Eli Wachs
Eli Wachs

Investor Update

November 1, 2023

7 min. read

Lao Shi (Update #20)

I hope everyone had a great September!

It was a nice first month for our Fall of Maturity. We’re excited to have three customers go live on onboarding this month, including two yesterday, after a lot of QA in September. This puts us on our goal of bringing portable identities into the Footprint ecosystem. Our goal is to end the year within a year of 1M PIDs with the existing customer base.

Supporting larger customers means being the recipient of a great deal of trust. There was a time in September when Alex and I were in a customer’s office doing QA and they had 20 team members around a table with us. Footprint sits in multiple critical paths, and it is a responsibility we do not take lightly. There are no mulligans because we are a young company. If anything, we have a tighter leash. Nothing is more important than delighting these customers. We caught up with the CEO of one of our customers last weekend, who told us his goal is “for every integration we do to our customers to look like the Footprint integration for us.” Our goal is for everyone to feel this way. And that work never stops.

This update is about my favorite teacher in high school. It is also about what it really means to learn, grow, and succeed. I write a lot about the importance of goals. This is about how milestones can also be deceiving, and allow us to cheat ourselves. Last month I wrote about feelings. This is another one. You can’t fake it.

Wishing everyone a great October!



I’ve always chased milestones. One thing I have been working on is to define success less by those milestones. Those big goals are still useful for a lot of things—I’ve written about that before. But, you should not need to wait to achieve that milestone to feel confident about your direction.

My favorite class in high school was my ninth-grade Mandarin class. It was taught by a legendary teacher—Lao Shi. I would only realize the next year after she had retired that all other Chinese teachers put their last name before Lao Shi (ie. my next Mandarin teacher was named Kan Lao Shi). She just took Lao Shi—teacher. I don’t think it was cocky. She truly was the greatest teacher any of us had ever had.

I’m not sure if I ever worked as hard in a class and learned so much. I spent a lot of nights finishing PSets for Calc 3. And took away a ton from my class on the History of Ignorance which only had one paper at the end. But never the combination of the two. Her class inspired me to study abroad in China that summer. My Mandarin was better after that one year than my Spanish was after seven years when I graduated high school.

Several things made the class unique. There were no exams—the original milestones I often thought about in life. Instead, we had to write a story every week and come and read it. When we made an error, we would have to figure it out, correct it, and find another time outside of class to come and finish reading it. There was also no textbook. Lao Shi instead made custom vocabulary and grammar lessons to teach us what she thought we needed to learn at each step in our journey. The class was also about more than language. I remember as a Freshman, her seniors were so good that her class for all intents and purposes had become a pottery class as they had so little left to learn. As freshmen, we learned about Chinese philosophy and history. I did a presentation on the Ming Dynasty, wrote an essay on Daoism, and another on the Cultural Revolution. Lao Shi knew a language was more than words—it was a way of thinking.

At the end of the year, we took a final exam (the school made her give one), and we received a grade. Both were more or less formalities. Each of us knew how far we had come in our learning. The class had a lot of attrition. Two classes of 15 would converge to one of the same size the next year.

To everyone else—the school included-Lao Shi was an enigma. This was a Prep School. The unofficial goal was to get good grades to go to a good college. Study what you need to get a good grade on the test. Memorize it the night before. Sparknotes was a helpful bookmark, Spanish translation on the web had gotten fantastic, you could program so much in a TI-84. The Common App was another grade per se. And as studies show, kids from prep schools often are quite good at figuring out how to do well on them. They disproportionately go on to attend good schools. There, they will do well. Not necessarily a reflection on their ability, but of the beauty of grade inflation. The bargain continues—put in the work so the teacher can justify the grade. Get into school. Get a job.

I think ~2020-2021 for tech was one of those classes at one of those good schools. Put in the work—four months is a semester; eight a year. And then graduate. Raise your next round. Put in the work—get three companies interested in using your product—and get the grade. I am not saying this to be facetious or curt—if I am being honest the simplicity of it made a lot of sense given most lessons we got growing up in life.

Lao Shi showed us that life isn’t a graded exam that you can fake your way through. The successful acquisition of knowledge and other skills is binary: at the end of the day, you’ll only set yourself up for failure if you don’t actually master what you’re trying to learn. We can only cheat ourselves.

