Authentication as a service

It’s a sunny Wednesday morning when I meet Menno Stijl for coffee on the outskirts of The Hague. It’s the city where his startup Authasas is based. Authasas is by no means the first successful venture Menno has taken on and the business is, six years after its launch, on a roll. “It’s a bit of a technical masterpiece we have created.”

Authasas

Authasas stands for “authentication as a service”. A software product that provides a universal solution to the problem of authentication. CTO Menno Stijl, co-founder of Authasas, explains that although passwords are one of the weakest methods for authentication, ninety-five percent of the people still use it as their main method. “Did you know seventy-five percent of cybercrime is password related? When I started in this field twenty years ago, nobody talked about authentication. People spoke of authorization, but you need to authenticate before you can authorize. The importance of authentication has been incredibly underestimated.”

Power strip

There are three levels of authentication: knowledge (for example when you answer a security question); possession (could be a bankcard); and body (think of fingerprints). There is not one method that works best, and to maximize safety different methods are often combined. Menno and his co-founder Reinier van der Drift have decades of experience in authentication, and realized the focus shouldn’t be on finding the best method, but on offering “a multiple-socket power strip”. It’s an approach that makes them stand out in an industry where companies work at improving one single method.“We wanted to create a power strip for companies to plug into all forms of authentication methods, current and future, and use them simultaneously. So that’s what we did with Authasas.”

Game changer

When asked about his favorite startup event Menno doesn’t hesitate. “Holland in the Valley was a game changer for me.” This event was organized by DutchBasecamp and the Consulate General of the Netherlands in San Francisco a few years ago and brought twelve startups to Silicon Valley. “It was one big pitch show. You had about thirteen seconds to pitch your company.”In the United States Menno saw how venture capitalists offered a support system rather than just give the money and leave you to it. A support he would like to see more of in the Netherlands.

Mentor: building bridges

“I believe you need to have felt the pain of being an entrepreneur in order to be a good mentor. I’m a mentor myself and notice my added value comes after the launching phase, when startups hit a rockier patch. You need a network, and energy. I like the idea of putting up startups in governance companies. That’s where a true opportunity lies for startup boosters and mentors: building a bridge between the two. Enabling the launch product to mature into something you can place within a governance business.”

Mass²

“I have done many huge scaling projects. Creating the launch version of your product is not the difficult part, it’s the advancement in quality and then the advancement in cost. I call it the law of mass squared: be able to make mass. Make sure your quality is up to par with manageable costs. A startup needs a good launch, but should also be able to handle the years that come after. Authasas launched six years ago, and it is now that the game is truly on. Success doesn’t come easily, nor fast.”

Reaching an international market

“Parallel to building your product, you need to keep up and develop your sales channels. With Authasas we decided upon an indirect sales strategy. We became an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) for NetIQ, meaning they sell our software under their brand name on a global scale. That’s where it becomes interesting: you reach a huge and international market. A disadvantage is that you need to fight for attention within their assortment of products.”

The Netherlands as launchpad

Menno’s enthusiasm for the Netherlands as launchpad is evident. “The Dutch are entrepreneurial merchants who speak up to five languages. We have a country with amazing infrastructure. Technology allows us to work with team members from Eastern European countries through Skype and other mediums. In addition, Dutch users are incredibly receptive to new developments. We love technology.” And although the Netherlands may not offer a large market when you’re ready to scale up your business, Authasas likes to use this little country as its testbed. Something to do with those technology loving users ready to try something new, and having them just around the corner. A word of advice: “Develop your product together with your users.”

From Amsterdam to The Hague

The Netherlands houses thirteen innovative startup clusters within its borders. Authasas started out in Amsterdam, but soon moved to The Hague to join The Hague Security Delta – the largest security cluster in Europe. “At HSD we have big companies as our sparring partner. The cluster of security businesses in The Hague are the top pick, it boasts an invaluable mixture of large and smaller businesses.”

Fail fast, fail often

When asked about the failures, Menno mentions how everything always moves faster than imagined. About how you can be so convinced of the necessity of your product that you forget that you need to convince others too. And about investors who are more interested in making money than in pioneering alongside you. He makes sure to emphasize that lows are followed by highs. His face lights up: “Sitting in a small room listening to the board of a big South African bank pitching our product, that was a great feeling.”