Startups Surviving Covid-19 #5: Andrew Bud of iProov
iProov creates digital trust with biometric authentication. They ensure that online users are genuinely present in uncontrolled environments, combining face biometrics and anti-spoofing. Their unique approach to spoofing prevention, world-class deep learning technologies, and focus on sustainable security have given us an unrivalled global reputation. iProov detects and prevents all known identity spoof attack vectors, including masks, replay attacks, compromised devices, and – critically – the emerging threat of Deep Fake artificial video. You can learn about their success story from our other documentary from here.
As we all know, Covid-19 affected London’s startups in direct and indirect ways, and it has permanently changed the landscape for London’s technology businesses like the rest of the world. So we are interviewing key people of the startup ecosystem to ask them about their challenges and survival strategies in this hard time.
We hope that this interview series will be helpful and insightful for other startups in London out there. Because we believe that the most important thing is to learn from each other and be helpful to others, within this direction, you are welcomed to the fifth episode of our “How to Survive Covid-19 as a Startup?” interview series. You can reach all of them from our Covid-19 Interviews YouTube playlist. So let’s begin, fellas!
Watch the interview with iProov:
Work from home situation
Andrew Bud is the founder and the CEO of iProov, the award-winning online biometric authentication technology owner. We interviewed him and asked him questions. First of all, we ask him about his observations about how startups are handling work from home situations.
He says: “The impact of working from home on people’s mental health so far in my judgment, has not been too severe. At the same time, people are buoyed by the fact that they are doing something incredibly important. One of our customers is the NHS. We are providing remote onboarding solutions for the NHS log on out. That is fantastic. People feel that they are making a direct contribution to the national response to the Coronavirus. That is a tremendous motivator.
There is a tremendous sense of purpose, which keeps people going; the intensity of work has dramatically increased. Something about working from home has made everybody work harder. The fear that somehow, we would be about the fluidity with which videoconferencing can be conducted, something about the ease of scheduled meetings. It is everybody is remarking how much harder they are working; how much more intense it is.”
How iProov is handling the Covid-19 situation?
I hesitate very much to say that iProov will benefit from that. I mean, the parent of one of our senior staff is in the hospital with Covid-19 symptoms. So, therefore, I am not going to say that, but I think we do not see the same terrible downdrafts on our business that many of my colleagues and friends are seeing.
As we know, crises create opportunities, and we have to seize those opportunities. But, on the other hand, you can do that in such a way that you accidentally go bankrupt if the market turns out to be a bit tougher than you thought. So there is a really tough balance to be struck. For anybody who is not caught in that terrible tram draft, I think that is the challenge of mitigating the huge risks that are now appearing whilst not missing out on any of the opportunities since it is really tricky.
Personally, the net effect has given me, as a CEO and an entrepreneur, the greatest challenge in my career. The reason is that we feel like we are walking along a very narrow ridge with a very strict and very steep slope on either side, the wind blowing hard. On the one hand, I who has long sales cycles we are working with a leading provider to enterprises in the world. Those have long sales cycles, and you do not expect things to change suddenly. But, on the other hand, we authenticate remote users online for the idea, both for onboarding tried ID verification and remote access to services. That is something that this crisis is driving an immense amount of demand for. So, in principle, this should, despite the catastrophe of it, represent a tremendous opportunity.
Survival strategies of iProov
He is saying: “One thing which we’re toying around with at the moment is that the idea about offering a more virtual membership. We have other assets like our mentors, and if they would be open about providing that mentorship virtually, that can be one of our new paths.
Additionally, we think about offering a more virtual option to the members, which are currently here. So, they can still access the mentors and access their virtual registered address without paying the full price. So, in that way, we’ll be able to keep members and our community.”
How others are handling the Covid-19 situation?
“When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”
John F. Kennedy
I have been extremely impressed by how all these organizations in different countries have responded and are making this environment work and how well large and medium-sized organizations have adapted to this new environment. Furthermore, their teams have reacted with the same flexibility. HR functions have worked into this very smoothly. They are worried about their people’s welfare in the same way that I am. We within our little company worry about people’s welfare. Just to observe, my grandchildren of work do not look very different from how my staff and I look.
Real change in the startup environment will be potentially redimensioning—downsizing of the office and service office market in London. The service turns off at the office and serviced office market in London has been a tremendous growth point. This means big companies as well; we do not need all this commercial office space. After we have been doing this for three months minimum or potentially six months, that will get me, so what earth do we need to pay vast amounts of rent? I strongly suspect that is going to be the case, and it is not just going to be the case for small startups. It will be the case for these big organizations who are equally learning that they do not need that. Their teams work perfectly satisfactorily at home. Maybe they do not need quite as much space.
