Husayn Kassai Podcast Transcript

Husayn Kassai Podcast TranscriptListen to episode here

Husayn Kassai: [00:00:00] And I realized that the credit bureau model is fundamentally broken because its identity fraud makes it so easy for anyone to cheat it. And I thought this is the most ridiculous thing ever. And so there's this constant struggle of people being able to open bank accounts and accessing services. It was so obvious for us. This is a complete broken model.

Husayn Kassai: This is the future, the revenues into the hundreds of millions and metrics are quite strong.

Amardeep Parmar: Today we have with us a very special guest, Husayn Kassai, who's the first ever Unicorn founder to come to this podcast. He's the executive founder of Onfido and is a current CEO and founder of Quench. ai. Husayn loves making online businesses as a kid. And at Oxford, he led the Entrepreneurial Society.

Amardeep Parmar: It was with people from here that he co founded Onfido, which you might have used if you've ever signed up to an account online and needed an identity check. For the first few years, it was a real struggle to convince people to believe in him and to gain the customers. It then went on a rocket ship and they had hundreds of employees and IPO'd.

Amardeep Parmar: And he then [00:01:00] left to then go on to Quench. Ai which is all about helping companies to upskill their employees. So what Husayn can give you in this episode is a real honest journey and some of the mistakes he made, and he really takes his time and puts in the effort to make it say it's relevant to you as an early stage founder or somebody's thing about starting a company.

Amardeep Parmar: He gives you the numbers too, which is a massive help. So I hope you enjoy this episode. Husayn, you've had such an amazing journey so far, and you've created a massively successful company on your second one now as well. But when you were a kid, is this what you thought you'd ever be? What were your ambitions then?

Husayn Kassai: I never had a specific idea early on. I think my first memory was when I wanted to be in the Army just playing with toy soldiers. But that quickly changed later at some point, I just found the journalist side appealing and then an academic, I think the appealing thing with both was essentially some freedom to be able to do what you do.

Husayn Kassai: And I quickly realized you're actually not often free. And therefore, when I was in my early teens, about 13, when I started my first [00:02:00] online business, like an eBay business, and I kind of started one thing after the next after that shows into my university career where I realized I was, I said, economics and management.

Husayn Kassai: And at university, I was taught all the problems into the, uh, that the world had. And I was told, okay, go and become a bank or a consultant. There's nothing wrong with that. I actually did an internship, but I decided like, no, I don't necessarily want to do this. I applied to 16, uh, United Nations development programs in different places.

Husayn Kassai: Didn't hear back from a single one. So in some ways by process of elimination. Uh, I felt like the entrepreneurial journey is where I'm most suited to. 

Amardeep Parmar: Cause it's interesting cause you started, obviously said you started businesses when you were younger as well, but that first, like on VEDA, when you were at university, doing that as a student and trying to create this company is going to make such a huge impact.

Amardeep Parmar: Did you have the dreams for it to be that big right at the start or where did the seeds for that come from? 

Husayn Kassai: Not necessarily. Well, that would have been the hope, but there was nothing beyond our wildest dreams that, that came, [00:03:00] um, you know, how big it could be. Uh, so I remember it was myself and one of my co founders, I was a president and he was a vice president of the Oxford Entrepreneur's Society.

Husayn Kassai: And we raised about 52, 000 pounds in sponsorships. This is back in 2011. And towards the end of that year, I told him, Hey, we've seen many entrepreneurs and startups come and go, uh, instead of you and I with our third co founder, like going into the city and working, if we just started the entrepreneurial journey and hypothetically, if we were to raise the same amount of, uh, revenue that we've generated here, but from customers, we would be a software company and that would be a multiple of 10 X.

Husayn Kassai: It'd be a half a million pound company with the same effort. That's just, I just, I was trying to persuade him. I was just running through the numbers and I'd say that was, is more, more than one year than, you know, wherever we, you could do in the city. So, so please join. And so at the pitch was, let's work hard and we might one day build a million pound company.

Husayn Kassai: And that was a sufficient pitch to, to persuade our third co founders to join. But now that, that's the extent to which the ambition was at the time. 

Amardeep Parmar: And how  are the people around you at this point, right? The other people you were at university [00:04:00] with, were they thinking like, he's crazy, he should be going into the banking, he should be going into consulting?

Amardeep Parmar: Or people behind you, did you have that support?

