Christophe Remillet is the CEO and Founder of One Visage – a Swiss-based cybersecurity company that develops premium authentication and identification solutions for large integrators, cybersecurity and identity management solutions providers. The company’s solutions portfolio comprises multi-factor authentication, including 3D facial biometry as default modality. One Visage helps customers to drastically reduce identity frauds and data breaches while improving the user experience. Here Christophe speaks to CEO Today about his thirst for innovation and the future of 3D Authentication.
What were your previous experiences prior to founding One Visage?
I started my career as a software engineer at Olivetti Research & Development in Switzerland in the 90s. At that time, I was part of a team who developed the first inkjet printers for mass markets. This period was particularly important to me, as I had the unique chance to gather software and hardware development expertise in many domains, ranging from chipset design to real-time software for printers and scanners. This gave me many opportunities to work with big partners such as Motorola, Atmel and Hitachi. But beside technology, I became more and more interested in the people side of business, as I was managing a group of software developers.
In 1998, I moved to the UK to join another company – Landis & Gyr Telecommunications, which was where I really developed my management skills as I was responsible for a team of 12 people. Even though I’ve managed bigger teams during the course of my career thus far, I think that managing that particular team remains the most challenging experience I’ve been faced with, from a management perspective. The team consisted of people coming from six different countries, which meant six different cultures and six different ways of thinking, however, I believe that we managed to make it work.
Driven by my desire to learn more about software quality and quality assurance, I then decided to move back to Switzerland to join a company from the Sobaco Group where I had the chance to participate in ambitious projects, including the development of the first e-banking solution for a private bank in Switzerland.
Together with two friends of mine, I co-founded a company called Arcaciel in 2003. We developed a patient follow-up tool for socio-medical institutions and organisations. The tool included some great concepts, such as the first document auto-indexing, years before Apple. Unfortunately, I had a different opinion on the company’s strategy and decided to leave in 2005.
I then joined EyeP Media as International Technical-Sales Manager. The company was developing unified communications solutions based on voice over IP technology. I learnt a lot about B2B and OEM licensing, product management and most importantly, I discovered the methodology allowing to create customer added-values. After 3 years, it was time for me to ‘make the big jump’ and take up the position of International Business Development Director at Iscoord. My work there was very successful and after selling our flagship product to the leading American telecom equipment manufacturers, whilst making a good exit, I jumped into the One Visage venture in 2013. All these experiences and positions allowed me to increase both my technical and business skills and expertise and most importantly, enabled me to learn a lot from my mistakes.
Tell us more about biometric authentication? What makes it better than two-factor authentication?
Since 2013, One Visage has been developing 3D facial biometric solutions to enable financial services and cybersecurity integrators to offer strong authentication solutions to customers and sellers. In a nutshell, if you assess all the current biometric solutions and take into account criteria such as user-experience, global security level, universality, interoperability, data protection and cost-effectiveness, you’ll realise that 3D facial biometry is the one that offers the best-balanced solution, and is nearly the only one that can drastically improve the false match at a relatively good price. That’s why iPhone X Face ID was not a big surprise for us and it seems like Apple came to the same analysis and conclusion about the next biometric modality in 2014.
Our 3D facial biometry solution, called 3DAuth, is in fact a two-factor authentication solution by default, the first factor being your mobile device that is bound to your identity (what you own) and the second factor being your face in 3D (who you are). The main differences when opposed to other two-factor solutions are mainly connected to user-experience, cost-effectiveness and security. User-experience is mainly about taking a video selfie if the mobile device is equipped with a regular RGB camera or about taking a photo, in a transparent way, if the mobile device has a 3D/depth camera – as opposed to common two-factor authentication solutions that usually prompt you to perform two consecutive actions. Security is higher than any common two-factor authentication solutions, as it provides lower false match and is way more spoof-proof. As an example, SMS-based two-factor authentication is a standard practice nowadays. However, it is very easy to anyone to obtain a phone whereas the service operator has no way to verify if the person who received the SMS code is the correct recipient. Even the SS7 communication protocol used by operators can allow an attacker to divert the SMS containing the OTP/code to their own device, letting the attacker hijack any service.
How did the idea about One Visage come about? What was the process of setting up the company like?
Becoming part of that project was more or less an accident. Back in February 2013, I booked the wrong hotel in New York and discovered a few days later that my credit card was hijacked. Funnily enough, that same week, one of my email account was hacked too. The bank reimbursed me the money but at the end, I spent a lot of time recovering everything, whilst getting a new credit card also cost me money.
