Many university students dream of landing themselves a job at a big investment bank but Oxford graduate Husayn Kassai quit his job at Merrill Lynch in 2012 after just a week to focus on building a startup he’d cofounded at university.
That startup was background checking service Onfido, which has now raised over $5 million (£3.5 million) from a wide range of investors, including Spotify backers Wellington Partners and lastminute.com founder Brent Hoberman. It is now considered one of Britain’s smartest companies.
Businesses that sign up to Onfido do so because it can help them to verify that future employees are who they say they are.
Prospective employees receive an automated email from Onfido asking them to provide proof that they, for example, hold a valid driving licence or achieved straight As in their A-Levels. Onfido’s platform then automatically cross-checks these with the appropriate databases and reports back to the employer.
“I never full-heartedly went into [banking],” Kassai told Business Insider at Onfido’s office above Covent Garden tube station in Central London. “I was always looking for angel investment but I was just never able to get it.
“You think a bank has the smartest people in the world, and you walk in and the manager is using spreadsheets and Windows 95 and you’re thinking, ‘have I missed something here, what is wrong?'”
Kassai — who now employs 72 people across offices in London, San Francisco, and Lisbon — was able to leave Merrill Lynch, the wealth management division of Bank of America, when he and his cofounders received a £12,000 investment loan from Oxford University fund Isis Innovation. He also had about £8,000 in personal savings but things were still tight at the time.
“I moved to Manor Park (East London) where my rent was £10 a night. I know that the homeless shelter for Zone 1 was like £11,” said Kassai, who studied economics and management and was president of the Oxford Entrepreneurs society. “So £10 a night was £1 less than the homeless would pay in Zone 1 but I was in Manor Park. So I kept things lean and that gave me nine months or so.”
After leaving Merrill Lynch, Kassai and cofounders Eamon Jubbawy, Ruhul Amin, who left their jobs at Credit Suisse and Mitsubishi UFJ Securities respectively, built Onfido into a basic working platform. “We worked for four or five months, talking to customers, and getting a minimum viable product,” said Kassai. “In January 2013, we got our first big customer, which was Hassle.”
Help from Hassle
Hassle is the on-demand cleaning service that was sold to Helpling in Germany for €32 million (£24 million) last year. Its app allows people to quickly and easily find a cleaners that will come and clean their home or office.
“Up until that point we had 10 or so small web publishing companies. Without [Hassle] we probably wouldn’t be here today,” said Kassai. “They were demanding on the product. The others weren’t. Traditional corporates think it either does the job or it doesn’t.”
Hassle integrated Onfido’s API into its platform so that Hassle could vet everyone that wanted to be a cleaner without having to meet them all face-to-face. Business Insider understands that Hassle vetted tens of thousands of cleaners using Onfido’s platform.
“[Hassle] were the ones that told everyone we were growing. You can trust all our cleaners. Their whole philosophy was like, the underground economy, we’ll bring it above board. They earn money and everyone wins. And there’s no reason why you can’t trust them because they’re background checked.”
Now fast-growing fintech startups such as money transfer service TransferWise and online investment management platform Nutmeg are among Onfido’s 625 paying customers, as are large recruiters like Morgan McKinley and Hays, and newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard.
Onfido is hoping to raise additional investment in 2016 so that it can further expand its business. Kassai said he is in talks with several venture capital companies but was unable to say which ones.