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What it takes to lead a global GTM organization in digital identity - featuring Mike Nelson former CRO BehavioSec, VP Mitek Systems

Steve interviews identity industry veteran and C-suite leader Mike Nelson


In this episode, I speak with identity industry veteran Mike Nelson. Mike was most recently Chief Revenue Officer at BehavioSec and is one of the founders of the Mitek Systems identity verification business. Mike shares his C-Suite perspective on the evolution and the future of identity, what it takes to build and lead a go-to-market team in this space, and how he sees the landscape changing in 2023 and beyond.


Connecting with Mike


Companies Discussed


  • The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to go from $0 to $100 Million by Mark Roberge (on Amazon)

Upcoming Events


Steve Craig:

Welcome to the PEAK IDV EXECUTIVE SERIES, the video podcast highlighting digital identity innovators, entrepreneurs, change makers, C-suite leaders, and other top executives in the digital identity space. I'm your host, Steve Craig, Chief Enablement Officer at PEAK IDV. And this is episode number one. Yes, it's finally here, and yes, you can see that my AI generated beard also has live inspiration. I like to call it training data. Now a quick public services announcement. This is a video first podcast. So if you're enjoying the audio version, please check out the video recording at, where you can watch the full episode, read the transcript, and access any of today's resources that we discussed.

I'm super excited to introduce today's guest. He is identity industry veteran Mike Nelson. Mike's been in Identity for over 12 years. He founded the identity verification business at Mitek Systems where he led go-to-market strategy first globally and later for North America. Mike joined BehavioSec in late 2020 as their Chief Revenue Officer running growth and go-to-market teams leading to their eventual acquisition by LexisNexis Risk Solutions in this past May of 2022.

Mike is not only the first guest on the PEAK IDV EXECUTIVE SERIES, but he is also a passionate believer in the importance of digital identity. And he recently joined the PEAK IDV advisory board. So thank you, Mike. Thank you for being here today.

Mike Nelson: Absolutely. How you doing Steve?

Steve: Very well. You might hear a little bit of a twang. I've got a cold that I'm nursing, but can't miss this particular episode.

Mike: If I would've known you were growing out your beard so much I would've put a little more energy into, mine for this.

Steve: Yeah we can make a race to who can get the largest Gandalf the Great beard going. Now Mike, it'd be great if you could give the audience more background on how you got started in the identity and the fraud business.

Mike: Yeah, sure. Happy to. So I, I started my career out of school. I was an engineer by schooling. And I started my career as a design engineer first in the engineer structural engineering world. And then I moved on to the golf club market where I designed golf products for a company named Ping for, many years. And so I start there just because I learned quite a bit about how products were made, how products were delivered, how products were marketed and sold during those kind of formative years in my career, and probably more importantly I got to learn quite a bit about how to be how people sold to us and what and it formulated my opinions on how I wanted to be sold to.

And actually when I moved over to sales that was a, really important formative factor for understanding how to how people or how I wanted to sell to the market. Yeah. And then I moved into, once the kind of internet collided with the with software and the SaaS revolution began I, got really excited about that and I moved into that industry and I met.

How's it how's it ties into Mitek, I had moved to down here to San Diego and was really interested in joining a, young emerging company in San Diego. And I happened to meet Jim DeBello, who was our CEO at Mitek and they had some interesting technology around check deposit and Mitek eventually did very well.

But my job was to figure out what the next product was. And that's actually how we started in the identity verification business. And that's how I got my career going about 10 years ago in identity.

Steve: Excellent. Great, background. And now you've been a two-time sales revenue leader in this space. What are are some of the keys to building strong sales teams and really lighting the revenue growth for a company in digital?

Mike: Yeah, good question. So I'm a big fan of using frameworks to for a, as a core part of strategy, and I'm a big fan of lots of frameworks. The one I've been using for, to build sales team is something called the Sales Acceleration Formula from a guy named Mark Roberge.

He was a original CRO at HubSpot, and I've used this for a couple different companies now, but it, the core principles or pillars. Hire hiring the right salespeople for the buyer context. Are we early, middle, late stage? The next one is enabling them. So training them to understand buyer journeys and the personas that they're selling to, and then coach 'em up around your process and the way you want them to act.

And then lastly believe it or not, you do need to feed salespeople leads. And so that framework I've used a couple times in my career to be successful in this space.

Steve: It's, you have to feed leads. It's not, if you build it, then they come. Is that's not how it works

Mike: to Yeah, I think so.

Steve: Feel of dreams.

Mike: There's a lot of there's a lot of talk in the industry or in every industry about, Hey, let's get someone with a Rolodex. That Rolodex goes away really quickly. For a couple reasons.

Steve: Yeah.

