Greg Kidd Interview: The Self Sovereign Identity Incubator and why identity has never been more critical
Last week, we announced the Self Sovereign Identity Incubator. This week, we’re picking the brain of Greg Kidd, co-founder and CEO of globaliD as well as co-founder of Hard Yaka, the investment firm backing the identity incubator.
Visit https://ssiincubator.com for more information or to begin the application process. The deadline is at 11:59 PM, Wednesday, July 31, 2019.
What’s the purpose of the incubator?
Greg Kidd: The purpose of the Self Sovereign Identity Incubator is to bring together startup companies that want to build not just digital identity solutions, but in particular digital identity solutions that are going to empower people to take charge of their own identity in a way that’s practical, useful, and convenient.
We’re looking to bring companies at the starting stage together and get them familiar with what is the world’s most neutral known blockchain solution for identity — which is Sovrin. And we’re looking to do it all in a place that has a history of fostering innovative technology solutions as part of a vibrant startup community — that being San Francisco.
How did this all get started?
GK: Well, I’m the CEO of globaliD, which has a portable form of self-sovereign identity that works on a global scale across all countries, across all companies. Sovrin is an enabling technology operated by a not-for-profit, the Sovrin Foundation, which is looking to do something similar, but they don’t have a particular implementation like we do. Sovrin’s platform is more about infrastructure; it’s a plumbing type play. Notably, we both have a consistent vision for a self-sovereign future.
So it was interesting for globaliD’s funding entity, Hard Yaka, to get together with the Sovrin Foundation, and create an incubator to bring new companies together that may use Sovrin’s or globaliD’s existing infrastructure. They don’t have to, but we want to get people together who are focused on this self-sovereign vision, and we’re going to empower them with different toolsets. But all of that is in the backdrop — where if there’s other solutions, that’d be great, too. We’re open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.
In a sense, this is a more focused version of Y-Combinator. Y-Combinator accepts all sorts of startups through their established format, and what we want to do is emulate that approach but in a focused space for a topic that’s becoming increasingly critical to our society today.
What exactly makes digital identity so critical at this particular moment in time?
GK: It used to be that identity was important in financial services, primarily because there was a lot of fraud and identity theft. There were compliance issues with KYC (know your customer) and AML (anti-money laundering) legislation. In that context, identity is critical.
So we’ve always been concerned about identity. It’s just that in the last five years, it’s clear that people have been losing trust in all sorts of platforms that we use every day — Twitter, Facebook, other forms of social media — because we are now dealing with fake identities that aren’t just practicing financial theft. They’re doing things like posting fake content on the Internet that people believe in.
Now, the issues with having bad or untrusted identity don’t just relate to people stealing money or money laundering. When you have fake identities creating fake news, it actually relates to people losing trust in the media sources and institutions. When that happens, people start to worry about democratic processes like voting and whether or not our elections are free and fair.
Given all the hullabaloo with the last presidential election and also what’s happened in Europe and other places, the real question now is how do we trust the news? How do we trust the information we’re ingesting online? How do we trust voting? And so now, digital identity moves front and center, not just for financial services but for everything we do in our society where we have to trust who it is we’re dealing with.
So it seems like our existing frameworks for identity are playing out to their logical conclusion. Where do we go next? What’s your vision for the future? And how does it differ from the past?
GK: The key lesson is what it took to make the Internet something that wasn’t just used by governments and universities into something that was used by people and businesses. The answer wasn’t technological. It was actually linguistic. It was the idea that there should be something called the World Wide Web, where all you needed to navigate it was to know the name of a website.
And so a domain name system was created that gave every website in the world a unique name. Whether it was an American site or a Chinese site or a Brazilian site, it didn’t matter. It was all one global namespace for the entire web. And there was a way to verify that you were at the proper website and not some fake one. That system made the web safe enough for us to use for all the commercial purposes that we do today.
This begs the question — can’t we do the same thing for identity? Can we create a global namespace for every identity including every single person but also every single business? We believe that we can. That’s the globaliD vision.
It doesn’t have to be your real name. It can be a handle like you have a handle for Skype or Twitter. There can be a white pages and a yellow pages that list all of the names associated with each person and business along with the level of trust we have for them. That trust could be established by third parties, essentially verifying or vouching for those names — such as something like Twilio for the phone number, LexisNexus for your government ID, or Plaid for your bank account. You could even establish trust based on the friend connections you have in your address book. Ultimately what you would get is a directory of all the names and the level of trust they’ve achieved.
And you won’t have to give up the private information behind that trust level. That data can be stored away, securely encrypted on your phone or in the cloud. But the level of trust should be high enough and global enough so that it’s not owned by any single company or country.
