ShowUp: Jeremy Newman

By taking a special type of selfie, ShowUP allows consumers verify who they're dealing with - without need for passwords or security questions

Name: Jeremy Newman
Company name: ShowUp
Location: London
Date launched: 10/10/16

Tell us what your business does:

ShowUp has been created to make people’s lives easier and, most importantly, safer, by using natural visual verification instead of passwords to defeat identity fraud. The business has been founded on the simple principle that organisations don’t know people – people know people. We believe the general public can fix our broken identity system, and our software helps them do that.

By taking a special kind of selfie, ShowUp verifies identity claims in real time using people to achieve this. As a result, users don’t need to provide passwords, answers to security questions or anything else that can be hacked – they just ShowUp. The social collaboration and crowdsourcing activities we have built around a ShowUp selfie will tell organisations when they are dealing with an impostor instead of their customer.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

In the past 25 years, my co-founder Chris Smithies and I have worked together at the intersection of computers, people, and digital evidence of their presence and their intent. In other words, electronic signatures and digital identity.

We realised that we needed to go back to the source of identity. This meant creating a system which harnesses the natural ability of people to recognise one another, eradicating the need for a password infrastructure. And this is what we’ve built.

How did you know there was a market for it?

I knew there was a market for a new solution to identity verification through my experience at previous companies and continuous research into the topic. Fraud is already costing the UK £193bn a year, with this figure set to increase if nothing changes.

Technology has now advanced so much, that for the first time, everyone has a camera connected to the internet. This development has made our solution possible. As a team, we have used our expertise within the sector to create a permanent solution to the problem.

What were you doing before starting up?

After leaving Acorn computers in 1990, I launched my first software venture, a company called Peripheral Vision. I saw computerised recognition of handwriting as the next logical step on from Optical Character Recognition (OCR) that I had worked on at a previous company called Formscan. I teamed up with Chris Smithies and we soon found ourselves becoming part of the ‘pen computing revolution’ in Silicon Valley in the early 1990s.

This experience led us to developing a biometric signature verification package called PenOp, and grew the business through several rounds of venture capital. In 1994 I went to New York to set up US operations, and spent five incredibly intense years building the business.

I learnt through my experience at PenOp that when organisations ask people to verify themselves with passwords, they are unable to tell the difference between a customer and an impostor. Technically, this is true with any type of data, whether password or biometric.

Now, as identity fraud is becoming increasingly common, businesses are asking consumers for even more complex passwords, ‘memorable’ information and personal data than ever. However, this exposes people to risk as it drives fraudsters to obtain and trade the data. But how else can you prove someone’s identity? This is when we decided to launch ShowUp.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

My upbringing and early career made running a business a natural expectation and it comes with the territory of being an inventor. The urge to solve problems in new ways is almost a curse – there are much easier ways of making a living! But none are as creative or stimulating.

How did you raise the money?

We self-funded the business in the initial stages while we developed a web-based prototype and filed for patent protection – which was expensive but essential. We then did a formal seed round under the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme rules, which is when we made the important transition from a couple of founders to the full board of senior executives that we have today.

The next round will likely be Enterprise Investment Scheme, but we like to talk with all kinds of investors to learn how our growth plans fit with their particular appetite for risk and reward.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

Organisations pay usage-related fees to ShowUp to have fraudsters excluded from the channel to their customer. People join the network for free. Members protect their nearest and dearest from identity fraud, who in turn do the same for them. Everyone benefits – except fraudsters.

Although people form the engine of our solution, it is aimed at helping businesses protect (and so retain) their customers. Banks, businesses and government departments are using an approach to identity fraud detection which they know to be flawed. If they don’t adapt to today’s threat landscape, they will lose customer trust and the reputation of their business will suffer.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

It’s not unusual for a new solution to be created, to solve a persistent problem which overturns established thinking, and our solution does exactly this. The whole world is conditioned to look at problems and judge solutions against what has been tried in the past.

So the reaction to the password problem and increased online identity fraud wasn’t to come up with something better, but just to do more of the same. Longer passwords, more complex security questions and then more passwords.

So our challenge is to get people to be open to a contrarian approach. We overcome this natural resistance by helping organisations gain confidence in our proposition through a series of small experiments conducted away from their normal base of customers.

What was your first big breakthrough?

Getting our first patent granted was a significant milestone, but we made a major step forward when I joined forces with the company’s CEO Richard Rundle. The issues we are solving at ShowUp resonated with him due to similar issues he experienced at BAA plc as its CIO, where the identity of passengers moving through an airport terminal was of utmost significance.

He really understood the message of ShowUp and liked the way we had solved the problem by turning it on its head, and that our solution was secure yet simple for users. This then led Richard to reaching out through his network of contacts for potential investors who could also help us develop the business.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Recruit others to help you grow the business. Hiring a CEO, COO or CTO will help to not only spread the work load, but free you to execute your vision for the company. Everybody has their own skills and attributes, and using those unique traits can help develop and grow your business.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

In five years’ time I’d like ShowUp to become established as a leading identity fraud solution for businesses, and to see that we have succeeded in putting people at the top of the value chain in identity.

With continued product development, ShowUp will be utilised by banks, retailers and social media sites to eradicate the need for passwords and therefore eliminate identity fraud.


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