Husayn Kassai: So I studied the history of entrepreneurship out of Oxford University quite a bit, because in its 800 year history, there are fewer than a few dozen, um, that come out of postgraduates and hardly any undergraduates. Uh, often, yes, you do hear of many founders who come from, from university, but they often go to another career and then later start doing a venture.

Husayn Kassai: We have far, far more activity at Oxford Brookes and at Oxford Entrepreneurs, we, we sort of served both universities as a community. So the challenge is, I would say it's actually much tougher being from Oxford, you have what's going for you and you have what isn't what you have going for you is a strong brand.

Husayn Kassai: And that can serve as a signal wrongly for people to invest in you thinking that you might do a better job. And that's a shame is actually statistically, it doesn't necessarily work out that way. But what you have going against you. Is this pressure from everyone that is, Hey, you're now gonna go and get a high paying job and then you'll have a mortgage and then your auntie and everyone else is gonna be [00:05:00] proud of you.

Husayn Kassai: And that pressure is not conducive to you going and starting something quite high risk with, with very little income. So for the first three years I was on a salary of 1000 pounds a month, as was one of my co-founders, our third co-founder, he had a mortgage, so it was slightly higher. But you try to persuade your parents, Hey, for three years it's gonna be a thousand pounds a month.

Husayn Kassai: And these are all the risks. These are all the statistics. They would not tell you. I'm very fortunate in that I'm, uh. The fourth out of five siblings and my parents at this point had moved to California. So I was kind of, kind of free to do what I want. And prior to that, because I'd always been working since the age of 12, 13, I did a week at McDonald's as work experience.

Husayn Kassai: And that manager at the end of it told me, look, if you ever want a job ever in your life, you've got one here. So I had this confidence that just like floor that could always go on a minimum wage and I would survive. And, but it did take quite a bit of discipline to be able to forget everyone else.

Husayn Kassai: Forget all the pressure, try to do something that your gut tells you you ought to be doing. 

Amardeep Parmar: And with Onfido as well, why was that the idea that you wanted to pay yourself only a thousand pound [00:06:00] a month for? Like, what was it about Onfido's concept that you're so passionate about?

Husayn Kassai: I would have loved to pay myself a hundred thousand miles a month.

Husayn Kassai: I could only afford to pay myself a thousand miles. It's just, I like sharing numbers because I've listened to so many of these podcasts and I've learned a ton from them, I think. Where I can, if I give concrete examples, it makes it really material for those who are weighing up the decisions that they're looking at when they're looking at their options.

Husayn Kassai: So your question, when, why on Onfdo? That was the problem that stuck out the most for me. So when I turned 10, my parents moved from Iran to the UK, my father's Iranian, my mother's English. They, for the first few months, I just remember they struggled to open a bank account, even though obviously my, both of them had credit history here from like a decade prior, but they still struggled and they struggled to rent in their own name.

Husayn Kassai: So I, from the age of 10, it was like, Hey, like, this is kind of odd. Then over the years, when I started at university, I started to study this problem of identity and I realized that it's all underpinned by the credit bureau model. Centralized log of your date of birth, name, and [00:07:00] address that is captured by banks when you register and so on.

Husayn Kassai: But yet half the world's adult population are under banks and unbanked. And so there's this constant struggle of people being able to open bank accounts and accessing services. And I realized that the credit bureau model is fundamentally broken because it's identity fraud makes it so easy for anyone to cheat it.

Husayn Kassai: So you get all the downside of people being excluded yet hardly any upside. And I thought this is the most ridiculous thing ever. And parallel to that, my technical co founder who studied sort of engineering and he taught me the theory of like machine learning, computer vision, and how one can use technology to spot patterns and government IDs and compared to facial biometrics to digitize and bring everything online when it comes to verification.

Husayn Kassai: And so at that point, it was so obvious for us. This is a completely broken model. This is the future, but it became a very long journey and being able to prove that out. Very few people in 2012 when you tell them they'll come a point where everyone who's signing up for any sort of service will show that government idea on their smartphone and their face.

Husayn Kassai: It was alien. It's [00:08:00] like, are you crazy? Like, why would I ever take a photo of my most sensitive government ID? Right. And now, why would I trust a company that I have not heard of? And why would I do a sort of selfie and selfies and smartphones was still new around 2012. That's why it was on OnFido. It was because it solved the identity problem.

Amardeep Parmar: And like in those early days, right? Like you said, you've got a lot of customer inertia to overcome there, right? Also you said even with the banks and people like that, they potentially, or agencies, you've got to convince them that you're safe to use and that they're not making themselves look bad by using you, right?

