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Smile Identity: The Fingerprint of the Digital Era


Since the digitalization of bank accounts, or digitalization in general, the world has experienced a wide variety of fraud and cyber thefts.

In the beginning, programmers weren't that experienced in their field, so their platforms were semi-safe. However, it got to a point where it was crucial to develop high-functioning systems for the sake of safety.

Countries like Nigeria are still stuck with old software, which makes it almost impossible to lead a normal life. Thus, Mark Straub and William Bares decided to take a step further to this problem and started a company that essentially includes everyone to get safe access to the digital and modern world.

The central idea of Smile Identity is allowing their customers to get access to opening bank accounts and also providing companies a platform to validate true identities just by taking a selfie.

Their big journey is challenging because they strived to catch the goals that others didn't dare to pursue for a long time. Read more here:

The Portraits of the Entrepreneurs As Young Men

Mark Straub was born and raised in the US. Even as a child, Mark loved to go out, enjoy the outdoors, and travel around the world to get introduced to different cultures. As he saw different destinies globally, the poor and the rich, Mark was driven to investigate what models are best for fighting world poverty at a very young age. Thus, this passion stuck with him to adulthood. But, as Mark grew up, he also sparked a great interest in finance.

William Bares was also born and raised in America. He was among the children who were raised when the first computer appeared. However, William was in his teenage years when he got his first computer. Even from the very beginning, he became highly interested in how it operated. Hence, this interest was the determinant for his choice of studies.

Businessmen in the Making

In the new millennium, Mark swam into the business waters at the University of Virginia, where he pursued his dreams and studied BS Commerce. Four years later, Mark held his well-earned diploma after finishing his studies in time.

Before Mark became an entrepreneur, he was an investor.

In 2006, Mark switched from banking into microlending because he saw the potential of market-based models to combat global poverty. Thus, he joined Lok Capital in New Delhi as a young employee and the only American at the time.

Mark believed that business plays a leading role in solving global poverty. For that reason, he decided to invest in startups. Also, Mark was a member of Draper Fisher Jurvetson Growth Fund. While he worked there, Mark invested in e-commerce, consumer media, and technology.

This passion Mark combined for the emerging markets, technology, and socioeconomic change by joining Vinod to co-found Khosla Impact. To ease the occupied business mind, Mark was also a saxophonist virtuoso. Surprisingly so, for more than a decade, he used to play in various bands.

William, on the other hand, was always nosy about technology and computers. Thus, to satiate his curiosity, he enrolled at the City University of New York, where electronics became his cup of tea for life. While he was at faculty, William was among the brightest students. During the last semester, he was asked to teach programming by the school's authorities.

Slowly but surely, William was collecting his prolific experience throughout the years from various positions. He practiced his knowledge at Willow Peripherals as a chief technical officer, a company he co-founded. Later on, he worked for 14 years as Chief Consultant at StarShip Networks. However, he changed positions at several firms where he singled out again. During these years, William was improving his greatest forte - the architectural design of systems and software.

The Endangered Countries to Digitalization

Digitalization is evolving every day, but if we are three steps behind, some countries are even farther away. Ultimately, it's impossible to catch the modern world in the slow run.

Africa had aged software, making a fruitful soil for hackers to break into the system and rob people's identity. On the other hand, they struggled with proving identification. This was a significant problem because people experienced many stressful situations like mistaken arrests. Additionally, policemen weren't able to entirely confirm the face. So, the reality of African natives was frustrating and unfair.

Once Mark had to visit Africa for business trips, he faced trouble proving identification for the smallest matter. He bought airplane tickets from Africa with his visa card, just like any other time. But, when Mark reached the airport, his tickets were canceled last minute because the airport system could not identify the person. When he realized what Africans have to deal with daily, he was triggered to do something about it.

Therefore the team conducted deep research in Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania to realize the problem. They realized that there's a clog in the process of proving identities due to various reasons like low-quality photos or inconsistent updating of information. Thus this team decided to take matters into their hands and facilitate the problem of proving identities.

Driving the Startup Bumpy Highway

The initial challenge was a salty one. The founders had to invest around $4 million in creating the face validation system. Creating a system of face validation is not a piece of cake because they had to start from zero. However, the team was firmly determined to pursue this mission.

With a team of six different African countries and US prolific Ph. D candidates in machine learning like Dawy Uwizera and two specialists Mellon Kigali and Catalin Voss from Stanford University, managed to create reliable software. The difficulty, in the process, was when they had to make the software mobile-friendly for Androids which ran on outdated operating systems and often had unreliable connectivity. However, once they created the software, other concurrent problems emerged.

The most significant obstacle they faced was building relationships with the African authorities. Mark, and the then Kenya team manager, traveled countless times back and forth in Nairobi to present their idea. The entire process of introducing the concept was exhausting because they had to wait for 17 months just for idea authentication. This obstacle was a great temptation for the founders because they sacrificed their time and energy on a pending project for almost two years. However, they didn't kneel and pursued their idea to the end. After they got their idea approved, Africa was officially one step closer to the modern world.

Africa Is a Step Closer to Modern Life

Smile Identity offers the most prominent Know Your Customer (KYC) solution with implemented Government ID validation allowing entrepreneurs and institutions to validate their users.

The team joined all of this information into one and introduced the Smart Selfie™ – mobile SDK with embedded ID validation, face recognition, and anti-spoof checks. They upgraded the software with APIs that permit verified fin-tech to validate an ID or compare the face to the photo on an ID card or government photo file. Over time, the team created a web portal so that risk managers at any bank will be able to confirm people's identities in just a few seconds and run a face recognition check without writing a single line of code. The team behind Smile Identity unclogged the process of proving African identities by introducing their unique software - created specifically for the African people and identities.

Thanks to Smile Identity, Africans will no longer struggle to prove their identity due to the low-quality photos, with what they are disputed to enjoy the modern life.

During the first round of funding, Smile Identity raised $100.000 in the first round of funding. The company had one lead investor who contributed to their realization of the idea, and that's 500 Startups. As for the team working behind, currently, 24 employees are working for Smile Identity. The company has $8million in funding.

Smile Identity is headquartered in Oakland, California, USA.

Smile Identity Today

Going from zero to a hundred, the Smile Identity team finally invited Africa closer to modern life. This company improved the lives of Pan Africans.

The hard work of structuring the entire software from zero, sweating in waiting rooms, and the gazillion times of repeating the America - Africa relation finally paid off in the end. Deeds are heard the loudest, and that's what got Africa's most trusted companies, including Paystack, Chipper, Paga, Twiga, and many more, to put trust into the company.

Smile Identity is not just an entrepreneurial story; it's a story about determination, motivation, and believing in your idea. Temptations are always there, but not kneeling before them makes you invincible - Smile is proof of it!