How to Launch a Verifiable Credentials Startup in 2023
Table of Contents
The One Tap Future of Digital Identity Is Coming
At Trinsic we believe in a “one tap future” where people can prove statements with a single click of a button and gain access to what they need. Past attempts at this vision have had to compromise on privacy by using things like “sign in with Facebook”, leading to user data centralized on big technology company servers. Emerging technology standards like verifiable credentials and decentralized identifiers present the opportunity to put users at the center of their internet experience, while offering more convenience and ease of use.
Great Product Experiences Are Key to Adoption
The standards, protocols, and infrastructure for using verifiable credentials are ready to support millions of people every day, but we haven’t seen adoption take off yet. In short, it’s because it’s been very hard to build great product experiences until recently.
Requiring users to download new applications and scan QR codes was how many decentralized identity platforms, Trinsic included, have shown proofs of concept. The user experience that is ready for mass adoption is one that is more seamless for the everyday internet user and offers major convenience benefits without sacrificing privacy.
When a user accesses an app powered by Trinsic, they don’t have to make an account, create a username, or remember a password. They simple enter an identifier (like an email), verify ownership of that identifier, and now they can utilize any credentials associated with it.
How to Build the Next Great Identity Application
The need for better digital identity spans industries from education to workforce to social media, healthcare, finance, and more. Because of this, most entrepreneurs and developers won’t always define what they’re building by its implications for identity. Instead, the most successful builders are hyperfocused on solving a specific user problem in a given niche. So here’s our guide on how to get started and help usher in a new wave of IDtech products that put users at the center of their identities and come with privacy and consent built-in.
Step 1: Define the Niche Problem You Want to Tackle
Every great idea starts with a focused audience. Facebook started on a singular college campus, where it captured significant market and expanded out from there. Here are a few sample problems you could tackle with verifiable credentials, but recognize that even if you choose one of these ideas, you will have to narrow it down to a more specific problem and audience.
Sample identity problems in specific sectors:
- Education: Students don’t have ownership of their diplomas and must request them from institutions whenever they apply for a new job.
- Workforce: Anyone can claim anything on LinkedIn, like saying they went to a certain college or worked at a certain company even if the information is false.
- Social media: You can’t prove and reward fans based on how early they followed you and supported your content.
- Healthcare: Every time you go to a new doctor’s office you have to fill in lots of repetitive paperwork.
- Finance: You have to re-scan your license or passport every time you want to open a different account.
These are all problems that entrepreneurs could address by building an IDtech product. If you’re serious about starting a company, you’ll want to do customer interviews, talking to dozens of people to more deeply understand the problems they face. But for now, let’s imagine you’re already an expert in one of these fields, you’ve done the user research, and you have a unique insight that you’re going to translate into a product.
Step 2: Formulate Your Value Proposition
Once you’ve developed a deep understanding of a specific problem, now you have to imagine the kind of solution that would solve this problem. Carrying forward our sample identity problems from before, here are some potential value propositions.
Sample value propositions in different sectors:
- Education: Giving students ownership of their diplomas will make it easier for them to prove their learning achievements.
- Workforce: Utilizing verifiable credentials to prove your work history on a social media site like LinkedIn would make hiring more efficient.
- Social media: Allowing fans to prove their loyalty and fanhood will let creators reward their supporters for finding them early.
- Healthcare: Giving patients an easy way to hold their medical history and selectively share relevant information will reduce friction in getting quality healthcare.
- Finance: Storing a verifiable credential of your proven identity would allow you to more seamlessly access and open new accounts.
These are the types of insights that you could start prototyping concepts around using Trinsic’s platform. Since you’ve defined a problem and imagined a potential solution, the next step is to start sketching out how the product interactions would look.
Step 3: Determine the Information You’re Going to Represent as a Verifiable Credential
At the core of any IDtech company is giving users ownership of their information in the form of a verifiable credential. For each of the potential scenarios above, there is a foundational credential that would begin to unlock value for the user. In the education example, you might be representing a diploma as a credential. Or in the social media example, you are going to allow users to prove that they followed a creator in their first year of being on YouTube.
In Trinsic’s dashboard, you can define a verifiable credential schema, specifying the data types and which fields are required and optional in the credential. In the provable fanhood example, your credential schema could be something simple like:
- Fan username
- Creator username
- Date followed
Step 4: Determine Your Data Source + Start Issuing
Once you’ve defined a credential template, you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to populate credentials with the correct information. If you’re in the proof of concept stage, you can issue credentials manually through the Trinsic dashboard. As you develop your use case further, you will likely need to integrate with other APIs or existing databases in order to programmatically populate credential information and issue them to the corresponding users.
Once you have this all set, you can start issuing credentials. Right now you can issue credentials to a user’s email, and they’ll receive a notification that they have a new credential. The real value comes from utilizing the credential though, so the critical next step is building out the verification experience.
Step 5: Build Your First Verification Experience
The point of putting information in a verifiable credential is so someone can present it, prove a statement, and gain access to something they want. So what will you give your user access to? It depends on the use case, but let’s first think about the social media example. If you’re a creator, maybe you will give your first 100 YouTube followers access to a merchandise store with a 50% discount applied.
In this case, you’re going to build a way for an e-commerce store to show a discount based on information shared in a credential. Luckily we already built a demo of how this would work with our OkeyDoke e-commerce store.
Step 6. Consider Trust and Governance
Now that you have a rough prototype of how you will issue credentials and how users can verify them to gain access to something they want, you’ve probably realized there is an opportunity for fraud here. Without a list of trusted credential issuers, what is to stop someone else from issuing themselves a credential that “proves” they were one of the first 100 subscribers on YouTube?
Trinsic’s trust registry service and dashboard governance feature make trust establishment easy. The core function here is to establish a list of which issuers are allowed to issue which credential schemas. Once you’ve put your trust registry in place, credential verifications will fail if the issuer is not trusted to issue the schema that is being checked. While the potential for abuse in a testing environment is relatively low, once your application launches to more users, you will have to carefully consider the implications of how your trust ecosystem is designed.
Step 7. Test and Get Feedback on the Product
Building out your proof of concept is just the first step toward developing a successful IDtech product. Hopefully with Trinsic’s platform you’ll be able to spin up prototypes in a matter of weeks, rather than months. This gives your team more time to seek feedback from early users and potential customers in order to refine the experience. Being able to show early traction and even beta customers can be the strongest proof point when pitching to investors.
We Need Great Identity Products
It’s time we take identity back from big technology companies and put users at the center of the internet experience. If you’re considering building an identity product, this framework should help you prioritize what’s important to get your ideas to market.
The one tap future is coming. The opportunity of a generation is building products that establish digital trust and bring more safety and privacy online. If you’re inspired to start building, you can sign up for a free Trinsic account today, and if you have questions along the way, drop into our Slack community and talk with our team.