Andrew Bud joins us to explain what the inspiration was to founding biometric security company iProov
What do you currently do at iProov?
We supply biometric solutions to governments, enterprises and financial institutions worldwide, including the U.S Department of Homeland Security, the UK Home Office and major banks such as ING and Rabobank.
Our technology provides secure customer onboarding, logon and authentication to users. It therefore ensures that new and returning users are genuinely present, while also cracking down on fraudulent activities such as the use of stolen identities. Our mission is to create a safe and secure digital environment, in which users feel protected and organisations can trust the genuine presence of their remote customers.
Here’s a concrete example of how our technology is deployed. ‘Trusted travellers’ wishing to make the short trip from Southern Canada into United States can upload their documents and authenticate themselves remotely before crossing the border. This removes the need for a CBP officer to be present to check their passports.
Given an officer no longer needs to drive hundreds of miles to verify an individual’s identity in person, this is a massive advantage in terms of staff resources and time management.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
The idea behind iProov originates from my previous role as the Executive Chairman of mBlox Inc, the company I founded in 2000. It was one of the largest processors of SMS mobile payments in the world, with more than £400m being processed per year.
However, despite low fraud rates, growing revenues and satisfied clients, the company fell victim to fraudsters in the UK. They discovered a weakness in the authentication mechanism of the payment system, stealing from a huge number of consumers through our network in the process. This was an extremely difficult moment, especially because I was being held accountable.
Eventually, the regulator investigated the incident and deemed our response “exemplary”, but it taught me a harsh and unforgettable lesson about the importance of strong authentication. When mobile apps and mobile internet exploded a couple of years later, the need for a robust authentication system, which was also accessible to impatient mobile users, became necessary. It needed a solution, but one never existed, which is how iProov came to be.
Who do you admire?
Douglas Adam, Author of Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, is one of my favourite writers. I often like to use the analogy of the towel – which is the most essential accessory in the book – to encourage entrepreneurs starting their business venture!
The Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal is so stupid it thinks that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you. So, if you meet one, you throw the towel over your head. Every entrepreneur needs that towel. If you start over questioning everything and think of all the possible risks, you’d never even start!
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
I believe making mistakes is part of the entrepreneurial journey – the key is to look back and learn from them.
For instance, after launching iProov, we partnered with one the world’s top vendors for face verification technology. When we reached the evaluation stage with a global bank, a senior executive put the technology on trial by asking his daughter to test it. Unfortunately, the system did not recognise her and mistook her for her dad.
As you can imagine, it instantly killed our prospects with that bank. However, we managed to bounce back from this bad experience and iProov’s Research Director put forward an audacious plan to build our own face recogniser using a revolutionary new technology.
We then received funding from InnovateUK, which enabled us to carry out this project. As a result, we were one of the first companies in the world to launch a commercial face verification service based on deep learning. Looking back, we wouldn’t have had so many great accomplishments if we had passed the trial!
What defines your way of doing business?
A big part of success in business depends on a combination of your team and your partners. I have nurtured the relationships with our partners, such as InnovateUK, who have played a major role in the success of iProov, by making it abundantly clear how easy it is to do business with us.
I apply the same principle to the approach I take with my colleagues, in order to attract and retain some of the brightest individuals in the sector. We are now a team of around 35, which combines top academic researchers with senior expertise in mobile and cloud services. Having a strong vision and a wonderful product also helps for attracting great people!
Big ideas get everyone out of bed in the morning, even when things get challenging. I spent nearly 30 years innovating in the mobile communications industry, changing the way people communicate. Now, online trust is an even more exciting challenge for the future of our society, and this is what excites us!
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
At the risk of stating the obvious, the most important step in your entrepreneurial journey is to find a problem that you’re passionate about solving and focus on it, single-mindedly.
Don’t wander around poking at other people’s businesses. Find a burning problem you can solve and believe in its value. There are a lot of big problems out there that need to be solved and it is astonishing to see just how hard large incumbents find it to address them.