miiCard is the first Identity Service that can accurately prove a user’s true identity purely online.
In this open and honest conversation with James Varga, CEO and founder of miiCard, we delve down memory lane as he shares how his love for business started, the idea for miiCard, getting traction, challenges, scaling, and advices for young entrepreneurs.
Hi James, thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
I’m doing fantastic thanks. But if you knew me you would know that I’m always doing great…I simply love what I do.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
A true blood Canadian (Vancouver) but having spent most of my career over the last almost 20 years now in the UK. Long enough to get used to the weather (especially up here in Scotland) but not long enough to get an accent. I first got involved with technology and internet, marketing and the ‘web’ with 300 baud modems (a long long time ago now) and have loved it ever since.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I first got into business during the last year of study where following a desire to put into practice what we had learnt in the business and marketing courses we started a direct marketing company. Not the most glamorous of propositions we were focusing on direct mail and fax advertising having built one of the most sophisticated company and director databases in the region. This had a planned 1 year lifecycle and at the end we packed it in having had a fantastic experience. This early indoctrination into startup life has made me a bit of a junkie for it – I simply love the challenges, environment and the people involved.
How did the idea for miiCard come about?
I have worked at a number of companies in the technology and financial fields. Prior to miiCard I was working on a PFM that was essentially the Mint.com of the UK. During my time there, it became apparent that there is a fundamental disconnect between the 'physical you' and the 'virtual you.' This disconnect is very difficult to bridge and that's what creates so much doubt in our online interactions and transactions. I realized that our online selves would never reach their full potential until we could eliminate this doubt and replace it with trust by verifying the identity of the person on the other end of the browser or email.
And that's exactly what miiCard does. We allow individuals and businesses to confirm an online identity to the same level as an offline photo ID check – and you never have to leave the online relationship or transaction to do it. The patented process is infinitely better than username and passwords or any other method of ID on the internet today, and it instantly enables an entire host of never before possible financial, healthcare, social media, online dating, and other service. It saves businesses and individuals time and money – and makes for a much better overall online experience.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
The hardest part, especially in the early days, was building the right team. I’ve always found that this is hardest part of any project and with miiCard we were extremely fortunate. Within the first week of getting our seed funding we grew the team from 3 to 11 people.
How did you initially get traction?
Traction is very difficult especially with a FinTech proposition. As a startup within an industry that is so risk-adverse it’s sometimes impossible to get the traction you need quickly enough to be successful. For us it started with a direct to consumer MVP that focused on C2C interactions…individuals proving their identities to other consumers. This provided huge learnings that we used to improve the product and some initial use cases that we could leverage in the B2B market.
Once there we started with SME’s that could move more quickly and where the pains that we were addressing were more pronounced as a full B2B product set. Now as a complete IDaaS platform we are starting to work with much larger corporates and businesses and are getting the mass market traction we have always aspired to achieve. To make sure these large companies are happy to work with us we have built supporting partnerships, market coverage, use cases and are now focusing on certifications that really set us apart as a proposition.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
We have had funding from a mixture of sources but achieved this at each stage very quickly. These includes our own angles, an angel syndicate, early stage VC’s. We have been very fortunate to get such a supporting group behind us and been able to close our funding rounds in a matter of weeks each time.
What is miiCard? And what are you trying to solve with it?
miiCard is an online identity service that allows you as a consumer to prove that you are who you say you are – purely online and in just a few minutes. This ‘virtual passport’ provides the same level of trust as a physical photoID check and is a direct replacement for these when you have to go through a KYC (Know Your Customer) or AML (Anti-Money Laundering) check when doing things online.
From the consumer’s point of view it’s all about putting you in control and protecting your online identity. First by allowing you to prove you are who you say you are, then allowing to control who sees what information, when and allowing you to centrally manage your personal information. The bonus is that you no longer need to go offline or wait days to do things…you can do it then and there without these delays.
