Article: This CEO aims to give people control over their digital identities


This CEO aims to give people control over their digital identities

With tech innovation proliferating rapidly, Glenn Gore, CEO of Singapore-based startup Affinidi, believes the next major wave will be empowering individuals to reclaim control of their digital identities and personal data
This CEO aims to give people control over their digital identities

For nearly three decades, Glenn Gore has been in the trenches of the tech industry. He's witnessed firsthand the breakneck acceleration of innovation cycles—seismic shifts that once took 4-6 years now unfold in just 1-2. This accelerated clip is electrifying yet demanding—breakthroughs can instantaneously disrupt established business models, so unyielding commitment to innovation is a must. 

Reflecting on the web's evolution, Glenn recalls the early days when users were mere consumers of information. Then came the mobile camera revolution. Suddenly, we all became producers! This ignited the explosive rise of YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook—a second generation of platforms that irrevocably changed how we share and consume data. But one question remains unanswered: who truly owns our digital identities and information?

In Glenn's view, the next wave will centre on reclaiming this ownership—focusing on a holistic identity. The prospect of simplifying this process is electrifying—something that Glenn has been trying to fix with his startup called Affinidi. Headquartered in Singapore, the startup, with over 100 employees, has teams in Bangalore, Berlin, Germany, and Ukraine. In an exclusive interview with us, Affinidi's CEO shares his vision for the future of digital identity management and more.

Here are the edited excerpts:

How do you view the current digital identity landscape? What key trends or developments excite you?

We live in remarkable times, with technology influencing virtually every domain. A major trend emerging from this digital entanglement is individuals reclaiming ownership over their data and identities as automation proliferates. Controlling our personal information carries big implications, especially for businesses. 

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Another key shift is recognising privacy's paramount importance amidst the integration of digital into every facet of life. As platforms continue to evolve rapidly, streamlining identity portability will be critical moving forward.  

Consider how digital interactions already shape our lives, from outdated search engines to short-lived social media platforms. Our extensive digital footprints essentially comprise our identities today.

Before we dive deep into the Affinidi story, can you tell us about the current landscape of the tech startup ecosystem in Singapore? 

Strategically positioned globally, Singapore leverages its compact size for impactful innovation, particularly in identity and data. A haven for tech startups, Singapore empowers entrepreneurs like myself, enabling a focused approach to business development without the hassle of the basics. The government actively champions technology initiatives, positioning Singapore as a driver of Asia's swift tech progress. 

How does Affinidi's approach to reclaiming data and identity ownership differ from traditional identity management?  

Affinidi stems from a belief in protecting privacy. We've seen how internet misuse can compromise privacy by manipulating beliefs and spreading misinformation. It's evident that privacy needs safeguarding. Despite the golden age of innovation we're in, there's a pressing need to look ahead and recognise the evolving landscape of privacy.

With the introduction of privacy regulations like GDPR in Europe, the California Consumer Privacy Act in the US, and similar standards globally, businesses are finding it increasingly challenging to handle data responsibly. This, in turn, can hinder the customer experience. Take the example of a bank with distinct divisions for retail banking and wealth management. These divisions often face constraints in sharing vital information, even though, from the customer's standpoint, it's one cohesive brand. This fragmentation limits our ability to provide a seamless experience.

At Affinidi, we believe that by empowering individuals with ownership of their own data, they can have more control over what they choose to share with trusted brands. This shift enables a mutually beneficial exchange where individuals receive value, whether in the form of savings, tailored product recommendations, or other benefits. It's a paradigm shift that promises a future of enhanced experiences. I believe the next frontier lies in granting individuals greater agency over their personal data in terms of anonymous sharing and timing. 

How do you assess the acceptance and adoption of your services? And, what strategies are you employing to promote this data ownership model?

Individuals want data ownership, and businesses seek deeper insights into consumers for enhanced services. Navigating the transition from a beloved vision to a tangible product is a challenge faced by many new tech startups. This is where our focus lies: finding the most effective ways to facilitate this transition for as many people as possible. Affinidi not only benefits users but also creates opportunities for startups. By encouraging data sharing, it levels the playing field in a market dominated by a few. This democratisation of data access can revolutionise digital interactions, empowering startups to craft personalised user experiences.

We recently refreshed our brand messaging and partnered with IDC for market research. Their report contains compelling statistics, like 40% preferring one-click onboarding and 50% basing service use on privacy policy transparency. This indicates people's openness to sharing data in exchange for value.

In the process, how are you leveraging next-gen technologies such as AI to enhance identity verification and authentication processes?

We're prioritising edge-based processing over cloud centralisation for enhanced efficiency. This approach, utilising 5G and powerful edge devices, ensures user ownership and control. Our enthusiasm extends to decentralised technology, including decentralised storage and solutions like DWNs (Decentralized Web Nodes). These advancements create secure connections for storage, processing, and identity, along with asynchronous messaging for safe communication.

