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Transcript

Real Customer Identity with Thanasis Mandaltsis

Steve interviews Founder & CEO of Magic ID, Thanasis Mandaltsis

In this week’s episode, I speak with Thanasis Mandaltsis, Founder & CEO of Magic ID.

Thanasis started Magic ID in late 2022 and emerged from stealth last year. Prior to Magic ID, he was Founding Trustee of Trust 3.0 and Product Innovation Lead at iov42. Thanasis got his start in identity at Onfido where he spent over four years leading product innovation and GTM in Onfido’s portal identity business.

Thanasis discusses evolutions in the digital identity market, how the concept of “portable identity” has changed, and how his new company is innovating by enabling “identity syndication.”

RESOURCES:

Connecting with Thanasis Mandaltsis

Thansis Mandaltsis’ LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/thaman/

Magic ID’s website: https://magic-id.com/

Companies & Resources Discussed

Magic ID provides a decentralized identity platform that leverages the most up-to-date W3C principles for accessibility, internationalization, privacy, and security. Its platform enables businesses to deliver a hyper-personalized experience.

Jacoby Thwaites was named Chief Technology Officer in Q1, 2024. 

Onfido is a digital identity platform that makes it easy for people to access services by digitally verifying them using its Real Identity Platform. The platform allows businesses to tailor verification methods to individual user and market needs in a no-code, orchestration layer. Onfido was acquired by Entrust in April 2024.

Husayn Kassai is Onfido’s co-founder and former CEO.

Trust 3.0 is a digital privacy advocacy group. Its mission is to create a safer digital environment for all, where individuals can exercise their right to privacy and security online without fear of exploitation or intrusion. It aims to achieve this by helping to raise awareness and promote online privacy by engaging directly with brands to develop and improve consumer privacy protections and coordinate efforts to safeguard personal data by offering accessible and comprehensive resources.

Iov42 is a technology company specializing in digital identity, trust, and data integrity. Its purpose-built technology helps organizations, governments and societies coordinate confidently by enabling proven, transparent and secure transactions in a decentralized and immutable manner.

Getaround is a peer-to-peer vehicle rental service and app that enables consumers to rent cars and trucks from private and professional owners. 

Turo is a peer-to-peer car sharing company that allows private car owners to rent out their vehicles via an online and mobile interface in five countries.

EasyJet is a low cost airline, headquartered in London Luton Airport, operating throughout Europe.

Travel industry referral aggregators that provide search capabilities for flights and hotels referenced in the episode include: 

Skyscanner

Trip.com

Booking.com

Kayak.com

Trivago

Wordpress is a web content management system. It supports web content publishing, including websites, mailing lists, internet forums, media galleries, membership sites, learning management systems, and online stores.

Next.js is an open-source web development framework created by the private company Vercel providing React-based web applications with server-side rendering and static website generation.

wework is a flexible workspace provider committed to delivering technology-driven turnkey solutions, flexible spaces, and community experiences.

U Suites is part of the U Hotel Group. It provides apartment rentals for short and long term stays.

Jumio is an identity proofing and verification platform that provides advanced identity verification, risk signals and compliance solutions that help accurately establish, maintain and reassert trust.

Yoti is a digital identity technology platform company. It provides verification solutions across the globe, spanning identity verification, age assurance, document eSigning, access management, and authentication.

Raspberry Pi is a small (credit card-like size), inexpensive, portable computer that connects to real-world objects. It contains all the basics of any computer including a processor, memory and graphics processor.

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Steve: Welcome to the PEAK IDV EXECUTIVE SERIES video podcast, where I speak with executives, leaders, founders, and change makers in the digital identity space. I'm your host, Steve Craig, Founder and Chief Enablement Officer of PEAK IDV. For our audience, this is a video first series, so if you're enjoying this audio version, please check out the video recording on executiveseries.peakidv.com, where you can watch the full episode, you can read the transcript, and you can access any of the resources or links that we might mention or discuss in today's conversation. 

In this week's episode, I'm pleased to speak with Thanasis Mandaltsis, Founder and CEO of Magic ID. Magic ID is a proprietary ID platform that combines digital IDs and AI to help enterprises build personalized experiences for real customers and prospects. Thanasis started Magic ID in late 2022 and emerged from stealth last year. Prior to Magic ID, he was the founding trustee of Trust 3.0 and product innovation lead at iov42. Thanasis got his start in identity at Onfido, where he spent over four years leading product innovation and go to market and Onfido’s portable identity business. Welcome Thanasis. Thank you for making the time to be on the podcast. 

Thanasis Mandaltsis: My pleasure, Steve. Thanks for having me. And I'm really excited to talk to you today. It's been a while. 

Steve: It's been a while. Good to see you. Well, let's get started. I'd love for you to share with the audience your Magic ID elevator pitch.

Thanasis: Yeah, absolutely. Magic is-- well, we're developing an embedded identity platform that basically allows or helps referral aggregators, like Skyscanner-- allows referral aggregators to convert more of their traffic on their partner's website. So we have a proprietary platform where basically aggregators can use it to federate or syndicate their user's IDs to their partners by reducing the conversion journey to literally-- as little as one tab often, including also the payment processing.

Steve: Yeah, no, that's great. It's great background. What led you to start this business? Like what puts you on that path in particular? What's your story around that? 