Amardeep Parmar: If nobody's ever heard of your company. How did you get through that struggle in the early days? Like, how did you cope and they said on such low income, what  were you doing? 

Husayn Kassai: It was, uh, tough. So we had a vision around how to solve the problem. And we were very clear about that, but it doesn't mean anything unless you have paying customers.

Husayn Kassai: So, you know, as a 22 year old trying to go into a bank and selling to them, you got a lot of things going for you. Uh, against you and it's not like it's happened. We, I'm a [00:09:00] big believer in luck and timing. We became extremely fortunate that that early year, that was, that coincided with the rise of a few other trends.

Husayn Kassai: The first one being the trust marketplaces. So this is where you had on demand nannies, shooters, cleaners, doctors coming to your house. Often being onboarded remotely and therefore didn't need to be a strong identification or trust marketplaces like blah, blah, car, car sharing, home sharing, where essentially identity became more important.

Husayn Kassai: So they were like us, uh, pioneers and trying something new. And therefore they realized that even though they may not have wanted necessarily to work with us, because we carried risks, we were early, we hadn't, didn't have a proven products, but they had no choice. And so it was a really great early partnership between us, other startups.

Husayn Kassai: We had to co exist for us both to survive. And then we built that. And then 2014, as, as a product became better in 2014, it was the first FinTech wave you'll recall. Virtual banking licenses really started kicking in, neo banks and FinTech, the rise of FinTech started debit payments and so on, and then two or three years of building with that in 2017 was when the [00:10:00] mainstream banks started to realize, Hey, we need to start digitizing offering offering.

Husayn Kassai: And at that point, the gold standard became onFido and we were lucky. So now we're across all the other nation banks, uh, predominantly, uh, Europe and in the U S. So timing mattered. I think if, if this timing had potentially been six months later, IE this wave of other sort of activity was six, we may have run out of money.

Husayn Kassai: And if it was earlier. There's likely to have been someone else sitting here answering your questions today. 

Amardeep Parmar: So you obviously had co founders at this point as well, right? You've got co founders in the business. What was your role in that? How did that, so you balance each other's out? 

Husayn Kassai: So I am CEO and in many ways, the founder and I went and asked the two of them to join.

Husayn Kassai: So I, one of my co founders, uh, became our COO. He and I worked at the Oxford Entrepreneur's Society. He’s just amazing at hiring operations internally, everything. He still had two years left before he graduated. So he joined essentially just about a year after we got going. And then our third co- founder technical [00:11:00] studied engineering.

Husayn Kassai: Uh, I'd worked with five other engineers before him, programmers. And then, so he was the first to proactively come with ideas and he had already sort of had a mortgage and other commitments. So then we worked part time evenings and weekends until we received paying customers and some investments a year after starting, at which point him, along with my other co- founder who had graduated, were able to join.

Amardeep Parmar: And what kind of mistakes do you think you made in those early days? Because obviously now you're in your second company, but what mistakes did you make at the beginning you're now not going to repeat? 

Husayn Kassai: There are always things..And so if I break down very many, so if I break down the category is the essence of startups, the way I look at it, you have the people, the processes, and it's underpinned by priorities.

Husayn Kassai: Those priorities can be explicit, like your stated quarterly goals or weekly aims. And then your implicit, which is your culture, the norms and habits that guide decision making. So you have to have these three kind of in lockstep in the proper place. If I generally speaking throughout the 10 year process, look at mistakes, [00:12:00] they're usually when I, it's been hiring decisions and those hiring decisions have gone wrong because we've not here to our sort of priorities, 

Husayn Kassai: i. e. principles, values, cultural. Uh, fit and that is like the one general area where there's been significant number of mistakes. It's usually this person's like amazing that they, they, we have such a need. We were, you know, behind on this and let's just get them in. There are some question marks around the cultural fits, but that doesn't matter.

Husayn Kassai: Let's, you know, we'll fix it later. And those have always been a regrettable mistake. In the early stages, it's very hard to pinpoint because it was so long ago and it genuinely was a blur. Uh, so long ago. What's the mistakes? There were certainly been things that knowing what I know now would have done sooner.

Husayn Kassai: I spent six to nine months looking for investment, angel investment in Oxford. That's a mistake. The Oxford ecosystem are usually former private equity folk who are wired to be risk averse. They will come and have coffee with you every day for, for years to get a kick out of it. But the first question I should have asked every single one of them, when was the last time you made investments?

