An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Melanie Shapiro, the co-founder and CEO of Token, which was honored in our:
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Rochester (New York)
- 2019 Best Tech Startups in Rochester (New York)
- 2018 Best Tech Startups in Rochester (New York)
Tell us the origin story of Token – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
I’ve always cared about personal freedom. A person’s ability to have mobility, both physical and economic, is tied to having a digital identity. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world who don’t have a registered identity. That means that, in today’s world, they don’t get to participate in our global economy, which is largely digital at this point. Without an identity, you’re barred from participation in general society. I’ve become very passionate about all the different realities that emerge for those people through the lens of identity. The problems for them, like not having access to social services, schooling, and health resources – those are all identity problems.
Then there are the people who have registered identities, and are facing serious problems of a different sort. Passwords, payments, IDs, cards, and badges are all forms of identity credentials that are not working the way they were intended. Huge data breaches open the door for identity theft for people who aren’t adequately protected through some form of multi-factor authentication. What happens is that when accounts get compromised in some way, trust is fractured between you and the system you’re using that credential with. That trust is so crucial to power a faceless digital economy, and it’s trust that will make possible new technologies for improving our quality of life. Token pairs with one and only one person. It stores data in a secure element right there on your finger, rather than in a remote server, and it only works when it’s being worn.
I knew that we had built some incredible technology with our first product, and it could make a much wider and more significant impact around the world in its current embodiment. Using it to solve for serious issues in the areas of identity and security was really the jumping off point for Token.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
My biggest hurdle was not believing in myself. For me, the real challenge came during the times I didn’t believe in my own abilities. I’ve worked very hard to overcome that, and I credit a lot of the growth that I’ve had in this area to my team, my family, and ultimately the community around me that has been so supportive.
What does the future hold for Token?
Over the next six months, and six years, Token will continue working to achieve the ultimate mission that we’re on, which is to give people a unified way of proving who they are. This is our focus now and into the future. Right now, we’ve taken step one by launching our first product. We’ll remain committed to that vision.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Rochester?
I’m really fond of Rochester for a lot of different reasons. Ultimately, I’ve had the opportunity to see Rochester grow as a place that supports technology and startups. Some of the universities here have played an important role in that shift. In particular, RIT has led the charge, and we’re glad to have them as an investor in Token.
The reason Rochester is great for the startup scene is that, at its roots, it has the values of community, commitment, and integrity. Those are the things that aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners who are looking to build the next greatest technology really need. It’s easy to feel lost as an entrepreneur, so finding a community where you feel a sense of belonging makes all the difference.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to remain curious and remember to focus on what you set out to accomplish. It’s really easy as someone who’s curious to want to solve as many problems as possible. You feel like you have to pay attention to all the possible inputs around you, and it’s a great challenge to have to focus through all of that. Ultimately, once you decide to start a company and you’ve brought people along for the ride, whether they’re employees or investors, it’s your job as an entrepreneur and CEO to remain focused on your ultimate vision. Stay focused on the place you’re leading all those people.