As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Tombs, a serial tech entrepreneur and investor. Robin is CEO and Co-founder of Yoti, the digital identity app. Prior to Yoti, Robin was Co-founder and Finance Director at Gamesys, one of the world’s leading online gaming operators. He is also a serial angel investor in a handful of technology companies and a trustee of Future First.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I worked at PWC as a Chartered Accountant from 1993 to 1997 in London before co-founding IDM, a web game business, with Noel Hayden. We sold IDM in 1999 and used some of these proceeds to co-found Gamesys, one of the world’s leading online gaming operators. Through Gamesys, I was involved in checking age and identity for over 1.5m UK customers in compliance with UK Regulations, so was well aware of the identity challenges businesses have to deal with.
Then in 2014 at a Spartan race event in California, I saw thousands of people proving their identity with paper ID documents. The process was long, outdated and a potential security risk, with people leaving valuable ID documents in a tent during the race. I thought, surely there’s better way of checking who people are. So myself and my Yoti co-founder Duncan Francis put a team together to develop a digital identity — and that was the start of Yoti.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In 1997, aged 28, I left a secure, well paid job at PWC to join a strapped for cash entrepreneur Noel Hayden. Noel had just founded IDM, a small web development business, based above his wife’s hair salon in Wimbledon.
Within a year, we were broke and my debit card withdrawn. Through perseverance, hard work and some luck, we sold IDM and reinvested some of the proceeds in founding and developing Gamesys, which is now one of the world’s most successful online gaming businesses.
Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
The current identity system is broken — organizations and governments still rely on paper or card-based forms of identity verification, because proving who we are online to a high degree of certainty has been difficult. This process of creating physical forms of identity can take days or weeks instead of seconds, and often results in us sharing excessive amounts of personal information, putting us at great risk of identity fraud. Millions of ID documents are lost every year, and over 1.1 billion people around the world don’t have any form of identification. We want to help fix this.
Yoti is a global digital identity platform and free consumer app that gives individuals a simple, fast and secure way of proving who they are, online and in person.
How do you think this will change the world?
Transparency, trust, privacy and control are the topics surrounding our data today for good reason. We’re building a global identity platform that people can trust around principles of transparency and privacy — changing the way people prove their identity by putting them in control of their data. We’re a company that can’t track your data, never mind sell it. Once your Yoti is verified then the only person that can share your information is you.
Individuals can create a free, digital identity in minutes, and have a secure proof of identity for many areas of their life, including:
Technology continues to gather pace. While people welcome the improved speed, simplicity and cost savings digital solutions bring, society and regulation understandably struggle to keep up with the speed and variety of advancements.
After 25 years of internet growth and the rise of big data, people are witnessing the other side of our connected world. Some embrace this, others fear it. From scams and scandals to a lack of understanding about new technologies, concerns around transparency, trust, privacy and control are understandably mounting.
We want to be the solution to everyone’s fears around transparency, trust, privacy and control. We’re building Yoti around principles which are regulated by an independent Guardian Council — the antithesis of big tech and data companies.
Building the world’s trusted identity platform means building trust, which is not an easy task today for any company. But, by staying on track with our principles and in close collaboration with all of our stakeholders including businesses and governments, we can achieve our goal of putting people in control of their data and fixing the broken identity system.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
Back in 2014, my co-founder Duncan and I were at a Spartan Race at Vail Lake in California. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were thousands of people taking part. But this meant there were big queues — one for registration, another for signing injury waivers where everyone had to show their photo ID, and a final queue for bag drop. It was a long and painful process.
Duncan and I thought there had to be a better way for people to prove their identity, and by the time we got off the plane in London we’d decided, we’re going try and solve this. We’re going to build a digital identity that gives people a better way of proving who they are.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Individuals only need to create their Yoti once and then they have a secure digital identity for life. But Yoti becomes even more useful to them if they can use it in as many places as possible. We’re already working with some fantastic global brands and governments including:
These are just a handful of some of the great businesses we’re already working with, but it’s not just companies who need to adopt and support our technology. For Yoti to be an accepted form of ID in different countries and industries, we must meet regulation in various locations. We’ve spoken with regulators in California, and a variety in the UK including the BBFC and Gambling Commission. The BBFC in particular recognizes innovative approaches to age verification.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?
Never stop learning. Always be up for taking on new challenges, experiencing new things, learning new skills and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. This is particularly important in the tech industry where things move so quickly.
Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?
Consumer owned digital identity!
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?
Over the next 5–10 years, the majority of the world’s 3–4 billion smartphone users will have chosen and created their own consumer digital identity. With more of our lives going digital and our personal data at risk from hackers, it’s inevitable that we need a simpler and safer way to prove our identity and protect our personal information.
Yoti aims to be the world’s trusted identity platform, and make life simpler and safer for millions of people.
How can our readers follow you on social media?