As part of my series about the “How to Navigate and Succeed in the Modern World of Finance,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Shahid Hanif.
Shahis Hanif is the founder and CTO of Shufti Pro which is an identity verification services provider. Shahid completed MSc in Artificial Intelligence from The University of Edinburgh and has extensive experience in Artificial intelligence. He also co-founded a fraud prevention and chargeback prediction system Zensed. His passion is to develop unparalleled fraud prevention solutions that would fulfill the evolving technical fraud management requirements of cyberspaces, banks, and businesses.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
It’s my pleasure to share my story with your readers. My backstory is not quite different from the stories of millions of entrepreneurs out there. I started exploring Artificial Intelligence after my graduation. Experimenting with new algorithms and learning about advances in AI was my passion which drove me into the field of AI.
I had the opportunity to work with some tech giants and gained extensive field experience. I worked on the front line in tackling unusual tech issues. This exhaustive training made me efficient enough to pinpoint the loopholes in AI-based solutions. This was the time when I had the opportunity to handle the integration of one of the identity verification services (which is now my competitor) and found one significant lag in their service which was “customer experience”. Their codes were lacking in scalability and the integration process was hectic. The overall customer experience was not up to par. This was the point where I decided to fill this loophole in the industry and laid the foundation of Shufti Pro back in 2017.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I thought that once I tell the world about my idea, they will flock towards it, amazed by my creativity. Initially, I kept waiting for the journalists to call me but that never happened.
I learned that you not only have to come up with an original idea but have to execute it and promote it. For example, think of any innovation, once it materializes, it becomes a reality there will be someone in the world that would say, “I was just thinking that”. But thinking about something doesn’t mean anything unless it’s given a concrete form. Moreover, you need to tell the right people about your idea for it to grow wings and fly.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
My favorite book is “The Alchemist”. It motivated me to seek my dreams without any fear of failure. The industry I work in has a tremendous scope but you have to face numerous failures before achieving the targeted results in software development. Staying motivated is necessary, reading such books never let you give up.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now at Shufti Pro? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on a great new project “Touchless Airport Security Clearance Kiosk”. It’s in the customer acquisition phase. This new project will revolutionize the security clearance process at airports. The current security clearance processes are time-consuming and the customers are dependent on the airport staff to get through the security clearance. But our product will perform real-time identity screening on the passengers without any assistance from the airport staff.
The AI-powered kiosk will guide the passengers to follow the verification steps and verify their passport and identity documents by showing them to the kiosk powered with Shufti Pro’s document verification solutions.
The complete touchless biometric screening will also be performed with the help of a face verification solution. It’ll use 3D depth perception and liveness detection to verify the faces of the people. All this will be completed within seconds and without any interaction with employees. It will significantly reduce the security clearance time.
Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
The vision of creating Shufti Pro was always clear. As I’ve worked on fraud prevention solutions before starting my own venture, so when I launched Shufti Pro I knew my goals quite clearly. The vision behind the creation of Shufti pro was to rise as an industry leader in the identity verification industry with an aim to make the future cyberspaces fraud-free. The advancements in our current products and the new products in the pipeline are created in line with this vision.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” When there are ups and downs I keep my teams motivated and focus on the goals. When there’s a crisis an entrepreneur often loses the vision to eye their ultimate goal, so I keep reminding myself of the ultimate vision behind the creation of Shufti Pro.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Goal-oriented marketing is the key to generate good leads. Audience centric marketing strategies are vital and bring in leads, but not all those leads are your target. A marketing strategy that is goal optimized and audience-centric produces qualified leads.
If a fellow CEO would ask you for advice about whether to bootstrap or to look for VC capital, how would you help them weigh the pros and cons of that decision?
As an entrepreneur, you need to be careful with financial matters. At times VC funding demands a lot in return, such as large shareholding, more say in company decisions, or the venture capitalists might be too nosy to bear. But it also has benefits such as valuable advice from your venture capitalist or enhanced industry exposure.
