Footprint raised $13M Series A led by QED InvestorsRead more

Eli Wachs
Eli Wachs

Investor Update

September 1, 2022

8 min. read

The Rehearsal: Empathy in Life (Update #7)

As many know, I love comedy. I perform stand-up on the side. I think comedy is often truer than any non-fiction. I watched Jon Stewart in middle school, trusting him more than the news. After my first break-up, I took solace in Daniel Sloss’s piece Jigsaw. I watched one tv show this year— The Rehearsal by Nathan Fielder, perhaps my favorite comedian. In the show, Nathan creates practice situations for people to learn how to navigate significant moments in life. In the first episode, he helps a ~35-year-old man break the news to his trivia team that he did not actually have a Master's degree. To do so, he builds a fake bar (where the confession will take place) and hires actors to help the man in question perfect how he will do the deed.

The rest of the season is a rehearsal for a want-to-be Mom on what it is like to raise a child, from ages 0-18 (for likely the only time in my life, spoilers ahead). Nathan decides to become the pretend Dad to experience what it is like to raise a child as well. Lost amongst the jokes, extravagant production, and focus on Fielder is what impact this will have on the child actors. We come to terms with this in the finale, when one of the six-year-old actors playing the fictional son struggles to leave the set on his final day. The audience, through Fielder, learns the boy does not know his Dad in real life; Nathan in the week of filming was the closest thing he ever had to one, and he does not know how to let go.

After the finale, I thought of a quote from The Shadow of the Wind: “Sometimes we think people are like lottery tickets, that they are there to make our most absurd dreams come true.” We like to think we are the protagonist in a movie that is our life, and others have entered it to make it better. We convince ourselves they’ll be for the better for it. I suppose in a way we are our own protagonists. But all of the “actors” we encounter are the protagonist in their own films. It is a similar thread Sloss pulls on in Jigsaw. He implores us to consider the foolishness of a common analogy of life as a jigsaw puzzle: our lives as a complex set of pieces, missing the centerpiece that is love. Amongst other reasons, Sloss says it is selfish to think that someone else, after however many years of building their own complicated jigsaw puzzle, will magically fit into exactly what we want. I’m certainly guilty of this. But we can’t will others’ lives to contort to our own desires.

So how does this relate to Footprint? As we prepare to launch, as our team grows, and as we meet more people, I think it’s easy to think I’m in my own rehearsal. After a dinner in Palo Alto a few weeks ago, I brought one of our team members to my old dorm balcony where I wrote the first business plan in February 2020. It was a proud moment. It felt like a movie scene rolling to credits. As you can probably tell from past updates (1 on Hope, and 6 on Dreams), I’d do anything to make Footprint successful. But it’s important to never lose sight of those we will encounter along the way. I remember the first time I pitched an early idea of Footprint to one of our now investors in the Fall of 2019. He reminded me that while I thought I would set out to change the world, Facebook taught us a valuable lesson: we can be naive in not considering ramifications to others in the pursuit of our own dreams. That night was the finale of the show Silicon Valley (no spoiler warning this time, y’all have had enough time for that one). In it, the startup team has to grapple with the idea that while their company built in the pursuit of privacy could become extremely valuable, it along the way actually may actually destroy the digital privacy they sought to create. After watching that, for the only time in my life I asked a friend for a cigarette to decompress as I’ve seen actors do in movies (sorry Mom, but I guess it’s time you know).

I think about candidates we meet—floating the idea of dropping out of school to precocious students, telling junior engineers they are wasting their time at big tech companies, convincing senior leaders their families will be fine on a slightly lower salary if they join because they can follow their passion and be rewarded by the upside. If we fail, will they wish they had that degree, the savings from the other job, or regret that they have fallen behind a bit on saving for their children’s college? Or the promises we make on sales calls—if Footprint is worse than the tools they previously used, will they lose their job? And most of all, the millions of people we are asking to trust us with their data. I trust Alex’s nitro enclaves with all of my life, but what if our premise is wrong? We say that people should be able to control their data. But what if it is too dangerous—should it just be deleted?

There are of course opposite scenarios to each of the above. The team member who went with me the to balcony says he feels lucky I sent a deranged cold email one night and that he joined our family. In a tightening economy, maybe the risk PM or CISO will get a promotion for bringing on a KYC + PII Security tool that reduced fraud, boosted conversion, and saved the company money. Maybe by removing the toggle of privacy and usability, we can help flag Parkinson’s early or help women use health apps without fear of tracking in a post-Dobbs world. Nothing would make me happier than realizing these examples in the preceding sentence—it is what drives me daily. My baseline assumption is that everyone who joins will be better off for it, and every customer will be satisfied. I think the jigsaw is coming together. The rehearsals will be worth the commitment. It’s probably the needed root assumption for any founder, but it’s worth evaluation.

