- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2007

Steve Woda knows what it’s like to get burned buying products online.

In 1999, he bought a hand-held computer on EBay, or so he thought.

“I thought I had done all my homework; I thought I was safe, but the product never arrived,” said Mr. Woda. “I was upset. As a starving grad student, I didn’t have $400 to lose.”

Today, as founder of BuySafe Inc., an online shopping security firm in Arlington, Mr. Woda hopes to end online shopping fraud.

Mr. Woda, a former portfolio manager of USF&G; Insurance Co., a surety bond company based in Fairfield, Calif., saw how surety bonds could bring accountability to online shopping and decided to change the way consumers make purchases online.

Mr. Woda refined his business plan for BuySafe at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his master’s degree in business administration in 2001.

Mr. Woda founded BuySafe in 2000 with the idea that he could guarantee online transactions with bonds that would reimburse buyers if they don’t receive their goods.

“Basically, we vouch for [sellers] and put our money where our mouth is,” Mr. Woda said.

Online sellers can apply to become BuySafe bonded merchants. BuySafe uses its data analysis software to determine the trustworthiness of merchants by evaluating their selling history and buyer feedback.

If approved, an online merchant then pays 1 percent of the sales price of every transaction to display the BuySafe seal on the items it sells.

In return, BuySafe guarantees the transaction up to $25,000 and will reimburse a buyer if the seller fails to deliver a product.

“This is the perfect solution to the EBay problem,” Mr. Woda said. “Buyers no longer have to worry about who they are buying from, whether the product will arrive broken or not arrive at all.”

BuySafe has 40 employees and has authorized more than $10 billion in online transactions. The percentage of bonds it has had to reimburse is in the single digits, Mr. Woda said.

Starting an Internet company in 2000, at the bottom of the dot-com collapse, was no easy feat.

“Times like that sort the good businesses from the bad,” said Mr. Woda, who managed to raise $21 million in venture capital in a difficult environment.

“Steve is a guy who can learn from [his] mistakes. He builds aggressively and largely for the future,” said Jonathan Silver, a managing director with Core Capital, a venture capital firm in the District.

“I think what he and his company are working on is very big and very important,” said Mr. Silver, who is an investor in BuySafe and serves on the company’s board of directors.

In the future, Mr. Woda said, he plans to expand BuySafe’s services to small- and medium-sized businesses and begin working with larger sellers and search engines.

He lives in Arlington with his wife, Sharon.

— Bryce Baschuk

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