To me, she increasingly is the only teacher who prepared me for life. And startups. It doesn’t really matter if I can regurgitate what Alex said about passkeys. Or our PCI auditor said about being a processor vs a controller. If I don’t have a real inherent understanding of what these tools are, I won’t be able to think big about our product. It doesn’t matter if we worked hard. Put in the hours. Spoke to a lot of customers. Had them say we had a nice product. Traction is a tangible thing. I think Lao Shi would argue traction is not a number. When I read stories to her, my mastery of grammatical concepts may not be deployed in as advanced of a manner as someone else. They may be further ahead. But it is clear I learned how to use it and will get there. But if she had to, numbers could be assigned to each. It is a combination of both. A good grade does not mean you have mastered a language, and your ability to converse well does not mean you will get a good grade on the next test. Certain revenue numbers do not fully convey a good product, and no anecdotal evidence can have as much meaning as revenue. It is not just that they bought a product, but that they are using it to get the ROI you promise and it aligns with the vision you’re working toward.

If getting a good grade is the goal, we may neglect actually learning if it not necessary to get a good grade. I’ve repeated this point a lot. I sometimes struggle to define my self-worth by success. In doing so I neglect nurturing other parts of me—those that made me successful in the first place. I’ve been working on this and have found it has made me better because it allows me to enjoy the ingredients which produces a better product anyways.

I see this with startups. There are no levels to complete. All markers are to be pushed once we get there—in other words they are fictitious. We must build something real. Not just the simplest thing-the Sparknotes the night before—to get to a number. And not what we find interesting—getting fascinated by one part of the material so neglecting to study the rest before the exam—acting as if there are not real results to deliver.

I am calling this the Fall of Maturity internally. It is on us, not a customer, to know we are ready to serve bigger and bigger clients. When you read the essay to Lao Shi she would not get mad if you made a mistake. She wanted you to come back and try the structure again. She’d get mad if you made the same mistake, or even moreso if you tried something simpler because you were afraid of making a mistake. You didn’t need her to tell you that you did a good job. You already knew when you sat down.

Product Releases from Last Month

This month we focused on supporting new customers going live by solving for a large number of edge cases, performance and user experience improvements, and new flows.

  • We significantly improved Playbooks, and now support a myriad of new features:
    • Document scan-first to prefill the onboarding flow
    • Support for multiple new document types
    • First class International support, including restricting specific countries and conditional document types
    • Support users who may not have SSNs
    • Step-up flows to dynamically request document verification
  • Support users who may not have phones/phone numbers
  • Continuous Enhanced AML Monitoring
  • Significant UX and scanning improvements for our iOS app clip

Check-in on Goals For Q3

We missed on a good amount of these. I don’t like setting overly ambitious goals and then saying “perhaps we were overly ambitious”. At the same time, the goals were maybe not properly reflective of how to measure our progress. It is not helpful to anyone. We’ll keep calibrating and getting better here.

  • 50k+ vers a month running Live
    • We did not hit this. We had customers push back roll out with customers from September to October. Some of this was out of our control, but as we become more mature these should be quicker and it is on us to get better at it.
    • Missed this by 30k identities
  • Shipped Instant App + Mobile SDK
    • Instant App is about two weeks out, Mobile SDK will be later in Q4
  • Ready for Auth Beta
    • Ready and excited to have customers who will be using it
  • Ship billing insights
    • Pushed back to this month, a major priority now
  • Ship V1 Playbooks
    • Shipped

1 Million identities vaulted in Footprint

Goals for Q4

  • End year doing 50k+ verifications a month with visibility to do 1M+ verifications in 2024
  • Have two customers live on Auth
  • Ship Mobile SDK + Billing Insights

Where we could use help—Recruiting

  • Web engineer with mobile SDK experience
    • Continues to be big priority for us

Companies We Are looking for Intros to

  1. Turo
  2. Drivetime
  3. Sandhill Markets (formerly Stonks)
  4. Notarize
  5. Possible Finance
  6. Upgrade
  7. Backer
  8. way.com
  9. Stockpile
  10. Attain/Klover (Head of Product)
  11. Rently (VP Product)
  12. Outdoorsy (Lead Product Manager)
  13. Apartments.com
  14. Cleo
  15. Sunbit

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