Husayn Kassai: How [00:13:00] large was that check? And can I please speak with those founders to see if you've helped them? That that's, I would have qualified those meetings and not just had a false sense of this is progress. This is anything but progress. So I certainly would have moved to London sooner and started raising angel funding.

Husayn Kassai: The second thing is I would have been a bit more bold in telling investors, uh, early on, Hey, we can't wait to 2015, like to, to go expense to US. We're already showing you with very little that we have, what progress we're having. Stop being silly, please unload all your funds and all your bank accounts into here will make you more money than you've ever made.

Husayn Kassai: I would have liked to have gone back and said that to them. Uh, they wouldn't have believed it at the time, but yeah, that's just an example. 

Amardeep Parmar: So thepeople that did back in those early days, what do you think they saw that the other people weren't seeing?

Husayn Kassai: They, so they saw tax rebates because of SCIS and to be completely truthful, I'm only, that's partly the case.

Husayn Kassai: We were part of the first cohorts of this UK scheme of, um, essentially a tax incentive scheme to, to invest in high risk early stage [00:14:00] startups. And we were, those who remember being in the very first year, the first year was something like very unusual. The first year had this unique factor that you invest in a startup, you get a 50 percent in your tax deducted.

Husayn Kassai: If the company fails, you get more than 50 percent of that back. So actually if the company fails, you get more money back than you've invested. Just a unique one off. Yeah. So I tried to explain that to a few of these angels, right? I said, forget my pitch. Like my pitch is rubbish. Forget about me. Let me tell you about this scheme.

Husayn Kassai: I became a seller of the tax scheme. Not what I thought I would be doing, but, but such is life. And, uh, so it was a bit unbelievable and therefore I actually went to the most credible angel investor at the time, Steven Page. Uh, he eats set up, uh, startup funding club, which is today still the most active seed funding club.

Husayn Kassai: And I, uh, I started introducing people to him and said, Steven, like they're not, they don't believe me. Can you please tell, explain to them, this is the rules and [00:15:00] get them to. So that's how we scraped by and got, got some early investors. So the very first check was, uh, 12, 000 pounds from Oxford innovation.

Husayn Kassai: That went for like nine months. The second check was 20, 000 pounds from Oxford business school. And then, um, it was sort of six months after that. We just got an angel funding of about 60, 000 pounds. And then a few months after that, it became a sort of a larger investment rounds, but that's how it started.

Amardeep Parmar: So what I've heard recently is like with product market fit, right? Is that at the beginning of this early days, you'd probably follow you're pushing a rock up a mountain, right? But at some point now where you are, things have had to have changed where now all of a sudden you're going downhill and the rock is moving really fast.

Amardeep Parmar: You're trying to keep up with that. When did the inflection point come for you guys between you're trying so hard to convince people and get customers, it's an all of a sudden being drowning in customer and investor demand. And how did you cope with that shift? 

Husayn Kassai: It all, I have to say it is mostly a blur from what I, what I remember, it was the end of 2014.

Husayn Kassai: So we're kind of two and a half years in, and we were raising the first [00:16:00] institutional venture VC around from like, um, in our series, it was about 3 million pounds. And it was just a casual Friday, just doing some documents, paperwork. Very nervous. Is this going to go through? Like, are people going to be crazy enough to trust some 24, 25 year olds with so much money, but, um, keeping a brave face naturally throughout the process.

Husayn Kassai: And then towards the end of that discussion, it was a case of, okay, so who, who, who's insuring you? Who? Who? Who? You know, and then this was the first time anyone has ever mentioned the need for insurance. And that was the first time where there's a very brief conversation that if, uh, God forbid, like one of us is hit by a bus, like what would happen?

Husayn Kassai: It was only at that moment where it sort of dawned on us, uh, at least for me, like, hey, this is serious. B, there is a team of 15 to 20 that heavily rely on us. They have commitments, mortgages, families to support and so on. And, uh, C, I better be careful now not to get hit by a bus because we've got a lot of work to be done.

Husayn Kassai: And, uh, we did get the insurance. I think that when you're asking what was like a moment, I remember that day and that evening, [00:17:00] actually the whole throughout that, that whole weekend, it was a bit, it was kind of an odd feeling. In many ways. Like what's insurance going to do for you anyway? But yeah. x

Amardeep Parmar: started.you have now got, so you said series A is 3 million, you obviously have raised further rounds beyond that.