Thanasis: So it goes back to Onfido to be honest. And, well, we all know that onboarding-- the account opening process is where the most friction occurs. And as a result, where the most amount of drop offs happen, so it's a really big pain for companies. And because it's at the end of your funnel, so you have already done all your marketing activities, you have a user who's ready to sign up, and then depending on the steps you add, the more users you lose. Sometimes even 50 percent of your funnel is lost at the account creation and the onboarding-- and the onboarding stage.

So, it's a massive number. And if you recall, while working at Onfido, we used to run one or two reports per year, talking about that, talking about friction, how to create friendly friction, how to incorporate a mix of upfront verification, later on verification to make the journey more smooth. So, all of this for us-- individuals today, like how it works in onboarding, especially when it comes to KYC and ID verification is very interesting.

So there is a pain to the business. And then there is a pain for us where first of all, we have to figure out where our document is, take a good photo and so on, but most importantly, we need to take photos of our documents multiple times and we need to give our documents to multiple companies.

So, back at Onfido, when we started doing portable ID-- and that's how I got into it-- actually, the first person who sold this idea to me was not Husayn, who was the CEO, but it was Jacoby, the engineer of the team, who is a surprisingly good salesman for an engineer. And, what we're trying to do is basically create v2 of that vision.

In a nutshell, we're thinking of a world where we don't ever have to register, verify, or fill in another form again. And where our digital IDs basically take care of all the little things, the little hustle in our daily lives, the admin. And over time they learn as we use them. So think-- you can think of it a bit like a digital twin, right? So you can picture this if you want. So your phone brings you a message in a couple of years time and it says, “Steve, remember to pack your bags because your cab is picking you up at 6:30 AM to take you to Heathrow airport when you're going to be boarding a plane to Madrid. You arrive at 2 PM local time and you head to kiosk 6 to pick up your Enterprise rental car. From that point you drive to Hilton Hotel where you're going to check in at room 706 using your phone.” This is what we're imagining the future looking like and the two key questions that we are addressing is how can we make sure that this digital twin can robustly represent us online because it will take care of transactions on our behalf. And you might book a flight, but it might also invest our savings, right? And the second question is, how can we be sure that it works for us and its purposes to augment us and not to sell more Amazon products to us or more Google products to us? These are the two problems we're trying to address about this future. 

Steve: And for the audience at Thanasis and I, we worked together at Onfido and one of Onfido’s public stated strategies was to move into portal-- portable identity. That was one of the pillars that it put out into the public domain. Thanasis, I'm curious if you and your career always wanted to be a founder, or if there was a point in the last few years where you decided, “Hey, I'm going to start my own company?” 

Thanasis: I come from an entrepreneurial family. So my dad actually-- they own-- my dad and my uncle, they own a business back in Greece, a manufacturing business, a small manufacturing business. So that was started by my grandpa. So I think that there was always some sort of direction from a family that it's taking risks is-- it's a good thing. Albeit I did grow up in-- I remember when I was 16 when the financial crisis hit and then there's like 15 really tough years for Greece and still not recuperated fully.

So I did have-- I definitely had some stimuli from my family, my background. To be honest with you, if there was a time in 2019 where I was obsessed with portable ID at Onfido. So if Onfido hadn't stopped doing portable ID, there's a good chance I would still be there doing that. So it's more-- I think it's a combination of having the stimuli, but also the necessity of this is not happening. I left Onfido to work for a decentralized identity company and then I realized that this is also not a great solution for identity per se. That you have to do tons of workarounds with decentralized ID to make it work and make it compliant and make it user friendly. And that actually pushed me to try again.

And that's when I realized that, you know, instead of working for someone else and trying to build something that I don't fully believe in, why don't I give it a go? I had some savings, so I was like, okay, it's a good time. I don't have kids, my partner and I had just bought a flat, so we're sort of safe in that way. So I thought to take a leap and that's where it got me here. 

Steve: That's great. That's great. So in 2022, you'd started, you were in stealth. You came out of stealth in 2023 and then I see toward the end of the year, you did a pre-seed raise, 350,000 Euros. Is that right? 

Thanasis: Yeah, that's right, that's right. So we started evaluating this again while I was still in my previous job. Actually, I was running out of money before we raised. So I had £2,000 in the bank when we raised this pre-seed funding round. So I was ready to quit. I was almost-- I almost quit that very month. No, well, I didn't want to, but I had to find a way, right? And then we raised the funding round last-- at the end of 2023 by some really, it was some really good pre-seed VCs.

Steve: Can you share more about that experience of fundraising? I know 2023 was pretty tough to raise money. Things are starting to look up in 2024, but how was your experience getting that pre-seed? 

Thanasis: That is-- that was painful to be honest, very painful. Like it was very-- so I-- first of all, let's start by explaining to everyone who listens that I did all the mistakes in the book as you are-- as you're supposed to do, right? We tried to go to VCs when we didn't have a product and maybe that would have worked two years ago, but in 2023, it was all about traction. It was all about metrics. It was all about product.

