Trustev is an identity verification platform focused on delivering real-time information to combat e-commerce fraud.
Pat Phelan originally trained as a butcher and then as a chef in his home city of Cork. One of Ireland’s best-known serial entrepreneurs, Pat has built a number of successful global businesses in the Internet, mobile and telecoms sectors over the past 15 years. A strong advocate for usability and user interaction in business, Pat believes strongly in making things as easy as possible for customers. Complicated user experiences don’t make it easy for customers to see the value in your product. At Trustev, Pat drives a no-nonsense, focused approach to business operations to deliver measurable results for customers, partners and investors. He believes very strongly in partnerships and personal relationships in doing business.
Winner of a number of prominent innovation awards including being named the 2008 IIA Net Visionary Award, Pat is a well-known advocate for technology startups and a frequent judge and mentor for many national and international startup programmes.
Trustev offers a modern approach to e-commerce fraud prevention through real-time online identity verification. It focuses on validating the individual making the transaction, not just the payment method they’re using. The platform delivers individual, real-time decisions for every one of their client’s customers using multiple dynamic data sources (behavioural, transactional and social) instead of restrictive rules-based decisioning and profiling.
Launched to the market in May 2013, Trustev was awarded the coveted title as Europe’s Top Technology Start-up by the EU Commission and, in December 2013, Trustev was named one of the Top 10 Hottest Global Start-ups by Forbes magazine. In April 2014, Trustev took top prize at SXSW, the world’s largest technology festival. In a very short period of time, Trustev is already significantly reducing fraud and increasing revenues for some of the biggest e-commerce companies in the market.
The Trustev platform enables rapid identity decisions in real time with an easy to integrate (very light touch), completely data-driven and cost effective solution that works in the background, to ensure no disruption to the customer’s online experience. This results in a significant reduction in false positives leading to substantially increased revenues and increased sales opportunities while maintaining a customer-centric experience at all times. Trustev’s solution is focused on dramatically reducing the cost burden of fraud on their clients’ businesses, the cost of policing fraud and also maximising revenue opportunities. Trustev’s easy to integrate platform works by verifying consumer’s identities in real-time, using thousands of dynamic data points from sources such as deep location, email verification, device ID, social fingerprinting, proxy/VPN piercing, site velocity & behaviour, browser ID and mobile location. It uses proprietary algorithms to combine all this data and compile it into a single, simple score of 1-100. This score is then used to recommend, allow, deny or flag the transaction.
Headquartered in Cork, Trustev has offices in Dublin and New York and has grown its team to 22 people across its technology, business and data team functions, drawing talent from companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Telefonica, Symantec and Wonga to name a few.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –
What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?
Trustev started as a solution to a problem that I had experienced in many of my previous businesses and was starting to hear more and more people in the industry complain about – the need to have a better understanding of who exactly you were selling to or transacting with online. As more and more businesses started to trade online, it started to become apparent that there was a danger of hitting a bottle neck where fraud would become a huge issue that would end up slowing the rate of online commerce dramatically. When my co-founder Chris Kennedy, who’s the technical brains of our operation, started to look into it he noticed how outdated much of the technology was and how it was failing to keep up with the times, the idea for Trustev materialised out of that.
How did you secure your first investment?
Our first investment was from our old friend, Liam Casey of PCH International. Liam showed a lot of faith in an early idea but as someone deeply involved at the heart of international trade he understood where we were coming from and the effect that Trustev would have on the industry.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
Like every startup business in the early days, funds were extremely tight. Technology businesses have it particularly tough as we have to build a near complete product before we can begin a lot of the sales process so you have to keep everything extremely lean in the early days. We kept the team very tight initially but even then there was still a lot of expense in building the product. There were a few scary days and sleepless nights, however, we focused on delivering results to customers knowing that the revenues would help right everything.
What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
Even though we had been around a while, we publically launched the product at a big technology event, Techcrunch Disrupt, in NYC in May 2013. We had applied at the urging of a friend, never imagining that out of 2,500 entrants from all over the globe, a small startup from Cork would be picked. We got a genuine shock the day we were told we’d be one of the 30 finialists presenting on stage in New York.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
Like any business, now that we’ve established the foundation it’s all about growth – scaling our customer numbers, scaling our technology platform and building out the team to meet customer needs. We’ve just set up our New York office, where I’ll be based going forward to help accelerate our expansion in the United States.
What is your biggest business achievement to date?
We’ve had an incredible year of growth at Trustev. I guess what I’m most proud of is being able to build a product that is delivering real results for customers. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to be recognised with a number of achievements since we started – being named Europe’s Top Technology Startup by the EU Commision in 2013, being named one of Forbes Hottest Global Startups for 2013 and then this year taking home top prize at SXSW, the world’s largest technology festival. All of them have presented us with incredible opportunities in terms of customers, partnerships and investors and have helped position us on the global stage.
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
Think about the international market from day one, Ireland is a great country to do business in but for many businesses the market size will just be too small. There are cities in the UK that would provide a larger market opportunity. The costs required in selling online these days have become extremely cost effective so most SMEs can afford to make their products available outside of their home country.
Has anyone acted as a mentor to you?
Having been in the industry for a number of years, I’ve been lucky enough to have many good friends and colleagues to act as sounding boards for ideas and decisions but having the ear and advice of Liam Casey has been hugely benificial to me. Liam understands the global environment better than anyone I’ve ever met.
Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?
Well I think being able to connect into the global network of Irish connections has been an incredible resource. No matter where you’re going in the world, there’s a local network of Irish folk to help make connections.
How do you generate new ideas to stay ahead of the curve?
I think its essential that whatever business you’re in, you have to stay abreast of what’s going on in your industry on a daily basis. In the rare moments I get some free time, I read a lot of online publications.
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
I think passion is very important for any new hire expecially in a fast moving startup environment. Skills are really important, but you can train people to fill skills gaps, you can’t put fire into someone who doesn’t have it already.
Have you started to feel the effects of the economic upturn within your sector/industry?
Yes – because much of our dealings are international, we’ve seen first-hand a tremendous improvement in trading conditions overseas, but it’s happened a lot faster overseas than it has here in Ireland.
What do you believe it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
I think probably one of the most important characteristics to be successful is the ability to get stuff done. Ideas are a dime a dozen and you’ll get an opinion from anyone but you need the ability to translate that all.
If you were to invest in a sector, what would you consider the next “big thing”?
Digital currencies – as more and more business moves online and geographic borders become irrelevant, you’ll see a lot of innovation in how we pay for goods and services.
What do you believe is your company’s competitive advantage?
I think we understand the problems of our industry from multiple perspectives, including, most importantly, from the customer perspective. Financial services is one of those industries where often people who ‘grow up’ in the industry, or have never worked outside it, fail to put a human face on the numbers they’re looking at. I believe Trustev is trying to solve the problem of fraud by implementing a solution that fits merchants and their customers and improves the experience for everyone.
What sacrifices have you had to make to get your business where it is today?
Over the past twelve months, I’ve had a pretty grueling travel schedule. Whether it’s been raising money, or closing sales these days you have to go where the business is and that’s led to a whole lot of time on planes which is incredibly destructive on your daily life. I’m very thankful that my wife, Carol and family all understand me well enough.
How do you recharge your batteries?
There hasn’t been a lot of recharging time since we started Trustev but during that time I’ve also been blessed with my first grandchild, Arthur. Looking after an infant might not seem like an opportunity to recharge for most, but for me it takes my complete focus off the business for a few hours and lets me enjoy time with the next generation of Phelans – who’ll probably end up as an entrepreneur as well!