Amardeep Parmar: And how is it like being the CEO of a massive company compared to the scrappy days, right? Like what did you enjoy about the different parts of that journey? 

Husayn Kassai: The point around being scrappy, I actually think a big part of our strength was that over the years, two years or so, we raised very little sums, but continuously, I think we ended up doing like six or so angel rounds.

Husayn Kassai: We had to be so lean and we had to learn the fundamental skills of being frugal and disciplined to be able to, you know, if you've got only 12, 000 pounds, you really need to be very, Clever about a very calculated about how you're going to deploy that and what matters and what doesn't matter and testing and so on.

Husayn Kassai: So being very, very lean. So we had to be lean because we were forced to being lean. If that 12, 000 pounds first check was  [00:18:00] 2 million, it'd be a very different story. So. The early team saw that and we lived that, uh, up to 50, 100, 200 people from 200 to 500 people, they recognize it was a company value to be lean and to always sort of doing more with less and so on.

Husayn Kassai: And that kind of stuck, uh, beyond that, uh, we lost that principle a little bit. And I think, uh, when I look at founders today, it's all about not, I want to build a product that changes the world, or like, at least has a go at changing the world. It's about, I want to do a startup and raise a massive round to essentially to get going.

Husayn Kassai: It's like a prerequisite and it's usually like 5 million. I need 5 minutes to get going. It's like, what would you do with five? I know what you could do with five. What would you do with 5 million? And it's not only, not needed. It's actually, I suspect harmful. If you're a first time founder in particular, where you need to be very good at budgeting, too much money can be harmful and reduce the chance of you succeeding.

Husayn Kassai: And I just tell founders, it's not about the first race. [00:19:00] It's not about the first round valuation. It's all about the valuation at the end of the journey, not at the beginning. So stop getting so bogged down with all this. And finally, that, um, I am pretty convinced that we are now in a better cycle than we would have been like two years ago, but startups that are very effective and able to manage small funds effectively in early days and are trained well.

Husayn Kassai: If you can spend 10, 000 pounds really well, then you can be trusted with a hundred million later and hopefully be as mindful of that. ‘Cause it's not your money. It's investors money. 

Amardeep Parmar: How did your own like self identity change as well? Right. From being in the early stage company where people like, who's this kid trying to build this company.

Amardeep Parmar: To then being in charge, like you said, hundreds of employees and having, cause you, you said mentioned by the inflection point, having 20 people rely on you for when you had hundreds and hundreds of people relying on you. How was that for your, your own like actual working during the day? Did you feel a big shift in yourself or did you just very natural?

Husayn Kassai: A great deal. And I, there was shifts, material [00:20:00] shifts from pre product market fit to product market fit and from product market fit to scale for sure. But it was not necessarily how, how is it as one able to get so many people relying on you. It's much more about how are they able to get to rely on each other.

Husayn Kassai: And those come back to, if you recall, there's people, processes, and like priorities. Priorities include implicit ones, which are culture, values, principles. Those, I suspect, I got my training at university. from extracurricular activities, not necessarily from the academic side. And those were being part of student societies.

Husayn Kassai: So again, my experience, also entrepreneurs, we grew the committee to about 35 people. It was like every week we had fun. Basically anyone who applied got to be on the committee, but it got, uh, cause my partner was like, why not? It's unpaid. However, we had, we'd have very simple, straightforward weekly tasks for people to do.

Husayn Kassai: And I just had one rule. You get a very small, very simple task. Okay. Stand outside the ice cream shop. When we all gather here, you just take off the list of people who come. Very basic, very simple. [00:21:00] Um, if you do a task. Well, you'll get a bigger task and we'll build on that. If you don't, we're going to celebrate it regardless.

Husayn Kassai: And we'll never mention you doing a task again. You just show up to every community meeting. And at the end of that, sort of after a few months, you kind of see your five or six people doers. And I've got a very binary mindset on doers and those who are not doers. Those are heavy and strong bias towards action and those who don't.

Husayn Kassai: So I was very lucky in our early team, we were privileged to be able to pick team members that we'd often worked with in the past who are real doers. And we built a very strong backbone of the company. And that kind of really, uh, helped and so on so that it was to answer your question, how does one change as a, as our identity, as a scale, I saw that working very early on.

