It’s convincing, until you look at the From address, view headers, and mouseover the button to discover a bit.ly link
An astonishing proportion of the web server traffic from which you’ve just fetched the page you’re reading now is scriptkiddies attempting to break in through brute-force password attacks. An even bigger problem for high-volume transactional sites like Paypal and Kiwibank is phishing, where attackers email you and lure you into entering your login credentials into a bogus site. The obvious and common solution to this problem is mandatory two-factor authentication (2FA), but it makes for a clunky user experience and is laborious to implement.
Auckland-based ThisData lets site owners take a different approach: continuous authentication. Only ask people to validate their identity if and when there’s a reason to doubt they’re really who they say they are. So for example if I have a usage pattern of logging in from the same city, with the same IP address, on the same browser, using the same cookie set, and do the same again, there’s an extremely good chance I am who I claim to be. On the other hand, if I suddenly log in from a different continent using a different operating system, or through TOR, you might want to double or triple check my credentials.
Pricing starts at $99/month for 500 users, and goes up in usage tiers. They’re considering introducing a free usage tier to get people going. But it’s early days, and they’re still refining the pricing model.
Founder Rich Chetwynd has run the full startup cycle before. After founding educational software company Litmos in his bedroom, building it into an international concern, and selling it to US-based Callidus Software four years later, he decided it was time for a well-deserved break.
“I got bored though,” he says, “I wanted to ride the rocket again”.
So Chetwynd started Revert.io, a cloud backup solution. But very quickly he recognised that backups are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, and the much bigger and less well served opportunity was to prevent break-in and data loss in the first place.
He pulled in CTO Nick Malcolm, one of NZ’s top Rails devs (and erstwhile cofounder of 2011 Startup Weekend Wellington legend usnap.us), and the dream team was born. You’d have to call the change from Revert.io to ThisData more of a reboot than a pivot, but it was a definitely the right move.
Chetwynd’s rocket is about to reach orbit. After the reboot in February 2015, they went on to raise $1.2m from a number of local and offshore angels alongside the Punakaiki fund, did a zoom-out pivot from working specifically with Google apps and Salesforce in February of 2016 to bringing this intelligence to any app. They’re now monitoring over 10,000 end users for a variety of customer types, and are about to onboard another 50,000 for their first big enterprise. They’re architected for scale on AWS, and ready to go much, much bigger.
As great as it sounds, they’re not at the stage yet where the solution sells itself. Building your customer base and distribution is always hard work, especially from New Zealand. Chetwynd spends roughly half his time in the US, and the rest of the time running the team from GridAKL.
Their overarching mission is to make the Internet a safer place for everyone. There are hundreds of thousands of insecure apps and sites in the wild. Chetwynd’s asks app and site owners to ask yourselves, how valuable is the data is your app or site protecting, and how adequately are your users protected?
Ask yourselves: how valuable is the data your app or site is protecting, and how adequately are your users protected?
If you’re the owner or investor in a transactional app or web site and your team is not protecting your company against attacks using a solution like ThisData, I’d want to know why.
The bottom line is that you can put on a sad face if you’re a script kiddie or spear phisher, but the rest of us will sleep easier at night.
Legendary seed investor and SoftechVC founder Jeff Clavier looks for companies to invest in that have “three asses”: A smart-ass team with a kick-ass solution in a big-ass market. ThisData are on a steep trajectory, with an all-star team with a simple-to-implement but difficult-to-replicate solution to a highly painful problem in a massive market.
Watch out universe, here comes Rich Chetwynd riding the ThisData rocket.
Back in August 2014, a standout team won the competition at Startup Weekend Education in Wellington, solving an important societal problem – raising the financial literacy of school children. Over the weekend, they built their Minimum Viable Product (MVP), a gaming platform for kids to earn virtual currency (funny money) at school, and then save, invest, trade, loan, borrow, buy virtual goods, and generally learn how to work with money in a safe environment. They validated the riskiest assumptions in their plan, explored partnerships with banks, and brought on their first customers.
Since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength. They went on to win the BNZ Webstock Startup Alley competition in early 2015, launched in New Zealand schools, and are now used by over 7,000 students in nearly 500 classrooms, mostly in NZ, but with a handful overseas.
Even more remarkable is that this growth has been driven mainly by word of mouth and teacher referrals within the school system. They haven’t needed to take in any investment. Other than the $20K prize they won at Webstock, they’ve had no non-revenue cash inputs. They’re currently profitable, and they continue to grow at a good clip.
Banqer lets students earn virtual money through a number of means. The most common method is to get rewarded for completing tasks, doing good deeds, and exhibiting responsible behaviour. For example, if you’re want to be the classroom rubbish monitor, you might have to apply for the job, and then you’ll get paid in virtual currency. Students can spend their virtual money on privileges, such as selecting a movie to watch in the last week of class, preferential classroom seating, or “owning” virtual goods. Some teachers even let kids buy their way out of doing non-critical homework. Students save their money to earn interest, or invest in their classmates’ virtual businesses. How students can earn or spend their virtual currency is entirely at the discretion of the classroom teacher.
In 2016, one of Banqer’s main focus is building partnerships with players in the financial services and allied industries. As an example, working with their partners in the real estate sector, they recently released a real estate module. Students can buy and invest in virtual properties, for which they might need to take out (virtual) mortgages, and then earn rental income to pay off their borrowings. They might need insurance though, in case of a virtual natural disaster like an earthquake or volcano eruption.
Banqer’s revenue model is simple: after a 30-day free trial, students pay $3.50 per term, which drops to $2 if they sign up for multiple terms. They have a retention rate of over 70%.
Banqer have just announced a partnership with Kiwibank, which will cover the costs of Banqer for students whom the subscription fee would present a financial hardship. Good on you, Kiwibank, for helping uplift the financial literacy of those who might need it most.
Kendall Flutey is the inspiring leader who pitched the idea at Startup Weekend, pulled together an all-star team, drove progress, and went on to bootstrap her startup to widespread adoption, profitability, and international expansion over the last year-and-a-half. She has a fascinating back story, which you can learn more about at inner.kiwi. Kendall is a contemporary hero: she received a BCom in accounting and a Masters in Entrepreneurship from Otago, learned to code in the first cohort at Enspiral Dev Academy, cut her chops as a dev at Abletech, and founded her first startup, all before her 25th birthday.
Overseas expansion is squarely on Banqer’s radar in 2016. Due to similarities in the school systems, it will be straightforward to enter the Australian market.
But the big opportunity is the USA. As part of the Webstock prize, Kendall spent some time based at the Kiwi Landing Pad exploring the US market. She learned that financial literacy is more of a focus in high school in the US, and that group is where the real opportunity lies. As it stands, the current Banqer product is designed for primary school students, and it would be difficult to extend the product in a way that both primary and secondary students would find suitable. So much of the focus in the second half of 2016 will be building a new product from the ground up, suitable for high schools.
The past 18 months has been a huge rollercoaster ride for Kendall. Her advice to entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is not a walk in the park. I question what I’m doing all the time. Taking risks and dealing with uncertainty are daily activities, and go hand-in-hand with sleepless nights, self-doubt, stress, foreign situations, pulling yourself out of your comfort zone, fulfilling the expectations of strange audiences, and laying down the train tracks as you’re driving on them. But it’s all worth it when you can see the positive change you’re making in the people around you.
You can help raise the financial literacy of our tamariki in New Zealand, and help the Banqer team by recommending Banqer to anyone you know in the education system. If people learned how to manage money from an early age, our society might be a much happier place.