Think ahead. Always have a plan B and plan C in place just in case your first plan doesn’t pan out. Thinking like this has allowed me to make mistakes and recover quickly to move forward. For every business plan, I think well in advance of what could go wrong or what could be successful, and plan accordingly, so I’m not caught off guard.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Raj Ananthanpillai.
Raj Ananthanpillai is the Chairman, CEO of Endera. Previously he was the CEO of InfoZen since 2004, a high end Cloud and Risk Management services company, which was successfully sold in 2017. Prior to this, he served as the Chief Strategy Officer of ePlus, Inc. (NASDAQ: PLUS), a business process automation and financial services company. Ananthanpillai was also the president and CEO of NetBalance, a venture capital backed multimillion dollar Software Company, which was successfully sold in 2000.
Before founding NetBalance, he held senior executive positions at I-NET, a $300M IT managed services firm, and AT&T. He holds an M.S. in Engineering Physics, an M.S. in Electrical Engineering, and executive education in International Business Management and Financial Planning. He is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), has multiple U.S. Patents and is the author of two books. Raj Ananthanpillai is also a board member for the Wolf Trap Foundation, and on the Advisory Board of the University of Kansas School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me. My background has always been in the triad of business, finance and technology. I am fortunate to have created many successful companies that led me to where I am today. Before starting Endera, I was the CEO of InfoZen since 2004, a high-end cloud and risk management services company, which I later sold in 2017. Prior to InfoZen, I was the chief strategy officer of ePlus, Inc., which is a business process automation and financial services company. I was also the founder and CEO of NetBalance, a venture capital-backed, multimillion-dollar software company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There are a lot of important events that led me to where I am now. My very first job in my career was at AT&T as a member of technical staff. When I first joined the company, someone had told me that it would be at least seven to eight years before I would ever be considered for a promotion. Determined to beat those odds, I proactively sought out opportunities to expand my experience and prove that I could fast-track that timeline. One day, an executive high up in the company stopped by my desk and asked what I was doing. He was intrigued by how I was innovating and thinking outside of the box. About three to six months later, he called me into his office, and I thought, “This is it. I’m getting fired.” But it was the opposite. He was recommending me for a promotion to a different division, where I would manage others and work to create a new system to solve a major problem the business unit was facing with its recent acquisition of another company. In a few months thereafter, the press was interested and interviewed me about my processes, and I also wrote a book about how I was using innovative technologies to solve various problems. Other employees at the company were shocked at how I broke through the traditional process and essentially created a name for myself. Instead of waiting to be promoted again at AT&T, I transitioned to a smaller company to take on bigger management and technology challenges. That’s how I began scaling down in company size and eventually starting my own companies.
Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Our company recently launched Trua, which is the first user-centric, digital trust exchange network powered by patented algorithms that facilitate a Trust Score based on an individual’s verified identity, publicly available court records, and other verifiable data. The score, ranging from 0 to 360, is continuously monitored and updated and allows users to share their TruaScore™ with potential employers to establish credibility and trustworthiness, ultimately replacing the need for traditional background checks and credit-score inquiries that require sharing personally identifiable information (PII). With the constant risk of data breaches that leave personal information vulnerable to risks such as identity theft, this new TruaScore eliminates the need for companies to collect an individual’s PII and outsource background checks to a third party. Instead, Trua lets individuals assemble their own background profile and enables the evaluator to verify them through the Trua Trust Exchange. This transformation ultimately reduces significant regulatory burden and liability risk that employers face every day while providing the individuals the ultimate privacy protection of their personal data.
How do you think this might change the world?
Trua is the nation’s first trust exchange network that empowers people to have a confident and secure relationship with the unknown. The nontraditional gig and share economies are dramatically expanding as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, fluctuations in the economy, and technological advances that make remote hiring and remote work more efficient. In this market, there is currently no universal, standardized trust exchange method that gig and freelance workers can rely on to drive professional growth and personal data protection. Every time they take on a new job or “gig,” the companies ask for their personal information to perform some vetting and then hold on to their personally identifiable information and making them vulnerable to breaches.
We are disrupting the archaic method of verifying a person’s identity and background in order to adjust to the realities of the new digital landscape of our lives. Millions of people are renting vacation homes, hiring caregivers and home services, ordering cars through rideshare, and meeting people from dating apps without confidently knowing if these individuals are safe and trustworthy. It’s time that we drive a societal change in terms of safety, security and personal responsibility, and provide a turnkey digital trust exchange that puts individuals back in control of their personal data and their privacy.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
With Trua, the user has complete control over their data. All user data is encrypted and on blockchain technology and accessible only through multifactor authentication by the individual. Users decide who to share their score with and the length of time it can be viewed by explicit authorization. When users no longer want to use a Trust Score, their data is deleted and never sold to third parties, unlike background-check companies or credit bureaus.