Husayn Kassai: And I built on that. First, a bias towards those are humble, hungry, essentially have very much a bias to doing. And second, it's the recognition of it's always a team as any student committees. It's a flat hierarchy. No one's anyone's boss. Your team need, [00:22:00] you exemplify, uh, What you want others to sort of, uh, uh, do and your coach and your mentor, each other, and that ethos builds.

Husayn Kassai: So you're not a team of 500 people or like managing 500 people. You're just focusing on the five to eight people on your team. And they in turn manage theirs and they in turn manage theirs. And you have to set a good example. Um, that's all there is, is actually, if you can crack beyond 150, 200 person mark, I suspect you can become very, very scalable.

Husayn Kassai: Whether it's 300 or 3000, it doesn't necessarily matter too much. 

Amardeep Parmar: And I think one of the things along this journey, right, as you're constantly focused on building, was there ever a point where you just, like, smelt the roast and been like, wow, look what we've been able to achieve? Or did you never really get that moment or?

Husayn Kassai: I did quite a bit. I did quite a bit. So, so there were, it was 2015. So 2015, we just soon after raising our Series A, uh, we wanted to expand into the U. S. Most people, not most, everyone around the table said, no, this is silly. [00:23:00] You normally have to have 20 million of revenue in your home country before you go into the second country.

Husayn Kassai: The U. S. is notorious for being difficult, expensive, and the rest of it. And I can't remember exactly, I think our revenues must have been less than 100, 000 pounds. Nowhere near 20 million. But, um, I'm fortunate to know we completely ignored that. We recognize this is a race. The first to get,  client gets the data, trains AI or narrow machine and narrow AI machine learning models, builds the best product, becomes the biggest company.

Husayn Kassai: And if you don't crack the US and you're not going to be taken seriously. So got my backpack, went over to stay with my parents, uh, and started working on getting the first customers. Now it took a number of years, 2015, hardly made any progress, but when it comes to trying to get to that moment where we became big.

Husayn Kassai: It's usually when someone says that, Oh, I've used this product. And that was quite normal in the UK by 2015. Most people may have heard of it or gone through the experience, but in the U S it was a family friend who'd said, yes, I know of onFido, I've gone through the check and I'm really, yeah, it says something [00:24:00] very complimentary about it.

Husayn Kassai: And that's the moment I thought, well, in my head, we're just like a UK small thing. I'm trying in the US to grow us. But at the time we had a few international clients, but not many, but finding someone that had used the product and was a complimentary about it, uh, was, was a great feeling.

Amardeep Parmar: And to get people listening now, an idea of like how big or how much you've been able to achieve.

Amardeep Parmar: What have been the biggest highlights there or what, where are you today? 

Husayn Kassai: So as far as like figures that are public, the revenues into the hundreds of millions and um, metrics are, are, are, are quite strong. Uh, it is the actual thing for me that is the biggest indicator of a healthy startup. Um, is the growth rates.

Husayn Kassai: Really, you live and die by your growth rate in a startup world. You can sugarcoat it as much as you want. You can do as many press releases. That's, that's kind of it. And secondly is your culture score. So if, if you would force me to only be able to ask two questions from, [00:25:00] from, uh, scale ups in particular, it's like growth rates and your culture score.

Husayn Kassai: So our culture score, we use a tool called Pcon. Does surveys around the team saying what areas should we improve on essentially how are we supporting you and uh, we had an average, at least certainly when I was there, like average at about 8. 10 and I looked at that really closely because that is like a pulse on the feeling of everyone that for me is the glue and that is a test on your

Husayn Kassai: uh, priorities. Have I got, have we got the priorities right? And in my view, as long as that culture score or the engagement score, or essentially the metric by which, how, how people feel about the company and your growth rate, those two are the most important, uh, and will continue to be. 

Amardeep Parmar: So you, you know,  are running Quench AI as well, right?

Amardeep Parmar: Where did that come about? Or when did you start? 

Husayn Kassai: As well, only, so yes. So I did it in 2020. We brought in a new CEO to help IPO,  IPO or essentially sell, uh, took a year off for the last 18 months. I've been working on a new startup with some of the early Onfido team members, uh, [00:26:00] called Quench. ai. 

Amardeep Parmar: And you know, when you went with the IPO and stepping away, how was that process?

Amardeep Parmar: ‘Cause I think it's very difficult cause it's. Your baby in a way, right? You've been working at since you're at university to then walk away and give it to somebody else to be in charge. How did you feel about that? Was that an easy thing for you to do? 

Husayn Kassai: It was made easy by, it wasn't me walking away. I was asked to walk away for this new CEO to help IPO.