Consequently, it shouldn’t matter what country you’re from. You should be able to take your credentials and go anywhere in the world and potentially access your medical records, open a bank account, or do whatever else you need to do. As long as those credentials can be trusted from the registry, then people will have portability and mobility and ownership over their identity.
What we’re doing at globaliD is different from what we’ve done regarding identity in the past, but it’s essentially an old thing; it’s a proven model. It’s the idea that there will be a namespace for identity just like there’s a namespace for the web.
Given all of that, what are the ideal outcomes from this first incubator cohort?
GK: The globaliD perspective is that there’s different ways people can do identity. Our view is that we work with all the identity providers. We are not trying to be an identity provider ourselves. Instead, we create a consistent way of connecting all those different identity providers to a namespace. Once you’ve done that, Sovrin allows you to write that in an indelible form to a blockchain so that everyone can prove that no one has fiddled with those pieces of information.
In a sense, Sovrin is what makes everything trustable because the system is indelible as defined by the blockchain. globaliD simply sets the protocol for the namespace. And so ideally some of the companies in the incubator might rely on the infrastructure that Sovrin and globaliD provide. It’s not a requirement. They’re going to get their money and they’re going to get their time regardless of what they do, but obviously, we’re going to make access to those tools easier, and we’re looking to socialize those protocols to folks that are doing compelling things in the identity space.
It’s sort of an experiment for us. How good is our API? How good is our documentation? How easy is it for people that are building startups to rely on the protocols that globaliD and Sovrin have created? That’s what we’re looking to find out. It’s just a big experiment.
Are there any specific startup ideas that you’re targeting or is it open ended?
GK: It’s very open ended. Because of my background in payments, we’ve been more involved in the payments space. But I’d be interested in seeing and investing in anything to do with people helping the world solve the issue of identity. Maybe that means building a trust marketplace. Or it could be folks that want to do something around moving medical records securely and portably. There is also a lot of potential in voting identity.
So we’re open to everything that fundamentally relies on identity. I’ve made investments in companies that, for instance, allow you to transfer permission to turn on a car through your phone. You could apply that to something like Airbnb. Rather than a physical lock, you could have a virtual lock. And you could turn that on or off for one identity and another depending on the duration of a stay.
So these are all forms of identity that companies could solve on a one-off basis. What we’d like is to see this solved at the protocol level so the solutions are usable again and again. Let’s not reinvent the wheel over and over again. I don’t have to keep signing up for a different identity solution for each different company or each different country I go to. I’d love to enter my identity once, validate it once, and then have it usable everywhere and anywhere.
One thing I would say is that with Libra coming along, they’ll have their own particular identity solutions. Maybe they’ll use Sovrin. Maybe they’ll use globaliD. Or maybe they try to do a Facebook-only kind of solution. We’re arguing that if they go that route, it will be analogous to Compuserve or AOL. We encourage them and others — even if they’re large companies that are well funded — to consider the history of the Internet. That means supporting a neutral protocol rather than trying to push their own closed proprietary protocols onto the marketplace.
We are here to show that a neutral platform could be the most portable, provide the highest utility to consumers, and be most amenable to regulators — while still being really good for the business models of private corporations.
Given that you’re helming this initiative, what do we need to know about Greg Kidd?
GK: You know, I came up through the startup ranks. I’ve been through the IPO process. And I’ve been involved with companies like Twitter and Square and Ripple at the early stages. At the same time, I’ve also worked closely with regulators while at the Federal Reserve in New York and later, with ex-regulators at Promontory.
And so we’re looking for something that works for startups, but also something that can go mainstream and meet the expectations of regulators, law enforcement, and public policy people. We want to be creatively disruptive, but we want this to scale, and we want this to be compliant. We’re not here to tear things down. We’re here to come up with a solution that’s good for people that also works in the world of law rather than an anarchist Mad Max world.
We’ve touched on this point in the past. We don’t want this to be Orwell. We don’t want this to be Mad Max. We also don’t want this to be creepy Facebook. We want this to be neutral, portable, open, practical and convenient.
And that’s really all there is to it.
We’re looking for applicants from all around the world to help us with that mission. Across all sectors. It doesn’t have to be something related to fintech. We are looking for as much diversity as we can.
How to apply:
If you’re interested in applying or know someone who is, the first cohort of the Self-Sovereign Identity Incubator will begin on Monday, September 9, 2019.
Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until the deadline at 11:59 PM, Wednesday, July 31, 2019.
Selected companies will be notified on August 12, 2019.
Visit https://ssiincubator.com for more information or to begin the application process.