"Who owns your data?"
London startup Citizenme is focused on this question: Who is the real owner of your data?
You must admit, this question has come up more in 2019 than it did in the last few years combined. Its relevance is only going to increase in 2020 and onward.
- If it is my data is so valuable that all the tech giants are chasing after, why don’t I have more say in how it is used?
- Why can’t I easily access what data they have on me?
- Did I consent fully knowingly and willingly?
- Can I control which companies have access to it?
Many questions that are becoming more and more important… This week we are visiting a startup called CitizenMe to find some answers to these questions. On a cold but sunny London morning we had a walk & talk session with StJohn (Singe) Deakins, the founder of CitizenMe, followed by a chat with their team.
Check out the full video of our visit and chat below. Singe explained the “why” of the business to start off. In this age, who owns your data is a hot topic. At its core, Citizenme is a technology solution that allows you to have ownership and say over your data and how that’s used. Of course, as we always to, we talked about their value to talent, investors, company culture, growth and iteration journey, tech tools they depend on and what it is like to be based in London. Enjoy.
Watch the documentary: CitizenMe
Listen to The Startups of London CitizenMe Podcast
How does CitizenMe give you control over your data?
“We are all about empowering the people with their own data”
CitizenMe is creating a personal data transaction layer for the internet, enabling people to participate in it in their own terms. It is a way to flip the way the internet works as StJohn puts it.
CitizenMe is a company with a purpose – empowering people with say over their own data. Singe admits (proudly) that it started on idealistic grounds but realised that idealism had to be balanced with a commercial side. It seems in the last year the company has found this balance. What’s their source of revenue? I hear you asking.
They use gamification principles in their app design to let people create data in exchange of a certain value. Users come into the app, complete short activities in a gamified way, and in the meantime, populate their data profile increasing its personal data value.
It is a very unique model, and one that makes a lot of sense. Brands come with requests for CitizenMe data and know that they will receive verified, accurate, true data with AI insights built-in as well. At the same time, all the users are already informed that their data will be used by the brands and have a say in how and how much.
The growth journey of CitizenMe
StJohn came back from Singapur in 2013 and they launched the first version of the app. A little later, they realised that the way they wanted people to use the application was much more human-centric. So they pivoted the company. Even though they’ve started off from almost a more activist position in the early days, the app became more and more commercial focused since then.
The core value of CitizenMe stayed the same from the beginning: Citizens first! And their technology serves individuals and enables them to participate.
CitizenMe is currently at the ‘reflection point’ where things are taking off for both sides of the marketplace. They have 250K users signed up within the platform so far, and growing revenue for 150% each month for the moment. The team size reached to 18 and growing so fast that they might need to relocate their office base into a bigger location!
CitizenMe was funded with StJohn’s previous exit and he did a lot of early R&D with the mission of understanding what data means to people and how they interact with data. Then they moved on to some small seed rounds to receive investment. At that time, they had raised 1.5 million. Today, the total amount raised to 2.8M . Now they’re gearing up for next rounds.
People side of growth
CitizenMe enables people to grow and flourish within the company. Currently the team is at 18 people, with a 6+ person development team in Turkey, the rest of the people are at Somerset House in central London (what a location, though!). Teams work together in constant contact. We have also spoken about the importance of team rituals and culture building activities.
CitizenMe is still a growing company but they value culture and Singe is very aware of its significance.
After living in Singapore for 13 years, and searching for other technology hubs such as Silicon Valley, he decided to build his business in London in the end. Even though Silicon Valley would be a great hub in terms of access to cash and the ecosystem, London is a truly global city.
Compared to other cities, London provides a great legal and regulatory environment (in addition to access to expertise) to build a startup focused on personal data ownership. This was one of the core reasons why they chose London.
Dealing with challenges
The biggest issue with personal data is that it is going into silos and you have data in different places all around the internet. The big brands are trying to get more data to give better services but it is an inherently broken system. They are competing for data – against you in some cases. However, the best place for your data is yourself. The person that can provide that 360 view of you, is you.
What CitizenMe is doing is, instead of moving the data where the AI is, they are moving the AI to where the individuals are and letting the individuals aggregate their data between them. In this way, people are willing to participate and provide more data and insights for the entire ecosystem.
Their biggest challenge to do so was, finding the right technology in terms of the individual. They are always working on to find the right technology that is attractive and interesting for individuals.
Future goals & milestones
In a rapidly digitalising world, the hairy audacious long-term goal is getting this company to a level where everything runs seamlessly. The only way that can happen is having access to 100% complete, accurate data (it could be located in either Google or Apple silos or on personal devices) of individuals.
In the short term, they are working with the market research industry where they’re providing personal data and insight without the need of dealing with all the overwhelming consent processes. Besides, they’re also aiming to grow and get into other markets such as HealthTech, AdTech, FinTech and many more. We wish CitizenMe all the best with their journey!
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Each week, we will be visiting a new startup office to meet with their team & founders. Stay tuned!