Husayn Kassai: So. Um, I'm kind of, I, we had another 10 year plan to go. We had only really achieved the first step of two steps. The first step is make bringing identity verification. So you can take an offline, uh, person and anchor their identity into a digital online accounts. We did it better than others, but I mean, it's, it's special.

Husayn Kassai: It still is, but it's not game changing. We wanted, what we wanted to do, which was game changing was, so now that you have a digital account, make that portable and reusable everywhere else. That's what really was, was, but it was a 10 year plan and 10 years, a long time when I took the year, a year [00:27:00] off, I kind of knew that I wouldn't really want, I'm not a good investor.

Husayn Kassai: I'm usually a little bit, usually if you, if you have one company that, that sort of is lucky enough to make it. You then go on to often become an investor and sometimes do another company. So for me, I recognize I would never be a good investor because I'm quite optimistic. I've got two terrible characteristics.

Husayn Kassai: One is optimistic. So I don't even halfway through your pitch. I just switch off and think about what we can do as opposed to this early. Well, what is being said, that's not good. And the second is that, um, I like to control in so far as if I see a founder is not doing things that the way I should be, I might inappropriately tell them to like go and on holiday while I take over.

Husayn Kassai: Neither of those two things are good. So. I do support, uh, seed founders, especially if they're from Onfido, just more symbolically. Uh, but I help founders all the time. Like I don't need to be an investor to sell. So for me, it was clear that I can't be an investor. And therefore, uh, doing a [00:28:00] startup was kind of normal and natural for me.

Husayn Kassai: And I picked a space that was in many ways, a pain point that I experienced throughout the Onfido journey. And that was upscaling the team. Uh, it was a difficult process throughout. And at pain points, we had some ideas around when we delivered on, we had on Fier University, we had some projects, ideas around how we could just finally solve this, this upskilling problem we never were able to deliver on.

Husayn Kassai: So I, I just finally had some time to, to work on this. 

Amardeep Parmar: So can you tell us all what, what makes Que AI different to other ed tech companies out there? 

Husayn Kassai: Sure. So we have, if I talk more about the problem, the problem you have is.. Typically, you have people, processes, and priorities, right? Any company that has ever done well, in my view, scale ups in the tech world in particular, they've been able to train and upscale their teams effectively so that our, our team members learning faster than our closest competitors, usually it's, it's a

Husayn Kassai: core competitive differentiator, if you're able to crack it. And secondly, in order to attract and hire the best [00:29:00] team members from across the world, you have to be able to develop them. They're quite attracted by that. So it's always been a number one priority. Now where we saw in practice, OnFido, and the pain point for me, we spent a lot of money on different course providers and different options.

Husayn Kassai: The challenge really was when you look under the hood and you look at engagement numbers, they're quite low. Where we saw that there is significantly higher engagement is when there's human led, training, which is good, not necessarily scalable, but it should be done regardless, but crucially where there is relevant internal content.

Husayn Kassai: And that was great because we saw this is something that is a little bit more scalable. So we started spending more and, and, and developing resources to developing internal content. And we started on funeral university and it helps team members train, because if you want to learn about sales and you recognize this as a sales team member, as a colleague, you're more likely to engage with that and actually learn from it.

Husayn Kassai: And the metrics started to become quite good. Engagement was high, but beyond 25 to 30 modules, what we kind of saw was that engagement went down and it quickly realized that when content, when there's too much content, it becomes too [00:30:00] difficult to find relevant, relevant content and therefore people switch off.

Husayn Kassai: So being an AI company. The solution to that was quite obvious. This is all broken. And we just need to be able to have an AI on the transcript of all those training courses so that people can run a query and find relevant things as opposed to spend 5, 10, 15 minutes going through and trying to find through different folders and files and things.

Husayn Kassai: That was an idea. We never actually delivered on it. There's always like key priorities elsewhere. But that's what we built at Quench.ai.  So typically organizations usually scale ups. What they do is they come on to Quench. They onboard, uh, they upload all of their internal recordings. So this is your all hands, your town halls, your team meetings, um, your trainings for your new joiners, any other trainings that you have.

Husayn Kassai: Um, there's primarily, it's all uploaded. Our AI takes the transcript of those educational material. And then we have a user driven interface where any employee, any team member goes in, they start querying what they want to learn. We pick from the relevant internal [00:31:00] contents that, that they want to find.