And it makes sense that obviously the financial landscape changed a lot. And when you can get 5 percent interest on your bank account, you think twice about putting your money in someone without a product. I think that was the main mistake, right? So we went to VCs, went straight to VCs. We shouldn't have done that. We should have gone to angels to start off. But at the same time, I think the frustration I have with how this market operates-- like the VC market-- is that there is no incentive. And I understand why the reason, but I think we should be doing better for the next generation of entrepreneurs, because there are people out there who are trying to solve some really important problems about the way the world works involving the environment and others. And when you're looking at a transformation of technology, it's very tough to see traction in the first year or two. If you're going to see traction in the first year or two and the traction that investors expect nowadays for anything aside from AI, then it's not going to be as transformational. Then it's going to be already somewhere out there, somebody's working on it. 

So I think the main frustration I have with that experience is that nobody will ever tell you what you're doing wrong. Nobody has time to tell you that. And okay, I get it. We all live busy lives, but at the same time-- I don't know, maybe it's the romantic part in me-- I'd like the idea-- I like the idea of helping each other. Even if it's, you know, it's a tiny bit of advice that you get from every VC you talk to. And equally, when I talk to people who want to found a business, maybe I don't spend hours with them, but I'll spend half an hour. And if I spend half an hour, I'll give them some constructive feedback. That is something I found quite difficult when raising. 

Steve: Getting the feedback after you've given a pitch where it just goes dark. Is that some of that experience? 

Thanasis: Yeah, it's either you're ready or you're not. So if you're not, then that's it. You don't get the feedback. If you're ready, then people want to invest in you. But if you're not, you're not going to get much out of the conversation. 

Steve: Yeah, well, it's a lot like just general sales and life. You know, if you've got a compelling value proposition and there's interest, you continue the conversation. If not, you may not hear back and you don't know, is it because they weren't interested or they are busy? Is there something else that's come along? So it's definitely some good feedback on the experience. 

Speaking of sales, you mentioned Jacoby as being a really great salesperson. And you recently appointed Jacoby-- Jacoby Thwaites as your CTO. Could you share how you got reconnected with Jacoby, post Onfido? And Jacoby used to work at Onfido as well for the audience background there. 

Thanasis: Yes, of course. So Jacoby and I never really disconnected, you know, so we live-- we both live in London and he was the reason I started getting involved in this whole portable ID concept. But Jacoby’s idea is that the way that portable ID used to work at Onfido and the way the Magic works now, it's very unique in the sense that it doesn't use decentralized ID. It doesn't use traditional blocks-- actually it tends to allow us to be real digital identities like Google is, like Facebook.com is. The internet is built on digital identities like them, right, like a domain name system, and there's already a lot of good things that work with the internet, and we use it every day, and it's secure.

But we resort to the idea of being numbers under the database of Google. The idea Jacoby had back in 2019 when we were building portable ID was that everyone should have a domain. And out of that, the choice of architecture and the choice of protocols, there are-- there's a bunch of exciting emerging properties, which we are applying and our clients really care about. I can talk about it briefly later, but yeah, long story short, Jacoby and I never disconnected. I was always close to him since he instilled that vision to me. And, we both care deeply about the problem of centralization of the web. The problem about a bunch of big companies owning everything and the lock-in effect that that has, right?

And that is something that our solution, I believe, like the way of choosing protocols, solves. And that's why we got back together. Thankfully, we had reached the point when we approached Jacoby again, where there's enough traction to also reignite that fire in him. And, after a little bit of turbulence the last few months, thankfully, Jacoby was really supportive and managed to very smoothly take over the range of the technology.

And we're now at a point where the product is working. It's no longer a prototype. And it's been integrated into two really large POCs, that are B2B2C POCs in the US and Africa. 

Steve: That's phenomenal. That's great. When we worked together at Onfido, we didn't have a lot of overlapping projects. And I don't think I ever got to ask you how you got into the identity space. Like what was your journey to get to Onfido and how did you first get introduced to digital identity? 

Thanasis: Yeah, we didn't have actually-- yeah-- and it was actually sort of the time that Onfido was growing so fast. I think that so many people were joining around this time. And, obviously you were in the US, I was in the UK. So it wasn't very easy to overlap. It's crazy times now that I remember, right? The growth was phenomenal at that time. There was this point in time that I think a lot of people-- I definitely drank the Kool Aid-- but a lot of people thought we can change the world. And sadly things took a slightly different turn. But, yeah, I'm diverging again. 

Like I was studying in Greece. I grew up in Greece. I was studying in Greece. And then in 2015 it was capital controls in Greece, so I needed to get out. I felt struggle-- I felt like there's nothing there for me, no room to evolve, no room to do anything. So gladly I was very fortunate to be able to do a master's in Amsterdam.

And when I started the digital innovations master in 2015, and while I was there, I was working for a tech startup. I was doing an unpaid internship for a tech startup. It was basically like an Airbnb for cars. There is a service here in the UK called Getaround, they're in Europe, you rent your car to someone else. I don't know. Is it Turo in the US? 

Steve: Turo, yeah. Turo is the big one here in the US. 

Thanasis: Yeah. So it was that concept in 2015. So nobody else was doing it and there were real blockers, that's why not everybody else was doing it, but it was that concept and the niche was, airport travel. So you live in Amsterdam and you want to take your family to a trip. You don't want to take the train. You take your car to Schiphol and then you leave it there. An inbound traveler takes your car and uses it around the Netherlands. And, we had just closed a small crowdfunding round, like €300,000 or something, and we wanted to expand to Rotterdam. And then we realized that the expenses of expanding to Rotterdam were really high, and the main reason was we needed someone to hand in the keys and someone to check in the documents.