Mike: A, most people's Rolodex is fairly small, and then B, the timing may not be right for the buyers to buy your particular solution.

It's, pretty key to feed those folks leads. So sales, partnering with marketing to do that as a big part of the strategy.

Steve: Great.

A little bit more background for the audience. Mike, you and I, we've known each other for over eight years. And we met at Mitek where you were driving the identity business revenue growth, and I joined as a product owner.

That was back in 2015 and we had stopped working together around 2019. Now we're already in 2023. And you signed on to be on the advisory board for PEAK IDV. What piqued your interest in PEAK?

Mike: Yeah, I think what you are doing at PEAK, I think is something really valuable to the industry. So there, there's a few reasons.

One, I obviously, I, as a sales leader and revenue leader in the industry, I see this huge gap around knowledge around market, industry use case, buyer journey.

Steve: Yeah.

Mike: Um, For sellers. You have worked with me to do some of that at the companies that I've been at, and I really appreciate that. Secondly is just you, I think highly of you.

Steve: Thank you

Mike: As not only a product leader, but as a domain expert in the space and someone who's motivated to build this company and build a successful company in the space. So I think pretty highly. And then probably thirdly is I've got a lot of. Interest and passion around coaching, and I think that's been one of my superpowers, in my career.

And I think this has a lot to do or has a lot of overlap with that, so I'm really excited about what you're working on at PEAK IDV.

Steve: Yeah.

Yeah. We, collaborated so many times whether it was for sales kickoffs or QBRs, other training activities, and you were always such a big advocate for bringing product knowledge to your team members so that they could go out and, solve problems for their customers.

That it wasn't just about trying to drive a, deal, and it seems for revenue leaders, this is really key. And, in our industry we have this concept of KYC it's typically for regulated entities to perform diligence on their customers.

But, I've always seen you as a, fan of, Know Your Customer, as the, buyer, like what it is that they're looking for and what they need. How does CROs and, enablement leaders broadly think about these? I've never been a CRO myself. I've never been an enablement leader. What are some of the key elements of that?

Mike: Yeah, you bring up a good point. I think it's ironic that the identity verification industry focuses on KYC around a lot of their messaging, yet a lot of the go-to-market teams actually don't know their customer. And it's not because they don't want to know their customer. They probably haven't sat in that seat. Yes, we have very few, I think go to market folks in our industry that actually came from the practitioner side and now are and understand the the depth of those roles, the KPIs of those roles, what they're doing all day long. When, as a CRO, as a sales leader, how do I think about enablement? Think about it in three big buckets, and this is how I've designed my programs. First bucket is the market, the industry, the use cases, the buyer journey what is the, personas and what do they care about?

How do they wanna buy? What are their KPIs like, what's their business look like? The second one is product, our product or our solution that we're bringing to market. Are you knowledgeable and educated about that? And the third one is our process, and I'm really excited. One of, one of the things I think that excites me the most about PEAK IDV is the fact that the product and the process are proprietary to an individual company. At Mitek I ran a certain playbook for my sellers and marketers, BehavioSec, the same thing. Our product was unique there. But when it comes to the industry and market and the use cases, personas, the buyer journey. That is more generic to the industry.

And I think PEAK IDV has a great opportunity to help the entire industry, educate more in that side of it and help all the go-to-market folks be more be better sellers and marketers in the space.

Steve: Yeah, yeah, I've seen that too. And each, company has a unique set of tools that they've built to solve these problems, but the problems themselves are often universal.

So whether these, the fraud challenges, fraud rings or regulations, privacy rules, things like that, all of these companies play in, in, in the same world, in the same universe. And being able to keep up with that dynamic environment, I think is really, important to be successful in the space.

Mike: Yeah. I think I, when I, think it's interesting too, our industry's growing just to add on a little. . And we're looking for more talent outside the industry. And how do you get them up to speed and what not? You do need a strong enablement training program to get them up to speed.

Then they interact with the buyer. They learn it's some combination of interacting with the buyers every day, but also approaching the buyers and a really thoughtful, authentic way because you know something about their business something about their. Their job something you know about their use case and the, way that they do business.

I think that's really important.

Steve: Yeah, for sure. And, when I think back about our time at Mitek, I watched your organization grow from just, a few folks to, dozens of really talented hires some from outside of the space. And I, definitely saw that building teams was one of your superpowers. What are some of the traits that you look for in individuals as you try to bring them in to be, whether they be leaders within your org structure or even those that are gonna be out in the field?

Mike: Yeah, good question. The passion topic for me, for sure it's, hard as a sales leader to pick talent that's not only gonna be, have the passion and drive for whatever business you're building but also be successful. And I look for probably the number one trait is curiosity. A lot of people that know me know that I'm pretty passionate about that natural question askers. Can they flow a conversation off that? Do they have purpose to the questions they're asking? Can you go from this question to that question that's a really, big one?