Husayn Kassai: And then once they're in that, say, one hour zoom recording. They can query it. They can say, what are the key ways I can apply this to my goals? Or how can I learn? So the two differentiators, two focus areas for us is finding relevant content faster. And secondly, once you're on that piece of content, being able to engage more and learn from it more.

Husayn Kassai: And it's, it speaks to the two things that I think work well at startups. One is you typically find people say learning is very important, but I just don't have time for it. Um, and secondly, about 70 percent of what you learn, you forget in 24 hours, right? So it's, it's, those are the key issues. Therefore we need to move to a world where

Husayn Kassai: I will find content just in time for me needing to apply it. And that could be, I've got a meeting in 20 minutes. I'm setting some goals. What should be on the goals? I've got five minutes to like learn. So it's essentially just in time. And secondly, when, as you do it that way and they're able to apply it, they're able to learn a lot more effectively.

Husayn Kassai: [00:32:00] So that's the essence of what we're building at Quench. And this is the current version. What we're going to go on to working on next year is we now know our AI is, the AI is trained on your internal content as opposed to, on the open web, and therefore it knows, are you B2B versus B2C? It knows, are you remote first?

Husayn Kassai: It knows about your cultural goals. It knows all these things. So as and when you run a query, it's automatically contextualized to your scenario. An AI, in my view, is not, uh, fit to generate content. It's probabilistic. It's got hallucinations. It's got inaccuracies. AI is absolutely well fitted to point you to the relevant human generated content.

Husayn Kassai: And that's the bit that, um, we're solving. Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: That's really interesting for me. So if you know my background in content creation, right. So I was a tech consultant, quit my job. So I did well on medium. com, was able to quit my job for that. I've done course stuff in the past. That's how I initially found out about Quench AI, was from a content creator perspective.

Amardeep Parmar: And like you said there, what you outlined is some of the key problems where [00:33:00] a lot of people talk about AI as the future and AI is going to do this and this, but you look at the content it generates and it's not that high quality. It's like, oh, AI is going to take all the writing jobs. AI is going to take all the education side.

Amardeep Parmar: But as you said, it's only based on the quality of the information that it's using. So if it's being trained on internal data and using the information that's taken from internal sources, then it can package in the right way and help people because it's using reliable sources. And I think that's a huge point that as people get over the initial AI hype from open AI, that's where the real value is, right?

Amardeep Parmar: Is that different companies, which are training people on internal data, that is more focused in that way. And this being your second company. Has this been a lot easier than the first time around? What have been the challenges or the upsides and downsides of it being a second company? 

Husayn Kassai: The  second company, one has to be mindful of potential biases.

Husayn Kassai: So how to scale up the mindset on the people, process and priorities is how do I hire fast enough? How do I [00:34:00] delegate fast enough? How do I essentially focus on just growth, scale, market share? It's radically different to pre product market fit. It's no, I don't need to hire. In fact, we need to have a very small agile team.

Husayn Kassai: I don't need to delegate. I should be in the customer calls. I should understand. The essence and the fundamentals of the problem. I should be the one asking those and leading those questions. And all these different, you're not, you're not taking market share. You're just trying to break in. So it's been this fundamental shift and you need to, if you're at a scale up for years, just growing, going back to pre product market fit, you really need to rewire to be able to do that effectively.

Amardeep Parmar: So we're running out of time now. Let's go to quickfire questions. First one, who are three British Asians that you'd like to spotlight that you think are doing incredible work at the moment? 

Husayn Kassai: There is Hasan Kubba, who is a very talented expert at essentially how people think about content online generally.

Husayn Kassai: There's Suranga from Balderton, uh, who. has helped me quite a bit in early days with Onfido, brainstorming [00:35:00] strategy, thinking through how one should basically, uh, change and develop and, and, and so on. Third is Riya, who's just exited Framework and we're actually partnering with Framework, but just an incredible co founder along with a co founder Asha, but just

Husayn Kassai: that sheer brilliance on mixing academic, academia with how learning ought to evolve is very impressive. 

Amardeep Parmar: And if people want to learn more about you and what you're up to, where should they go 

Husayn Kassai: to? So we've been mostly in stealth mode. We're slowly coming out of it. And it's quench. ai. Or you can catch me on Twitter.

Amardeep Parmar: If people can reach out to you to help, what do you need help with? Is there anything? 

Husayn Kassai: Uh, we're talking to scale ups. So yeah, if you're interested in helping your team or your company upscale, then get in touch.

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