Juha: Sure! So, my name is Juha. I’m one of the co-founders of Usko, really excited to be here. This is the first of many Ask Me Anythings.
I’m a serial founder, I originally, or most recently founded a company called Wyncode which was the largest coding school in the southeast. We trained about 1000 developers and digital designers who now work at tech companies all across the country. Before that, I was actually in the sporting goods industry, and built a company that built up sports leagues for a not super well known sport called Floorball, but we managed to make it pretty big with some of the efforts we were doing.
Now I’m super excited to be working on Usko with an amazing team, we have a product already in our suite called Redact, which is what a lot of folks know us for, and that’s the number 1 tool out there for removing social media content that you’ve created, and now we’re building Usko which is really all about giving you ownership over your personal and the ability to opt-in an monetize that data on your own terms.
Juha: Well, one, we’re part of the same suite now which is really exciting, but I think the philosophy behind the two tools is really similar.
One of the reasons Redact has gotten so popular is because it’s very privacy focused. Essentially the way it’s been built, everything that you’re doing is completely secure. You’re doing it on your local device, us as a company don’t see who you are, we don’t see your social media logins, we definitely can’t see any of your social media content. It’s all by design, something we can’t access.
I think that’s a very different way of thinking about building a tech product, because up to this point, all three tools really make the user be the product. In order for the user to be the product, you need info on the user - you need data that you can sell. We’re really taking that opposite approach, and with Usko we’re continuing that same philosophy. The product is built exactly the same way.
Right now, our first use case for owning your data is to own your Amazon purchase data, and when you connect your Amazon purchase data, again, we don’t see your Amazon logins, we don’t see a single item you’ve purchased - all that is stored on your phone. So you really can feel very confident using the product that we’re not getting access to what's rightfully yours, and that’s your data.
If you choose to monetize it, we also have a system (we haven’t launched it yet, it’s not in the app) that ensures that the advertisers and us don’t know who you are. It’s basically done anonymously, so we’re really excited about that.
I think that’s the core philosophy and values of the company shining through there, and it’s something that’s very clear in both of the products that we’ve built.
Juha: So we thought long and hard about which dataset to start with, and our dreams and vision goes well beyond Amazon data. Actually, some of the first use cases we thought of were about apple watch data, or health data, or maybe car leases and mortgages.
The reason we chose Amazon is, one, we feel that it’s a pain point for a lot of people. At least for me personally, our family spends a lot of money on Amazon, not just for products, but also groceries and all these things. It’s quite hard to budget, like we really don’t know at the end of the month what we bought, my credit card just says “Amazon” on it, and it’s hard to know where that spending actually goes. Was I buying furniture this month because I moved, or did I buy a lot of organic avocados this month? I have no idea.
That’s data that Amazon probably doesn’t want to draw your attention to, they just want you to click an order. What our app gives you is utility in terms of giving you this layer of understanding your spending by category, by week, by month, by annual spending.
We even have some really cool things like an inflation dashboard, so you can get an idea of (for instance) how much organic avocados have gone up in the last three years. If you need to know, it’s 800%, which is absolutely crazy.
So that’s the first use case, because I felt there was a pain point there, and talking to users there was a pain point there.
But it’s not just about the analysis, which is this first version of the app, really what’s cool is that you actually own that data now. It’s on your device, if Amazon went out of business and disappeared tomorrow, you still have that data. If you wanted to share that with Walmart in order to get payment, you could do that.
That’s like the first step in taking you into that further path of owning your data and understanding what you can do with it.
What our team is working on super hard now is allowing you to opt in to receive messages from brands that may be interesting, and then receiving payment when those bands send messages.
So, long way to answer the question, but really felt Amazon was something that lots of people were having pain points with anyways, and if we can layer monetization on top, it’s very easy to understand who might find that data valuable so that our users can opt in to make some revenue off of their data really quickly.
Juha: Yeah, that’s a fair question. I think I saw a few people post about this before, and I think the words “analytics” and “customer data” can cause concern, especially for some of our more long standing Redact users who really value privacy.
What’s really great is we found a way that we could generate revenue for the business while keeping data just as secure as we did with Redact.
The way that we’re going to do that is when a brand sends a message to you, they don’t know it’s you. They’re basically sending a query out to the entire network, and if you fit that query, your phone, which is just a device ID, would say, “yes! I am somebody who buys organic avocados,” and that brand that’s selling organic avocados would be able to send you that message.
They don’t know who you are, what else you’ve bought, they don’t even see your device ID. We just basically connect the dots to send the message, again, only if you opt in.
That brand will pay a fee, we plan on giving 80% of that fee to the user, and 20% would go to our company for building out the platform.
That’s really the way that we’re approaching this. Obviously if you’re just using this for analytics or data ownership, there’s not going to be a fee for you. We’re going to try to build out the entire ecosystem in a way that these messages will deliver enough value for the users that they’ll want to opt in and share more data, but that’s also going to support our business as we grow in scale.
You can imagine as we get more users, more people might say, “I’m opting into 3 messages a week,” maybe somebody is opting into 8 messages a week to really save money, all of those are revenue generating opportunities for us, but they’re all controlled by the users. If they want to opt out, then they can opt out from that functionality.
Juha: That’s an awesome question. Usko essentially acquired Redact, so the Redact team is the same people who are working on the Usko product.
Redact had a lot of people working on it, we had a lot of great people who built parts of the product, but we also had a lot of people who basically were working on a contract basis. So what we’ve been doing is converting more folks to more sort of set contracts, some people have now come full time into the team, really focusing on the main product which is Usko.
We have a portion of the team dedicated to maintaining Redact, and in priority order, maintaining the app, ensuring that it’s working, if there are bug fixes to do we’re trying to do those in the same cadence as before, and then there’s also the ability to potentially build out new features.