For a business miiCard is about three things. Firstly reducing the dropout rate when you have to ask consumers to go offline, sign documents, scan paperwork or go into a branch. miiCard is seeing a 70% uptake when consumers are given the choice between the two. Obviously the cost of these offline processes are much higher than just using the miiCard service. Finally one of the most exciting benefits we have seen for businesses is the elimination of fraud. Sites when adopting miiCard are typically seeing a 100% reduction in fraud even in the areas of chargebacks or such.
miiCard, by being able to provide people ‘are who they say they are,’ is essentially providing a level of trust in the internet. A level of trust that has until now not been available and has the chance of changing how we do things online especially as we continue to do more and higher value transactions through the digital medium. Hugely exciting is that we already support 10 countries and can allow over 400m people create this level of trust in just the 5 minutes it takes to get a miiCard – not only for financial services but anywhere from accessing your healthcare records, to applying for a job or connecting safely on a social networking or dating site – anywhere you need to be able create this trust.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
We are still early in terms of our growth especially from where we expect to be, based on the current adoption rates, by the end of the year. What has been most important in getting here as to definitely be to iterate…iterate…iterate. To continually improve the service to meet the requirements of both the consumer and the business as we built out this trust infrastructure. But this needs a focus, it need to know which direction your heading in and complete clarity with the benefits that your trying to offer the market. Combining a clear focus, with quick iterations driven by a passion to change the world is really what we are all about.
They are so many challenges that entrepreneurs go through trying to build a company or making it successful, can you share a challenge you faced and how you overcame it?
There are challenges every day – this what it’s all about and really what we live for. If it was easy…everyone would be doing it! In terms of a specific challenge I think our first and greatest one was saving the idea. miiCard was conceived within another startup and it became clear that, with focus being so critical, that having two things to focus on was never going to work. So I pulled the technology and IP out through an MBO and set us off in our own direction.
This was tricky for many reasons but the current shareholders were very supportive and many of them are with us today and even directly involved in this unique journey we are on. Raising the funds in 5 weeks to do this was key along with a strong supporting new board to help drive the business forward.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
This may sound a bit cheesy but every time we overcome a challenge, innovate the service, see an impact in our customers or provide benefit to a consumer it’s a highlight. These happen on a weekly basis which can be intense to say the least but is what we, I, live for.
It’s hugely rewarding to see, even if you take a step back (which is inevitable if you are really honest about yourself), to see you and the team take two steps forward. As long as you are doing that – you’re moving in the right direction and as long as you know where you are headed…you will get there!
How do you define success?
I know I should say it would be an exit but that’s not it. A good friend asked me just the other day ‘Is it about the reward or the journey’ and after a few minutes of pondering I replied with a ‘It’s about the journey to the reward’.
You need both but it is both that really gets you up in the morning. Success for me is living the journey towards the reward but I’m sure that even if there was an exit, I would do it all again in an instant.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the miiCard team in the coming months?
We are squarely focused on market adoption right now so you will continue to see more sites accepting miiCard’s, more use cases, partnerships and maybe even some new features that unfortunately I can’t talk about just now. The more the market adopts miiCard the better it is for our members and that is a core focus of the team – to support, protect and empower our members in what they need to do online.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Just do it. It’s a way of life that you just have to embrace fully, with absolute passion and determination in order to succeed. Don’t let this cloud your vision though – this will kill you. You have to be open and honest at all times to iterate effectively.
My other rule is around assumptions. Assumptions will always bite you in the rear end so just don’t assume. Even if you have a vision test your assumptions, talk to customers, to users….to your staff. If 51% say blue is better than orange, why would you not consider blue even if you assumed that orange was better?
The last pieces of advice I hold close to my heart every day that I have been given. Firstly is the 10,000 hour rule which means that to be great at anything you just have to work at it. Even if you’re nervous, awkward or uncomfortable with presenting – just keep working on it. I feel sick every time I do it but get a little bit better each time I do. It’s a win win!