Husayn Kassai

It’s fine to take the time to develop yourself

HOF Entrepreneurs Husayn Kassai 1920X1080

Published: 04/04/2022

Husayn Kassai is a co-founder of Onfido, an identity verification company which helps businesses digitally onboard users securely using machine learning. Since launching in 2012 Husayn and his co-founders have grown the company from their team of three at Oxford University to over 650 in 2022.

Adoption of Onfido’s identity verification and authentication platform rocketed and the company has raised more than $200m. Husayn handed day to day running of the company to Mike Tuchen in November 2020, who was appointed to take the company towards IPO.

If you don’t have a fully baked idea, it’s fine to do a few years at a start-up or scaleup, it will help you develop all the skills for when you have your ideas.
Husayn Kassai

The power of people and collaboration is something that Husayn believes in strongly, as the lessons and advice which he has absorbed on his journey have contributed to his present success.

Husayn Kassai grew up in Iran, fascinated by the hustle and bustle of the local street markets. It gave him an enduring love of commerce in all its guises. When he moved to Manchester at age 10, he used his sister’s Ebay account to build a small business selling niche foreign music – ‘a bit of a side-hustle’, he says.

He also temporarily doubled the revenue of a small charity shop in his hometown over a summer of volunteering there. The customers were typically pensioners and tended to bring in their grandchildren’s school books. They sold for a few pounds in the charity shop, but Husayn knew he could sell them for more if he put them on Amazon.

However, he didn’t let any of these early enterprises get in the way of his academic career. He went to Oxford to study Economics and Management but continued working on ‘one venture or another’.

While at Oxford he started his first business with one of his to be co-founders Ruhul in 2009, providing a platform for graduates and job searchers to easily collect references and send them on to employers. Although that business ultimately failed it was another chance for him to build essential entrepreneurial skills.

He gives the example of past team-members: “Many of the new wave of start-ups doing well today are founded by team members from the previous wave of start-ups such as Transfer(Wise), GoCardless and Onfido.”

The experience his colleagues have gained in overcoming challenges early in their careers gave them the insight and skills to solve big problems and discover “the art of the possible.”

The core idea for Onfido came from a synthesis of Husayn’s entrepreneurial approach and ability to pull on experiences and conversations along the way.

One of Husayn’s co-founders was working on AI and computer vision to recognise animals in the jungle. During one of their conversations, they realised that the technology could also be used to recognise people. This was the catalyst to developing a solution to an identity management challenge Husayn had been grappling with for a while.

We were all convinced that the future of identity was going to be remote. It had to be robust, it had to be anchored to government ID and biometric data.
Husayn Kassai

Onfido was born out of a desire to do these checks properly - to fight fraud, and give access to the underserved, propelled by the possibilities of this new technology.

Despite a strong proposition it was a tough moment to be starting out and Onfido struggled through their first few years. They had to focus on delivering value while keeping the company lean.

“We didn’t get proper funding for nine months, surviving on £12,000 we’d been given by the University’s Oxford Innovation. We had to make very little go a long way. This gave us a key advantage because it meant we were frugal from the outset and focused on generating revenue.”

However, this was a challenge that Husayn was ready to tackle head on with a team that he could trust to get the job done.

You need a world-class team and a great culture, in a space that is ripe for disruption and the rest works itself out.
Husayn Kassai

Husayn says they caught the early fintech wave, with growth becoming exponential from 2017.

“We got another £20,000 after nine months, but having started in 2013, it wasn’t until 2015 when the business really started to take off.” They were smart in targeting the neo-banks rather than the conventional banks, where decision-making was far slower. Husayn adds: “We put all our energy and effort into neo-banks as we felt they were the future. Lucky that turned out to be the case.”

Husayn advises that building a strong team with a positive culture is the first step and something that he and his co-founders have invested in, without that Onfido wouldn’t have been able to harness these opportunities with such success.

Across his education and career Husayn has taken the opportunities presented to him to learn and collaborate with his peers and this is where he pulls his success and advice from. Take the chance to develop your skills and ‘discover the art of the possible’, and to harness these opportunities that come your way don’t underestimate the value of building a strong culture and a good team.

To summarise his philosophy, he finishes;

You need two things, a team and opportunity
Husayn Kassai