We're focused on deploying AI directly on the device and tailoring it to be a personalised AI accessible exclusively to the individual. We refer to this as the Affinidi Concierge. It empowers users to ask questions about their data. From inquiries about favourite brands to insights on fitness activities and even personalised recommendations, the Affinidi Concierge leverages not only AI advancements but also generative AI to provide an extra layer of personalisation.

How do you lead and manage your team, and what's your approach to hiring individuals who align with your team's values and mindset?

At Affinidi, we approach people management with a focus on providing a high degree of freedom. We seek individuals who challenge existing norms and are driven to make a meaningful impact. We encourage high creativity and disrupting the status quo. But we also emphasise executing ideas and achieving pragmatic results. Finding exceptional talent is challenging. While many capable people exist, competition is significant. Communicating our vision effectively is crucial to resonating with potential candidates. 

How do you navigate the balance between leveraging technology for effective collaboration and recognising the value of in-person interactions within your teams?

While technology allows us to collaborate effectively, there's still no substitute for in-person interactions. We invest in opportunities for teams to meet face-to-face based on project needs, but it's not always feasible for everyone.

We've had to address unexpected situations in regions like Ukraine, where providing support beyond typical work-related matters became essential. This includes things like supplying generators, sleeping bags, and other supplies to ensure their safety and well-being during challenging times. These are responsibilities I never anticipated as a CEO, but they underscore the importance of putting our team's well-being first, no matter the circumstances. It's about doing what's right for our people, even if it means going above and beyond the traditional scope of leadership duties.

What are your top priorities for 2024? 

Our top priorities revolve around advancing the concept of data ownership and making it not just a vision but a tangible reality. Here are my top priorities:

  • Evangelise and convince others of the benefits of data ownership
  • Enable a fundamental shift in how people interact with their data
  • Construct products and technologies that empower identity ownership
  • Highlight tangible benefits users experience like increased security, engagement, and satisfaction
  • Shift focus to driving adoption rather than just discussing the vision

How do you envision the future landscape of digital identity management?

I foresee a future where a billion people not only control their digital identities but also reap tangible benefits. Picture a world where individuals contribute valuable research data to advance medicine, enhancing healthcare for all. Envision a reality where people find greater happiness expressing themselves naturally and generating income through responsible data use, unlocking new opportunities. This isn't just about the present; it's about leaving a legacy, transforming how we approach data ownership. Fundamentally, it empowers individuals to control the data created throughout their digital lives—the future we aim to create.

What are your expectations from the government side? 

When it comes to governments, our conversations have been incredibly positive and supportive. Affinidi's system works harmoniously alongside many existing national identity frameworks. For instance, in India, it complements Aadhaar and DigiLocker, and in Singapore, it works in tandem with Singpass and MyInfo, rather than seeking to replace them.

What are the key challenges you're currently grappling with in meeting both business needs and the demand for accelerated innovation?

Firstly, there's the question of whether people are willing to adjust their behaviours for the sake of their privacy. We've become accustomed to free products and services, often in exchange for our data. Building trust in a new brand and conveying our commitment to privacy by design, security, and data ownership is a formidable task.

Secondly, we're integrating various cutting-edge technologies that haven't been used at scale before. Decentralised identifiers (DID) and technologies like the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) have been around for some time, but deploying them at this level of scale carries inherent risks.

The third challenge lies in keeping up with the rapid pace of innovation. The rate at which new technologies and ideas are emerging globally is astonishing. While this democratises entrepreneurship and innovation, it also means we need to move quickly to stay ahead. With tools like generative AI making it easier than ever to develop products and start businesses, the competition is fiercer than ever. All this requires us to be smart, agile, and forward-thinking in our approach.

With decades of experience as a tech leader, what advice would you offer HR leaders in effectively managing tech talent?

Flexibility is key when it comes to managing tech talent. Here are some pieces of advice:

  1. Embrace Technology Fearlessly: Understand that technology is integral to the future; anyone can learn to work with it.
  2. Establish a Clear Digital Strategy: Develop and communicate a clear digital strategy to guide the organisation's direction.
  3. Cultivate a Learning Culture:  Foster a culture where employees are encouraged to learn and experiment with new technologies, offering training opportunities.
  4. Trust and Embrace Innovation: Trust employees' intentions with technology, recognising that embracing new tools enhances efficiency and productivity. Encourage risk-taking.
  5. Tailor Technology Preferences: Acknowledge diverse technology preferences within the team, allowing individuals to choose tools aligned with security and compliance while providing flexibility for digital natives.

Delve into exclusive CEO and MD interviews in our LeadingEdge series! Gain fresh insights from top leaders in India, Singapore, and beyond.

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Topics: Startups, #LeadingEdge, #CEOseries

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