Podcast: Who Owns Your Digital Reputation?

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We spoke to Sara, CEO of deemly, about how the platform allows you to own your digital reputation across all platforms.
Chaz:    Okay, so I’m really excited about this today. This podcast is going to be particularly interesting. For a start, we have someone that’s not from the UK, which is super cool. First of all, welcome Sara.  
Sara:        Thank you.
Chaz:    Lovely to have you.
Sara:        Thanks for having me.
Chaz:    So talk to me briefly, a quick introduction to the listeners, who is Sara and what is deemly?
Sara:    Sure. Yes, so a little bit about me. I founded my first company when I was 16. The next one in my early 20s and then now deemly is my third one. The first one didn’t really take off, but then you learn a lot of things and you can use that as you go along. I have a background in e-business, so I did my Masters thesis in IT and business, which also helps when you start a tech start-up, right?
Chaz:    Yes.
Sara:    Then I worked in London for a couple of years. I was in the US as well. So actually, when Airbnb was taking off I was right in San Francisco and it was sort of the birth of the sharing economy and that was super interesting to sort of follow that development.
Chaz:    What was it you were doing?
Sara:    So I did an internship with a company who helped connect entrepreneurs there, so basically a social network for entrepreneurs.
Chaz:    Fantastic.
Sara:    So it was a good way to get to know people.
Chaz:    So talk to me about deemly.
Sara:    So that sort of came about because I wrote my thesis on the sharing economy.
Chaz:    Did you? I didn’t know this. This is so exciting.
Sara:    Yes. Well, that’s why I’m telling you, right? So part of that research was interviewing a lot of the CEOs in the sharing economy start-ups that were coming out and this is two years back. So I did that all across Europe. What sort of fascinated me and scared me a little bit was that they all said that their biggest issue is creating this trust between their users. At the same time, there were reports coming out from the US and even in Denmark where I’m from, saying that half or even 80% of the population worry about taking part in these transactions, and a major reason for that is that we don’t trust strangers online. So this was sort of the background for, okay, we need to solve this, and because the founding team have a background in both the sharing economy and technology, obviously we looked into what we can do in this space that would help create trust. So what we could see was that there were these major players like Airbnb and Uber and eBay and Upwork where people had already built a reputation, so why not allow users to take that across to some of the newer smaller platforms and actually create this fluid reputation across platforms?
Chaz:    It’s absolutely the question I think even for what we’re doing at Fat Lama, it’s the biggest question. So what you’re really talking about is someone’s online reputation. Talking on a granular level about what you guys do, how do you consolidate that reputation? How does that actually work?
Sara:     Sure. So I would say we also look at who you are as a person. So we do have some social ID verification, but we sort of take it to the next step and we also look at how you are as a person, based on previous transactions. So there are sort of two ways that a user can create their profile. One is that they go directly to our site and create a profile, they log in, and we obviously need their login details for each of these platforms, and we don’t store the password details, but once we have it we can keep updating if they have new reviews on Airbnb and so on. They can link to their profile in any transaction, any platform where they’re active. We’ve seen a major interest from the platforms themselves to actually build this in as a feature. So what we do now is that when a user comes to let’s say, Fat Lama and creates a profile, we have sort of an extended flow that they can go through to build their trust profile.
Chaz:     So let’s talk about that because this is so exciting for me. So let’s talk hypothetically about Fat Lama. So someone’s come, they’ve logged on and let’s say they were using… do we need to bolt-on to… how would that actually work?
Sara:    Sure. I don’t know your sign-up process but I would assume there is a ‘put in your name and your email’ and then you have a user, right?
Chaz:    Yes.
Sara:     So what we do then is that we send them to the next page, and this is voluntary if the platform wants it to be. It can also be…
Chaz:    Part of the same process?
Sara:    Yes, exactly. Then they would say, ‘Okay, well I want to add all my social media,’ so we can verify and cross-check that you’re actually the same person across Twitter and LinkedIn, Facebook.
Chaz:    So is this your underlying technology?
Sara:    Yes.
Chaz:    Is this effectively an API that’s then bolted-on?
Sara:    Yes, exactly.
Chaz:    This is cool.
Sara:    But it looks native on your site. So it only says ‘powered by deemly’ in a little… so the user doesn’t feel like they’re sent to our site or get confused about the sign-up flow.
Chaz:    Awesome.
Sara:    Yes. So that can be customised. So there’s the verification step, which is social media, and then the next step would be to add your profiles from the platform where you’re active.
