Day In The Life interview: Robin Tombs
This week we spoke with Robin Tombs, CEO of Yoti, the startup that is revolutionising the way we verify our identity, a simple mobile solution that can be used anywhere from nightclubs to supermarkets!
1. First can you tell us a bit about your job? What does your company do?
I’m CEO of Yoti, a company whose aim is to be the world’s trusted identity system. Using smartphone technology, our in-house engineering team has transformed paper identity documents, such as passports and driving licences into Yoti, your digital identity app. Yoti helps you prove who you are to companies and people, online and in person.
After downloading the free app, it takes just a few minutes to create your digital identity: take a selfie, add your mobile number, enter a 5 digit PIN, and scan your photo ID with your phone. You’ll be able to use Yoti to prove your age at nightclubs, bars and supermarkets, check verified details of people you meet online, and prove your identity to businesses. You will also be able to store all of your passwords safely and simply log into websites with your Yoti.
2. What brought you to this area?
A few years ago I was at a Spartan race event in California with my Yoti co-founder Duncan Francis. Thousands of people were queuing up to prove who they were with either their passport or driving licence. It was a tedious and painful process, and then people had to leave their valuable identity documents in their bags in a big tent for the day.
I spoke to Duncan and between us we spotted an opportunity to harness the growth and advancement of biometric technologies and smartphone usage to develop a digital identity solution that could be used both online and in person – giving people a much easier and safer way of proving who they are.
The current way of proving our identity, or checking the identity of someone else, is fragmented, inefficient and complex. There’s too much reliance on paper documents, despite the advances in technology and the growing expectation that you can do everything on your phone – including proving your identity.
3. What time does your day start, and what does your typical workday schedule look like?
My day usually starts by catching up with the management team, followed by any product meetings on specific issues or points we need to discuss. Following this I’ll catch up with the commercial team – hearing customer feedback quickly is really important, especially now that we are live in the app stores. It’s still early days so listening and learning from any customer feedback is so important and will help shape the product. I normally spend my afternoons either presenting Yoti to a business or attending external events.
4. What kind of projects are you currently working on?
We’re working on some clever facial anti spoofing, and face detection algorithms. Plus one or two exciting things which I need to keep quiet for now!
5. What do you consider the greatest achievement in your work to date?
Prior to Yoti, I was co-founder and finance director at Gamesys, one of the world’s leading online gaming operators. I’m obviously very proud of being part of the team which helped build Gamesys into a world class business. I’m also very excited to be working with a great team on Yoti, which I believe could be useful to millions of people over years to come. And by millions of people, that means people young and old, from different backgrounds and countries.
6. What is the one app you could not live without?
The Times as it’s readable anywhere in the world.
I’m also a fan of any tools to make things easier, including Google Drive, Skype, FaceTime and Slingbox.
7. What’s the best thing about working at your company?
My favourite thing is to see young people tackle lots of challenges each week. Everyone sits in an open plan office which is great for encouraging collaboration across teams. It’s always great to see people come together to develop creative solutions to complex problems.
The enthusiasm and passion for Yoti from our employees is also inspiring – I’m often amazed by the innovative ideas our team continue to think of!
8. Where is the after work hangout?
The Lemon Tree in Bedfordbury, close to our office.
9. Who is your professional role model?
Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS. His idea to have a business model that helps people in need every time a product is purchased is so inspiring. It’s fantastic to see how a simple idea can make such a difference to millions of people around the world.
10. What makes London a good city for technology and startups?
It’s a great place for networking and meeting new people because there’s so much innovation and such a variety of companies in one city.
It’s also a great place for attracting a talented workforce – it’s a great city with so many opportunities, so naturally it’s a popular place for people to work. This means we have a diverse and highly talented workforce all in one place.
11. Which tech trends are you most excited about?
New technology that actually solves a problem and makes my life easier. It’s also exciting to see how many people around the world are getting the same opportunities to improve their lives due to smartphone and technological developments.
12. What are the top 3 qualities you look for in an employee?
We always look for the Yoti DNA in team members: positive, committed and collaborative.
Positive – those who have a great attitude and always try and tackle challenges with a smile.
Committed – those who are willing to go the extra mile, and don’t give up if they stumble across a problem.
Collaborative – we encourage collaboration across different teams so it’s important our employees are both active listeners and participants, and communicate their ideas clearly.
It’s also important that our employees are transparent and accountable – this is one of our core values so this needs to be reflected in our team. And of course we look out for champions – people who believe in Yoti, our purpose, and our principles.
13. What is the one piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur starting out?
Consider whether you are solving a compelling problem for a significant number of people. It’s vital to ask different people about your idea and listen to their thoughts and feedback. You may think it’s a brilliant idea, but you need to learn and validate if there is an appetite for it! Any early feedback you get will also be so valuable for shaping and developing your idea.
It’s also important to not give up the day job until you know there is an addressable market for your business. You need to be sure your idea has legs to grow.
14. What advice would you give your younger self when starting out?
Learn to code. Having spent most of my career working in the technology industry I think having a greater knowledge of coding would have been a useful skill. Secondly I’d say work in a different country for a year. This gives you the chance to immerse yourself in a different culture, experience working in a new environment, and see part of the world whilst working! And finally network, network, and network some more! Often in business it’s not what you know, but who you know!
15. If you could do anything differently what would it be?
Over the past few months we’ve been speaking to lots of people about Yoti to understand what they think about a digital identity app. We could have done more of this earlier so that from day one we understood what more of our consumers wanted. We did spend a lot of time talking to businesses about their current identity verification methods to learn how these could be improved, but we could have complemented this with more consumer research.