Named yesterday by the World Economic Forum as its Technology Pioneer 2015, the co-founder of Waterford-based Sedicii, Rob Leslie, outlines how the company could one day be a global brand name associated with privacy. It’s big vision stuff.
Nothing turns out the way you expect it to. At least not for Leslie, who after 20 years in Japan returned to Ireland and, rather than sit back and relax, jumped headfirst into the start-up ecosystem.
His gamble paid off. Sedicii, a previous Siliconrepublic.com Start-up of the Week, has developed technology that enables secure authentication by ensuring the correct password or identity attribute has been entered into a user’s device, without ever exposing or transmitting the password or the concealed personal identity attribute.
On 5 August, the World Economic Forum named Sedicii Technology Pioneer 2015 for its Zero Knowledge Proof Protocol technology.
‘I tried the golf course out, I got bored. This is much more fun, much more stressful. I am working harder every day and the average day I put in 14 hours. That’s the kind of individual I am’
– ROB LESLIE
Sedicii was chosen by a professional jury from hundreds of candidates as one of the 49 selected companies. Notable members of the selection committee included Arianna Huffington, founder, Huffington Post, and Henry Blodget, editor-in-chief, Business Insider.
An electronics engineer by profession, Leslie already enjoyed a successful track record of establishing and growing businesses to considerable scale.
He was part of the management team in Dell Japan that established and grew the business to almost 300 employees and US$300m turnover in four years.
He also co-founded, grew and ultimately sold PTS Japan in 2000, having achieved a US$33m company valuation within five years of establishment. He is also a co-founder of Global Business Register in Ireland, which specialises in sourcing official business information for anti-money laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance services.
Bored with the golf course
Returning to Ireland and Ireland’s south-east, he realised he needed excitement and the start-up journey beckoned.
“I tried the golf course out, I got bored. This is much more fun, much more stressful. I am working harder every day and the average day I put in is 14 hours. That’s the kind of individual I am.”
Like all start-ups trying to convince the world they have a solution to real-world problems, there are good days and bad.
“Every now and then I hit a low point and then something good happens and I’m fully charged again.”
A key part of Leslie’s strategy has been to validate Sedicii against the best of the best and that means taking part in competitions like the World Economic Forum, the BT Infinity Lab in London or TechCrunch Disrupt in New York.
“I take a lot of validation from awards like the World Economic Forum. Sometimes I go home at the end of the day and worry if I’ve been barking up the wrong tree, then there are days where things like this happen and people agree with what we are doing and that gives us the extra impetus to keep going.
“I don’t despair, but sometimes people disagree with our vision, but when you get validation like this, you keep going. I prefer to have the courage of my convictions.”
‘I would love to see Waterford emerge to be an important cog in the industrial complex of Ireland’
– ROB LESLIE
How Leslie came to co-founding Sedicii with Richard Coady stems from the time he was kicking his heels after realising the golf course and early retirement weren’t for him.
He ticked off some items on the bucket list like learning to fly an aeroplane and had already started a new business called Global Business Registry to check for fraud in the corporate space such as money laundering.
Still, he wanted to do more. “I was sitting in the lobby of the TSSG in Waterford flicking through a magazine and read about a project at NUI Galway on what was to become Sedicii.
“There was a lot of work to be done and we proposed it to Enterprise Ireland as a commercialisation project. They said it was a long shot but were willing to back us and we got €140,000 to move it forward to a point it could be tested in a commercial environment.”
In 2013, Sedicii was selected to spend three months on Google’s campus in London as part of the Oxygen Accelerator Programme. “This forced my hand to get more involved in the London fintech space and redefine our proposition.”
A single version of the truth
Sedicii’s Zero Knowledge Proof Protocol enables large organisations to give consumers powers of authentication that don’t require passwords, user names or other identifiers like biometric information, but at the same time still allow consumers to prove to banks and other entities that they are who they are.
This involves a lot of wizardry involving browsers and cloud technology, but the upshot is that it is authentication, only without the need for tokens or identifiers.
“It’s a single version of the truth,” says Leslie. “We enable users to see all the places on the internet that they have been and reduce the instances where their identity could be exposed to theft.
“It is a two-way mechanism where the consumer is at the centre of their digital identity and they can interact with all the organisations they need to – banks, telcos, online stores – and it is like you have been given a magic key that only you can use without having to disclose sensitive information like passwords or phone numbers. It also allows you to see where you are potentially exposed to fraud and take action.
‘This whole area of privacy will explode in the next three years. It is our ambition to be first in line to solve the problem’
– ROB LESLIE
“In this rush to be connected no one is thinking hard enough about the security of individuals consuming services. Many big internet companies are actually in danger of collecting too much data.”
Leslie said that he is in discussion with a number of large companies, including BT and EY, to license Sedicii’s technology to be used on mass enterprise deployments for their customers.
“They see the potential to sell the Sedicii service to their clients. This whole area of privacy will explode in the next three years. It is our ambition to be first in line to solve the problem. We are aligning with global players with a good product that solves the problem.”
Sedicii is also working on an EU level with law enforcement authorities to see how the technology can be applied to protect EU citizens’ identities without exposing their biometric information as they cross borders.
Next up for Sedicii is the World Economic Forum’s ‘Summer Davos’ in Dalian, China, this September, followed by Davos itself later in the year.
“Our plan is to create strategic alignments with key brands with large networks where Sedicii will power the security behind the brand. In that way Sedicii too will become a global privacy brand that consumers will know and trust.”
On a personal level, Leslie’s ambition is to build the company into a major employer in the south-east of Ireland.
“I would love to see Waterford emerge to be an important cog in the industrial complex of Ireland.
“Home is always Waterford for me. I spent 20 years in Japan, travelled the whole world, and sometimes I don’t think that Irish people themselves appreciate that the quality of life in Ireland is excellent,” he concludes.
“There are the seeds of a nice technology community emerging in Waterford when you look at the succes of companies like Nearform and FeedHenry. It’s a nice spot to live and work.”