Onfido is the new identity standard for the internet. Their AI-based technology assesses whether a user’s government-issued ID is genuine or fraudulent, and then compares it against their facial biometrics. That’s how they give companies like Revolut, Zipcar and Bitstamp the assurance they need to onboard customers remotely and securely. It’s as simple as an ID and a selfie. Their document verification and facial biometrics technology lets your users verify themselves anywhere, anytime.
Husayn co-founded Onfido with his two co-founders in 2012 while he was at Oxford University. Fast forward to 2020 and Onfido has offices in three continents, and counts major banks and government bodies in its 1500-strong customer base — Kassai is even in talks with several governments to offer Onfido’s identity solution as a way of helping them monitor people who have recovered from COVID-19.
Talis first invested in Onfido in 2013 — the company raised a $100m round led by TPG earlier in 2020. We caught up with Husayn to talk about his journey so far, how he stays true to the Onfido mission and the company’s plans for the future.
YOU FOUNDED ONFIDO WITH YOUR TWO CO-FOUNDERS IN 2012 WHILE YOU WERE AT OXFORD UNIVERSITY. HAD YOU ALWAYS IMAGINED BECOMING AN ENTREPRENEUR, OR DID YOU HAVE ANOTHER CAREER IN MIND?
I was a member of the Oxford Entrepreneur Society, later becoming president which gave me the entrepreneurial bug. It became clearer that this was the path for me after I took an internship at Merrill-Lynch and was left feeling uninspired and unchallenged. One of the benefits of being the president of Oxford Entrepreneurs meant that I could invite very high profile speakers and successful entrepreneurs which we could learn from and which really helped me and my co-founders as we launched Onfido.
HIRING IS OFTEN ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR STARTUPS – AT ALL STAGES, BUT PARTICULARLY IN THE EARLY STAGES. HOW DID YOU AND YOUR CO-FOUNDERS DECIDE WHICH HIRES TO MAKE FIRST?
In the early stages, we were aware that our first hires were crucial for the future culture and success of the business. The team is a startup’s single most valuable asset.
The sophisticated nature of our technology means that we spend huge amounts of time ensuring that we are hiring the best engineers, researchers and business development professionals globally because everything we’ve achieved is down to the quality of the team behind it.
We looked at people we’d worked with before – colleagues, course mates, etc. to understand what made a good team and who was good to work with and why. Then we tried to find as many people like this as possible and get them excited about our idea. We’re now lucky enough to be at the stage where we’re able to hire some of the best people in their fields.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST BREAKTHROUGH MOMENT – WHEN YOU REALISED ONFIDO COULD BE ONTO SOMETHING HUGE?
There is nothing quite like winning the first significant client. With little more than an MVP, and a promise to work hard, we got the contract to verify the service providers to a platform called Teddle (later known as Hassle, which sold to Helpling). Although this was for the grand sum of £1,000 and took almost a year to get to, it was a clear sign that there was a need, and that we were given the shot to serve it.
ONFIDO HAS RECEIVED INVESTMENT FROM A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT FIRMS, LIKE TALIS, AND HAS ONBOARDED A FANTASTIC ROSTER OF CUSTOMERS – BUT IN YOUR EYES, WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE BIGGEST MILESTONES SO FAR?
Two other milestones particularly stand out for me. Securing our first big client BlaBlaCar, the world’s leading long-distance carpooling platform, back in 2014. We won the partnership because, being a start-up, we were agile and able to lead with a customer-first mentality and is something we still do today.
Another milestone is when we partnered with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to produce a whitepaper on the passwordless future. We’re committed to disrupting the rate of identity fraud – the fastest growing crime in the world – with identity verification and by working with our partners, WEF, FIDO Alliance, and DID Alliance, we’re helping to progress this with innovative technology and regulatory standards.
ONFIDO’S MISSION IS TO CREATE A MORE OPEN WORLD, WHERE IDENTITY IS THE KEY TO ACCESS. AS CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, HOW DO YOU ENSURE THE COMPANY STAYS CLOSELY ALIGNED TO THIS MISSION AS YOU SCALE?
Staying consistent with the messaging and making it relevant on a frequent basis is key. We set our 5 key goals annually, and clearly connect them to delivering our mission.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR VISION FOR ONFIDO FOR THE COMING MONTHS AND YEARS?
The ultimate goal is creating a more open world where identity is the key to access. A world where more of the unbanked and underbanked can access the online services they need and where we catch more of the fraudsters to prevent money from going to criminal activity.
To do this, we need to move away from the centralised credit bureau, a sort of leaking database model, to a decentralised world where the consumer owns and controls their legal identity. This is what we are trying to achieve by taking part in the FCAs government sandbox, alongside Deloitte and Evernym, which tested how reusable or ‘portable’ identity can improve customer onboarding journeys and reduce compliance costs for financial institutions. Moreover, we’ve partnered with companies such as Agora to enable frictionless eVoting, and are powering digital identity programs such as one for the Faroe Islands, which intends to digitise services for citizens, industry and the public sector in one joint infrastructure, allowing people to more easily share and secure their legal identities.
YOU’VE RAISED $200M IN FUNDING SO FAR – MOST RECENTLY, THE $100M ROUND LED BY TPG GROWTH EARLIER THIS YEAR, WHICH CLOSED DURING THE PEAK OF COVID-19! HOW HAS THE FUNDRAISING PROCESS CHANGED FOR YOU’VE SCALED?
Picking the right people and investors to help grow and scale the company is critical. These members – such as Talis Capital – are all equally hungry and share in our mission to solve the identity problem.
In fact, when COVID-19 became a global pandemic and enforced lockdowns came into place, only shortly after did it become a legally binding contract. The funding process proceeded with enthusiasm in large part because of the relevance in what we do becoming a lot more meaningful a lot faster. There were surges in demand for digital services across multiple industries, accelerating the need to verify users quickly to get them critical goods and services. Organisations were expediting digitisation plans, needing to suddenly move from physical access to mostly, if not all, digital access. This will lead to lasting changes in how many consumers access business and services.
FINALLY, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ENTREPRENEURS LOOKING TO RAISE CAPITAL?
Ultimately, show that you are both resilient and able to adapt, and how the changing circumstances can benefit your organisation. Particularly, if you are in the digital and security space, demonstrate how you are relevant and even more relevant in this new global climate.
For earlier startups where there are fewer metrics to show, demonstrating the vision and commitment is especially important and there is going to be a greater challenge.
Practically speaking, it’s best to meet face-to-face. When entrepreneurs are raising capital at the start-up stage, they are selling a vision, the vibe, and the commitment to that vision. That comes across much stronger when in person. Alternatively, when on conference call always speak on audio and visual with the video on, conveying the pitch as clearly as possible.