Furthermore, Trua users are able to review and dispute any incorrect data affecting their score, which is atypical during a traditional background check process; applicants are just informed that a background check is being performed on them and it ends there. With Trua, there is a dashboard of information on how users can improve their score over time, similar to how they would monitor and work to improve their credit score.
Trua is truly a bias-free method of confirming an individual’s credibility since employers and hirers only see an individual’s Trust Score, not a lengthy document with underlying data and personal details. The user is in complete and total control of their own data and score, so they don’t have to worry about their PII ever getting into the wrong hands.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
Several years ago, there was a very large company data breach that made news headlines and was detrimental to individuals whose personal information was leaked. The incident got me thinking, why do individuals have to share their personally identifiable information in the first place?
In a world of 24/7 connectivity, it’s time for consumers to really think about how they’re putting themselves at risk by allowing their sensitive data to float around the digital space, and the lasting effects of the consequences. When your personal information gets into the wrong hands, it can be detrimental to your finances, career and reputation.
After the data breach, I felt that much could be solved with a method to prove trust and credibility without exposing PII and putting your sensitive data at risk. This is how the idea of a trust exchange network came to me, and I am excited to see it come to life and become adopted into today’s society.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
As more and more evaluators see the value in this new trust exchange, it will begin to shift how we, as a society, conduct person-to-person transactions. With the constant risk of data breaches, employers should no longer have to bear the overwhelming responsibility of safeguarding every applicant’s or employee’s PII. Trua takes that burden off of employers and allows them to hire smarter, safer and much faster. As the economy recovers post-pandemic, and hiring begins to uptick, this method of screening candidates will streamline processes while allowing individuals to be in total control of their personal data.
In addition, TruaScores are continually updated as new public information becomes available on individuals, eliminating the tedious process of periodic screenings throughout the duration of
their employment. It also provides situation-specific scores for employers interested in specific credentials and relevant history.
In addition to the many advantages of this trust exchange method in workplace hiring, it will also shift the way we conduct business in the gig and freelance economy, and even in situations like online dating. Anywhere and anytime you meet or put your safety in the hands of a stranger, allow someone into your home or around your family, or meet for drinks with someone you met online, you can request a TruaScore from the individual and be able to trust their identity and credibility without asking for any of their personal data.
This is a huge shift in the way we currently conduct peer-to-peer transactions, where studies show that two-thirds of people solely rely on peer references, gut instinct, or word-of-mouth in decision making. Many of the digital platforms that allow you to connect with service providers, such as caregivers or home services, cut the vetting process short, leaving consumers with little to no real trust in a provider’s identity and credibility, which can be a safety or liability risk. Trua is the new way to prove trust in these situations, and the widespread adoption of this trust exchange network will truly transform our society by providing a safe, reliable way to establish trust in any situation.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
We have partnered with advertising agency, R&R Partners, to introduce a fully integrated launch campaign that includes paid media, public relations, creative development, social media, production, and much more.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My parents were very instrumental in my success and pushing me to be better. When I was applying to colleges back in India, standardized tests were not my strong suit. After not passing several times, I was very close to giving up, but my mom insisted I try one more time. I ended up giving it one more go, and that particular admission process included a personal interview, which is where I thrive. I passed and was admitted into the college, and that was a significant turning point for me. I am thankful she pushed me to keep trying. Ironically, later in my career I was asked to teach a standardized test prep course to students. I was a great teacher, but not a great test taker. It goes to show how important it is to find what you’re good at and run with it.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My goal has always been to create employment. Throughout every step in my career, I’ve been creating employment. I’m also doing a lot of charitable work and donating to specific causes. For me, education has always been of high importance, so I established a scholarship at the University of Kansas, my alma mater. The scholarship aids graduate students who are interested in computers and engineering. There is a shortage of candidates in the STEM industry, so I want to help them discover their passion in those fields, just as I did.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Think ahead. Always have a plan B and plan C in place just in case your first plan doesn’t pan out. Thinking like this has allowed me to make mistakes and recover quickly to move forward. For every business plan, I think well in advance of what could go wrong or what could be successful, and plan accordingly, so I’m not caught off guard.
