Joining a founder-led fast-growth technology company as an outside CEO isn’t an easy task. While Steve Munford had prior experience in taking the helm at founder-led companies, he started his current role as CEO of global identity verification provider Trulioo just as countries were locking down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further complicating his new role was that when Steve joined, Trulioo was embarking on an effort to scale go-to-market and product distribution across multiple geographies.
Indeed, as companies around the world were shifting to digital customer acquisition and virtual operations, their demand for digital identity verification was burgeoning across many sectors. Trulioo helps businesses navigate the complex challenges of instant digital identity verification to support compliance requirements, mitigate risk and deliver positive onboarding experiences that minimize end-user friction.
In today’s episode of Growth Journeys, Amol speaks with Steve about how he has approached global operations at Trulioo at a time of exponential growth. He takes us through Trulioo’s strategy for understanding the nuances of the various new end-markets that it serves as it scales, and how Trulioo’s customer base is integral to how the company prioritizes go-to-market channels. Steve also provides us his best practices for building trust, communication and preserving a culture across a rapidly growing multinational organization. Steve shares how Trulioo is leveraging its core mission of empowering all seven billion people on the planet to participate in the global economy as a north star for its growth journey.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
- How Steve navigated stepping into the CEO role at a company that was previously founder-led
- The benefits of building a diverse workforce when expanding a company into new markets across the globe
- Using customer feedback to understand new markets, prioritize product iteration, and drive growth
- How Trulioo’s mission of fostering global inclusion for everyone in the digital economy has helped guide the company’s culture, product, and growth journey
To learn more, settle back and press play.
Please find the transcript below, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Amol Helekar: Welcome to Growth Journeys, a podcast series from TCV focused on lessons from the field, from entrepreneurs in the TCV ecosystem. I’m here with Steve Munford, CEO of Trulioo, a global leader in identity verification. Trulioo is on a mission to advance financial inclusion by building a robust digital identity network. Given the rise of digital services usage globally, Steve joins us to discuss the critical role that identity verification plays in underpinning trust and safety in the digital economy. Welcome to Growth Journeys, Steve.
Steve Munford: Thanks, Amol. Great to be here.
Amol Helekar: Steve, Trulioo is an identity verification services provider. For the less tech savvy out there, what does Trulioo do? Why is it important?
Steve Munford: So probably the easiest way to explain it is – think about when you signed up for an online banking account or an online trading platform. When you do that, the company you’re trying to join their platform has to establish trust or has to establish your identity. It could be for a trust and safety use case. Maybe you’re going to go and stay in someone’s house or put something on a marketplace or it could be for a compliance use case. So, think about KYC, Know Your Customer, for the financial industry or any other regulated industry.
When you go on and try to open a new account, you’re going to submit a bunch of information on a form. You’re going to give that organization permission to do some sort of identity check on you. When you submit your information, likely, Trulioo is the layer in between that, that does the identity verification.
We’re that layer in between that establishes, is Amol a real person? Is he really a resident of a certain country? Does he have that specific address? Can I verify all attributes of Amol, so that that organization can begin that relationship? We’re an identity network that links together data and an individual’s attributes from over 195 countries that enables these digital platforms to onboard customers seamlessly without seeing them.
Amol Helekar: Thanks Steve. And what made you join Trulioo? You’ve seen the evolution of cybersecurity now to include identity verification, and it’s an area that is getting a lot of attention. What made you go on this journey?
Steve Munford: I spent my previous 20 years of my career in cybersecurity and the way I like to kind of frame that is I spent 20 years trying to stop bad things from happening on your computer. Identity, as we do, is all about enabling new users to join a platform and that’s a similar type of workflow where you’re trying to make a decision on an action.
But in this case, we’re enabling good things to happen, a new customer coming onto your platform, rather than focusing on stopping the bad things to happen. What really got me excited about Trulioo is this challenge. Doing identity verification in a single country’s hard, but the challenge of doing it on a global scale is incredibly hard.
Today, there’s a lot of piecemeal solutions, a lot of regional solutions, but what Trulioo had started to build, is this truly global platform that enables us to onboard customers globally now and that’s pretty exciting. This whole industry of identity verification is getting bigger and actually the problem’s even getting harder to solve.
Amol Helekar: I know it’s becoming an increasingly big issue for a lot of companies as they advance their global growth agendas and you’re playing a really important part of it. Steve, you’ve run large and small companies around the world, but what are some of the lessons you’ve learned in different geos, across cultures, customers, teams, and approaches?
Steve Munford: I’ve run a company in the UK, I’ve had significant presences in places like Germany or in Asia, and obviously in the U.S. and in Canada. Every country operates a bit differently. There’s cultural nuances between all those different places.
Today, I think almost every company is global and if you’re going to have a global company, you need to have a diverse workforce. You need to have offices, locations, workforces, all around the world. You have to have a leadership team that is truly multicultural, diverse, and is able to motivate and understand the nuances of the cultures.
