The Story of Vespia: Business Verification With a Superhero Twist
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Relationships are difficult. Negotiating different personalities, cultures, and historical backgrounds takes time. In a romantic relationship, you date, go see a few superhero movies, find out what food you both like, and generally compare interests. Then, you move in together and you gradually discover how compatible you really are, day to day. You have months, years even, to figure this out.
Most business relationships don’t involve cohabitation with your customers and partners. When it comes to signing a binding contract and transferring millions of dollars to another business, you’re mostly going into it blind. There’s little time for courtship. Of course, you google the company; sure, they have a pretty website; they even provided you with some official-looking documentation in their local language proving that they’ve been certified, somehow. But how can you be sure you really know anything about these people?
My name’s Julia Ront and I’m here to tell you there’s now an answer to all those questions. How did I get here? Well, it all started with Batman.
My first love
Before startups, there were superheroes. Like many other kids, I grew up loving X-Men, Marvel Comics and, particularly, the DC universe. Every day after school I tuned into the Batman: Animated Series, hoping that one day I would also be able to fight crime like that. What I liked most about Batman was that he didn’t have superpowers as such; anyone — me? — could be like Batman. They just had to have the technology to build the gadgets.
Becoming a Wonder Woman
I was recently going through my kindergarten graduation reports (yes, it’s a thing in Estonia) and one of my teachers had written: “Julia wants to become a police officer.” It was inevitable, I guess. Especially as some of the kids in my group had said that girls couldn’t be police officers: that was a red rag to a bull!
When I got my first computer at the age of 12, I fell in love with Google and the endless possibilities brought by the knowledge it could summon up in the blink of an eye. I was ‘good at’ the internet. I became an important resource among my girlfriends whenever someone needed to check that the boy they’d been speaking to on MSN wasn’t a catfish. I’d daydreamed about going into IT, but familiar doubts crept in about it being a ‘male’ industry, with all that math and coding.
After getting my BA in Economics from the University of Tartu, Estonia’s oldest university, I became the second team member to join Veriff. The verification unicorn was still in its very early days at that time; verification of any sort was not widely talked about. I was sure that fellow Estonians Wise (then known as TransferWise) were involved in verification at some level, as were various niche corporate-oriented companies based largely in the US or UK, but I still like to think of myself as the first official verification specialist in Estonia. I helped build early versions of the Veriff product and led both the verification and support teams.
The verification sector was growing, both in Estonia and globally, as I studied for an MSc in IT (I must say I was particularly proud of my cum laude result), learning how to optimize processes and build the products of the future.
Getting into business verification
After Veriff I moved into the world of Know Your Business. Verifying businesses is a completely different animal from verifying people. You can verify an individual’s ID in less than 30 seconds: you verify the document, you verify the selfie, and often a form of liveness check is required. It’s generally the same procedure wherever you are.
Comprehensive business verification, conversely, can take up to 16 weeks, even when using all the possible tools at your disposal.
I also discovered there was no standardization of approach; individual companies are required to build their own compliance processes based on their own needs and appetite for risk. There is a set of guidelines on Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations, telling you to understand the company ownership, make sure nobody is on the list of sanctions and make sure the company exists, but no industry standard.
Some commercial registers were still stuck in the 20th century. Many of the databases had little information and it was often a huge hassle to request more. Requesting information from Gibraltar had to be done over the phone. I had to provide my credit card details, too, which, as an Estonian who is used to everything happening online, seemed crazily inconvenient, not to mention extremely insecure.
There are hundreds of jurisdictions and thousands of databases, each and every one of them having their own processes, their own data formats and wildly differing quality of data. Even Batman would have taken years to fix the broken processes of every single country. So, why not become a register, a super database of businesses, myself? While working as a KYB consultant I could see that customers were crying out for such a product. My freelance customers were constantly telling me to build a ‘Julia AI’ for business verification. So I did!
So, why not become a register, a super database of businesses, myself?
Meeting the Robin to my Batman
The final piece of the puzzle slotted into place in August 2020. Some years prior, when I was at Veriff, I met Anton Vedešin, a dynamic CTO with years of experience running startups. Since then we’d always thought of each other as busy people, but we finally had the chance for a proper chat. And we discovered we were a match made in heaven.
Anton had started his first software business at 21, while in his 2nd year of a bachelor’s degree in IT at TalTech. His team had started out building websites and online shops but soon realised how, basically, anyone could do that. They took it up a notch (or ten) and started working on some of the knottiest tech problems around.
Anton ensures that he, and whichever team he is leading at the time, are relentless in their pursuit of new technologies and ways of doing things, search out the most difficult problems to solve, and find ways to genuinely change the world. Anton’s favourite framework is Scrum, which helps self-organized teams generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems. He also thinks that Vespia is where software engineers’ dreams come true.
Anton and I wasted zero time in applying to different idea validation events. We didn’t have a product and there were only two of us but YOLO. We were confident that there was a problem people really needed solving and so we applied to Prototron — a startup event in Estonia — and reached the top 30, out of 500 applicants. After receiving a lot of attention from mentors, angel investors and potential team members, we realised that we were on the right path. And started inviting people to join the team.
Forming the Justice League
So, Vespia was born. Our crime-fighting warriors are Artem, Artur, Roman, and Stepan. These guys can code. And, surprisingly, have other interests! Artem is a product manager by day and a relentless reader by night. Artur splits his time between being a full-stack developer and a karaoke legend. Roman designs our software, when he’s not creating video games or on a 50k cycle ride.
Our product development teams are self-managing and cross-functional and use the Scrum framework. We don’t have managers; we have teams of professional product developers and product owners who deliver the product incrementally.
At Vespia dreams come true! Once a McDonald’s crew member, Stepan is now a junior developer; former ready-to-wear specialist at Hermès, Elena, is now a growth hacking intern. Their creativity and willingness to grow brought them to our amazing startup. They’re perfect examples of career-change success stories.
Our business developer Mike and customer support Anna share the same cryptocurrency background. South African by birth and cricket fanatic by choice, Mike makes connections like no one else. Anna is a verification specialist and customer support and, although she’s Russian, enjoys nothing more than curling up with a Czech-language detective novel after a hard day’s work. Because… reasons?
Our team members are all different but what unites us is a love of tech. And superheroes. What attracted the product team specifically to Vespia was the ability to shake up an industry populated by dinosaurs and build an AI-driven business intelligence supermachine. All our team members will agree that the unmistakable passion and precise vision of Vespia formed part of their motivation to get on board. And it didn’t hurt to see a female founder leading the way.
This is a KYB revolution! Vespia is so much more than a business verification or compliance tool. We are disrupting the RegTech industry by offering an all-in-one solution for verifying businesses in an unbelievable new way. SMBs are the most discriminated by the current AML industry and we want to give them actual solutions. But we’re not limiting ourselves to just one target; we want this solution to be scalable and bring corporates to the future of verification, too.
Vespia is a fully remote team operating from Estonia, Finland, and Ukraine with a total of nine employees. We prioritize employee wellbeing, strong company culture, and flexible as well as independent work. Plus, beer and board games!
Our company expects huge growth in 2022, which is why we need you! If you are a compliance superstar, an experienced head of people and culture, you are good with digital marketing, or a techie professional specializing in AI, let us know! Help us take Vespia into the future!
The future of business verification is here, join it!
- In case you are a tech superhero, please contact Anton or let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you are interested in people, culture, marketing, or compliance, please ping Julia or let us know at email@example.com