Future predictions #1
I lived through the startup nuclear winter of 2001 – 2002. Anyone who went through that period will never forget it. We came within 20 minutes of bankruptcy in that period. What you see, what you discover is that many people with businesses that are very exciting in good times just go out of business. It was a brutal Grim Reaper, but it also makes companies better because it makes them leaner, more focused. The guys who cannot make it will learn and come back stronger in a few years has been through this experience. The guys who do make it will come back as tougher, better businesses. More focused, more financially efficient, better positioned to deal with when the upswing takes place.
Funding is going to be very tight. Investment funds are going to be very scarce whatever the VC say until it is clear. Not just in terms of when the coronavirus is coming to an end but also what the world after coronavirus looks like. We are going into the weirdest, most peculiar economic environment that anybody is ever seen. Nobody knows what it is going to look like when they come out.
Investors are going to be extremely cautious. At the same time, debt is becoming available. Now, everyone is becoming much more experienced than they ever did in the past with debt financing. Debt financing comes with government’s no startup, entrepreneurs. Particularly younger ones have never really experienced what it means to live within covenants. So, it is going to change people’s experience; it will whittle out a lot of businesses. The people who come out the back end will be stronger, but they are going to be in a different environment.
Future predictions #2
I think this will accelerate the trend towards aged tech. The baby boom generation is high-risk and, in many cases. We have a lot of disposable income in the world. We represent the future of a huge market. Up until now, nobody quite there had ideas about what to do with it. I think Coronavirus is going to teach some lessons very quickly about that.
This will also accelerate further the trend towards the development of digital twins. The idea is fundamental that you use smartphones as sensor platforms that extract data from a gigantic number of dynamic sampling points around society. Then, you stream that data back to central points where you build up extremely rich, sophisticated real-time models of the world. You can then study, observe, and try to figure out what is going on and make sure decisions and choices about the world, based not upon observing the real world or individual data points but upon the observations on the model.
We will have avatars of people walking down the simulated digital streets. Those avatars may have identities if there is face recognition. That is beginning to happen now. You can hear applications that are attempting to crowdsource information about the Coronavirus is a step in that direction and trying to build up a big data-powered model of what on earth is actually going on out there. That has been a trend for a while, but I think this will accelerate it.
Future predictions #3
Every major crisis I am thinking about typical wars has driven technology development at tremendous speeds in the areas relevant to the battle. Today, the key areas relevant to the battle are understanding what is going on with the virus and developing a whole series of life sciences. Some things are not part of the London startup scene and will effectively go through a Manhattan Project period over the next year. Cybersecurity, everything to do with domestic cybersecurity, distributed organizational cybersecurity, and authentication are going to get tremendously important because I don’t think it will be many weeks before the cybercriminals start discovering just how much fun you can have at the expense of citizens and employees by infiltrating the remote working environments.
I am interested in hearing if the word mode will be hearing of the first instance of somebody who looked exactly like a senior executive participating in a video conference. A deep fake cybercriminal. That cannot be more than weeks away. If there is a compelling criminal business model to do something, you can be sure that somebody will do it. The technology is all there to do it. At iProov have been talking about it for about three years. This is an unbelievably fertile environment in which to do that. We are all spreading our Zoom access links around; not everybody uses passwords on their Zoom calls. If you can steal really valuable information just by sitting in on meetings, why would not you?
Bubbles of opportunity
In a crisis, there are always bubbles of opportunity.
I am thinking about what I have learned, but I am also thinking about what I would have liked to have heard in those sorts of positions. The answer is, if you believe in the power of an idea, then stick with it. But, if you have to live on boiled newspaper, take massive salary cuts, and slice off absolutely everything you do not need to survive for that idea to survive, then do it. Better days will come, and your idea, your passion, deserves to survive the journey to those sunny uplands. But, unfortunately, this is not going to last. The nuclear winter began at the beginning of 2001, lasted two and a half years.
The other thing that you learn is that there are always pockets; there are always air bubbles of opportunity. When you think you are drowning, swim around and find those bubbles of opportunity that you can breathe. That will keep you alive a little bit longer. Two weeks after, we nearly went bankrupt. We signed an unexpected customer contract. The cash flowed just nine months after that.
There is a tremendous amount of opportunity out there. People talk about pivoting your business which is a nice piece of jargon. The answer is if you cannot sell what you are selling now, find something else. Sell what people need. There are parts of the economy that are in desperate trouble now, but parts of the economy are not in desperate trouble. If you can sell to those, then you can still keep going. Use your network to keep yourself sane and cheerful. That is what professional friends are for.
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