First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Nicos Vekiarides: We are doing well, all things considered. While the transition to working remotely hasn’t been a major shift, COVID-19 has certainly resulted in an adjustment to how we’ve been living our lives since March. Having kids back in school this fall, we want to be careful about a second wave, and we are taking extra precautions with my mother, who is an assisted living home. While we have largely adjusted to the “new normal,” we certainly hope we can get back to the “old normal” over the next several months.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Attestiv.
Nicos Vekiarides: I tend to identify as a serial entrepreneur these days. This is the 3rd startup I’ve worked on along with my co-founder and CTO, John Bates. My background was largely technical before I shifted to the entrepreneurial world, starting and running startup companies. Our last two companies were in enterprise and cloud data storage. With much of that data storage market commoditizing, we thought the time was right to take a deeper look at the data we were storing, specifically, whether it was authentic or not.
The world in 2018 felt markedly different. The threat of Deepfakes started to invade social media, and disinformation and fake news had become more prevalent. For those reasons, we were inspired to start a company that provides the authenticity of digital media: photos, videos, and documents. While the social threat of fake media is well understood, the IT threat has emerged for organizations that rely on digital media. Industries like insurance, public safety, and IoT make actionable and meaningful decisions based on digital media. At Attestiv, we seek to make that process of using digital media easier and safer.
How does Attestiv innovate?
Nicos Vekiarides: We combine best of breed technologies in blockchain and AI with our patent-pending technology to make digital media virtually tamper-proof. Our processes work for customers who use specific applications to capture digital media in real-time or simply prefer to validate the authenticity of media in their back-end systems. Either way, we protect our clients from fraud and harm. When you look at an industry like insurance, where there is over $40B in annual fraud in the US for property and casualty alone, we can offer rapid time to value and help accelerate digital transformation.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Nicos Vekiarides: Like most of the world, we had to move to home-based offices, with our physical office only getting limited use. While this was not terribly disruptive for us, our clients in insurance spent a lot more time and effort mobilizing their established workforces, and that certainly impacted our business earlier in the year.
However, if there’s a silver lining, COVID has accelerated our clients’ initiatives to move their businesses to self-service and touch-less models. To that end, Attestiv provides a foundational platform for securing self-service transactions submitted by customers, like insurance claims, providing tamper-proof self-service inspections without the need for sending an inspector. How can a company have confidence in self-service transactions if the data received is questionable? By validating and securing the data, Attestiv enables companies to not only meet their self-service initiatives but also allows them to accelerate them.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Nicos Vekiarides: Often, as a startup founder, I feel that difficult choices are part of the job. For companies starting from nothing, it’s rarely a straight path to a successful outcome, and it always involves adjusting to bumps in the road, some more tumultuous than others. Regardless of what external factors exist (for instance, my last company was started in the midst of a recession), the goal is to stay resilient and adapt to the needs of our market. Ultimately, some brilliant ideas and a certain degree of effort may go by the wayside when there is a seismic market shift or economic uncertainty. In such cases, you have to stay focused and nimble. If you have to pivot, don’t look back at sunken costs, but instead stay focused on the opportunity ahead. Always strive to keep your business relevant. Listen to advisors and industry experts — and remember that one opinion only counts as one opinion, no matter how convincing.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Attestiv in the future?
Nicos Vekiarides: In these times, I think everyone has to find their inner strength to help maintain perspective. It’s all too easy to get burned out at work or get overly distracted by what is going in the world. Truth be told, many of us feel we are doing three times the work for half the results. Clearly, everyone needs some escape to keep themselves going physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc. All of us face numerous challenges beyond what is always apparent.
From a workplace perspective and since the quarantine, we have increased the frequency of our all-hands meetings, including a half-hour social meeting every day. We also make sure we share daily accomplishments with the whole company, whether it’s new customer opportunities, wins, or validation of our company direction. It never hurts to over-communicate.
At Attestiv, we view ourselves as a leader in helping bring order to a new world where it’s becoming very difficult to believe everything you see and hear. We want to emerge as one of the biggest successes post COVID-19, and we are very passionate about what we do.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Nicos Vekiarides: While there is a small handful of startups in this space, we define a new product segment. Today, most companies are either (a) ignoring the problem of fake media, hoping that it will go away, or (b) attempting to cobble manual ways to prevent it from causing fraud or reputational damage. While the former is a bit of a recipe for disaster, the latter can cost a lot of time and money without providing the needed results. Moreover, the problem of fake media is a moving target, and technology has to keep up with advances in AI and computing in order to provide sustainable protection — and that is exactly what Attestiv offers.
Your final thoughts
Nicos Vekiarides: If I had more time, I could spend a few hours talking about the challenges I faced while at my prior startup, both on a business and personal level. Not to imply that the environment we are in today is anything less than unprecedented, but where there is a challenge, there is usually an opportunity. For all of us entrepreneurs, it is our job to find that opportunity.