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Eli Wachs
Eli Wachs

Investor Update

April 4, 2022

5 min. read

Paradoxes in Privacy, War, and Life (Update #2)

On Ukraine

Hope everyone had a great March. We’d be remiss to not start this update by mentioning the situation in Ukraine. It is a good reminder that there are some things far more important than anything we will ever do here. Basic human rights—the liberty for people to choose who leads them, the ability for students to go to school without worry of shelling, and the freedom for people to live an unimpeded life—have been removed from millions. This is not the first time it has happened in my own lifetime—it sadly is a story we saw recently in Syria, Yemen, and Sudan before it. But it is still not right. Footprint has donated to UNICEF to help the children of Ukraine—it may not be much, but we want to always make sure we are doing something to help in these times.

Paradoxes in Privacy, War, and Life

Apple had an awesome privacy ad last summer. It ends by giving people the option to choose who “tracks your information...and who doesn’t”. The man in the advertisement chooses no one, because in the worldview Apple wants you to believe, tracking data = bad. It is not worth Apple explaining all the benefits and utility that can come as a result of Apple controlling some of your data, from Apple Health to Apple Pay. Because it would contradict the incredible image at the end of the advertisement of the man free from all trackers. I’ll get back to Apple.

War is fought to save lives, yet is inevitably destroys lives. It is a paradox, which is what I wanted to write this intro about. On the (timely) note of Russia/the Soviet Union, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, he writes “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” The first phrase rings true, but the second voices a reality. The paradox is interesting because we are immediately confronted with a statement’s counterfactual. We are faced with a dilemma: the more we believe concept one, the more difficult it is to believe concept two.

This concept was on my mind for a book I recently read, The Fish that Ate the Whale. It tells the story of Samuel Zemurray, a Russian immigrant to the US at the turn of the 20th century. Zemurray lives the quintessential American Dream: he starts peddling cast-off produce until he eventually rises to run the second largest company in the category. His company merged with the larger business, which was one of the biggest corporations in the world, and one in which he eventually became the CEO. Zemurray was an incredible entrepreneur, and sets sales numbers to scare me :). He increased unit sales from 20k in 1899 to 570k in 1903. He also did great market research: he actually went to the country of origin for his product where author Rich Cohen describes how “he crossed on mule back so he could learn the country, meet its people, scout for property…” Zemurray looked for every advantage to protect his legacy and his American Dream.

But here is where the story goes from an inspiration to a darker history. The product he sold was bananas, and the mega-corporation he went on to run was the United Fruit Company. The country he traveled across mule was Honduras, his banana republic. Like events today, Zemurray took away freedoms from citizens in pursuit of his own goals. He did what was praised in society at the time, but his legacy leaves questions of what society encouraged. Cohen writes at the end that “Sam is America: the promise and the betrayal of that promise”. He is a paradox.

At Footprint, we believe that privacy means the freedom to control where your data goes. We think privacy means not needing to share your PII to create accounts, but we think your data should still exist, and its footprint should grow in a trusted account you control. We think this is how you unlock a better internet, where people’s data can let them live longer and wealthier lives. I don’t think this is a paradox, but society may after the past few years of story after story describing how big tech abused personal data. Those stories were not wrong, but I think the pendulum of public perception swung too far. Apple defined privacy as no data (despite their own backdoor around ATT), and we believed it. But it’s not for me to tell people their beliefs are misguided—I would never say that. Or maybe Apple didn’t finish their sentences. At the end of the ad from the top, the man is still there with his data. He just needs something to do with it. So, it is up to us to explain why our belief at Footprint is not a paradox. Why we are the evolution of proper privacy. Which is a nice reminder of my last update. We can’t hope to create that trust in our vision of privacy, we need to build it every day.

Goals From Last Month

End the month with two hired employees

  • First, the great. We made our first hire, and she is a rockstar! It’s her first day today, and we couldn’t be more excited 🙂
  • We are on pace for our overall goal of a team of 6 by June, and perhaps growing headcount 100% MoM was a bit aggressive. In a way, it is more difficult to say no to good candidates than yes to great candidates. I think it is important to not be unrealistic and have an urgency to grow and build, but at the same time these early hires are too crucial to even remotely lower the bar. That said, a goal is a goal. With our current pipeline though, I feel confident we will continue to build a great team and reach our FTE targets for summer and year-end.

Make meaningful progress on product

  • We’ve architected and built the first version of the Footprint User Vault. This is the foundation for Footprint’s core technology for encrypting, storing, and securely computing on encrypted user PII data. We’re utilizing a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) to process sensitive data in a secured, isolated, network gapped enclave.
  • We have built the product with security in mind—our first Drata test was quite successful, with our tech already passing assessments for customer data in cloud storage being encrypted at rest and customer data being encrypted at rest.

Have a new website

  • We are going to hire a designer to make it more beautiful, but take a look and feel free to send to anyone struggling with KYC 🙂

Have 10 productive conversations with possible customers

We had these conversations, including with three great names. We are now aggressively focused on frontend (more on that below), as these conversations can stall a bit without the ability to show demos. The good news is that the value prop is resonating, though we are cognizant that finding our PMF is not necessarily creating an interesting solution for a large company that has time and curiosity to explore new areas, but solving a dire need for our likely smaller customers.

Goals For this Month

  • End the month with a team of four
  • Continue to make meaningful progress on product
  • Begin conversations with data vendors
  • Have 10 productive conversations with possible customers

Where We Could Use Help

  • Recruiting

I’ll limit this section to one ask this month: we would love any intros to frontend/design engineers

  • Customer Discovery

I am attaching a new sales document here. We’d welcome any intros to customers across consumer-facing fintechs such as credit cards and investing apps, payroll, banking, or any other companies you may know with a KYC need.

Note: Some content has been removed from the bottom half of the update to protect privacy of individuals/companies involved.

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