iProov: Edge of Facial Recognition and Biometrics #9

“How can we be sure of the genuine presence of an online user?”

Today, we are at a fascinating London-based startup to answer this question. We are interviewing Andrew Bud. He is the founder and the CEO of iProov, the award-winning online biometric authentication technology owner.

iproov founder picture

We are thrilled to share the success story of the company with you! Also, we would love to introduce you to the great mind behind it. In the 9th episode of this documentary series, you will walk through the journey of iProov. Moreover, you’ll have a chance to see the working environment!

Documentary - iProov's office and people

The Journey of the Business

About 11 years ago, Andrew was the founder and the Chairman of a company named mBlox. This company was built to become the world’s largest provider of text messaging and mobile payments. However, after the unpleasant experience caused by the lack of cybersecurity, they realised an underlying issue with online identity authentication.

Andrew says, “I spent 2011 thinking hard about how we could assure the authentic consent of a user on a mobile phone where we didn’t trust the endpoint. And had to apply the most fundamental lesson of mobile of all, which is every single action you ask the user to undertake will reduce conversion rates by 25%. So how could we provide strong, authentic consent in the most usable way?” This was the time when Andrew came up with the concept of colour sequence code-named “Flashmark.” It’s the technology that lies at the basis of iProov.

It was too late to solve problems for the mobile payments industry, and in 2012 he sold the company. It was good timing because, in 2013, the companies in the US that remained in the industry got fined for the problems with forgery in billing. So it wasn’t just compliance or a theoretical security risk management problem. It was a real and present threat. And that informed the way they put iProov together.

phone screen with iProov app on

What is unique about iProov is this flashmark technology. They use the screen of the users’ device to illuminate their faces with a rapid sequence of changing colours. In the meantime, they stream the video back to their servers. Then, through the servers, they analyze how the reflections of that screen illuminate from users’ faces.

If you want to hear more about the technology they use, listen to the podcast.

Uncut Podcast - iProov's founder Andrew Bud

Biometrics: Facial recognition use cases

There are two major use cases for iProov:

  • Onboarding is where somebody has to verify that they are the owner of a trusted identity credential like a passport. Then, the information on the document is sent to a bank or government. Finally, the user has to prove that the person sending that information is actually the owner. One thing that ties a person to an identity document is their face!
  • The other application is when somebody needs authentication to access a privilege or to some information effectively.

Today’s biggest application in the world of strongly authenticated remote onboarding is the British Government’s application to enable European citizens to get settled status. About 3 to 4 million European citizens in the UK have to get this settled status before Brexit. The home secretary announced that over 2 million people had got the status since the service was launched in April 2019. It is a huge volume of people in a short time.

Growth of a biometrics startup

Their proudest achievement is being the first-ever non-US vendor that the USDHS  (United States Department of Homeland Security) procured its pioneering SVIP (Silicon Valley Innovation Program) program. So, they are working with the USDHS on rapid and easy border control for trusted travellers.

As Andrew mentions, they are proud to be a part of this enormous scale operation and a successful ID-matched onboarding example. So today, everybody in Britain knows somebody who is being iProoved.

They are focusing on government and finance today. Because those are the most confident buyers of advanced authentication technology. Soon, iProov is also expanding into the areas of health, travel, digital identity etc.

iProov startup fact sheet

Funding history of London Startup iProov

They have been really fortunate through their funding journey. iProov received a lot of funding from the UK’s Innovation agency InnovateUK; as Andrew says in the interview, they managed to grant 18 rounds of funding! This was fantastic because it meant that it is time to keep it quiet and do the hard, deep tech development necessary to do iProov work reliably. So they planned to complete the launching process without the pressure of rushing and ending up with a half-baked MVP.

They were tremendously supported by InnovateUK, who specifically wanted them to work on technology developmentIn 2015, they were also supported by investments under the EIS- Enterprise Investment Scheme by several private investors, notable the partners of a London equity firm called JRJ Group.

People side of growth

When we asked iProov what lay behind their solid team, Andrew jokingly ties all to luck! He worked with many outstandingly talented people in his previous company. And luckily, they’ve become available when iProov started operating in 2013.

Andrew is also the Chairman of the External Advisory Counselor on Computer Science at University College London for 15 years. So he had a great chance to build good relationships and great communications.

They were lucky enough to find extremely brilliant, motivated, dedicated, and excited people by having to deal with hard problems in a lean environment as a team.

“What’s is important is a unity of the culture. Everyone needs to be excited, passionate, motivated, willing to go through the startup and scaleup experience.” says Andrew.

iproov team pictures

Why London?

There are several reasons that they picked London as their location. The first reason is that Andrew lives in London(!), and all the SLT – Senior leadership team members are scattered around the area. Furthermore, they are located at the best location for everyone in the team to get to work.

There are also more technical experts in their specific field in London than in other countries. So great talent access and great resources are also another reason that makes London a great city to build your startup.

Dealing with challenges

Together we end up with the best of the breed.

When you are a startup and trying to change the world, the worst enemy would be trying to boil the ocean. So instead, you have to pick one problem to solve at a time and focus on doing one thing well. If you do that, you have a chance of success.

Partnering with lots of other people is also a great way to bring different solutions to one problem. As a brilliant mind, Andrew built partnerships and collaboration with other companies where they work together and share information to solve customers’ problems.

Key metrics to track

The best metrics iProov measures to see the overall picture is the customer success metrics. They’re mainly tracking the activity levels. In SAAS businesses, you live or die by activity levels. Andrew says that he has a Google form sheet on his mobile phone. He looks at several times a day to track the activity levels of various customers.

iProov’s other metric is revenue. So they know they have to keep a very close eye on revenue to ensure future revenue growth.

Tech tools / SAAS products most important to the startup

As a long-time entrepreneur, Andrew compared the technology between today and the days he started his business back in the days. When he started his first business in 2000, he had to build the infrastructure for the whole business using the available tools years ago.

He is saying that in today’s world, doing everything is unbelievably luxurious. There are huge numbers of choices for any kind of task. One of his favourite tools is Google Sheets for publishing and distributing information. The whole company uses and are a big fan of Google Application Suit. There are many other SAAS tools they use to solve many different issues without worrying too much. In today’s world, you can find everything you need easily that you would just say “which” rather than “how.”

Future goals & milestones

Andrew articulates the main goal of iProov really well:

We want to be able to help people all over the world establish trust in them in the online economy. So that they can do, see, buy, transact more. We want to make it easy and safe for them to engage with the online economy protecting those organisations which supply those services against arising and increasing tide of cyber threat.”

They wanted to build the infrastructure for a billion users that are ready to meet the operational challenges. They needed to be prepared for the time where this technology becomes the default way of online authentication. This is exactly what iProov’s ambition. Their milestones are measured in millions and tens of millions and hundreds of millions of people getting iProoved. Soon after they’re achieving the 10-million milestone, they’ll set their goal to a hundred million, and the next milestone will be a billion people.

Up next...

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Each week, we will be visiting a new startup office to meet with their team & founders. Stay tuned!