So I went on exploring who can help us with that, and I ran into Onfido, and again, 2015, 2016, I started doing AI to scan documents and faces. It was-- I was-- I was really impressed. It was-- it felt to be like spy stuff, you know? So I thought like, I need to work there. It's one of the handful of companies I applied to after my master's.

So three months later, I sent an application for a junior sales role, send an application, and two months after that, I landed in London, October, 2017. 

Steve: That's awesome. Well, going from being a customer to being an employee, like getting to see the technology firsthand. When you went into the sales role, did you always have an ambition to be in sales? Or was that the role that was available? I'm curious about how you chose to get into the account executive position. 

Thanasis: Yeah, it was a coincidence. So yeah, I think it was a mix of-- it was a mix of wanting to speak English more to be more fluent because I wasn't fluent. I wasn't as fluent-- I was okay-- but I wasn't as fluent, not in a professional context.

And I thought this probably the best place to go because you have to talk a lot. And then also-- frankly I didn't understand how other roles operated as well. So sales seems very straightforward. There weren't either product managers available to be honest at that time. So it was like Onfido was not growing as fast.

I think at that point we're hiring around two or three people a month, maybe. So it was steady growth, but the company still hadn't picked up. So it wasn't as if there was a plethora of roles I could choose from. But yeah, sales, I really like sales. That's the other thing, like, I really like the idea of talking to people and getting to understand what it is that they want and what it is they're saying behind what they're saying. I think it's one of the most challenging things to do, especially for large enterprise sales. That is a whole different level of complexity, but the human element, I like that. I like the difficulty-- of the difficulty behind understanding humans and trying to explain and get them on your side without appearing, you're selling, right? Because that is where people get turned off. The best sale is a sale you don't really understand it's a sale. 

Steve: Really deeply understanding the problem that they're dealing with and helping to educate first on solutions before selling your solution, immediately jumping in. [Thanasis: Exactly, exactly] You were in that role for a few years, but then you moved into product, strategy, innovation, you got to work in portable identity. What were some of the key projects that you started to work in, in particular around government? If I recall you, you were doing some initial projects with sort of the public sector.

Thanasis:  Yeah, so government came after actually-- after portable ID, and it was a little bit of a compromise. I'll explain why. But the reason I moved actually is because the sales is amazing. I really like doing sales. I like doing sales much more than I used to because now I sell my own product, my own company, and I have full control of how that looks and that is very liberating. But that was my frustration-- the only frustration with sales back then is that you actually don't have control over what you sell. You have to sell what you're given and it's very rarely that you have direct influence to the product itself-- and unless you're obviously like, you know, the leader of sales, where you actually give feedback and you really affect things. And so I really wanted to be involved in the creation process. I wanted to see that from a few steps before, how do we get here, where is it's what you said? And how do we know that when we build something is what the customers want? So I really was looking to get into product for a couple of years before I managed to do it within Ofido. I didn't want to leave Onfido, that's-- that was the other limitation, I wanted to stay at Onfido. I had a really good time. I met some amazing people, some amazing leaders, friends, entrepreneurs. Like it was a great environment; so I didn't want to go. And then I had the three months off where it started as a-- as time off that I wanted to take and then I realized I was sick, I had to be away for a few months and I had so much time to read and introspect. And when I returned to work, I'm like ready to get my sleeves up and coincidentally, I sat next to Husayn.  It was like one of the first days I returned to the office in the summer of 2019. I remember that as yesterday, and I am so inspired about technology and about the things we can do to change the world. And I am-- I'm also coming from a little bit of a sensitive point because I did have a near death experience. I'm like-- go to Husayn and like-- we need to do something with our tech. We have such amazing tech, we need to help the world. 

I had just read a book about blockchain and voting. So I was like, a little bit young and naive maybe and thinking on how can we actually do something that matters and I go tell Husayn and I love that reaction I remember I said “you should go talk to Jacoby we're building portable ID it's a side project and we're going to take it to the FCA at the sandbox to validate if we can launch it.” And like a couple of days later I met Jacoby and from that point on I think I haven't chased anything as relentlessly as moving to that role. And I remember Jennifer, I don’t know if you remember Jennifer Behrs that was leading the sales in India. It was a very tough sell to get out of sales because I was doing well. I was actually hitting or exceeding targets consistently. And there wasn't a clear role, there wasn't a clear mandate. So I remember trying to get out of sales relentlessly, getting every lever I could move to go into that team. And then lastly, at the end, it was Husayn actually that pulled the trigger. So I had the best sponsor in the company. Yeah, it makes me smile. It's such a nice time. 

Steve: That's great. Now I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about your near death experience. Are you able to share a little bit about what had happened around that?

