Onfido on track for ID checks

Husayn Kassai co-founded background checking software company Onfido in Oxford and expected it to be used by the HR departments of traditional employers. But Onfido has found favour with many businesses in the sharing economy. He tells Toni Sekinah how it happened.


 In August 2012 three university friends had to get background checks in order to take up internships at a major banks in the City of London. However it was such a labourious process that Husayn Kassai decided it was a problem to needed fixing.

The result is Onfido, an online platform that lets employers perform time and cost-efficient checks on job applicants.

Kassai and co-founders Eamon Jubbawy and Ruhul Amin all experienced the same headache so together they created a solution. They studied at the University of Oxford and were active members of Oxford Entrepreneurs society with Kassai and Jubbawy even serving as president and vice president.

Through Oxford Entrepreneurs – the largest free business and entrepreneurial society in Europe – they contacted human resources departments at companies like BP and Deutsche Bank. The feedback they heard was that traditional background checking services were not satisfactory for employers either.

“We felt that from an applicant perspective it doesn’t seem to be a working model and also from a client perspective there is scope to improve,” he says.

The HR departments complained that paper-based procedures were cumbersome and could take up to eight weeks. Furthermore they were expensive, with each check costing between £150 and £200.

Amin, with a background in engineering, built the first version of Onfido after the trio secured seed funding in mid 2012 from University of Oxford’s Said Business School and Isis Innovation – the university’s software incubator. Isis Innovation has also backed tech startups Bounts, Esplorio and Brainomix.

The first version of Onfido was a basic aggregator of the important pieces of information needed to thoroughly check a person’s background. It pulled data from credit agencies, utility companies and government and police databases.

It also had a dashboard so the employer could track the progress of the checks and view the results.

The current version of the data aggregation engine has those same components but is now more robust and smarter. It can draw in data from around the globe, gather and present the information more intuitively. Machine learning has also been incorporated into the Right to Work check which now includes a visual image scan that analyses passports and other right to work documents to make sure they are genuine.

Onfido offers include more than 10 checks including employment history, education, adverse financial and negative media.

To use the service employers enter the name and email address of the applicant indicating which checks they would like carried out. Onfido sends an email to the applicant with link to a secure online form where they complete their details and give Onfido consent to carry out the checks. Consent is essential for the company to be in compliance with the Data Protection Act.

Onfido cross-references the information provided by the applicant against hundreds of data sources to verify it. All data, checks, records and documents are stored on Onfido’s secure servers and data is fully encrypted in transit and at rest.

The 15-person technology team develops on the Ruby framework and is trying to integrate Elixir and Erlang “two really cool pieces of tech” into the workflow to increase performance and fault tolerance. On the front end, they use Javascript and Ember.js to present the information in a more-user friendly way.

Onfido has now gone global and is doing checks in the US and 28 European countries. Kassai’s plans for continued global expansion and a bigger sales and marketing team will be fuelled by the closing of a series A round in February of £2m. Investors include the founders of lastminute.com, One Fine Stay, Blablacar, and the former managing directors of Google UK and Waterstone’s among others.

Kassai is just 25 and his co-founders are also in their mid-20s but he says their youth was not an obstacle to setting up the business or securing funding as they built their track record in small increments.

“We said ‘Yes, we are young but we can commit to doing a very good job. Just give us the opportunity’ and they did. We told them from the outset what our targets were and exactly how we were going to achieve them and they could see that with every passing month we achieved the targets we had set,” Kassai explains.

Onfido’s competitive pricing and fast turnaround times have made it popular with companies in the sharing economy. Platforms like Handy, a platform for hiring home professionals like plumbers and electricians, need to verify that the people they work with are trustworthy. With checks ranging in price from £10 to £44 using Onfido is more startup-friendy option.

Hassle was Onfido’s first sharing economy client and came on board in early 2013.

“We saw huge growth in that market with the way Hassle was exponentially adding users to its platform and needed this level of verification to be able to build trust into it,” says Kassai.

More sharing economy clients followed and Onfido is now the largest provider of verification services for the sharing economy, which helped build credibility in the eyes of the investors.

Kassai says: “A lot of sharing economy platforms have raised a lot of investment themselves so when the VCs did due diligence on them, they could see that a key enabler for these businesses was Onfido so they either heard about us or knew what we were doing.”

He says starting their business in Oxford had two great advantages; the support infrastructure and access to talent.

Oxford Entrepreneurs, the Said Business School Entrepreneurship Centre and Seed Fund, Isis Innovation Software Incubator and the Student Entrepreneur Network run by the Careers Service provided invaluable support.

Kassai added that as the location of the one of the highest-ranked universities in the world, “in Oxford we had access to a world-class talent pool to tap into for advice, test out new ideas and most importantly, find team members almost a third of the Onfido team of 28 come from Oxford.”

Conceived among Oxford’s dreaming spires and now located in on the edge of the City of London, Kassai and the Onfido team have already achieved their ambition of having a global presence. He sees no reason why European companies in general can’t compete with those from the US.

“If you’re a tech business you have to be ambitious and global. US companies do this very well, they think global and UK and European ones should do the same. The technology in Europe is just as good if not better.”

He goes on “There’s no reason why European companies can’t do as well. It just means you have to learn what works and do the same.”

*This article was first published in March 2015 on TechCityinsider.


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