“I was a tinkerer. Always building stuff.”
Austin O’Brion is a maker. “I was a 4H-er. I focused on electricity. I had to learn how to sew…That’s what you do in rural Wisconsin.” He tooled around in his grandpa’s shop and apprenticed with skilled Amish wood workers. O’Brion also took to tech early. His teacher father was always bringing home devices. O’Brion was a heavy user. “I was an Oregon Trail master.”
Not much has changed, except that instead of a hobbyist, O’Brion is now making a living creating. He specializes in digital marketing. He’s worked with Fortune 100 companies and headed up his own agency. Most recently, he co-founded Token of Trust, which helps users know people are who they say they are.
The idea came from friend and co-founder Darrin Edelman. He likely narrowly avoided a Craigslist scam while looking for sublets in Boston.
Edelman, O’Brion and another friend, Kevin O’Brien (no relation) often share business ideas. “It’s our job as good friends to shoot each other down,” kids O’Brion. Turns out, they couldn’t with this idea. Mounds of research later, and the team launched the multi-step verification software.
The Minneapolis-based company looks for inconsistencies in information we put out there, like listing different hometowns on Facebook and Google Plus. That can be a sign of fraud, or stolen identity. It checks credit card information and Token of Trust can check government-issued IDs. When people are confident the information is true, “it offers peace of mind, personal safety, and financial security,” says O’Brion.
What Token of Trust is doing isn’t new. Unique lodging site Airbnb uses a similar verification process for its 60,000,000 guests. That’s just one of nearly 9,000 sites offering sharing services like an extra room to rent, or car to loan. All of these companies trade on trust. Each one has its own verification system, meaning this process was created over and over and over again. Imagine if you everyone who rode a bike had to build it first. Token of Trust is streamlining the process so users “can spend less time writing and maintaining code, and more time running their business.”
With enhanced security comes privacy concerns. To be verified, people can connect to their online accounts. They can also upload an official ID, like a license or passport. O’Brion says Token of Trust is sensitive to privacy concerns and the threat of identity theft. “It’s not within our plan to take a picture of the ID. We don’t store it…It becomes a vulnerability. Using an official government ID like a license or passport is optional in our system. In fact, part of our secret sauce is our ability to conduct high quality verifications in the absence of a government id. So in short, they don’t “have” to upload it – it’s optional.”
Token of Trust operates on two continents with clients in the sharing economy and the banking sector. Plans start at $100.00/month and a penny per connected user.
O’Brion will be speaking at 1 Million Cups Fargo on Wednesday, November 2, at The Stage at Island Park at 9:15 a.m.