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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 1 month ago

Super security: Firm wants to change the login game

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A Tampa startup is on a quest to rid the world of online passwords. But can it get its sales pitch across to the right clients and investors?
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

A recent TV commercial touting the iPhone X’s facial recognition ability shows a man participating in a memory challenge contest in front of an audience. He makes it to the final round, in which the host poses a question that elicits stunned gasps from the audience: “This morning, you created an online banking password. What is it?”

The ad is a wild exaggeration, of course, but one that cuts to the quick of the information age angst that stems from trying, often in vain, to remember user names and passwords for the myriad websites and apps we use every day.

“Cybersecurity experts recommend that you have a unique password for each system, but how many people can remember all of that?” Saranya Sabarish, COO of Super Auth

Super Auth Inc., a Tampa startup, thinks it has a solution that will not only ease online frustrations but also make digital lives more secure. It has created a password-less authentication system that uses a person’s fingerprint or facial features, entered via a smartphone, to transmit login credentials to apps and websites. It has also introduced a complementary service designed to notify users immediately if a data breach has occurred and give them the option to remotely manage the compromised website or app.

“This is easy for users but hard for hackers,” says Super Auth COO Saranya Sabarish, 30, who started the company with her husband, Rish Ram, who is the firm’s CEO. “The problem with passwords is that most people use the same one [for everything]. Hackers steal a password from one website, but they know that people are probably using it for other sites, as well. Cybersecurity experts recommend that you have a unique password for each system, but how many people can remember all of that? They’re going to keep using the same password.”

To Super Auth, that means a large market to target. Educating that potential client base on what the company can do is one of several core challenges it faces. Other hurdles include competition from the likes of Google Authenticator, Authy, Clearswift and Verint; creating a go-getter sales strategy; and raising capital. The so-far bootstrapped company seeks $350,000 in investment. 

Sabarish says Super Auth, based at the Tampa Bay Wave business accelerator in downtown Tampa, has been getting positive responses as it appeals for funding that will help it add to its five-member sales team. “Big companies are starting to understand the potential" of what Super Auth offers, she says, adding that, so far, the company has landed two major enterprise clients, 30 smaller companies and more than 250 individual users.

Super Auth makes money through a couple of different pricing models. One is a business-to-business method geared toward companies that want all its employees to use the Super Auth login. Under that arrangement, Super Auth charges a flat fee per user per month. The other model is more of a business-to-consumer system in which a company pays a lower amount, usually a few cents, per individual login. (Super Auth officials decline to disclose its revenue.)

Integrating Super Auth’s password-less login system requires just a few lines of code on a website’s back end, Sabarish explains, which makes it an attractive option for companies that already have complex cybersecurity protocols in place.

The biggest obstacle to success so far, say Super Auth executives, is coming up with a clear strategy for sales and marketing. “We are techy people, everyone on the team, so right now, our focus is on building a sales team that can really sell the product,” Sabarish says. “That’s a challenge for us.”

Super Auth’s service could be appealing to streaming services — think Netflix — that collectively lose hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue every year thanks to users sharing accounts. E-commerce is another potentially lucrative market, says Sabarish. “E-commerce retailers lose revenue because people don’t like to register on the websites, or when they go to make a purchase, they forget their password — and people hate that.”

The hate is so strong shoppers leave billions of dollars of merchandise left unpurchased every year. The phenomenon has become so commonplace that it’s been given a name: “shopping cart abandonment.”

Sounds like a job for Super Auth.

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