Chaz:    So how does that work then? So is it effectively kind of like a login model where they would, sort of, pull in other platforms?
Sara:    Yes.
Chaz:    Then they get in some ways scored accordingly, the more platforms they connect with?
Sara:    Yes. So actually, we’ve sort of taken a stand in terms of the scoring runs from 0-100 and it’s only based on numerical ratings that you actually have across the platforms. So sometimes you end up with not having an actual score if you don’t have any ratings on these platforms. So then you can just have a verified profile as well.
Chaz:    So one of the things that I think is super cool and really want to talk about is ultimately one day there is going to be this super consolidation of online reviews, which is already happening, right?
Sara:    Yes.
Chaz:    You get a bad review on eBay, you guys are making sure that that person will then have a bad review on Airbnb and so on. It’s really about data and reputation. The big question is, though, who owns that reputation? Where do you think that will go?
Sara:    That’s something that ultimately I would like the users to own their reputation. So it’s about democratising that data for the users. What’s really scary is that the Chinese government is making the Sesame score which is essentially a little bit what we’re doing but just to the extreme, where they’re saying, “If you have a bad reputation, we take away your Internet and you’re not allowed to fly,” and things like this. So is it better that a government does it or is it better that a private company does it?
Chaz:    Yes, powered by people, right?
Sara:    Yes.
Chaz:    It is so scary because I think we’ve even noticed this already. I know we touched on it earlier but we’ve got some users that are making thousands a month. We’ve got a couple of users that are making £1,500 a month. It’s effectively become their livelihood in some ways. One bad review and that could go. What I think’s difficult is there needs to be that combination between both a centralised deemly, a mediator, as well as powered by users, because someone comes to the platform once on any of the guys that you’ve partnered with and they’re a borrower or they’re staying in someone’s house or whatever it is, and they’re actually a bad borrower, they put a bad review for someone that’s been on the platform every week for two or three years and it affects them. They don’t care, they’ve gone. So how do you see that going and how do you combat that?
Sara:    So the essence here is also that when you start on a platform you don’t have a reputation, it’s very strong to be able to pull it from other platforms. So this cold-start problem, as it’s called. You can go in and work on that. Obviously, if you have a bad review and if it’s unfair then it’s up to the platform, as we see it, to go into that specific case. We sort of have a very public algorithm in terms of how we calculate a score, so it’s fair for everyone. We don’t tweak it in terms of okay if you have a review on Fat Lama you would get an extra high score. So we try to be very transparent and working with trust, we want to be a trustful company as well.
Chaz:    That is so cool. So that’s what I was going to ask about. How does that online rating mechanism kind of work then? So do you just kind of allocate points to different logins? So a certain social media is a certain amount of points? How does that actually work?
Sara:    So the social media verifications that you add actually don’t count into the score. So we only use that cross-check that you are the person you say you are. There are other companies in the same space that are saying they pull in 10,000s of data sources, but how do I know if you’re trustworthy if you have 3,000 Facebook friends? You could also have 30 and still be trustworthy. So our algorithm is very clean in that way, that we only look at the numerical ratings that you have from these platforms. Then we also pull the written reviews, which is a part of it, so that’s added to your profile.
Chaz:    Absolutely. So as more people get used to peer-to-peer transactions, how do you think the sharing economy will evolve? So let’s move into more of a holistic view. Obviously, very much encouraged by deemly and other platforms. How do you think both peer-to-peer transactions and ultimately the sharing economy will therefore evolve?
Sara:    All the statistics are saying that it’s going to grow, and I think that’s true for a number of reasons. One major factor is that the generation that we belong to it’s such a natural thing for us. We live online. There’s no prestige in owning things. We’re happy to share our things. We’d rather spend our money travelling, but there are major barriers. We work with just a small part of it, which is trust, but there are also so many legal issues. Every platform that we talk to have this very specific niche ruling that makes it impossible for them to actually grow and live optimally.
Chaz:    It’s very difficult, and also because I actually think that from a legal perspective, certainly in the UK, things aren’t up-to-date. So where are the legals around what we’re doing? It’s so grey, and in some respects, when you start to think about insurance and other aspects, payment providers and so on, it’s become super complicated, right?
Sara:    Yes, but the UK is probably one of the best countries in the EU on this topic. At least they’ve gone out and said, ‘Okay, we want to embrace the sharing economy.’ If you look at what’s going on in Denmark and Germany and all the other countries, there are so many challenges in terms of it.
