“Maintaining a constant focus.” With Mitch Russo & David Thomas

Obsess over your customers. Maintaining a constant focus on getting customer feedback can be a big differentiator. You won’t be able to stop other SaaS companies from getting into the exact same business you’re in — the way you’ll stake your claim is by taking care of your customers and keeping them happy. As part […]

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Obsess over your customers. Maintaining a constant focus on getting customer feedback can be a big differentiator. You won’t be able to stop other SaaS companies from getting into the exact same business you’re in — the way you’ll stake your claim is by taking care of your customers and keeping them happy.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Thomas, CEO and Co-Founder of Evident ID.

David Thomas is a highly accomplished cybersecurity entrepreneur. Having held key leadership roles at market-pioneers Motorola, AirDefense, VeriSign, and SecureIT, he has a history of introducing innovative technologies, establishing them in the market, and driving growth — with each early-stage company emerging as the market leader. Today, as CEO of Evident, he and his co-founders help businesses quickly and accurately verify individuals’ identities and credentials without the risk and liability of handling sensitive personal data.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Iwas recruited at a young age by the Department of Defense, and I’ve been at the forefront of cybersecurity ever since. I worked for several security industry leaders, like a company that developed firewalls as corporations began connecting to the Internet, one that pioneered web security as online shopping emerged, another that focused on wireless security as Wi-Fi and smartphones became ubiquitous, and finally, a security sensing networks provider when analytic technology went mainstream. This collective experience has led me to where I am with Evident, a leading identity and verification platform that protects personal data through encryption and minimization.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

I began to notice how much of my life was moving online, and how much more often I was dealing with complete strangers over the Internet. I realized that in order to do what we’ve typically done face-to-face, we’d need to know more about each other. The “A-Ha!” moment came when I was selling a computer online. I shipped it to a guy who sent me money for the valued item, but also sent me the shell of the computer before he removed the funds he had deposited into my account. I figured there had to be a better way to verify this digital consumer, and to protect my information in the process.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The number one quality of any entrepreneur is perseverance and grit. There isn’t just one story about hard times when we first started building Evident…there’s tens of stories! You just have to be ready for all of the legitimate challenges that are presented to you every single day. Perhaps most difficult to contend with is flaky beta customers who don’t move on your timeline at all. If you’re aggressive and driven, you’ll move quickly, but those first few customers are not moving as fast. If your beta customers are moving significantly slower than you are, it can make you feel blocked and make you start to wonder if they really want what you’re selling. Maintaining patience and confidence, and our drive toward seeking excellence are what kept us moving forward when times were tough.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going great, given how many countries our platform is available in and how many companies we’re servicing. We achieved 300% year over year growth last year, and we can attribute that to the fact that we never view success as a destination. Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of wondering, “when will I become successful?” as if it’s the finish line at the end of a marathon, and that isn’t a particularly healthy school of thought. I see success as something you experience throughout the journey that one goes through when building a startup. If you see success as the “finish line” you’ll end up being let down more often because you can’t celebrate the little wins along the way. It will never feel like you can move fast enough or hit a perfect stride. A better way to look at success is to determine where you should be at this very moment, and how you’re performing against that. That’s the winning mentality.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

In the company’s infancy, we took our entire team (roughly 15 or so people) on a grueling cave trip that ended with someone having to be airlifted out of the cave by rescuers. We took too many people, and we got too deep into the cave with the guides. The lesson I learned was that as you get bigger as a company, you’ve got to change how you have fun and blow off steam.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We’re the only identity and credential verification platform that uses encryption and data minimization practices, because we don’t want our customers to risk exposure to their users’ sensitive personal information. One of our earliest customers initially gave us this long speech about how nobody could ever do what they needed. They wanted to verify individuals to provide local experiences for tourists, but the catch was that they didn’t want to collect tons of information from all of these people, as they were subject to GDPR and other global privacy regulations. The company thought it couldn’t be done without amassing loads of personal data, and now we’re verifying experience providers in 200 countries and territories, without them ever having to see or handle that data.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

If you’re having fun, you’ll do your best work. You still need to take the work and your job seriously, but always remember to enjoy the journey. In essence, you’ve got to love the struggle, and be comfortable being uncomfortable, but above all, take time for yourself and your family.

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?

Jay Chaudry took a chance on me as a young kid, and brought me into his startup. He taught me over two startups — VeriSign and AirDefense — how to run my own startup aggressively, and he’s continued to be available to me, anytime I reach out for advice. There are a few others who’ve helped in similar ways after Jay gave me my first big break — Mike Potts and Tom Noonan have both had a tremendous impact on my professional career, and helped get me to where I am today.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Evident’s platform has millions of users, as we have more than 100 customers that are verifying several hundreds of applicants and individuals daily. The steps Evident has taken to get here are a relentless focus on user experience, working towards the goal of being the best and easiest verification platform for both individuals and businesses, and maintaining a proper balance between friction and security, so that businesses are able to onboard individuals faster and safer than ever before.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We contract with businesses who pay us a committed amount each month. We have considered and experimented with other options based on what our business customers need, but this is the most simple and reliable model.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Have an initial focus on a narrow customer segment. We initially found that the sharing economy was in desperate need of better trust and safety, and because marketplace companies were onboarding providers and new users at an alarmingly fast rate, we began focusing our efforts there.
  2. Implement a simple pricing model. Our transparent pricing model allows our customers to pay for a higher level of identity and credential verification assurance, or save money with a lower level of assurance, but with optional step-up verification to catch fraudsters. A simple pricing model can offer the best of both worlds, and appeal to a wider range of prospects.
  3. Think outside the four walls. You’ll stay focused as best you can and come up with lots of ideas that you think are great, but don’t forget to test those ideas outside of the four walls of your SaaS business. Which brings me to my next point…
  4. Obsess over your customers. Maintaining a constant focus on getting customer feedback can be a big differentiator. You won’t be able to stop other SaaS companies from getting into the exact same business you’re in — the way you’ll stake your claim is by taking care of your customers and keeping them happy.
  5. Love the struggle. People who build businesses aren’t just in it for the long-term success, they do it because they love the struggle of creating something from nothing, especially if they’re genuinely passionate about it. Those who enjoy and appreciate the journey are more likely to build a successful app or SaaS business.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

I’d love to start a movement that would give everyone (who wants it) a simple way to interface with the digital world and represent themselves honestly so they can have direct access to services and goods, both locally and globally.

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