10 to Watch 2018: Certn

“Fail often, fail fast — you cut your losses and start again. I’ve incorporated 11 times and succeeded four.”

Photograph by Joshua Lawrence.

Growing out of Andrew McLeod’s prior business (revolutionizing payments for property management companies), Certn offered a simple concept: enabling financial inclusion for people who lack excellent credit. Where landlords and lenders typically use credit reports to assess an applicant’s credibility, McLeod recognized that many people were denied access on the basis of this one-dimensional measure.

Certn enables financial institutions and landlords to see beyond the credit report. “We built a platform that encompasses not just your credit but your social and behavioural profiles,” says McLeod.

Using machine learning, Certn scans criminal and court records from 240 countries in 77 languages, and allows applicants to enhance their applications by connecting to their social media profiles. “We help show the best parts of your character when you’re applying for necessities like a mortgage or a line of credit or, most commonly, a place to live.”

The system works for employment verification too (excluding credit data). Certn takes a one-dimensional resumé and gives it depth by matching the applicant’s public profiles with behavioural characteristics gleaned from IBM data and from university research studies.

“We have a pilot coming out with one of Canada’s largest corporations,” says McLeod, “and a number of HR companies are starting to use Certn.”

Q&A With Andrew McLeod of Certn

What was your biggest challenge?

Prior to coming to Victoria, it was finding good talent — people that had education and experience in data science and machine learning. Thanks to Alacrity and Owen [Matthews] and Rich [Egli], we were connected to three guys, who are now our business partners, who had exactly the experience we were looking for. They liked the idea. To do that in Vancouver, where we were before, would be, like, $240,000 a year times three.

What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out?

Just go for it. Build an MVP (minimum viable product) or a pitch deck and try to sell what you have … If you can find a customer before you build a product, that’s the best way — then you have access to funding and it also helps to bring talent.  [And] practice your pitch. Your first employees aren’t making market wages so they have to believe in the idea and they have to believe in you. If you can’t pitch that, it can be really challenging. It doesn’t matter if you’re opening a bakery or starting the most high-tech company in the world — if you can’t sell why you’re better or sell your value proposition over everybody else’s, it’s hard to find people to support you.

All the 10 to Watch 2018 Winners

Avalon Accounting
Club Kwench
Hyas Infosec
Island Circus Space
Stride Properties
The Cookie Guy

This article is from the April/May 2018 issue of Douglas.