Yoti: the start-up phasing out ID cards

Robin Tombs on his new socially conscious tech start-up, Yoti, which uses biometrics instead of easy to lose usernames and passwords.

A lot depends on sharing personal data, from applying for jobs to gaining entry to a nightclub. But just how secure is it to carry around personal documents?

Robin Tombs founded Yoti in April 2014 provide the world with a free and secure way of proving your identity. It uses facial recognition software to match a selfie to a picture on a government issued identity document. It can also use NFC-enabled phones to read the biometric passport chip for extra validation.

In it’s pre-launch phase alone, Yoti has had over 38,000 installs from over 100 countries.

According to Tombs, the continued success of the digital economy will depend on trust, and Yoti aims to increase trust through identity assurance in a way that favours the general public rather than businesses themselves. Here, Tombs shares his start-up story with GrowthBusiness.

What does your business do?

Yoti is a digital identity platform, that makes it quicker, easier and safer for individuals and organisations to verify who people are, online and in person. For consumers, it is a free app which lets them add their passport or driving licence and prove their age at nightclubs and supermarkets using their phone, securely prove their identity to businesses, such as recruiters and estate agents in seconds, swap verified details with other people, for example on dating and classifieds sites, and login to websites with biometrics instead of easy to lose usernames and passwords.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

A few years ago I was at a Spartan race event in California where thousands of people were queuing up to prove who they were with either their passport or driving licence. It was a long and painful process – and then people had to leave their valuable identity documents in their bags in a big tent for the day.

I spoke to Duncan Francis, my Yoti co-founder, and between us we saw an opportunity to utilise the advancement of biometric technologies and smartphone use to develop a digital identity solution that could be used both online and in person – giving people a much simpler and safer way of proving who they are.

How did you know there was a market for it?

Through my work at Gamesys, we had to meet KYC compliance needs so experienced the difficulties with identity verification within the gaming industry. Duncan had also come across identity challenges through his work in the ticketing and events market. We spoke to businesses from other industries to see whether Yoti could help them and had great feedback from many companies including nightclubs, supermarkets, classified websites, recruitment companies, financial services, gaming operators, as well as charities facing ID challenges. So we decided to start Yoti. Companies continue to join our pilot program each week.

As a recognised Bcorp, Yoti has a great social purpose that I believe is increasingly important in business today. It’s never easy challenging the current ways of doing things but the way we prove who we are is outdated and inefficient. There’s too much reliance on paper documents, despite the growing expectation that you can do everything on your phone. We believe that the public deserve a safer and easier way of proving their identity.

How did you raise funding, and why?

Myself and Noel Hayden (another Yoti co-founder) have funded the majority of Yoti – approximately £20 million to date. Yoti will remain privately funded for the next six to 12 months but as we grow it’s likely that we’ll need to raise funding for our international growth plans.

Describe your business model in brief.

Yoti is a free app for consumers, and it will always be free for them to download, create and use. We charge businesses a small fee to check the identity of their customers and potential employees – however it is free for charities.

Your lowest point was…

Being completely broke for a couple of years, alongside my Gamesys co-founder Noel Hayden, when we started our first digital media business back in 1997.

Your highest point was…

I’m very proud of being part of the team which helped build Gamesys into a world class business. I’m also very excited to be working with a great and very talented team on Yoti, which I believe could be beneficial to millions of people around the world, over years to come.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

Consider whether you’re solving a significant problem for a significant amount of people. It’s so important to ask people about your idea and listen to their feedback. You may think it’s a fantastic idea but you need to know whether there is a demand for it! And don’t give up your day job until you’re sure there is an addressable market willing to pay a sensible price for your product or service.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

We’re on a mission to give people an easier and safer way of proving their identity, so I hope to see millions of people benefitting from our approach to identity in a digital age.

The continued success of the digital economy will depend on trust, and we aim to increase that trust by letting people instantly and securely prove who they are, for free. I hope this will benefit people, businesses and communities around the world.

If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…

In an ideal world, a full time sports watcher covering both my three kids’ sporting events and a long list of UK and global sports matches across rugby, football, cricket, athletics and many more.

If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?

I’d learn to code. I’ve spent most of my career working in the technology industry so I think having a greater knowledge of coding would have been a useful skill.

What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?

Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges. It’s always better to tackle new challenges for yourself, make some mistakes and learn from these, rather than shy away from them. You’ll learn far more by experiencing things for yourself.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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