Today, I’m excited to share that we’ve raised funding that’ll bring us one step closer to becoming the identity layer of the internet. It’s a big goal, and to explain what that means, it might help to rewind the clock a bit…
How it all started
When businesses first needed to start verifying users online, the identity verification industry focused on providing services for distinct use cases, such as KYC/AML geared toward specific industries.
But today, the number and type of businesses that need to verify users online has exploded beyond that select pioneering group. Use cases are increasingly nuanced based on the specific needs of the business — whether it’s in a highly regulated industry or not. On top of this, truly knowing customers is more challenging than ever, partly because more people with different backgrounds are moving online and overall, people are becoming more comfortable with conducting transactions digitally. Identity platforms solving for a cookie-cutter use case cannot meet this heterogenous wave of demand.
I saw a version of this first-hand at Square as the company needed identity solutions across Square Capital, Caviar, Square Cash, and its flagship merchant onboarding product. As the business expanded horizontally, adding more products and services, its needs for identity became complex and specific to each product.
Additionally, businesses today understand that identity verification is no longer a one-time interaction. They need to form genuine relationships with their customers, which means identity verification should span the customer’s entire lifecycle, from onboarding to account recovery to high-risk transactions.
To put it simply, the rapid increase in the number of use cases — and individuals to verify — quickly rendered these specialized identity verification providers impractical.
In response, identity verification companies began offering all-in-one services, claiming to fit any and every use case. But despite the name, one-size-fits-all platforms don’t actually work well for many. They’re like socks that span six shoe sizes — they do the basic job of covering one’s feet alright but only really fit perfectly for a small subset of users.
In reality, businesses need to customize verification for each of their use cases and each individual customer to both evaluate risk and provide the best user experience possible. Someone claiming to be George Clooney should be vetted more thoroughly than Joe Shmoe, and someone who wants to order alcohol via Postmates should be verified differently than someone who’s applying to be a courier for the same company. Similarly, a customer looking to recover their account should go through a different process than someone onboarding for the first time.
When Charles and I began building Persona, we knew that in order to help businesses address both current and emerging use cases and stay on top of changing regulations, we needed to give them full control over the exact identity verification experience they wanted for each use case and customer. We wanted everything to be customizable — not just in terms of the look (e.g. the fonts and copy) — but also in terms of the logic, from the number and types of verification methods they wanted to implement to how many times users could go through each flow. Perhaps even more importantly, we wanted to provide their customers — our end users — with the best user experience possible by offering helpful guidance, auto-capture, and easy device handoff via SMS, email, or QR code.
Identity is more important than ever, so we also wanted to make sure everyone could use our services — not just businesses who have ample engineering and financial resources. That’s why we offer a variety of integration methods, including no-code and low-code options, and we’re the first in the industry to offer a permanently free plan that gives businesses up to 500 free government ID and selfie verifications a month.
Where we’re headed
It sounds simple, but building all the componentry businesses need to customize identity verification is actually a huge challenge, involving everything from figuring out exactly what the abstractions are to making sure all of the elements interface with each other seamlessly.
But that is what we are doing — building infrastructure that every business, as different as they may be, can use to verify identities and make decisions the way they want to. Like LEGOs, while we offer guidance and standard templates businesses can use to get started quickly, we also allow them to take our building blocks and design and create any identity verification experience they can imagine.
But we’re not just stopping at building the most flexible identity verification solution out there. Ultimately, our goal is to become the identity layer of the internet, which means two things:
For businesses, we want to do what AWS did — but for identity. When AWS came along, companies no longer had to think about their web infrastructure or network. In the same vein, we want to provide the identity infrastructure businesses need so they don’t have to build it themselves, piece together multiple services, store customer data, or worry about bad actors or fraud. Instead, they can focus on other aspects of their business. Founders build companies because they want to fix a larger problem — not because they love thinking about infrastructure.
For individuals, we want to make the internet safer and less scary. With the rise of data breaches and identity theft, no one feels secure today. Submitting personal information is intimidating, but our goal is to ensure everyone feels comfortable identifying who they are by providing the most seamless, secure, and personalized identity verification (IDV) experience possible. After all, identity is personal — we think identity verification should be, too.
Our series B
Since we launched in 2018, we’ve helped businesses of all sizes and industries — from fintech companies like Square to edtech companies like Udemy. No two customers use us the same way, which makes sense because each company has their own unique customers, use cases, and risk tolerance. We’re not one-size-fits-all, but our configurable building blocks allow us to be one platform for all.
To propel Persona forward on our mission, we’ve raised a $50 million Series B round led by Index Ventures, with participation from our existing investor Coatue. Mark Goldberg from Index Ventures has been a huge supporter of us since our seed stage, and we’re honored he’s joining our board of directors.
One of the things I’m most proud of out of everything we’ve accomplished so far is our amazing team — we wouldn’t be where we are today without every person who has joined us. That’s why we’re excited to use our new funds to both grow the team and scale our services, adding more and more features to help customers not only verify identities more accurately but also collect PII, streamline case management, automate decisions, and more.
Charles and I didn’t start Persona with a grand vision to save the world, but I’m proud that our team is helping make the internet more human one verification at a time. We’ve accomplished a lot in a short period of time, but there’s still tons for us to do, and we’re excited to keep doing so.