The last update before we came out of stealth was about the dream that is Footprint. As the company continues to grow, we will touch countless lives, the majority of whom are people we don’t know and likely will never meet. They can’t be extras in my dream. We can never forget our ultimate duty is to the millions of people whom we will hopefully empower to control their digital identities. I would do anything for anyone who joins Footprint, even though I’ll never be able to fully repay the decision they took in trusting me and Alex. And I mean it when I tell prospective customers that Alex and I will be on-call 24/7. We now build in public to bring transparency to what we are doing, but what can I do to match people trusting us with their SSNs?

So I guess this is my note to empathy. It’s one of the key traits we look for in every team member who joins. The ability makes me think of my late Grandma Roz. A former social worker, my Grandma was the most empathetic person I ever met. She battled Stage IV Ovarian cancer for nearly ten years. Through the end, she would tell me not to worry about her as she consoled me about whatever stupid problems I revealed to her in my schoolboy reveries. They put up a plaque for her in the chemo ward because whenever she went to ingest those toxic chemicals, she found a way to see the light and check in on every other patient and nurse there. My Grandma taught me to see the best in everybody. Her empathy became positivity for the world. She saw her role in life to help others—to be the puzzle pieces they sought after, or the giving ear to help them play out whatever rehearsal they needed at the time. I hope I bring that empathy to everyone we touch on this journey.

After Nathan realizes what he has done to the six-year-old actor (real name Remy), he goes back and creates more “rehearsals” with fake actors playing Remy to see what Fielder could have done differently. Who among us hasn’t spent nights wondering how we could have handled conversations in a better way? Toward the end of episode four, Nathan recounts “When you assume what others think, maybe all you’re doing is turning them into a character that only exists in your mind.” We must never lose sight that this isn’t a rehearsal and the people we touch are not actors: it’s people's lives and their data. They’re not our puzzle pieces to play with or dislodge in pursuit of our dream. I want to build with empathy, so we can become a helpful side characters to millions of protagonists out there. We can’t fully control our own happiness or success, but we can decide to do right to others.

Goals From Last Month

Be ready to launch early access in September

  • Built our developer dashboard
  • Release our blog + investor updates to our website:
  • Released v1 of Footprint’s developer docs:
  • Added dynamic onboarding flows (customers can choose the data they need to collect)
  • Added APIs to vault arbitrary custom data inside a Footprint user vault (now companies can vault anythinguser data with Footprint)
  • Built our standalone PII security suite APIs
  • Began designing and building our Identity and Access Management system for PII decryption…and much more! We’re excited with the amazing progress the team has made this month we’re on track to deliver our early sandbox access in September.

Make one hire

  • We’re thrilled to have brought on Karen Mok as our Chief of Staff. Karen spent three years at Stripe, where she was one of the earliest members on the identity team where she helped build their KYC and KYB domestically and globally to 10+ markets. She spearheaded their partnerships with data vendors and finished her tenure there as a Partner Manager. Karen also co-founded The Cosmos, a behavioral health company with a mission to increase access to culturally relevant care. Their products and programs have been featured in The New York Times, CBS News, The Washington Post and recognized by Verywell Mind for their impact on mental health equity. Karen is from Charleston, South Carolina, the location of our offsite this September!

Other Updates from last month

  • We’re thrilled to have learned that we will be one of 10 startups featured by Money2020 at the conference this October. The current plan is for us to demo the first one-click KYC in history on stage there.
  • Some coverage from us when we came out of stealth: (TechCrunch | Index | Not Boring Founders | WorkWeek )

Goals For this Month

  • Be on track to commercially launch end of October
  • Hire 1 risk eng

Where We Could Use Help

  • Recruiting frontend engineers

Investor Leaderboard

  • The August winner is...Index. We also have decided the current gift will be an adorable stuffed animal of our penguin mascot (see below—those this is a high quality item you definitely can’t find on Amazon). I’ll go back to past winners and make sure to send one out!
  • This month’s criteria
  • Frontend engineer intro: 5 points
  • Series C+ Customer Intro: 5
  • Series B Customer Intro: 3.5
  • Series A Customer Intro: 2.5

Upcoming Travel

  • The team will be in Charleston Sep 12-15th for our quarterly offsite

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive updates on new blog posts & investor updates