We can’t choose between VC capital or bootstrapping straight away, because the pros and cons of both are dependent on the financial need, future planning, and scalability of your project.
What measure do you use to determine the value of a company? What advice would you give to other leaders about how to get an optimal evaluation of their business?
Assets (both current and long term), debt, and the projected future cash inflows of the company are some good metrics to determine the value of a company.
The advice is, first of all, benefit from the services of an expert, even if you know your business better than anyone. If you want to get the optimal value then increase the scope of your evaluation techniques, for example, analyze the internal as well as external factors. Analyze your assets, debt, equity, and earnings and compare those with that of a competitor. Industrial comparison gives a more clear value of a company.
What would you advise to a founder who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Businesses generally reach the standstill when they have completed one cycle of their journey which is startup, growth, maturity, and rebirth or decline. A business is in standstill when it has entered the rebirth or decline phase and the owner is unaware of this shift (as it’s often difficult to identify a recession after maturity).
But this is not the end, reaching a standstill means your business will be reborn. It’s time to innovate your products, redesign your targeted audience, renew marketing campaigns, and of-course raise the research and innovation budget for some time.
Try to keep the budget under control. At times innovation leads you to long-term investments so try to learn from your previous experience (as your business has completed one cycle, most probably).
What are the most common finance mistakes you have seen other businesses make? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Businesses commit common finance mistakes when they skip the ABC of finance. Some mistakes are spending more than they have, lacking contingency plans, and mixing personal and business expenditures and saving.
So the best way to prevent such problems is to develop a contingency plan if you don’t have the expertise, take help from an expert. Also, keep business and personal finances separate from day one. Lastly, always follow the laws, such as tax filings and stay up to date about the financial status of your business. Although you don’t have to look at your finances every single day, try to keep track of cash flows. For example, my designation is Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of Shufti Pro, but I collaborate with the finance department off and on to know about the financial standing of the company.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to succeed in the modern finance industry? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Data is an integral asset of your company so handle it with care. I’ve seen companies go belly up due to mishandling their financial data. It might be in the form of weak cybersecurity or unwise selection of outsourced financial services.
- Your employees are your assets. While taking employee appraisal decisions, think with a futuristic approach, plan the future of employees as partners of the company instead of just giving a financial appraisal. It improves employee retention and helps in succession planning.
- Make things easier for your customers. Sometimes companies stick to strict pricing plans, leaving no room for clients who are looking for budget-friendly solutions. We improved our leads when we offered two types of pricing plans, monthly commitment, and pay-as-you-go. Also, we offer our clients to make their plan by choosing from a list of services. So they can get budget-friendly solutions.
- A contingency plan is very important. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 exposed several businesses to financial risk and many are shutting down. Lack of proactive financial risk management plan leads to unpredicted losses.
- Don’t be overwhelmed with the advancing financial industry. The new payment solutions are swift and easier but one size doesn’t fit all. Choose the payment solution or financial service that conforms to regulatory obligations and has strong security measures in place.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The first tip is to believe in yourself especially when there’s a bump on your road to success. The last thing you need in a crisis is to lose hope.
Secondly, spend some time with yourself to refuel your mind and body. It might be dinner with friends and family or just reading a book alone. You might think it’s not difficult, but trust me it becomes difficult when you have a project in the pipeline and you want it done by all means. Because entrepreneurs have that knack of working unless they get results. So, do work a lot, but keep taking some breaks.
Last but not the least, learn to share your burden. Assign duties to your team and supervise them. Sometimes, you keep exhausting yourself by performing tasks that your team can perform as well.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I could start a movement it would be to create awareness among the masses regarding cybercrimes. A lot of people handle their online identity carelessly and expose their personal credentials on risky platforms. Making our cyberspaces fraud-free is vital to get the most out of technical innovations.
How can our readers follow you online?