We talked to Eugene Mintsevich of Svort about creating a secure and anonymous authentication system based on anonymous facial recognition, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Eugene Mintsevich: Thank you, fortunately, we are all fine now. Though in August 2020, I had COVID and was unable to work for 1 week. I could not feel any tastes and smells for the next two weeks. I had to go to the seashore to restore the receptors. From my personal experience, seawater helps to get healthier. But in general, COVID is quite tricky and dangerous, and I wish everyone to be careful, take vitamins and stay safe. Also, I have to say that the lifestyle in Belarus hasn’t almost changed since the start of the pandemic. It is weird, but people here decide for themselves whether to be isolated or go clubbing. Not typical, but it is as it is.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Svort.
Eugene Mintsevich: I’m a 29-year-old Belarusian entrepreneur. I live in Minsk, and almost all our team members are located here. As it normally happens, I haven’t planned to become an entrepreneur and dreamed of becoming an international lawyer or ambassador. I studied international law in Belarus, taking part in different law competitions worldwide. After I got my LLM degree, I realized that being a lawyer is not as romantic as I thought. I was passionate about creating something big and helpful for the people around me. Overcoming enormous resistance, together with my partners, we have created international educational projects with a charity vector. Later, in 2018 I was invited to join an international startup in the sphere of security of crypto assets. Working there, my cousin and I realized that people and businesses are worried about their credentials, data and passwords more than about their finances. We evaluated our expertise, made research and realized that we could create a completely new secure and anonymous authentication system based on anonymous facial recognition. Several nights working on pitch decks, then crucial feedback from potential investors, then again homework and improvements, and finally, we found two investors who believed in us and our technology.
How does Svort innovate?
Eugene Mintsevich: We build the system where “You Are The Key.” In short, each person is unique and is able to be the only and genuine key to any digital lock without the necessity to use any passwords, tokens or smart cards. Just imagine, you don’t need to create logins and passwords and remember them; you don’t need smart cards to enter the venue, only your face. The core of the technology is our AI algorithms which are capable of remembering the user’s face and recognize it each time and provide access or generating special stationary keys from the face (passwords, login, private key, e-signature etc.). But, in comparison with other products in the market, we do not store any biometric data at all: neither photo samples nor biometric vectors that can be subject to reverse engineering. The only thing stored by the business owner or us is a neural network, and even if the hacker gets access to it, it is not possible to obtain any personal information. Hence, our innovation is the following: a) we do not store any biometric data about the users; b) our system can generate a key from your face each time you appear in front of the cameras c) we can assign any key to face biometrics. Thus, each user is the only key he needs for any digital account or lock. Any device with any camera with access to the internet will be able to recognize the user and give him access. The system cannot be face spoofed due to the system of liveness checks.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Eugene Mintsevich: We faced big problems because of lockdowns in many countries. In fact, we planned to start generating revenue early in 2020, but we were paused for 3-6 months due to clients’ internal problems. Many small businesses had to freeze their budgets. Big ones are not easily accessible for small startups like we are. Hence, we started to run out of cash. But, luckily we were accepted into two accelerators: one in Belarus and later in the US, so our investors supported us and provided additional investments to pass through that hard period. That helped us a lot. We adapted changes to strategy and finally executed several contracts, and obtained revenue. Now we have clear goals and plans for future growth. Pandemic demonstrates that biometrics adaptation is essential for businesses to provide remote work and authentication, distance onboarding and touch-free access for the end-users. And if the product can eliminate any concerns about private data storage, this is a great advantage.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Eugene Mintsevich: Yes, I did. Due to several months of slow activity with business development, we realized that we do not have tasks for some personnel. Our engineers had to work hard to improve the technology, but some positions were not necessary for the full time job. We had to let some employees go, and tried to help them with new jobs, as the industry in the country and some companies were growing fast and required new talents. Fortunately, in this case, we had win-win outcomes. Also, we exercised a plan to outsource several professionals for a definite period of time to the other companies to perform urgent tasks. This way we obtained a chance to save those talents with us and keep their salaries high.
My conclusions are the following:
a) You should always have plan B and C for your business with regard to employees’ occupation and cash flow
b) Try to save talents and professionals as it’s not easy to find them again. Find extra work for them from outside to keep paying them when their company activity is on pause.
c) Your team is the main force that is capable of building a super company with you. Do your best to keep them happy and motivated, in case you can’t advise them of another good position where they could grow and stay happy. People trust you, follow you, thus leaving them alone in a difficult situation is not an option.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Eugene Mintsevich: I can’t say that we are very good at this right now. We are trying to keep very close contact with our customers via any convenient tools, mainly messengers. Urge them to provide feedback on the integration we’ve made. We use Microsoft Teams to handle everything. But, frankly speaking, everything is ahead; with the growth, we need to find efficient tools for that purpose.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Eugene Mintsevich: Not at all.
Your final thoughts?
Eugene Mintsevich: Everyone who started a business knows that it is not an easy walk. First, you need to know that you and your company must be flexible and capable of adapting new plans and performing them. Nothing is stable, so it’s important to be prepared for different situations, and that’s how you can be less shocked in tough cases. Follow your plan and amend it fast if necessary. And take care of your team, because healthy internal culture helps to survive any unpleasant moments in your company’s history.
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