And people, a lot of people are naturally curious, but it's also a skill that can be learned. So I think it's interesting, but curiosity's a big one. I look for learners people that are they're related people that are interested in learning about how is that done? How is that made?

I think those are great attributes. And then in sales, you gotta have great discipline. You do, you gotta be well organized, you gotta put the time, energy into the outbound prospecting. You gotta put the time, energy into moving deals along through the funnel. And obviously you gotta put time you, gotta can you win or can you not win?

And you know which deals to stay in and which ones to move, along from. So that discipline is really, big. And as a particularly as an enterprise seller.

Steve: Yeah. What do you, think about the personality trait of just believing in the mission really trying to make a difference as, part.

Mike: I'm probably, yeah, I'm probably neutral on that. I think a lot of people can come into an organization and not maybe understand it, but through training and through buyer engagement, I think you can generate a lot of interest. I came into the identity space from a completely different space and I developed a real passion and interest in identity as this kind of foundational element of, security and the internet by engaging with buyers and understanding their pain points. And so I think you can, I think you can certainly develop that. That passion.

Steve: The, reason I ask is when, I think back to those early days I, started in the identity space in 2015 and you were already working in it before that. It seems obvious now in 2023, like digital identity is so important and just coming out of the pandemic, we saw the rise of of all of the online transactions explode back in those early days when Mitek had been successful or was, is really ramping its mobile check. What led you working with Jim DeBello and the others to get that identity business off the ground?

Mike: I think the, core thing was we had been, we had some marginal success in mobile check deposit, and we were looking how do we leverage our technology platform for other markets or use cases? And identity was a real natural a, natural not, a pivot, but a natural kind of product number two. We had launched a couple products in parallel. I ran the identity product and some other folks ran a different product. And we started seeing some real value, some strong value proposition, interest in the identity product across banks and insurance companies. And we started in doing prefill use cases, simple.

It was just like data extraction and how do we how do we help people fill out forms more fast and remove friction and things like that. And we quickly moved into more document verification as a replacement for knowledge-based authentication. And the reason we end up doing that was we just the, customers we were working with just saw a ton of value, moving in that direction and replacing some of the legacy solutions that they were using at that time.

Steve: And at that time I know the focus was with a lot of the large financial institutions. What were some of the, challenges in those early days as you were crisscrossing the country, meeting with the top banks.

Mike: Yeah. No it's, it sounds funny now, but you think about those days, the idea of a bank using a third party to snap a photo and, potentially store an image of someone's driving licenses and a passport. And that time we weren't even doing selfies. This was just document authentication.

Steve: Yeah.

Mike: That was off limits InfoSec going through that.

We actually and some people, some others in the industry started with on-prem solutions to alleviate that problem, but that, was one. I think just collecting training data was a really tricky thing. How do you collect hundreds of thousands if not millions of photos of government issued IDs?

We had some really creative ways. We did it in early days. But to build up that data set was I get training data was, I thought was really hard. Those are more on the product side. I think on the growth or pe maybe the people side finding talent. We were Southern California based company doing something new that no one had really done.

So there wasn't a ton of people that understood the industry or the problem set or use case. And so finding talent, and we weren't in this big remote kind of workforce that we're in now, so we wanted people in in this region. And it was, I think it was difficult. So we I, say that because we spent a lot of time training people on the business that we were building because we had to, because we just couldn't find a lot of people from our industry at the beginning.

Steve: And, at that, at the beginning there just weren't a lot of people doing the document-centric identity use cases. I think maybe a handful of companies, and I recall distinctly in 2016 one of those larger companies filed for bankruptcy. And that was pretty big news I recall within our company at that point in time, did, you think maybe the identity verification market wasn't gonna be there? Or how did you think about of some of those early market signals, which we know of course changed over time?

Mike: No I, would say absolutely not, because we were very customer centric and we were hearing from our customers that the IDV or document-based verification process was high value for them, and so they wanted us to continue to innovate and build more and more for them.

No, we were leaning in at that time, we managed our business very differently than some of the other venture funded companies in the space. And we were in a good, we were in a good spot, but the market was telling us, do more.

Steve: And then looking back in hindsight, the, there was an explosion of, the usage of these technologies yeah, with the crazy, with the past 10 years.

What else besides increasing demand, what has changed? You've now been an IDV, a proofing company, and then you were in a behavioral biometrics company with BehavioSec. sec. What does the last 10 years look like in your mind? .

Mike: Yeah, a lot. So first of all, industry growth is incredible. If you were at Money20/20 this year it felt like an identity conference, which was, it did not. I think I went to the first Money20/20 and it was not even close to that.