Thanasis: Yeah, I can say it happily. It's been a while now. I'm perfectly healthy. I mean, near death experience, I'll-- it ended up not being a real near death experience, but the moment it happened, it felt like it was. So I was traveling with my girlfriend-- partner Rebecca in Latin America-- and we were in the camper van and we break down in the middle of the Bolivian desert. It's like we buy the camper from a surfer dude and we break-- we take it-- we take-- we run the MOT, we run the full test and everything's fine. Then we drive like all the way from South Chile, from Santiago all the way up to Bolivia. It's like 14 hours or something of driving or maybe more. And then we cross to Bolivia and the car breaks down. So we leave the car and for the first time in like two or three weeks, we sleep in a hotel, like not cramped in a campervan. And then I realized there's something wrong with my ball. And long story short, I go to the doctor there after a traumatic-- non speaking English, non English speaking doctor, and I don't speak Spanish. So I had to hear Rebecca speaking in Spanish and translate to me. I realized I have to remove my testicle, because I had a tumor. And, long story short, I was going to have it removed in Bolivia. Thankfully, I had a very good friend who told me don't do that, who’s a urologist. And 40 hours later, five flights, I was in Greece and I did it there.

So I had to do like a round of chemo and all this sort of things that you have to do, but retrospectively, it wasn't near death because it was-- it was okay, but when it happened, and also the aftermath of the trauma-- it was quite traumatic with the chemotherapy and the fragility, you know, just the fragility of thinking of, you know, this could happen to any one of us, my parents, my friends, anyone, it's very easy to happen. And that's when I actually-- when I returned and I felt that I needed to spend my time doing something I love-- I really care about and something I believe in. ‘Oof’, actually, that was quite intense, eh? 

Steve: Well, thank you, Thanasis, for sharing that very personal moment in your life. I can imagine you're supposed to be there on a vacation, a trip of a lifetime. You get such disruptive news. So I am thrilled you're on the mend and you came back from that trip, sort of invigorated for solving new problems in the world. Your point about Onfido and just the ability to move around and Husayn being able to pull the trigger for you to-- to join on portable identity, that's incredible. 

Let's get into Magic ID. Now we sort of went through the backstory on Onfido, and I really wanted to go into that to build the foundation of what you're doing next. You mentioned your pilot projects and the proof of concept. Can you share more about perhaps one of them and what you're doing exactly? And the region and the use case in more detail?

Thanasis:  Yeah, absolutely. So actually, I had to write this down to make sure I don't say anything that I'm not supposed to. But, look, I can share the high level. So basically we are still focusing on-- we are focusing on referral aggregators. So the experience our technology creates is-- if you're Skyscanner-- I'm giving that example so you understand the use case. I cannot tell you which clients are, but I'll explain more about the problem. If you're Skyscanner, you-- your users come to your website to find flights. So you type in your flight, departure, destination, dates, you get-- you're given a bunch of providers where you can book your flight with. When you click on that provider-- let's say you'd like to do EasyJet or American Airlines, and then when you arrive, if you have a profile, you might log in. But a lot of people don't have a profile. Or they're not logged in, in any case. So they go about filling information, full name, payment details. Some airlines are already starting to prompt the users to provide passport details upfront. And then there is a play there with identity as well, but with Magic, Skyscanner-- well, partners of SkyScanner, take three lines of code or a widget. And we have already built three widgets, but we're going to keep building more like for, let's say WordPress, Next.js and so on. So it's a very easy integration. And every partner of Skyscanner that takes that can identify a Magic ID or Skyscanner ID, if you want to call it like that, because the idea is that we allow our partners, our customers to federate their users' identities to their partners. 

And architecturally also that works in the way that we don't have access to this-- the information that happens. It's not like sign up at Google when your users sign up to EasyJet with their Skyscanner ID, we're not sneak peeking to see what's going on and copy your idea or figure out what services work and whatnot. It is possible, but the way that this is built is that-- every time that a connection like this happens, the consent lies with the user. So the users explicitly have to say whether they want to share, what they will be saying, and so on. 

So this is what our two pilots are about. They are aggregators-- specifically they are about special groups of people. So I think students who want to access an offer, want to access an item in cinema, they want to access it-- you know, book travel, anything you can think of, but it's related to offers and aggregate-- aggregation place. And this is where we see the most interest because this process is painful and our technology actually allows this to happen in one tap. Like when the moment you land on Easyjet or American Airlines, there's no password, there's no email you need to feel, there's no phone number, there's nothing. You don't have to think about it as an end user. Just land there and a box pops up and it tells “you landed here through Skyscanner, you'll be saying full name, passport details, payment processing details. Do you accept?” And if you hit accept, the level of assurance is very flexible. It depends on the use case. But, in theory-- well, in practice, actually, how we recommend implementing it-- especially if there's payment-- when you hit accept, we take a selfie that verifies, authenticates you versus your existing passport and selfie. And if you're the same person, basically a workflow is triggered where does that selfie match that ID? Do they have a passport? Do they have a payment card? Check, check, check, done. 

Steve: So if I understand it correctly, is what you're providing infrastructure where any one of these companies are white labeling your solution or does the user see ‘log in with Magic? What's the end consumer experience?  

Thanasis: It's infrastructure, you're right. Yes. It's more on the infrastructure side and it's-- we have built the first apps ourselves on top so that we create these proof of concepts and create some concept demos effectively. And so we've created apps for ID verification, authorizations, authentications. We have built all that. All that is at the platform level already available. And then our customers white label it. And the experience is like when you land on Skyscanner again, I'm giving you that example. You don't have to log in with Skyscanner or log in with Magic because we want to eliminate that competition against sign up with Google, sign up with Apple, sign up with Facebook.