Chaz:    I agree. Hats off to the UK for kicking it off. I think it’s fantastic. I know that you guys have partnered with Inclusive. So for those of our listeners that haven’t heard of Inclusive. So Inclusive are very much an Airbnb-style platform, but they’re Inclusive, so what they do is very much embrace anyone from any sort of background and that comes with a certain amount of… The fact that users are somewhat anonymous to start with and they make their decisions based off of data and actual reviews rather than what someone looks like or their background and so on. What does your partnership with them look like then?-
Sara:    Sure. So it’s sort of a growing partnership. I connected with Kevin sometime last year, just before they actually launched their beta, and one of the reasons they launched was the whole debate on Airbnb and this discrimination case. I don’t know if you’ve talked about that before. So we actually reconnected back in January this year because there was a new study coming out talking about how reviews can actually help eliminate this bias. Naturally, that’s really interesting for us because essentially we would be able to provide platforms with an anonymous profile where only reviews and ratings would be visible.
Chaz:    Right, which is how it should be?
Sara:    Exactly, at least for guys like Inclusive. So it just made so much sense that we talked together and tried to develop something here, and especially now with Trump and everything, there’s so much up on this topic. It’s really sad. So I think it’s important for us to come out now and say, ‘We want to change some things here in the open.’
Chaz:    Fantastic. So where are you at in terms of that change then? So you’re not HQ’d in the UK are you?
Sara:    No.
Chaz:    So whereabouts are you currently centralised and what are your plans for growth?
Sara:    We’re based in Copenhagen Denmark.
Chaz:    Fantastic.
Sara:    Yes. It’s a lovely city. What we’ve experienced… so even before we actually had a product we had a lot of platforms contact us wanting to buy this product. So we were like, “oh, okay, then we actually have to build it now.” So right now we have in the pipeline around 100 platforms from all around the world, so that’s from San Francisco to Shanghai, mostly in the EU or Europe at least. So yes, we’re looking at now where does it make sense to go? Obviously, the UK is very open to the sharing economy and there’s a lot of interesting start-ups here so I think London is definitely a place we want to focus more on.
Chaz:    How does that actually work? Let’s talk from a platform perspective. I know that we have a lot of sharing economy listeners. We also have a lot of people that are in that process of thinking about jumping from maybe a corporate job into a marketplace startup. What does your onboarding process look like? So let’s say we approached you and we said, ‘Look, we need this. This is super cool.’ What does the process look like from then until when things kick off?
Sara:    So it’s actually a very simple integration. I think the biggest hurdle which is not really a hurdle but it’s on the UX side, so how do you want it to look? We have some standard JavaScript widgets that you can install as well, but yes, if you want it more customised obviously that takes a bit longer. Yes, you just get in touch with us, you’ll probably get a demo from me if you want to, and then we can be up and running within a couple of days if you’re fast.
Chaz:    So really it is a case of platforms can ultimately build the front-end and then bolt your API on behind it?
Sara:    Yes, and we have the whole rating and review functionality as well, so if they want to keep native ratings in their platform and they haven’t built that functionality then we supply that as well.
Chaz:    Fantastic. I thought it would be quite nice to finish off with certainly Tim, our super genius content and PR chap really looked at the World Economic Forum obviously put out this thing where they were kind of saying that by 2030, people won’t own anything anymore. What are your views on that? Is it a generational thing, do you think?
Sara:    Yes. I think coming back to the point before as well; it is definitely a generation thing. I love that they’ve gone out and said this because it sort of pushes the agenda for politicians everywhere and also companies, because we see more and more established companies looking into the sharing economy or circular economy, wanting to optimise. So I think this is definitely something that we’ll see in our generation.
Chaz:    We’ve experienced that; a lot of our users are millennials, not just borrowers, lenders as well. Our lenders tend to be a little bit older, have got the cash to maybe buy some of the higher value items, but yes, it is millennials. deemly, awesome. I really mean that. I’ve just been sitting here the whole time thinking about, “Actually, we need deemly ASAP.”
Sara:    Well, you can be up and running on Monday.
Chaz:    In a couple of days, fantastic. Right, Sara, thank you so much for coming in, it’s been awesome. It’s fantastic having someone that’s not from the UK on the podcast.
Sara:    Is that the first one?
Chaz:    We’ve had an American and Canadian as well, but certainly Europe we haven’t had yet, so thank you very much.  
Sara:    Thanks for having me.
Chaz:    We look forward to speaking to you soon.
Sara:    Great. You too.
Chaz:    Cheers.

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