2. Hire smart. Having a good team in place is so important for building a successful business. Looking back on my career, some of the hires that I’ve made didn’t work out, so I wish somebody would have advised me on what qualities to look for in hires to ensure they align with the company. I know now that traits such as passion, commitment to the mission, and ability to work collaboratively in a team environment are essential in a great candidate. But at the same time, if I rely on other people advising me all the time, I’m not learning. It’s important to learn some things on your own. If you’re going to make a mistake, so be it.
3. Surround yourself with successful people. In the beginning of my career, I was ahead of my peers who were stuck in the traditional ways of thinking. So, I made sure that I was always looking up to people at least two to three levels above me. This helped keep me motivated and thinking of the next step in my career. This also gave me confidence to hire people who are smarter than me to be part of my team.
4. Make mistakes. Making your own mistakes is the best way to learn. To grow your business, you must constantly be learning and growing by taking risks. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just learn how to quickly recover and pivot and to use those mistakes to your advantage.
5. Think outside the box. Every company I have created stemmed from me questioning the “norm.” It’s important to keep a curious mindset and always be thinking of how you can innovate, disrupt outdated traditions, and work to make the world a better place.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is a great question, because that’s exactly what I want to do — bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people. That’s why I created Trua, for people “to own their own data and share it on their terms” — is the movement I’m looking to inspire. If I can have a mass adoption where people say, “Wait a minute, why am I giving all of my information to everybody?” Trua allows them to assemble and own their data, get a score, and share it whenever and wherever it’s needed without sharing all of their underlying personal information. It’s a very simple concept, but people have never thought about it, and it’s increasingly important as our digital environment continues to expand.
It’s a similar concept as going to the DMV to get your driver’s license. You go to TruaScore.com to get your score, and there is a verification process to obtain it, just like applying for a license. Once you receive it, you can use it to do all sorts of things, such as getting hired for gig work, renting an Airbnb, and more. My goal is for everyone to have a “Trust Wallet” and use it to establish a relationship with the unknown and be confident and feel secure of those relationships and transactions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The biggest turning point for me in my personal life was at age 19, when I read the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, which was a book about free markets. I grew up in India, which at the time was a mixed economy, but mostly a socialist country back then. So, reading this book opened my eyes to a different way of life. Thirty-five years ago, the book inspired me to set out to achieve my goals by coming to the U.S. legally on a student visa, with a loan of $1,000. Even though I grew up with limited resources, my background motivated me to try harder to get to where I am now.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Trust is the most powerful and sought-after currency in our society today. We have developed a solution that disrupts and solves the challenges of traditional paradigm where third parties determine your trustworthiness without your knowledge. This innovation changes the way we, as a society, conduct hiring and person-to-person transactions, and will ultimately become ubiquitous — everyone will have and demand a TruaScore. There has been dramatic growth in the digital and gig economies, with the continuous development of new mobile apps and on-demand services, including professional services; household services; and asset sharing, such as Uber, Thumbtack, Airbnb and Postmates. These on-demand services are changing the way we live and work, have proven essential during the coronavirus pandemic, and will continue to expand as demand increases. But with the rise of these digital sharing platforms comes particular challenges for both gig workers and hirers, especially in the areas of trust and safety.
Employers and hirers are looking for better solutions for vetting candidates quickly, reliably and continuously, while gig workers face the challenge of standing apart from the rest and proving they are the best choice suited for a role.
When it comes to the process of establishing trust, the exchange of sensitive data during the traditional background check puts an individual’s personal information at risk. Company data breaches are becoming increasingly common in the digital ecosystem, and the industry needs a new method of establishing trust. A solution where individuals can prove trustworthiness without putting themselves at risk. It’s time we drive a societal change in terms of safety, security and personal responsibility.
The Endera leadership has been living and breathing identity-based data for the past 15 years, and we are one of the first to look at the data ecosystem with a person-centric view with privacy at its core. With our extensive background in research and product development on behalf of major corporations and U.S. intelligence agencies, such as Homeland Security, we have been able to flip the entire background verification process on its head and create a Trust Score that is purpose-built for consumers to take ownership and protect their data.
Trua allows users to verify their identity and assemble their background, education and experience, all without having to give their Social Security number or other sensitive information to an employer. TruaScores are continuously validated and verified, so there is no need for additional checks over time — making it an easy, turnkey process for users.
Trua is powered by advanced facial recognition technology and holds six patents for its proprietary processes, visual display and technology. An individual’s records are verified by multiple sources to ensure legitimacy, and are cryptographically signed and stored on a blockchain to provide a chain of custody of all data sources applied in the validation.
A huge shift in the trust exchange economy is happening, and we invite you to be a part of the journey.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Readers can follow along at @TruaScore on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and on Rumble. Also, visit our website to get a full understanding about Trua at TruaScore.com.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.