Ask a fintech founder: Rick Song and Charles Yeh, Persona
On knowing your customer, prioritizing company culture and the highs and lows of startup life
Today, the number and variety of scams impacting consumers is increasing.1 In response, businesses are looking to multiple fraud detection tools to minimize risk and create a more seamless user experience.2 Persona, a five-year-old identity verification startup, is looking to simplify things, offering a unified platform to help issuers, merchants, fintechs and others verify users and automate identity-related use cases.
“We do this through our configurable, unified identity platform that gives businesses the building blocks they need to verify identities, mitigate risk and fight fraud,” says Persona CEO Rick Song.
Those building blocks make for a more flexible offering. “This allows companies to tailor the experience to the use case and user and start thinking about identity from a relationship standpoint versus as a transaction,” says Persona CTO Charles Yeh.
Here, Rick and Charles talk about their journey to build a more personalized identity platform, their partnership with Visa and why their idea of success involves a small tinge of regret.
What do you mean by your tagline “building a more human internet”? How are you humanizing online identity?
Rick: Let’s say you’re a recent immigrant, so you don’t have a driver’s license or credit file in the new country you’ve moved to. As our lives move fully online and we expect to be able to do everything digitally — apply for credit cards, apartments, jobs and more — you can see how challenging securing these basic human needs might become if you don’t have what might be considered standard documents or forms of ID in a particular country or region.
We help customers personalize their verification experiences to engage a broader set of individuals and ensure that more good users and real people are seamlessly verified. That’s what building a more human internet means to us.
What makes Persona unique from its competitors?
Rick: We built our platform in a way that serves any identity use case. We make it simple for people to start with the problem they want to solve now, such as verifying someone’s age or the identity of the person or business requesting money from them, and step up or down friction depending on the unique signals they see. Every business is unique and Persona truly enables companies to use our platform in a way that makes sense for them.
How are you helping companies mitigate fraud in a way they haven’t before?
Charles: We're always tracking the history and evolution of genAI and other tools fraudsters use. A few years ago, most deep-fake generators were built from a small number of root models. Each of these root models often produced artifacts that could be detected through machine learning. However, over the past couple of years, these root models have been mixed and matched and many of these artifacts are no longer identifiable.
We help our customers test and apply methods based on root models and their artifacts to understand what they’re trying to catch so they can catch both less experienced fraudsters using these tools and more sophisticated rings.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started this journey?
Rick: I never really appreciated how long the startup journey would be. I intellectually understood that it would likely be 5-10 years of my life and potentially longer the more successful the startup is. However, experiencing the day-in day-out grind is different. I had never done something with such intense focus for so long.
My go-to advice for folks looking to found their own startup one day is to first try to commit to a company for five years versus jumping to new companies every two to three years. It'll force you to go through the highs and lows of a business. Even more importantly, it'll help you build deep relationships with people who stay there with you that you may hire in the future.
How are you working with Visa to grow your company?
Rick: We’re engaged with Visa in a number of ways. We partner with Visa’s Fintech Partner Connect program to offer verification and identity management services to Visa’s fintech customers. Persona is also working with Visa Direct marketing to share our experts’ perspectives on trust and safety, risk management and fraud prevention with the Visa community.
More broadly, Visa and Persona share a number of mutual customers, including issuers, merchant acquirers/processors, fintechs and others. We’re often the identity management and KYC/KYB layer during end-customer (consumer or merchant) onboarding, and as a step-up verification tool before a payment over Visa Direct or a Visa-issued card is authorized.
What keeps you up at night?
Rick: The culture at Persona. Culture is the single most important thing for scale. We’re a different company today than we were even a few months ago. It’s exciting to continue to grow but challenging to maintain what made Persona Persona as a 10 person, 50 person or even 100 person company now that we have more than 200 Personerds.
One of my core beliefs is that the most successful companies feel much smaller than they actually are. There’s a reason why every enterprise these days is trying to “become a startup again.” The thing that I focus on most is to preserve that feeling of community and the values that got us to where we are today.
The other day, I saw a picture from one of our earlier team dinners with a good 14 or 15 people around the table. It was really gratifying to realize that everyone in the photo is still at Persona.
What is your idea of success?
Rick: My idea of success is building a company that people feel proud of working at and a tinge of regret about leaving. The saddest thing for a company is when people join and they think the golden days are in the rearview. That the company has already peaked. My hope is if we succeed, inevitable departures will feel bittersweet, knowing that incredible things are still to come.
What’s one word that describes your life as an entrepreneur?
What excites you most about the future of payments?
Rick: This is self-serving but, the increasing unification between identity and payments is exciting. Faster, more seamless forms of identity verification will enable more secure, faster payments.
Charles: There’s a long-running trend of making digital payments seamless. I’m excited about the intersection of identity and payments, in particular biometrics done in a privacy-centric way.
To learn more, check out Persona and Visa’s Fintech Partner Connect program.