We don't want our clients to have to go through-- put the buttons next to these buttons. So the moment you land on Easyjet, as long as our code is part of the Easyjet website, EasyJet immediately identifies who you are. And it prompts you to be said-- to say what you're supposed to be saying. 

Steve: For the components, especially like the face verification or the capture, are these licensed components are these proprietary, how have you gone about putting all this together?

Thanasis: Great question. Our platform-- so we offer the platform and the platform is licensed. So our customers license the platform from us, and then they pay per ID per month-- so per user-- per user per month, basically. But then there are add ons on top of that. And we have taken the courtesy of integrating Onfido on top of the admins that we-- you know, we have a good relationship with them, a good commercial agreement as well.

But it's very flexible in the sense that already the-- one of the first two POCs we signed, they don't want Onfido, they use someone else. So that we're doing it with their provider. So it's-- you can think of it as like two structures, a platform, and then we have already got some partners, a platform and license, and then some partners that we have with-- that we call them add ons, with charges per check or per authorization. And then if you have your own, you can plug your own on top. 

There is some setup fee so we can create this facility for you. Let's say you want to use Jumio, we create that facility for you for Jumio. And then you can use Jumio with your own contract, no strings attached with us.

Steve: Fascinating. You know, you answered this question, I think in your last response, but, monetization is always a challenge in the space of reusable identity or portable identity. So if I heard you right you have a charge for setup and then you have a charge for identities under management. So the infrastructure for how many identities the platform is leveraging is that right? 

Thanasis: That's right, yeah. And you know, bear in mind, we are very early so it's hard to say that will remain exactly as it is, but it looks like it's an appealing model for our partners. And it's also-- it also makes sense from the type of business we're trying to build. So we don't play with transaction figures. A lot of times, what we anticipate is that when we start using this in the context of the POCs we're building, users, individuals will use that multiple times, maybe multiple times in a day even, so we don't want to charge per API. 

We want to find a way that it's a license for-- basically the license, what it covers is our platform does various things. And one thing is you can create distributed identity clusters. So Skyscanner has its own identity cluster. But at the same time, when Easyjet integrates these three lines of code, it can identify Skyscanner users, but also Trip.com users. So when Easyjet does it once, then they can identify users from any cluster that they arrive.

Yeah, it starts like that. You have identity clusters, decentralized distributed identity clusters that are, I call this distributed syndication. I don't know if there is a term, but it recently arose from a conversation that if you think about Google is a syndication of ID and then you have Google here and then you have blockchain here and there are the two ends of the spectrum. And Google is big brother. Blockchain is an idealistic future where we're very far from companies and actually they don't see so far. And it's, it makes sense, right? So here we come in, we're closer to Google. We create distributed syndication models where Skyscanner has one and Amex has one and so on and so forth. And we eventually helped them transition towards the future where this is more user owned. It's already user owned in our model, but, eventually they will see the benefit would believe that opening up to everyone because it's consent driven, opening up to the whole ecosystem will benefit everyone because you'll be able to see much further than you can today. But this is a little bit further down there.

And I think this is like, how do we actually build that future is what we're trying to do now. Diverged again, I'm sorry. So distributed identity clusters, account creation in one tap, including carrying, identifiable data without usernames, without any, anything for the user to remember, and then we have enterprise grade time bound authorizations. This is all on the platform level and is what you get with the license. And by time bound authorizations, I mean that put it very simply, you have your ID on your phone and then you want to pass it to your computer. You control that, how you share it. And sometimes you might even have to take a selfie, depending on the use case. You pass your computer and you choose if you want to be time-- if you want to be one time or forever until you delete it anyway. Or, you want to enter a building, let's say I invite you to my WeWork, let's put that as an example, right? I invite you to my WeWork. I might pass you a one time authorization to enter my WeWork. So you can come the day you visit me, but you cannot enter every time. So this is all part of the platform and it comes with a license. 

Steve: The spectrum you just illustrated on one hand, big tech, on the other hand, the self sovereign identity future that a lot of pundits want to see us move towards. In the middle, I'm seeing more and more of this model of like centralized, decentralized, where it's still a big platform, but they're using terms that look decentralized. When we look at Google, we look at Facebook-- you even reference this on your website and in your LinkedIn-- where it's similar to a signing with Google and those businesses are really there to drive ad revenue. And so it's very hard to trust when you sign into those ecosystems, like how is this data going to be used? Is it going to be back to me as an ad targeting, what's your approach to privacy versus, say a Meta or, or an Alphabet. Like how have you thought about privacy by design? 

Thanasis: That's a very good question. I like that question because it's super tough and there is no right answer. There are many wrong answers, but there's no right answer, I think. Because blockchain is also not the right answer. It's very problematic in many ways. And I haven't done this in the last identity, it-- it's-- you need to jump through so many hoops. Sometimes when something's so complex, it means you have to try a different way. 

But, well, in principle, our ethos is we don't have access to your data. So your data is always encrypted. You can only decrypt it with your biometrics. And we also don't have access to the transactions of our customers by default. So when you use Skyscanner ID to book an EasyJet flight, we will not by default be able to see that. And this is built on the platform; so this is like hard coded. There's nothing we can do unless there's a consent in place. Why would there be a consent? Frankly right now we don't see the reason to be a consent because we're here to allow Skyscanner to drive its business further and make its business better so the consent should be between them and their users. And there are some ways, very premature, that we're thinking about how can this be built further using confidential computing. For example, like where there's data safe rooms where we can deduct some metrics and analytics without actually touching real data.

