Startup Spotlight: LifeID uses blockchain technology to build secure digital identities

The LifeID team from left to right, back row: Mark Cooley, advisor; Tyler Boscolo, chief operating officers; Chris Boscolo, founder and CEO; Seth Bailey, developer; John Ohrt, lead developer; Alex Ortiz, chief blockchain evangelist; Arman Sayyadi, developer; Xin Bi; developer. Bottom row left to right: Joshua Shane, chief marketing officer; Rui Maximo, chief technology officer. (LifeID Photo)

Current tools for managing our digital identities are falling short — unless you enjoy maintaining a binder full of passwords or believe that Equifax did a bang-up job repairing the damage caused by its data breach. Password manager software and defaulting to Facebook or Google logins also are options, but have their own shortcomings.

Today’s approach “makes it very difficult for individual users to have control of their digital identity,” said entrepreneur Chris Boscolo.

So in 2017 Boscolo founded LifeID, a Seattle-based startup using blockchain technology to build a new way for people to verify their identity online and in personal interactions.

The 46-year-old CEO said that LifeID uses open-source blockchain technology to create an ecosystem that will allow users to access sites online, transfer money and perform tasks like verifying their income for an apartment rental, for example, without going through credit checking companies. It could make digital banking easier and more secure, giving people worldwide a greater access to digital currency.

“Our ambition is this will be used by everyone in the world,” Boscolo said. “It is absolutely a society-changing technology.”

It’s also difficult for most people to understand.

The benefit of using blockchain technology is there’s no single entity like a company or government who’s running it, which Boscolo said makes the information more secure. To date, blockchain has primarily been used to power digital cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum, but promoters have touted its potential for broader use in decentralized social networks, smart financial technologies or tracking medical records.

LifeID founder and CEO Chris Boscolo. (LifeID Photo)

LifeID, which has 11 employees, is partnering with RChain Cooperative, another Seattle-based enterprise, to develop the technology. RChain has teamed up with the investment group Reflective Venture Partners to provide venture capital to blockchain startups, including LifeID. The RChain and Reflective Venture Partners effort is funded with 100 million units of RHOC, RChain’s cryptocurrency. Boscolo said that they have received funding worth $1.5 million from RChain via its investment arm, Pithia.

Boscolo is no stranger to security-related companies, co-founding Napera Networks, a network monitoring business that was acquired by the cybersecurity company OPSWAT in 2012.

A test version of LifeID’s product is slated for the fall, opening the platform to other developers. A public release is set for early 2019. Another Northwest company, Bellevue-based Auth0, is already offering solutions for managing personal identity. Boscolo said he doesn’t view them as competition, but rather as a potential partner that could use LifeID’s technology.

Boscolo said that he doesn’t expect all of the future LifeID users to fully comprehend the heady technology behind the product before opting to use it. That decision will rely more on how fed up they are with the current tools for managing their identity relative to what he’s offering.

“Our user experience,” he said, “will dictate whether adoption happens or not.”

We caught up with Boscolo for GeekWire’s Startup Spotlight feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: LifeID gives people convenient, secure control over their digital identities, making one’s personal data easy to manage.

Inspiration hit us when: I was going on a trip to Europe and wanted to be able to travel without my wallet. I tried to figure out which credit cards and other critical documents could be represented as an app. This led me to the realization that each card and document should not have its own app, but that a singular app should exist for all of these needs.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Seed funding was provided from RChain Cooperative via its investment arm, Pithia. LifeID is currently running a fundraising round with accredited investors to grow the developer team and fund ecosystem development.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: A permission-less identity blockchain and our exceptionally talented team. The company stands apart by providing an open source, blockchain-based digital identity platform that functions as public infrastructure for both blockchain and web 2.0 ecosystems.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: The company’s partnership with the RChain Cooperative, which brings a vibrant ecosystem of intensively engaged community members, developers and — most importantly — a growing set of partnerships. As the identity partner for RChain, LifeID has become the de facto identity layer for their third-generation blockchain ecosystem stack. This opens a broad range of end-user and enterprise markets in which the LifeID Platform will be the core solution for identity transactions.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Our initial approach was to develop an app that would be used by everyone around the world, built on our identity-as-a-service infrastructure. The change was to focus on being the best identity layer for blockchain and web 2.0 ecosystems, rather than an end-user targeted app. To make this happen, we are focused on developing a community of open-source developers to help improve the platform, and with partner developers who will use the platform for their own solutions. Any application that wants to provide the value of the LifeID Identity Platform to their users can use the LifeID Platform via API. We are now engaged with several partners who will be launching with LifeID as their identity layer, with more partnerships coming every week.

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: Actually, it would be bitcoin expert Vitalik Buterin, because he understands the ethos of decentralization, privacy and growth of blockchain ecosystems.

Our favorite team-building activity is: Bourbon-fueled product naming parties.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: A passion for blockchain and how it will change the world.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Just start — do it now. There are always obstacles, so get going.