The other thing that I would say is that, if you are a non U.S.-based company, you really have to figure out how you put two feet in the U.S. Being global, in many respects, is being American, and for a tech company as well. So two lessons is one, building that leadership team that is cross-cultural or diverse. Secondly is, when you’re not in the U.S., operating a company as if you are in the U.S., and making sure you have strong teams, offices, and presence there.
Amol Helekar: Got it. Well, it sounds like a really important challenge that a lot of companies are facing as their businesses go global as well. Another interesting thing Steve, is you’ve inherited founder led businesses now multiple times. How did you go about taking over those companies while maintaining and also shaping a culture to be able to take their business to the next level?
Steve Munford: Yeah, I really have had the pleasure of working with some phenomenal founders and helping take their businesses to new places and new phases of growth. And each case is different, but there are some commonalities.
When you come into a company that’s been founder led, the first thing you have to do is understand what that founder was great at, what their DNA is and what they have done to get the company to that stage. Because ultimately, you may be working alongside the founder for a bit, but ultimately, you’re taking over the leadership from that founder. So you first have to start by asking, what is going to be missing when that founder steps aside from the business?
Secondly, as a new person coming into the company, you may have a lot of ideas, what you need to do to grow and scale the company. But you can’t take for granted that you know everything that has been done in the company, or that there are things that aren’t being done for specific reasons. When you’re taking over for a founder, you really haven’t seen everything and you really need to learn about the nuances of the company, the culture, and why they’re doing certain things.
When I’ve come in, in most cases, I’ve had the luxury of watching, learning, digesting and then slowly evolving the business, the culture, building out the team in a thoughtful way that doesn’t break all the good stuff that’s happening, doesn’t break the wonderful culture that may have started, but adds to it, and then allows a company to go to the next stage.
Amol Helekar: Yeah, and I bet it’s an especially important thing to do when you have a company growing as fast as Trulioo. Really taking over a company that has the growth trajectory when you inherit it and also continuing to drive that as it builds more and more scale, which is a fascinating thing to do.
Steve Munford: In many respects you’re a partner to the founder and before you step into the company, if you’re able to spend a lot of time getting to know each other, understanding each other’s nuances, establishing how you’re going to interact and trust and how you, when you come into the business, you’re not going to slow it down, but you’re going to accelerate it. There’s a lot of work in building that partnership, a lot of work in developing that framework for open communication.
But you’re right, especially when the company’s doing well and the goal is not to slow it down, but to further accelerate it, you’ve really got to make sure that when you step in, you’re not doing any harm, but you’re kind of setting both you and the company up to go even faster.
Amol Helekar: I think in Trulioo’s case, it was an especially interesting situation in that, you took over Trulioo right after COVID hit last March. There was so much uncertainty and you probably had to rewrite a lot of traditional playbooks in taking over the company. How did you go about doing that and what kept you going?
Steve Munford: I had the luxury of meeting the founder of Trulioo a couple of years before I joined. I got to know him over time and understand him as an individual. We had lots of good discussions about what he believed the opportunity was for Trulioo, why he felt it was time to bring in an outside leader, and work through a lot of the planning ahead of it.
But you’re right, my first day in the office was just as COVID hit. It actually wasn’t in the office, it was in my basement. I jumped in assuming, like many people, that COVID was going to last a couple of weeks, maybe a couple of months on the outset.
It was kind of a little bumpy at the beginning, but there were some benefits to it. The first one was, I set the goal for myself of meeting 50 people in the first 25 days at the company. When the company was operating over zoom, that was actually pretty easy to do. You would set up Zoom meetings and you were meeting people in Vancouver or in other locations around the world. It was really easy to connect with a lot of people, very, very quickly. That’s point one.
Two is, one of the things that we needed to do as a company is really expand globally. The company was very largely headquartered in Vancouver, and we needed to build a go-to-market and technical capacity, add leaders to the organization, add capacity to the organization, and put two feet in Europe. When you start to open up other offices, I found that because everyone is used to working in a single office, working together in person, the people in those new offices feel like they’re not included in all conversations, or all decision making.
When the world went all remote, opening up new offices or onboarding people in different geographies actually got a lot easier. We learned to work with each other across time zones. For a business, it was interesting because, we talked earlier about why is identity important? Well, if everything goes online, you have to have a layer of identity services to enable that to happen.
The world went online really quickly and so we saw an incredible demand in our business. We were actually running, once COVID hit, in helping to enable our customers to do new workflows online. A lot of new interest in our products and services came onboard. So, yeah, it was an interesting year.
Amol Helekar: You can say that again. And you know, one of the things we’ve talked about, Steve, is how Trulioo is a mission-driven company and really being able to drive financial inclusion all over the world. Could you talk a little bit about how Trulioo helps foster financial inclusion at a global scale?
Steve Munford: Our mission is financial inclusion. We believe ultimately if we are successful, all 7 billion people around the world will be able to participate in the global economy. That’s pretty empowering for people that are in developing countries or far remote locations, because they may have an identity that’s not available digitally.
If we can enable those folks to get online, twofold. One is, they can participate in the global economy, but two is, people offering services and products can reach them and onboard them as customers or employees or whatever they may want to do. We are a mission-driven company and ultimately I think our customers appreciate that because when we go out about helping them do their jobs, we’re coming at it from a place of purpose. And I think that really comes through.