But this is-- being completely honest with you-- these are all like part of the we'd like to do that if we have the opportunity. We reached the point, but we're still in the go to market phase. So we have to be very pragmatic about what can we do today that makes sense. So by default, we don't see anything.

Everything is consent driven and I'll take it a little bit technical now, although I'm not a technical person. So at the protocol level, the reason we're using DNS is because of the user control, the controller gives the user DNS is it's literally, it's a decentralized system, right? DNS is the most successful decentralized system that exists. And all the protocols around DNS ensure that when Skyscanner creates its distributed identity cluster at the first phase, it becomes the syndication of Skyscanner users, but it is possible to move away from that by literally turning a switch, right? So it's not limiting in any way. If anything, it has the capacity in this scale of Google, blockchain, it has the capacity to very easily navigate towards the decentralized element, but it's more about how do we get there? It's more about how do we get companies to believe in that in a way that is not threatening to them. Because blockchain is threatening to companies; it's something they don't understand. It's something they are worried about because they're going to lose control of their users. And what we see from early signs, early indicators and POCs and also other companies we talked to is that they don't really have a problem with that. If you explain it differently, it's about framing. It's about framing and taking them on the journey. So when we take on the journey phase one, it's distributed syndication. But eventually when everyone is ready, we'll move to more decentralized. 

Steve: The thing about Google and Facebook is they brought scale first before they brought their identity federation.

I like how you describe this Skyscanner use case because the relying parties in this case are already bought into the ecosystem. So those identities are at the Skyscanner level. There's benefit immediately to all of those other downstream companies, as well as the end user at a bigger scale beyond the individual enterprise.

This cold start problem, I feel like has held back reusable identity, portable identity, verifiable credentials, whatever you may choose to call it. Where do you think the mass adoption use cases are going to lie? Certainly the travel use case is very interesting, but is that the one that's going to bring this to the masses?

Thanasis: Yeah, great question. I don't think I have a great answer, but I'll try. Again, I think I talked about this recently-- I talked about this recently, actually, in the video we produced, but it's the component of motivation and the component of ease of adoption. And if you can tackle both of them at once, it's fantastic.

You-- you're the king of the world. You can build adoption. You can build a massive business, but it's typically not easy to both. So we decided to take a holistic approach of how can we really reach both, but also find the low hanging fruit where there is a lot of users? And bear in mind, when I say we decided, that has been a product of like three or four pivots and two major pivots. So we decided is a little bit of, we thought hard about it, but also we got smacked in the face too many times trying different things. Long story short, because of the ability to create this simple user journey, we realized there are use cases that have a burning problem with that, and they have a lot of traffic.

Skyscanner is one of them, but a lot of aggregators have that traffic, and frankly, I haven't seen a single identity solution out there that actually can create that journey, that syndication model, simple enough. People like you and I don't really remember what they used. We don't remember if we used our Gmail or our Yahoo or I have five emails and sometimes I use my mobile phone, that creates some friction, which contributes to drop off.

Obviously, yeah, it's not massive. It's just a phone number, but we try to make it as simple as possible. That's why Magic as well-- like the whole concept of Magic started with the idea that it has to be simple like magic. We should breeze through our lives and things happen. doors open for us. So we started there and then, of course, the security part of it, that when you remove passwords and usernames, then you remove a massive attack vector, which is phishing.

So we realized that there is a huge case that we can address that is quite large. And if you look up this market we're addressing, it's actually a very lucrative market and there's a lot of users there. And because of the fact that when you, as I said, Skyscanner integrates are three lines of code. You can identify Skyscanner IDs, but I can also identify Trip.com IDs, you can identify Booking.com IDs. Then that creates-- hopefully again, right-- we have to make assumptions-- we don't know everything yet-- hopefully that will create an effect where eventually we'll see these ecosystems, this distributed syndication, distributed identity clusters merging. 

Steve: We're, we're coming up on time, Thanasis, when I think about the future direction of the market and the space, I think we're moving in a portable or reusable identity world that just makes the most sense. Where do you see your business five years, 10 years out? Like, what's your ultimate mission? 

Thanasis: Our ultimate mission is, as I said, that we should live in a world where we never have to register, verify, fill another form again, but we should be certain that our digital-- our digital twin-- that digital ID or digital twin, there is some AI playing there, like, you know, AI agents, sort of component does all, it takes care of all the boring aspects of our life, and we can do what we do best. We can create and we can think, and we don't have to worry about these things. But this can have two very different endings, right? So there can be an ending where we have a lock-in effect to big tech platform. And we already see that our clients don't like using sign up with Google. And it's something that was, it was not a shock, but I didn't understand how much people don't like it before I talked to a bunch of them.

So there's the dystopian future where we're locked in Siri or Google Assistant, let's call it like that. And it does some of these things for us because it's got integrations and it allows you to navigate and it does certain things on your behalf. But when you want to leave Siri, it's incredibly tough and the average person doesn't do it. And that is dystopian because then the power is so much-- so high that abuse is definitely going to come and it's already come. We've already seen abuse by big tech platforms, even Apple, who is playing the privacy vindicator role anyway. 

