I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Fenimore Dworak who is changing the way America checks IDs to prevent the devastating legal, financial, and social consequences associated with fake IDs. Susan is the CEO of Real Identities, LLC, a fake ID and legal compliance company based in Silicon Valley. Real Identities is a team of legal and tech experts dedicated to saving the lives and livelihoods of people and companies required to check ID confirm age and identity. The team collaborates with government and industry to prevent the use of fake IDs and to help people navigate complex legal landscapes. Susan has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from UCLA and a Juris Doctor from Santa Clara University School of Law.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Thank you for having me! My professional passion is training and synchronizing large, diverse groups of people to accomplish a common goal. I was lucky enough to have a career I loved as a regulatory analyst and legal compliance expert providing training to over 50 of the nation’s largest law firms and their clients for over 20 years. It all started when I got a call from a friend who asked if I’d like to move from one large firm to another large firm to teach and guide teams through securities transactions. She had me at “no billable hours.” I transitioned from coordinating deals to teaching legal teams and their clients how to prepare for and close deals and also how to comply with regulations through various corporate lifecycles.
For Real Identities, the goal is to teach a broad demographic of Americans in multiple industries how to spot fake IDs and also how to comply with complex laws and regulations related to their business. Reaching large groups of people who need of the same information is challenging, but the right technology and methodology can be employed to effectively deploy training. That’s the genesis of the Real Identities app: Teaching millions of people in government and business, including finance, hospitality, retail (e.g., controlled product including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, pharmaceuticals, firearms, automobiles, etc.), and other industries how to properly confirm identity.
Why did you found your company?
I want to make an impact. As a social responsibility company, Real Identities empowers people to take the lead, to learn, to comply. The app gives people the ability to protect themselves, their companies, and their communities.
Fake IDs create serious legal and financial problems for society. One use of one fake ID just one time can create devastating legal and financial consequences and untold heartache. For example, many don’t know that the Las Vegas shooter allegedly checked into the hotel with a fake ID, or that the 9/11 terrorists used dozens of fake IDs to carry out their plot. We want to prevent any and all damage from the use of fake IDs by empowering and upskilling the gatekeepers on the frontline.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Both training and technology for ID checking are lacking. We plan to change that. Real Identities is disrupting the way millions of people across the US check ID with scanners, books, and cursory training, all of which can be largely ineffective. Today’s fake IDs are so sophisticated they are fooling scanners, including police scanners. Any scanner — machine or app — has limitations. People who check ID can mistakenly rely on machines to confirm age and identity by believing the machine or app will always catch a fake ID. This puts everyone at risk. Also, ID holders may believe their name, address, license number, and other data is safe, when often it is not, putting parties at risk for privacy law violations, identity theft, and more.
Training people is the answer. Human visual perception and manual dexterity are crucial to the ID checking and identity confirmation process. The Real Identities app provides that training. We encourage government agencies that regulate multiple industries to impose training mandates and to provide the app as a resource for detailed and thorough ID checking.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
I started my career at large law firms in Silicon Valley as the tech industry was booming, so I had the privilege of working with some of the most preeminent attorneys in the country and their clients, many of whom were industry moguls who founded some of the greatest companies in the world. In that sense I had nearly countless mentors and tutors.
When I founded Real Identities I called upon the most efficient and effective friends and colleagues for advice. Three people I sought out as mentors ultimately joined the company and are now officers: Jill Finlayson, a brilliant creative with a passion for social impact who is now our Chief Marketing Officer, Sonya Sigler, an attorney and skilled executive coach who is now our Chief Operations Officer, and Roger Slykhouse, a retired rocket scientist-turned-engineer who is now our Chief Technology Officer. Critical to our success is not only their experience and skill sets but their character. We have a strict “No jerks” policy at the company, so everyone on board is a really good human being. Can’t get better mentors, in my opinion.
How are you going to shake things up next?
Real Identities is creating not only a new industry standard but a legal standard for checking ID and confirming identity. By encouraging and partnering with government agencies to mandate training and offering a clear, comprehensive, current, and intuitive app as a resource, people who check ID will be empowered to save lives and livelihoods.
No longer will sliding a piece of plastic (an ID) with technology over half a century old (barcodes and magnetic stripes) through a slot in a machine (a scanner) be an acceptable way to check ID. Human beings, in their critical role as gatekeepers, will be trained to confirm identity and check any ID no matter its format, physical or digital.
Also, we’re declaring May “National ID Checking Month” and preparing for year-round campaigns to reach out and empower millions of Americans.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” — Maya Angelou. Everyone has the potential to be amazing, and often all they need is opportunity and support. That’s what the app is all about — empowering people. Empowering them to take charge, to be a leader, to protect themselves and the people around them, and to be amazing.
“He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.” My father often repeated this Raymond Hull quote and always encouraged me to be independent and to stand up for what I believe. I’ve be challenged a number of times in my career by some very large and very loud opponents, so to speak, but hearing my father’s voice in my ear I’ve successfully stood my ground for what is right and what is good. Best advice ever. Thanks, Dad.
“You must be the change you wish to find in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi. It’s easy to acquiesce in life, but that won’t bring about change. Changes really have to begin with one person, and one person can have a pebble in a pond rippling effect.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Pouring through Outliers, I experienced the following:
During a major construction remodel I became increasingly frustrated with the pace of the work and particularly with two laborers — hired by our contractor out of sheer frustration given a severe labor shortage in the valley — who seemed to work at a snail’s pace, frequently requiring far-too-detailed instructions on woodworking projects.
One day I asked the first laborer to move three very large potted citrus trees, noting that they were dead. “No,” he replied. I looked at him with a bit of wonder. He explained that the leafless, dry, and brittle trees were, in fact, not dead. Within weeks we had leaves and within months we had fruit. Turns out he grew up on a farm in the central valley and had extensive knowledge about agriculture.
That same day the car battery of the loaner car I was driving died. With no cables in the trunk, I was stuck on the hill, late for a meeting, unable to drive. The second laborer signaled me to wait, drove his aging pickup truck next to my loaner car, and produced a set of wires. “Trust me,” he said, opening both hoods. Minutes later my engine was roaring and I made it to my meeting. Turns out he had deep knowledge about building cars and fixing engines.
That night I said to my husband, half-jokingly, “We’re idiots. Here we are with our fancy degrees in our fancy house, and we could not feed ourselves or get off this hill on our own if we tried.” I’m exaggerating because my husband is an incredibly capable and talented man, but the point is that genius does come in all forms, and all these two guys needed was opportunity to advance and improve. We found new jobs for both and they are now soaring.
Talent and genius really do come in all forms, and with the right opportunity and support great success can be achieved.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I’m very proud of our team and our mission, so I’d like to have breakfast with someone who “gets us” and the impact we’ll have on society. I’ve met quite a few VCs in my career and I’d like to meet more, and the right one, specifically. If they happen to be on or close to Silicon Valley, come on up to the house. Even if you’re not close, come on up to the house. We’ll serve breakfast or lunch on the deck overlooking the valley and talk about how we can partner to have an incredible impact on society. My treat, of course. Let’s do this.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Originally published at medium.com