Silicon Valley comes to the beach
by Kendra Hartmann
Sep 12, 2013 | 7202 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kris Kibak, left, and Joey Rocco, founders of The Control Group, have made Pacific Beach the home of their tech startup. 	Courtesy photo
Kris Kibak, left, and Joey Rocco, founders of The Control Group, have made Pacific Beach the home of their tech startup. Courtesy photo
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Whatever the reputation of Pacific Beach — and that may change depending on who you ask — the reality is that the community has more than appears on the surface. The evidence is found in the headquarters of one of San Diego’s biggest technology startups, located right on Mission Boulevard.

In late 2010, Joey Rocco and Kris Kibak founded The Control Group out of a small office in PB. Barely three years later, the company has grown exponentially, and now, operating out of a much larger (and expanding) office on Mission Boulevard, the company manages one of the largest people search engines in the world, instantcheckmate.com.

Rocco and Kibak started instantcheckmate.com with online daters in mind. After extensive research into which sites were getting the most traffic, Kibak, who has considerable background in web marketing (he learned HTML when he was 12), realized online dating sites were a gold mine — and a potentially dangerous one to users.

“So many people were starting to meet people online, but it can be so dangerous when you don’t know who you’re talking to,” Kibak said. “We wanted a way for people to figure out who they were talking to online, who’s living next door, who’s down the street.”

Kibak’s intuition paid off. A few months after he and Rocco launched instantcheckmate.com, which offers background checks that include phone numbers, addresses, criminal history, census data and more, the story of Paul Wurtzel broke. Wurtzel was a registered sex offender who joined Match.com and preyed on women he made connections with, prompting one of his victims to launch a court case against the online dating giant.

“We looked [Wurtzel] up on our site, and it showed he had a record as a sex offender,” Kibak said. “That’s the kind of thing we could prevent.”

Customers responded to the product. What started in 2010 with a few employees has grown into one of the largest web startups in the world, with offices in Las Vegas, Kearny Mesa and the flagship in PB. The Control Group’s operations, meanwhile, have branched out from instant-checkmate.com into other online territories.

Though Pacific Beach might not seem a likely location for Silicon Valley’s Southern California installment, Rocco and Kibak, both 29, planted their tech company here precisely for what the area could offer their growing organization. The nature of competition is not simply in trying to attract customers to the product. It’s also in trying to attract top talent to the company, and the pair has pulled out all the stops to do so.

The Pacific Beach office, located above Tony Roma’s in the Promenade, has a designated spot for employees to leave their surfboards when they come in (there are even a couple office boards available for those who don’t want to bring their own). The office refrigerator offers free energy drinks, snacks and freshly made juices. The break room features an Xbox and two NBA basketball arcade games to unwind and get the creative juices flowing. Breakfast from the Hash House is served every Friday morning. Continuing education opportunities are available so employees can to continue to grow in their field.

Kibak and Rocco don’t only give back to their employees, however. Since the company has begun to flourish, the pair have taken on certain charitable causes. In August, they celebrated their third anniversary with a dog-friendly Hornblower cruise on the bay, raising awareness and funds for Helen Woodward Animal Center. The day after Labor Day, the company sponsored a beach cleanup with I Love a Clean San Diego to rid the beach outside of its office of the debris left over from the holiday weekend.

“When we were working so hard just to stay above water, we were killing ourselves,” Kibak said. “When we got to the point where we had enough time and money to think about other things than just ourselves, we wanted to think how we could help so that the community and other people would benefit. We’re just trying to give back, now that we can.”

In looking for other ways to give back, Kibak and Rocco stumbled across Together We Bake, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that helps formerly incarcerated women get back on their feet and find employment when they’re released. The company recently donated $10,000 to the nonprofit.

“[Together We Bake] seemed to fit with the themes of our site,” Kibak said. “A big component [of instantcheckmate.com] is preventing crime, especially against women, like with the Wurtzel case. With this, we can actually see who we’re helping, and a donation of that size to a small charity will help a lot more than it would to a large organization. So many women who are incarcerated were victims of crime themselves. This helps that cycle.”

For more information about The Control Group, visit thecontrolgroup.com or instantcheckmate.com.

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