So there is that future and there's a future where there should be many ecosystems. And there should be agnostic geos, not necessarily, you know, one in Greece, one in the UK, one in the US, but maybe it's a geo, maybe it's an industry specific. I don't know how that will evolve in general, I cannot imagine how that will evolve, but I hope it doesn't evolve to a Google or Apple wallet sort of scenario.

And it should definitely-- the utopian side of it is a future where that ID, we control it. We have obviously all these good things about consent and data privacy -- this is a given by now -- I'm not even considering this as a USP, right? Consent and data privacy should be a given. But on top of that, we should be able to say, “you know what I don't like using Skyscanner ID anymore. I'll just pack it up and go to Trip.com.” Or I will take-- this is something we've been talking about a bit with Jacoby in a very theoretical, like philosophical way-- maybe we create a subscription service where you get a Raspberry Pi and it comes packed with all the security you need and you put in your plug in your home and it hosts your ID and then you're actually independent person on the web and you don't rely on anyone. But that is far from now. 

Ultimately though, the key is this, in that future we should have the choice, in that future we should have the choice to say, “I don't belong to Apple, I don't belong to Google, and I also don't belong to Onfido, or Yoti, or anyone. I can choose where I want to go, because I want to go there, and the moment I choose, it should be ridiculously simple to transfer all my life to the next ID.

It should be like literally one tap. You should be able to transfer everything it knows about you, all your information that allows you to be and exist in the digital realm and do the things you do. That is freedom. And that is where we'd like to go, yeah. 

Steve: Excellent. Thank you for sharing. It's a bold mission. It's a bold vision. So I wish you much success on the road ahead. 

Well, Thanasis, before we close out on the podcast, if you've seen any of these episodes, I like to go a little bit beyond the profile and the business stuff. And when I was looking into your background, I see that you played professional basketball. I'd love to hear just a little bit about that and how that might've informed your future professional work life. 

Thanasis: There was actually a point in time where I didn't want to study anything. I wanted to play basketball and I wouldn't be LeBron James for sure. I was quite good though. So I-- my team and I, we won two national championships under 19 in Greece. I was the captain of the team. And then I played as a pro in the national division-- first national division in Greece. So there was a point in time where all I could think of was basketball. I'm really competitive in general and I think that's one of the things that I kept as competition and discipline in the way that-- maybe not, not discipline necessarily-- but the persistence to continue and persevere, maybe. 

And then the other thing I definitely got from it and I hadn't realized until recently, but somebody told me about it and I was shocked at how important it is -- it's called stability. I grew up playing sports since I was 11. And there's-- when you play sports there's always someone over your head saying, “you shouldn't do that, you shouldn't do this, you should change how you do things.” And you have to listen because it's your coach, right? I don't know. Do you ever play sports? 

Steve: I played a little bit when I was younger, but no, I've not had the vast experience that some people have had in sports leagues and certainly not professional.

Thanasis: So you-- you might've noticed though, right? Like the coach is-- when the coach says something, you have to do what the coach says. And I was also blessed to have some really good coaches. So I think you can have good and bad coaches. So I had some bad coaches, but the majority of my coaches were very good. And that coachability, that mentality instills in you. I think it's one of the most important things that young professionals can gain. Because we have a lot of fire and we have a lot of drive, but we definitely don't know everything. And there is a balance to be met, right? So you have to have the fire, but you have to also have the ability to stop and listen and learn from people who've been there, done that, and have the t-shirt to prove it, you know? You don't have to let your ego drive you. I think I learned a lot. 

Steve: That's phenomenal. You go from professional captain of a basketball team to the captain of the startup Magic. So that's a-- it's a wonderful connection point. Well, as we get to the very end here, for those that are watching or listening to this episode, what kind of conversations are you looking for from the market? Are you looking for more investment or more potential pilot projects? Like how should people reach out to you? 

Thanasis: So we are not looking for investment right now, although we're going to start probably at some point in the summer in July. It takes a little bit longer here nowadays. Aside from that, we are definitely looking for-- we have two pilots going on, two POCs and two more in the contract stage, so we're-- we can probably take another couple and that is one of our goals, like create few cross industry POCs with the same similar mandates, so aggregator, and when I say aggregators, you can be Skyscanner, but it can also be Trivago. It can also be U Suites, which is, utilities. It can be a lot, there are a lot of different types of aggregator players, and from what I've seen in the market, maybe I'm wrong, maybe I've been proven wrong, there isn't a solution that serves that syndication experience better.

The Skyscanner ID, the one top sign up, the no password, no phishing, no usernames. So if you have anyone, if anyone is watching or you have anyone in mind, we would be more than glad to talk to them. And, worst case scenario, learn from them. 

Steve: Sounds great. I just thought of a few like Booking.com, Kayak.com, there's a whole ecosystem of those companies. So if anyone's listening or watching that knows that space, please reach out to Thanasis, I'll include a link to his LinkedIn profile, to their website. 

And thank you, sir, very much for taking the time to be on the podcast. I really enjoyed learning more about your personal background and your company background, and I'm really excited to see what you've got coming next this summer.

Thanasis: The pleasure is mine, Steve. Thank you so much for hosting me.

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