In terms of what the future roadmap looks like, we really see Usko as the area where we can build out, as you mentioned this is a business, so at the end of the day we’re going to have to figure out ways we can generate revenue. We really feel that we have a great opportunity there to build something, and hopefully a lot of our Redact users choose to be a part of that as we go forward.
Also, there may be opportunities for us to implement some of the Redact functionality into Usko. For example, if you wanted to monetize some of your social media, a brand might be really interested to know who out there buys, let’s say, a ledger, you’re buying cold storage for crypto, they might be really interested in who bought that product, regardless of where they bought it, maybe we have support for all this, but they might also want to know which of those people follow their social media.
If you don't, they might be willing to pay you something to follow them on Twitter or Instagram, so then you’d be more likely to buy from them directly. They’d have a closer connection with you, and their margins would be better.
There’s a lot of ways we could align the interests of brands and users while allowing users to control the transactions, and make some of the revenue there that right now the brands are just spending on advertising going to just the big tech companies.
Juha: Yeah that’s awesome! Thanks for joining us.
You may know Dan, the founder of the Redact, really connecting with Dan and seeing his product and vision and what he’s been able to do. The biggest motivation is bringing Dan on board and the team he had built.
I definitely love Redact as a product, and when you combine that product and traction, as well as Dan and what the team could bring, it really felt like a great connection, because Usko is a brand new company.
I talked at the beginning about my background and the coding school that I had built, we sold that a year and a half ago. So Usko was just getting started as we raised the money, and when we realized that there was this product that fit in perfectly with the vision and where we want to get to, and had been built by an entrepreneur right here in Miami where I’m based also, there were a lot of signs towards this making a lot of sense.
Essentially, we would be a stronger entity if we were combined.
That was the plan. I can say that Dan and that original team is very involved today, and also believe very much in that redact mission and vision. We want to be very respectful of that, and build towards a future where it works well with where we’re going, and sort of what we see as this ultimate opportunity with Usko, which is really data ownership and being able to opt in to monetize that data on your own terms.
Juha: That’s a great question. Miami is having a moment right now, if you’re reading the mainstream media even and seeing Miami tech mentioned as a thing, it’s pretty crazy for me. It definitely wasn’t like this 8 years ago when we moved here to start Wyncode.
I think there’s a lot of reasons why Miami is having this moment, in particular there’s the fact that we’ve had a crazy amount of great talent moving here. The amount of folks that have moved during and post-covid is pretty crazy. Whether it’s venture capital, talent, ecosystem builders, just really really amazing aggregation of talent. I think that’s the main thing.
But also, it seems to have been very highly correlated with the web-3 blockchain crypto world. From that perspective, what we’re building involves data privacy, data ownership, all of these very important things that are being built here.
I think it’s definitely a really good time to be doing something like this here in Miami.
I think also we’re a bit of a symbol of remote work in some ways. People were working for silicon valley companies and moving down here because the lifestyle was better.
It’s also the connecting point for LATAM for sure, but also Europe. As we look at expanding more globally, it seems like a really excellent city to do this.
Also, as an entrepreneur who built and sold a company here, the community is very supportive. We’re getting a lot of traction, whether it’s pitch competition, all of our investors are Miami based, we’re getting invited to talk at things, people are downloading the app and sending feedback.
So we love Miami, we love the 305 and appreciate all the support and love that we get in the city.
Juha: Very, let’s say, million dollar question right there.
It’s been a tough week and a half for the crypto world with what’s come out with FTX, other exchanges, what’s happened with the price of a lot of crypto and NFTs. I think, to me, that’s good.
I think the people who are building in this space now are the people who see the future, see the potential, see the use cases, rather than hype.
I think with anything, there’s a risk of hype, I think this whole area of the internet, I don’t think anybody would disagree with me that it got overhyped. I think we’re seeing a correction, which is really healthy.
People are beginning to think about this from the perspective of, “Is this really needed in my product? Is this part of what we’re trying to build?” We’ve been having those discussions with Usko as well, because our plan is to initially compensate users with a token.
The reason we think the token is valuable is that, as we’re building up the dataset, until the dataset is large enough, we may not have critical mass for advertisers, but we want to pay our users from day one.
So we see that as an opportunity to share any upsides with our users, so people who are excited and want to be part of this today, the platform is going to be very small. But if you’re here with us, you’re going to get outsized rewards. As we grow, it’s not like being an equity holder, but it’s almost being part of this, part of the product early. You can take part in this upside of what we’re building.
Those are the things we like. The things we don’t like obviously are what's been going on in terms of downright fraud in this space. Our goal is to build something that’s very well thought out and long lasting, and not only help us grow initially, but also secure us in the long term.
That means asking the questions about, do we still want to go down this path? Do we want to find other ways to compensate users? We’re constantly talking about that, and we’d also love to get user feedback on it.
I think long term, the space is going to grow and there will be amazing innovations, but you’re going to see less hype in the short term, which to me is a great thing.
Juha: Wow, that’s a curve-ball right there.
The cat has really played a key role in the development of the company, and been an employee for a really long time - not just any employee, and outstanding employee.
There’s been potential talk of a rename or rebrand to bring the cat over. It’s causing some discussions.
Usko is a brand that’s not necessarily Redact, so it’s like, how do we really figure out the right intersection? We’re very partial to Miami based animals, and we do have a lot of cats here, which is good for Redacto, or Uskissa or whatever we end up going with, but yeah.
There’s a lot of heated discussions happening behind closed doors right now, and obviously would love the Redact faithful to weigh in.
Juha: For sure, I’d love to do more, this was great.