As a result, this made me think about the type of solutions that could really protect my digital life. I reviewed all existing authentication and biometric solutions and came to the conclusion that 3D facial biometry was the only biometric mean that can offer great user-experience, premium security and cost-effectiveness. This is how the whole One Visage project started. Once I realised there wasn’t any 3D facial biometry solution or technology available in the market, I began looking for research labs or universities fairly advanced in 3D facial reconstruction and 3D face matching. Luckily enough, I found out that ETH Zurich and University of Basel were leading academies in the field, both being based in Switzerland. Upon contacting professors Marc Pollefeys at ETHZ and Thomas Vetter at the University of Basel and together with a few friends of mine, we decided to mount up the One Visage project and develop our own 3D facial biometric technology with the help of Swiss confederation.
What were some of the key challenges that you’ve faced since founding the company?
Like all entrepreneurs, I faced nearly all challenges that one could imagine! Founding a company is not an easy ride. I believe that the most important challenge we faced was finding the right initial partners and associates. It is like a marriage: if you don’t find the right partners, your project failure and risk are growing very fast. The second main challenge we faced – that is a particularity common in Switzerland and in a few other European countries – has been hiring our initial employees. Taking risk and entrepreneurship aren’t cultural values in Switzerland and hiring top profiles that would accept to get out of their comfort zone is challenging in our country.
Lastly, there is a clear investor concern with Seed and Series A investments in the market. There are plenty of pre-seed, Series B, C or D investors out there, but finding strategic Series A investors is extremely hard, particularly in Switzerland. That’s why nearly all Swiss start-ups – not to say European start-ups -move forward with US investors when it comes to a Series A round.
Have banks started adopting biometric authentication? Are they ready for this transition?
Banks are just starting to adopt biometry and expect the transition to accelerate in the coming three years. Unsurprisingly, fingerprint is currently the main biometric modality, used by financial services as more and more mobile devices are integrating fingerprint sensors. However, banks are facing important challenges regarding the customer experience, cost of the solution, regulations (and growing), security threats and new competitors such as FinTech start-ups, tech giants or even mobile operators who are increasingly offering financial services such as Orange Bank in France. Meanwhile, banks – like other digital service providers – will have no other choice than implementing biometric solutions to maintain high security, preventing identity theft and data breaches. Cybersecurity Ventures forecast that by 2021, the total cost of cybercrimes worldwide will exceed $6 trillion. Now, if banks want to deliver a great user-experience and high security to all their customers, regardless of owning a high-end device like iPhone 8, a medium-device like Samsung S6 or a low-entry device like Nokia 3, 3D facial biometry is currently the only solution that can enable billions of mobile device owners out there.
3D cameras are expected to transform the 3D authentication field – can you elaborate on this? What part will One Visage play in this?
It is clear that the adoption of 3D/depth cameras is the next natural technology step for camera and mobile device manufacturers, opening many new application fields and revenue streams. However, 3D/depth camera hardware is still expensive and it is likely that depth camera will equip top-notch devices for a couple of years. According to a Yole Development report, in 5 years, 45% of smartphones will come with a depth camera.
Back to hard reality, Face ID hardware or any equivalents coming in all smartphones is not going to happen immediately! This is where One Visage is positioned, offering a 100% software-based 3D facial biometric solution that is nearly agnostic to any hardware, platforms (iOS, Android and Windows) supporting both RGB and depth camera. In other words, a bank doesn’t require to wait 5 years to offer 3D facial biometry and can offer 3D facial authentication to nearly all of its customers in a few weeks or months. It’s the same for mobile device manufacturers who can immediately integrate 3D facial biometry into their low-mid entry devices without requiring an expensive 3D camera or 3D facial hardware like iPhone X.
What is your outlook for 3D authentication in the next three years?
In spring 2018, One Visage will make a big announcement, unveiling Premier ID™, a new multi-factor authentication solution that will include 3DAuth, our 3D facial biometric technology. Premier ID™ will push the limit of false match and provide premium digital security. We have observed that the authentication market is addressing two main use cases at the end: low-value transactions and mid-high value transactions. Unlocking your mobile device or paying $20 at your grocery store is one thing. Logging into your e-banking account, making a payment of $5000 or accessing confidential information in your corporate email is another story. And this is where One Visage is positioned, focusing on delivering strong authentication solutions to mass-markets, regardless of whether your customers have $100 entry-devices or top-notch smartphones that cost over $1000. 3D facial biometry will become a major authentication modality – making it hard to spoof, while offering a great user-experience and lowering costs.
In three years, we expect One Visage to be the first independent, OEM provider of strong authentication solutions in the market, in terms of licensed users. We expect to have offices on the five continents to provide local support to our customers and take into account the local specificities.
What is your advice for entrepreneurs in the modern tech-focused world?
If you have the right idea and if you work hard, there is no reason why your project won’t succeed. Invest yourself at 200%, keep going and listen to your entrepreneurial instinct. And last but not least – continue to innovate; keep in mind that technology is a means, not an end.