Out of Stealth: Searching for Dreams vs Risking Reality (Update #6)
I am very excited to say that Footprint plans on coming out of stealth in one week on August 3rd. This will of course be just one of many “launches”; there is still so much more to do. It is, however, a moment that we should all feel proud to reach. Below I outline why we are introducing ourselves to the world now, just seven months into building.
Before that, I want to thank those who helped us get here. My brilliant and kind co-founder Alex, for being the best partner I could have dreamed of and making this journey so much fun. Shardul and Zabie at Index, for the constant advice, help, and support, and believing in me despite me opening our first meeting with a stand-up set that was very much still being workshopped. Our incredible team who continues to amaze me day in and day out. I remember writing the first business plan for Footprint from my dorm room on February 3rd, 2020, Avicii playing and smiling with an absurd conviction that this dream would be worth pursuing. Two and a half years later to the day, is time for that dream to no longer just be mine.
The Brilliance of Apple Branding
Apple’s marketing brilliantly straddles an interesting chasm, and I begrudgingly admire it greatly. In a term paper I wrote my senior year of college on the history of business models in Silicon Valley, I described how Apple’s branding historically has been a paradox (fwiw, I think it still is in many ways). Steven Levy’s book Hackers describes how Steve Wozniack was a frequent attendee at Homebrew Computer Club meetings, a group of technology enthusiasts in the 1970s who believed that technology should not be made with profit in mind, but more so as a tool to inspire creatives and unlock ideas—an ethos also known as the hacker ethic. In fact, an early Apple ad declared “our philosophy is to provide software for our machines free or at minimal cost.” Levy describes that many CEOs in the early 1980s followed a version of this hacker ethic, believing that “it was time to scrap the divisive practices of corporate business and adopt a more hacker-like approach.” While there was still a price attached to these products, there was still an underlying belief that the more people who had access to Apple products and built-in programs, the more creative—and therefore, better—the world would be.
However, Apple’s commercial success in the 1980s began to conflict with this pure hacker ethic—and for the better. By 1984, Levy writes that, “Apple was not a showcase for tricks; this was not Homebrew.” In other words, Apple could put out as much Homebrew ideology as they pleased, but at the end of the day, they were still a profit-driven corporation. Apple’s Super Bowl commercial that year—which has gone down as one of the most famous super bowl ads of all time—proudly declared that their computer would help bring people away from a bureaucratic government machine, and break through into freedom. The ad concluded with the line “Don’t let 1984 be 1984,” a reference to George Orwell’s famous dystopian book. The ad hits on two concepts I have written about previously: technology is scary and we must disarm that fear for mass commercial adoption (April update) and that we cannot simply hope to create a movement, but must earn that trust with each decision (February update). And this ad does a great job: Apple has been able to show that you can be a true champion of people and a better internet, while simultaneously building a large corporation. They sell people a vision baked into a fairly different product. But the vision is in the product because we collectively now choose to see it inside. It’s a model I admire, and hope to follow.
Many of you have pointed out a similar paradox at the end of my pitch: Footprint has a mission of putting people in control of their data, and yet we’re presently building a security vaulting company to solve KYC and account creation. You’re right. But much like Apple has convinced consumers that buying an iPhone equates to buying into the company’s vision of technological democracy, Footprint’s job is to demonstrate to consumers that by using us for account creation, they take control of their data. And we really do mean this as our mission! I want to start building trust with the public (and not just hope it will exist); we want to make technology seem less scary. I’m also incredibly proud of the work the team has done with Tech Fights Dobbs. As a seed company we have now brought on close to a dozen companies—many of whom far larger—to share our mission of using technology to give people back trust, and help protect women's data privacy. Maybe that is how Apple does it—rise to the occasion in the big moments, and build smart the rest of the time. Maybe Apple isn’t a paradox; they realize that public opinion comes from those 1% of days where everyone is watching, and they can use the other days to prepare for those unique occasions. From now on, we will build, succeed, and fail in public. Hopefully, this will let us gain their trust.
Dreams, Failure + Compounding Habits
We have a “book club” at Footprint. It started as yet another desperate attempt by me to make friends, but I really enjoyed the first book, Atomic Habits. In Part III, author James Clear describes the difference between being in motion vs. taking action. When in motion you’re planning, strategizing, and learning; these are all important steps, but don't actually produce a result. More tangibly, outlining 20 ideas for an article or a product architecture is motion, publishing the article or launching the alpha product is action. Clear gives the example of a photography class where half the students were told they’d be graded on the quantity of photographs they turned in, while the other half on the quality of the best photo they submitted. The result was that all of the best photos were created by the first group, because they were constantly iterating on methods of how to take photos instead of waiting for the “perfect” shot.
