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Armed with a laptop computer and $800 in seed money, Mark Moore started Tenant Information Services (TIS) in 1991. Initially, the Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based information services company provided landlords with up-to-date eviction information on prospective tenants. Today, roughly 90% of TIS’ business is providing criminal background checks for some 1,000 companies, including out-of-state businesses, which resell the information to other clients.
Companies pay a $25 annual membership fee and around $7 per background check. Last year, the 12-employee firm had revenues of about $800,000. Moore also hires independent contractors (individuals or companies) when he needs to find information on people living outside of North Carolina. Headquartered since 1996 in a suite of offices in a downtown building, TIS is growing at a rate of about 40% a year, largely because of the efficient network of contacts Moore has developed throughout North Carolina and major cities in the U.S. He gathers much of his information from county courthouse records.
As a youngster, Moore always enjoyed repairing things-namely cars. By the time he graduated in 1987 from Winston-Salem’s Carver High School, he had become fascinated with computers, which led him to study computer science at DeVry Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Tight on money, he was forced to leave school and return home in 1989.
Over the next couple of years, Moore tried his hand at three companies: two automobile repair shops and a software company. They all folded. “I was making money,” says Moore, who was 22 at the time, “but I was mismanaging it. It got to the point where the lights got cut off.”
The seed for TIS was planted by a landlord Moore had known since childhood who belonged to a local property owners association. He told Moore about a problem common to the landlords: the lack of easy access to a database with current eviction information. Even though such information was on record at the Forsyth County Hall of Justice, the landlords didn’t have the time or the personnel to do the research.
That’s when the light bulb came on. Moore presented a proposal at the next meeting and walked away with $800 in annual fees from eight landlords. That was just enough to lease a laptop and buy a cellular phone. Moore also leased space in one of his client’s buildings and created a software program for the data that he keyed into his computer during his daily forays to the courthouse.
About a year into the business, Moore had another idea. He started sending letters to all of his real estate clients informing them that he could offer criminal as well as eviction information. The response was overwhelming. “After failing three times, I finally got it right,” says the 28-year-old survivor.
Marcy Eberle, director of human resources for the Greensboro division of Time Warner Cable, a TIS client, likes the 24-hour turnaround time. “Before using TIS, it would take a lot more time to get the same information. We would have to have an individual leave our work site and visit