What is BeehiveID, and Should You Be Using It?
BeehiveID is an Austin Startup that was founded in March of 2013 by co-founders Mary Haskett and Dr. Alex Kilpatrick. It’s an algorithm that protects websites from fraud by examining the social graph of users of the site. By looking at their Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. profiles, BeehiveID is able to identify the complexity of the social graph and connections, and thus discover if the visitor is fraudulent or not. Real people using your site have complex social webs; fraudsters (or people with no history) have shallow social webs. They also use public and private data sources to verify other aspects of the account – use of stock photographs, for example.
We interviewed Mary for Austin Startup Week; enjoy!
What need did you see in the marketplace that gave you the idea for Beehive ID, and how does it help your clients?
“My co-founder and I pitched a different idea to the Microsoft Accelerator powered by TechStars in Seattle and were accepted into the program. We were very enthusiastic about our concept, but in the program they asked us to validate our idea by doing customer interviews. Our goal was to talk to 100 people who might purchase the service we wanted to build before making the decision to build it.
“We starting calling and following the customer discovery process and discovered pretty quickly that while people were interested in our idea, they weren’t enthusiastic about it. So we shifted to asking what their problem was, and we found out that every single web company we talked to had fraud problems, often in ways that we never would have expected. We actually were impressed at the creativity of the fraudsters and their ability to exploit vulnerabilities.
“However, fraud is, at its heart, an identity problem. Identity is something we know really well, and as we talked to potential customers we developed an idea for a very lightweight, but strong identity program that we thought would solve their problems. We got further validation on *that* idea and found that people really wanted it.
“Fundamentally, web sites want to reduce fraud, but they can’t reduce it at the expense of increasing friction. That was our key idea, how to almost eliminate fraud without increasing friction.
“More companies fail because they build amazing things nobody wants to pay for than fail because they can’t figure out how to build something that people want or need.”
It’s Austin StartUp Week; what advice would you give someone out there just entering the ring? They have a good idea, but don’t know what to do next.
“Austin is one of the best places I know to start a company. There are resources everywhere you look (not just this week) and people excited about entrepreneurship everywhere you go. If you are just starting out, you want to meet those people and join that community.
● “Go to Austin networking events – you need to go to each event several times before you will get a feel for them.
● “Find mentors – people here are amazingly generous with their time and friendly to people just starting out. If you really are very inexperienced, you want to spend some time learning from people who have done this before, because a good idea is just the starting point. How to execute that good idea is the critical part and it’s harder than they make it look in the movies.”
What was your biggest “win” early?
“Being accepted into the Microsoft Accelerator powered by TechStars was a huge vote of confidence. And that was before we had a company or a product. It was an amazing opportunity to take three months and just focus entirely on the core of the business. But it also told us that a team of people who were more experienced than us had looked at our idea and saw something worthwhile in there.”
What was the first thing that happened that told you this startup was for real and was going to take the next step?
“We started talking to prospective customers and looking for someone to beta test BeehiveID. This was when the core algorithm was complete but there was still a LOT of work to be done. We explained what we were doing and explained that everything was still unpolished (to say the least). The founder we were talking to said ‘I will do whatever it takes to work with you guys. I’m on board.’ This was a large company with over a million users and they had enough data for us to chew on for a while. We closed the deal with them on our first phone call.”
What’s the biggest/most important step for your company right now that you’re trying to take?
“The most important thing for us right now is execution. We have all the building blocks we need (for now). So we have to go slowly enough that we develop the algorithm and refine what is still a rough product, but fast enough to make our name in the marketplace. We have to sell the heck out of it (improving our sales process) because if people don’t want to buy, then you don’t have anything anyway.
“We still have a small team and we are wearing multiple hats so finding the balance between all the competing pressures is critical. There are only so many hours in a day and there is always too much to do. Choosing what you *don’t* do is as important and choosing what to do.”
Where do you see this Austin startup in 5 years?
“Nobody can predict that far in the future – I try to keep my goals more short term than that, but my goal is for BeehiveID to be the default way for website operators get to know their users and prevent fraud, bad actors, spam and abuse in online communities.”
How do you set goals? Do you reward yourself and/or your team?
“I’ve built teams before and we will eventually get more formal with rewards but right now we are all so excited to see BeehiveID develop – it’s an algorithm and we need to feed it data in order for it to grow. Watching it develop is its own reward right now. I feel lucky that I have the opportunity to do this.”
Can you share a goal or two you’re shooting for right now, and how you approach that?
“We have learned an enormous amount from our first customer implementation. However, that system is becoming stable and we are learning fewer and fewer things. Our goal is to do five more implementations in the next few months. Our focus at this point isn’t on revenue, but on learning. Once we have those five more implementations complete, we think we will have learned enough to really ramp up the customer acquisition process. Our primary mechanism for finding new clients is to exploit our network.”
Any final thoughts?
“The only way to truly fail is to quit.”