Amol Helekar: It’s a very powerful mission, and one that we feel like we’re still in the very early innings of seeing that play out globally. It’s an exciting spot for the company to be in today.
Steve Munford: Yeah, I think overall the identity industry is in the early innings. Today much of the solutions out there, they only work in a single geography, siloed as they may just do one part of the digital onboarding process. A standalone document verification product, or a standalone fraud solution, or a standalone biometrics checking solution.
The reality is the world needs a platform. They need a platform that is global and a platform that allows you to do that end-to-end identity journey and be flexible depending on the industry, depending on the regulatory environment and depending on the specific goals of the business. That doesn’t exist today. I think we probably have the closest it comes to having a global platform today, but there’s a lot more we need to do. That’s the journey we’re on.
Amol Helekar: It’s a fascinating journey. Over the past couple of years, you’ve been on a really powerful growth journey with a lot of acceleration through the pandemic. From the series D funding round earlier this year, to your 10th year anniversary that you also celebrated this fall. How did you use your past experience to steer Trulioo through this period of hypergrowth?
Steve Munford: One of the keys to our success has been listening to our customers. We really have had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest brands across the verticals that we serve. These customers are incredibly sophisticated. They themselves have growth ambitions and plans that are incredibly ambitious. For us, having built that trusted relationship with these platforms, they guide us to where we need to go.
They guide us to the countries that they want to move into next. They guide us to how they see the identity landscape changing, or maybe where fraud is coming from, or where the regulatory environment is going. Through that dialogue, we’re able to really help prioritize our roadmap, prioritize where we need to innovate ourselves, prioritize areas that we should partner with.
That’s one piece. Second thing, I think how you survive during this time of hyper-growth and doing it during a time where we’re often not together is really establishing the culture of the company, establishing that communication.
Once COVID hit, we went to bi-weekly company meetings. We really stepped up how we were communicating with people. It required a lot of work, but in any business, if you’re going through hypergrowth, communication is key. Doing that when you’re largely doing it over Zoom or remotely, is even more key.
Amol Helekar: Thanks Steve. So, you’ve been the CEO of multiple companies, serving a lot of different types of customers in different segments of the software industry. What’s your most important lesson as a CEO?
Steve Munford: Maybe I’ll give you two. One is, the longer you’re at it, the more you realize it’s all about the team. Bringing on board the right team with the right culture and the right capabilities is incredibly important. Not just thinking about the team you need today, but the team you’re going to need in one, two, or three years. Ensuring that you’re bringing on the leaders that are able to scale and culturally you’re able to work with, and you believe are the leaders of the future of the company. Because changing out leaders, or not having enough bench strength can be a huge, huge inhibitor to growth.
The second point is, ultimately it’s all about great products and establishing product market fit. One of the things that I learned early on is, there’s a lot of false positives out there. You can win one large deal, or you can catch some kind of mistake by your competitor, and you’d be able to capitalize on some unique market opportunity. That doesn’t always mean you got product market fit. So, build great products, ensure you’ve got product market fit and build the right team, and that’s going to allow you to scale.
Amol Helekar: As you’ve put together the team at Trulioo, what are some of the key cultural traits that you’re emphasizing, both with your new executive hires and with the Trulioo team more broadly, as you continue to build the business as a really innovative product company and a company that’s capable of driving this market into the future?
Steve Munford: Certainly, you look for folks that have demonstrated the capacity and the desire to work at scale and work at speed. I think there is a pattern matching that goes on when you look at who you’re adding to the team. Have they done this type of thing before? And did they really like doing it? Because that in itself sets the standard for what “good” looks like and they set the pace and the ambition of the company. I think that’s one important part.
Culturally, there’s really three key values that we’ll talk about as a leadership team that I think are critical. Open communication. Second is operating with velocity. And thirdly is taking ownership for what you do.
As a CEO I have to communicate good or bad, everything in a very open, transparent way. The leadership team needs to do the same. If we can do that, then I think we start establishing trust and we avoid making bad decisions. Secondly, velocity, as a young company or a company that’s trying to be disruptive, is one of our key differentiators or reason that we should win, but if speed is without direction, you run around in circles.
With the executives, you want to make sure that they are very complete in their thinking. They can analyze problems. They can understand when to make a quick decision where they need to be more thoughtful, but ultimately, they can balance off that speed and direction and do both. I think that’s really critical because ultimately it is the leadership folks that set their priorities and set the direction.
Then lastly, taking ownership. We’ve all seen this before, is that the great executives like good or bad, they own their mistakes. They’ll actually share ownership of their success often. But they lead by example, and they take ownership for what they do, and they demand that level of accountability within their teams.
Amol Helekar: We can see that in spades in the type of products and the experience you’ve been able to drive within Trulioo and for your customers and that’s been so critical to Trulioo’s success over the past few years. Steve, thank you. This has been an educational and really inspiring discussion. It was great to have you on Growth Journeys and I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with the audience out there. And thanks to all of you for listening.
Steve Munford: Thanks Amol, been a pleasure.