Part of this urge to delay action and dreams is biological: the same reward system in our brains are activated when we receive a reward as when we anticipate one. In fact, the dopamine hit is often larger in anticipation than in the fulfilled reality. Studies have found that 100% of the nucleus accumbens (I have no clue what this is in the brain, but it sounds fancy, and here is a video explaining them) is activated when we want something, whereas just 10% of it is activated when we actually receive the reward.
I’ve been dreaming of telling the world about Footprint for two and a half years. As Paulo Coelho writes in The Alchemist, “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” You may believe that in time you can travel the world, meet someone special in the most unexpected place, or that a late-night dorm room writing session could become a company. We can permit ourselves to think that if something is meant to be that it will happen, today or in the near future.
This is why dreams are great: the brain’s reward is in some ways greater than it is when you complete your goal, and there is no risk of failure. But it is also why there are so many traps we can stay in to put off really going for it, and risk the very real possibility of our dreams being dashed when we put our ideas, thoughts, and wants out there. While dreams are useful to propel you forward in pursuit of your goals, they’re not real. Conversely, the fear may be worse than the failure. Clear writes that “the biggest reason you slip into motion rather than taking action is because you want to delay failure.” Coelho seems to agree, writing “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
Dreams, as a result, can involve a lack of trust in ourselves if we stay in them for too long. A lack of comfort and trust in what we can’t control. A final quote from Coelho: “…that you could have trusted more…Because what kept you at the oasis was your own fear that you might never come back. At that point, the omens will tell you your treasure is buried forever.” So maybe this leads me back to two key themes in my updates: trust and hope. To trust ourselves is to acknowledge the fragility of our dreams. To hope is to realize that we can still live out parts of our dreams without solely defining success as a final milestone. Trusting ourselves is giving us the space and tools needed to process failure along the way to learn and become better. Hope is staring fear and failure in the face—not neglecting their presence, but welcoming them as an inescapable part of any dream. Smiling amidst the chaos and laughing at what could very well be our own despair. As things move quickly, it is trusting where that new wave or riptide pulls us, knowing we don’t only have one night left to spend. Action lets us get answers—good or bad—and to move on without a false hope.
Don’t get me wrong—I love dreams—they change the world. But they only have that chance if put into action. Without launching our company, we’ll never know if Footprint is just a neat idea, or a world-changing product. But we must find out either way.
Goals From Last Month & Updates
Make meaningful progress towards Footprint beta
One of our major goals for this month was to be able to do live customer demos and we’re happy to say we’re finally there! Easily, one of our favorite moments in prospective customer conversations is to pull out a phone or a laptop, and in minutes show the live Footprint experience. We finally get to see people’s reaction and get real-time feedback. One consistent feedback we get is that our 1-click onboarding using FaceID just feels like magic :). The best part is that there’s no smoke here, it’s the real product.
Our live demo shows first time onboarding, liveness checks with FaceID, 1-click onboarding, our customer dashboard and our vault decryption interface — all in just a few minutes
The team has done remarkable work to thoughtfully refine each step of the user experience, and we’re still in the early innings here. We truly are here to build the best identity verification and onboarding experience on the internet.
By the end of the month we’ll be able to send prospectives a link to a customized and branded demo app integrated with the Footprint verification flow.
We’re also making amazing progress on early product designs for key partnerships, such as verification of income and KYB.
- We are now patent-pending for our core technology (including our overall architecture, as well as use of both nitro enclaves + liveness biometrics in onboarding).
- We should be SOC2 Type 1 compliant as of Sunday
The Slightly Less Good
- To me trust means transparency through the good and bad. We’ve had a lot of good since starting, but I don’t want to hide anything from our investors. We’re sad to say one of our team members has left the company. They’ll be missed, and we hope happier in a different type of environment. In hindsight, the fit may not have been perfect here, and we learned a lot about our own process. Turnover is never easy to deal with even if we know it is part of company building. We remain confident in our ability to hit our goals and have a very strong recruiting pipeline, but wanted to be transparent with our investors here. A final Atomic Habits quote: “success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine”.
Where We Could Use Help
- Would love help if know of any great frontend or risk engineers
- Customer Intros/Discovery - Never ends 🙂
- Having a launch event in NYC Aug 3rd—swing by (and bring fintech port-cos 😉
Note: Some content has been removed from the bottom half of the update to protect privacy of individuals/companies involved.
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