati and have a Gucci suit. They could have been bankrupt three times, and they could even be a bad person that has a bunch of fraud behind them," said Loughan. "And then there's someone like me. Looks disheveled, probably hasn't shaved in three days, my T-shirt has holes in it. [...] I might get overlooked because of the way that I presented myself."

The company was started in 2020 by Loughan and his co-founder, Al Macdonald. Macdonald is the founder and CEO of NominoData, a technology company that has been providing the financial industry with risk management data for the past 12 years.

Loughan said he started Ferret "by accident" after he invested in NominoData and Macdonald asked him for help selling the company.

Ferret security logo

"I said, 'Don't sell it'," said Loughan. "'We're gonna democratize that data, and we're going to give it to everybody instead of just the ivory tower banks and financial institution governments who seem to know everything about us, but we don't know anything about each other'."

What emerged was a technology that can put NominoData into anybody's hands. The app, which is currently in alpha testing, uses AI to determine which people are within the user's network -- be it coworkers, friends, neighbors -- and provides easy access to publicly available information on them from resources like court records and news archives. Users can also search for specific people outside of their network.

The data shown on each individual excludes misdemeanor offenses such as DUIs or marijuana possession charges, focusing instead on serious cases that are relevant to investors.

"What matters to [investors] are lawsuits, government licenses, past exit successes, fraud allegations and white collar crime," said Matt Heisie, Ferret's head of product. "Search engines and background checks are bombarded with sensational arrest records or negative news, while serious white collar crime typically stays in the shadows. Ferret changes that dynamic."

Ferret acts somewhat like a search engine to make it easier to obtain information that is publicly available but difficult to find.

Ferret can, and -- in Loughan's eyes-- likely will, be used for personal matters outside of the investment world; in fact, Ferret is currently in contact with five dating sites, looking to make their data available to users. Certain information the app collects, such as battery charges, could be important to an online dater trying to feel out a potential mate.

Privacy Experts Weigh In

Ferret announced a $4 million seed round last month, with the Australian investment firm Artesian and more than 30 angel investors participating. Despite the interest, Loughan admits every potential investor he has talked to expressed concern over the app's legality. It also raises moral questions about whether a company should be able to potentially trap someone in their past failures, even when that person may have atoned for them.

From the beginning, Loughan said Ferret has been cautious to make sure their product is legal, going so far as working with a global law firm that the company declined to name.

"We're unlikely to lose a lawsuit because we're so fastidious about doing it properly," said Loughan, who said unlike Facebook, which has come under fire for its collection of users' personal information, Ferret has no nefarious intentions and nothing to gain from misusing data.

John Davisson, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a nonprofit research organization in Washington, DC that focuses on privacy rights, pointed out two laws in particular that he said Ferret will inevitably have to comply with in order to do this legally: the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the California Consumer Privacy Act.

The laws limit what credit reporting agencies and businesses can do with the information they collect on people. Ferret maintains that the FCRA does not apply to them because they are not a credit or consumer reporting agency.

The laws also prohibit certain uses of the information the app collects, such as employing it to make hiring decisions. Ferret said that the data they provide is not the same as that of a traditional background check.

The startup said it makes users abide by terms of use that are specifically designed to make users aware of what they can and cannot do with the app.

"It's not just like, 'Do you agree to these terms and conditions?' and there's some infinitely long page that nobody reads," said Heisie. "They have to affirmatively agree to those individual points before they get into the application. It's very clear, too, that violation of the terms and conditions will just result in suspension of their use of the application for them immediately."

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union's "Speech, Privacy and Technology" program said that in the past, "practical obscurity" of personal information -- the concept that public information is not always easily accessible -- has indirectly protected privacy, but much of that has gone away in the digital age.

"While you undoubtedly have a First Amendment right to talk about what people have done in the past and what the records are about people, by systematizing it you're also making it harder for people to escape their past and start over," said Stanley.

Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

'Not Trying to Point Fingers'

Ferret said it makes every effort to maintain privacy and fairness for those whose backgrounds are collected in its app.

Details of its artificial intelligence system are secret, but the company said it is planning to publish a white paper that lays out their AI framework and gives a statement of ethics for all to scrutinize.

What makes Ferret different, Heisie said, is that it's not a catch-all record scraper. Instead, it targets information relevant to the businesspeople who use it.

"It starts with what goes in," said Heisie. "It starts with trying to identify what actually is relevant from a business context and deprioritizing what's not, and using that as the beginning of the algorithms."

But the algorithms that make up artificial intelligence can be tainted by the developers' bias, influencing their output. Electronic Privacy Information Center's Davisson said he is not convinced that AI is at the point yet where it can perform in an unbiased way.

"These tools frequently develop and encode gender biases, racial biases, ethnic biases," said Davisson. "And especially something that's trying to make reputational judgments based on news coverage, which is a spectrum of sources that is obviously susceptible to human bias. Those same biases can creep into what they are claiming is an unbiased system."

As an example of this in the works, Davisson cited a recruitment AI system formerly used by Amazon that was proven a few years ago to be strongly biased against female candidates, filtering out resumes that included the word "women's" and listed certain female-only colleges.

Loughan is confident in his team's ability to make Ferret a service that is lawful and free of bias, but he is also prepared for pushback, possibly even lawsuits.

"I want to be seen as someone who's trying to make the world a better place, not trying to point fingers at people and say they're bad, because we don't do that," Loughan said. "We just show the data that's publicly available, and then you come to your own conclusion about the person."

🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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