Like America’s young generation of bespoke artist-entrepreneurs, the new breed of private investigator marries old-school gumshoe skills with current technology.
Browsing the archives of Inc.com recently, I ran across this, by Jessica Stillman: “Meet the New Breed of Entrepreneurs: Techie Artisans.”
Ms. Stillman interviews a couple of young moguls who marry old school business techniques with hyper-current tools. The results: hand crafted shirts and artisanal preserves backed with tech that would make Captain Kirk cry out, “Khaaaaannnnn!”
These artisan producers make their goods one stitch and one simple-syrup at a time. They kick the process into 4G speeds on the back end—with slick online retail systems, cloud-based accounting, and social media, all employed to track and streamline the business side of things.
Our little burg of Nashville boasts several fantastic examples of this artisanal-techie trend. Otis James, our favorite tie maker, built his reputation on fine craftsmanship and solid design, but the business (the sales and marketing, accounting, etc) is powered by tech.
Matt and Carrie Eddmenson at Imogene + Willie assemble high-end denim in a tiny cut and sew shop on 12th Avenue South, just blocks from our office. Their website and blog harken back to an era of storytelling and nostalgia, but story delivery is wholly new-world: a gorgeously-designed website that tracks every interaction, every click, every order.
Mike Maher, one of the rock-star entrepreneurs Ms. Stillman interviews, tells the story of L. L. Bean, who, ”…was sending a letter to everybody who registered for Maine Hunting Licenses…” when he was starting his new clothing company. Technology makes that process so much easier. Sure, it’s good to hand write notes to clients, but having the client list available at the strike of a key…
In many ways, the work of a private investigator resembles that of a bespoke tailor. Many small PI firms are boutique businesses—small shops (or even one-person operations) that combine old-school tradecraft with up-to-the-minute tech.
The best investigators know that our clients aren’t buying “just the facts.” They’re buying a package. They’re buying detailed research, in-person interviews, and on-site courthouse searches, all performed by seasoned and experienced operatives. They’re buying a finished report that imparts a narrative. They’re buying detail and depth.
They’re buying the old and the new.
At our agency, we try to deliver a little bit of both. For example, we favor custom-stamped letterhead on 24# bond linen paper, and a vintage date stamp on the cover-page of each report. Granted, this is just packaging. But packaging, like an immaculate suit, signals an old-school attention to detail that (we hope) adds a touch of class to the proceedings and suggests a similar attention to detail in the content and work itself. And behind every vestige of old, there lies a deep well of technology—the details of which you’ll find below.
A Few of Our Favorite Technological Tools:
Mac – These may be fighting words, but we are entirely a Mac family. Our on-site secure server is a Mac. Our laptops, desktops, and portable devices are all Mac. Our investigators all use iPads and iPhones in the field. Mac talks well to our audio and video editing software, and we don’t experience server crashes. Ever.
Square – Our agency started using Square about three years ago. Prior to that, our clients had two options for payment: cash or check. Now we just swipe that card and get to work.
Dropbox – With Dropbox, it’s easy to transfer files from office to iPad. Our investigators upload field notes and photos, and the home office downloads them. We pay extra for secure service, but it’s worth it.
Harvest – An excellent app for keeping track of time and expenses. Each investigator has a unique pass code and can log in and start a time clock from anywhere using their iPhone. When it comes time to invoice, Harvest has all of the hours, mileage, expenses, etc. ready to go. It also feeds directly into QuickBooks come tax time.
Squarespace – We host our agency website here. Squarespace allows us to update from the road (via iPhone or iPad), keep track of Internet traffic, and customize our website with ease.
Basecamp — Online project management software that keeps everybody in the loop. A great tool for complicated collaborative projects.
Prezi — Cloud-based presentation software that lets you zoom into maps, photos, and graphics hidden in a larger image, such as a timeline. Excellent tool for courtroom presentations.
Evernote — A mobile organizing system for articles, field notes, and anything else you don’t want to forget.
Cameras – We have acquired bunch of goodies over the past couple of years. We regularly deploy the most advanced hidden cameras, wall chargers, iPod docks, etc.
In the field, we abuse our workhorse Sony HD handycams on a daily basis. The latest hidden camera trick is to just keep it simple and use the iPhone. Click it to silent mode, turn on the video camera, and hold it to your ear like you’re talking. Works every time.
Communication – We use our iPhones extensively while in the field, but sometimes you need to cut down on the conversation and get down to business. We always carry radios as part of our kit. They’re professional-grade Motorola radios that work on an itinerant frequency. They’re secure precisely because they are so simple.
It’s true, there is a wealth of technology that makes our work easier, but in the end, it’s the hard work, tradecraft, and attention to detail that makes the case. As with the tech-savvy entrepreneurs mentioned in the Inc.com story, our tech, while fun and definitely cool, is simply a tool.