Steve: Yeah.

Mike: So big shift there. Number of people, number of entrants in the space, number of discreet ways to solve these kind of common problems around fraud and identity. The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning has become core in our industry.

And then on the flip side of that, the fraudsters yeah, the innovation of the fraudsters and them staying ahead and using more automation and certainly artificial intelligence. Around deep fakes or, I guess more sophisticated fraud techniques around really social engineering, synthetic identities.

I think fraudsters have become way more sophisticated and it requires sophisticated solutions and new approaches to solve these problems today.

Steve: Sophisticated and coordinated and just, you seem to have access to, new technologies faster, .

Mike: Yeah, all the "ateds."

Steve: This, time of year I see a lot of LinkedIn posts from different companies talking about what they expect to see in the year. It's often hard to speculate like what's gonna happen in, in, in a year. But what do you think about the next 10 years? Like where is this industry going by 2033?

Mike: Yeah. Good question. I wish I knew the answer, but I don't. But I have a co there's a couple clues in the industry that me share my hypothesis.

We're seeing real use cases around federated self-sovereign identity. We, so I think at some point we'll get to that spot where consumers control their identities and their wallets. We got some real tangible proof points with digital IDs and things like that and between big tech will have a huge influence on that, but I think there's a lot of pieces in there, a lot of infrastructure to solve, but I think that'll be a big one.

Fraudsters will continue to innovate in more sophisticated ways. I, don't think that's going to change. I think there's gonna be some consolidation in the market, and given we're a little bit of a soft period now, a lot of investment came into our space in the last five years. There will be some there'll certainly be some consolidation.

Customers will continue, will the buyers will continue to struggle with fraud and need vendors who can not only provide point solutions, but also maybe orchestration layers to, to help. That's been a big shift. I didn't mention this earlier, but big shift that I've seen. Here's a here's a, pill or a vitamin to solve this kind of one thing. Versus now it's more of okay, how do we use these various signals, these various techniques in different parts of the user journey from onboarding to authentication. So I see that I see a five year run for that easily. So I think that'll be a big part of the.

Steve: What do you think about the convergence of some of the digital biometrics tools into the physical world? Do you think we're gonna see as, consumers in the world more

Mike: Yeah.

Steve: Of that blending?

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. There's a big passwordless is real. Big tech aligning or I guess supporting FIDO and some of these, I some of these new ways to authenticate just, make tremendous sense.

Always have made sense for years. It's just the market hasn't been there and there hasn't been that compelling reason, I think to invest. I see that really, big and I see biometrics being a huge, piece of that. You come back to the user experience and showing a selfie.

Is we, live in a convenience economy. I think there's much more awareness around fraud and identity theft and things like that, but still convenience and creating great user experiences still trumps I think a lot of that stuff. That's always the balance, as in this industry. But I see the user experience that happens with that continuing to win out and being more prevalent as we move forward.

Steve: Great. Great. This has been phenomenal, Mike. We're coming up on time. One of the goals that I have in this podcast though, is not just to go into deep background on the space, but to, get to know the person behind the LinkedIn profile. And we've, talked about your, career at length and what you've done, but perhaps you can share something with the audience that you're passionate about or, maybe something that many folks don't know.

Mike: Oh yeah, good question. This is the icebreaker in every SKO, right? Yeah a lot of people that work with me over the years know this, but in my Ping days I, started out designing putters. And the first product I ever designed I was asked what I wanted to name the putter, and I said, A lot of people call me Neli. Most people in the industry know me as Neli. And and they said, that's a great idea. Why don't we call that Neli? So I have a I have a golf club putter named The Nelli that that's named after me.

Steve: That's, amazing, Mike.

We'll bring it time.

Mike: Steve I'll, bring it next time so you can see it next time.

Steve: We need to see the Nelli putter come up and we need a 3d tour of it. As always, Mike, I say I enjoy our conversations. Thank you tremendously for joining the advisory board and for being on this first episode. Now for the audience, if you enjoyed this episode, be sure to like, subscribe, share this series. You're gonna have more content from industry leaders, from practitioners, from others in the space. And the EXECUTIVE SERIES is, designed to give you unique insight that you're not gonna get just from looking at someone's profile or from reading an article.

You're gonna hear about the latest advancements and get that front row seat experience to the pioneers behind the press releases. I'd also like to invite you in an upcoming training cohort that I have that's starting on March 2nd. This cohort is designed for identity verification solution providers specifically the go-to-market personnel of those teams.

You can learn more about the cohort by going to and check that out. I have some details there. And then for more on this episode, again, if you're listening, we have But thank you all for listening. Thank you, Mike, for being on the show, and until next time.

Mike Nelson: Thanks Steve. Take care.

Steve Craig, Founder & CEO