Startup Stories: Fraser Edwards, Co-Founder & CEO at cheqd

cheqd co-founder & CEO Fraser Edwards joined us for Startup Stories to talk about building a network for creating digital credential businesses.

by hao-nguyen on September 21, 2022

Fraser Edwards is the co-founder & CEO at cheqd, a network for creating digital credential businesses that he co-founded with Ankur Banerjee in 2021.

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Hi Fraser, great to be chatting with you again. For those who may not know, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and cheqd? 

Absolutely! First, cheqd: “we’re building payment rails and commercial models for self-sovereign identity”. What does that actually mean? Well self-sovereign identity is the idea that you control and / or hold your own data rather than corporations.

This means you can decide what you receive, what you share, from and who to. Where cheqd comes in is creating payments rails and commercial models to make that new personal data paradigm commercially viable whilst including individuals in the data economy so they’re both at the centre of their ecosystems but also rewarded properly.

And myself, I’m CEO at cheqd which I co-founded with Ankur Banerjee (CTO) last year. Prior to this, I worked at Accenture covering project delivery and technology architecture across blockchain, identity, biometrics and artificial intelligence.

My last project was leading the delivery of the Known Traveller Digital Identity project, which was trialling digital passports for international travel with the World Economic Forum and Dutch and Canadian governments. Before that, I was architecting cross-blockchain payments with the central bank of Canada and the Monetary Authority of Singapore as part of the Jasper-Ubin project, co-authoring two patents (1,2) in the process.

Correct me if I’m wrong but is cheqd your first startup? What was it that pushed you to make the jump into entrepreneurship? 

It is! I can’t pinpoint when but I’ve always wanted to start a company. I wasn’t sure what kind, but I was sure I wanted to start one. Around 5 years ago myself and Ankur entered a hackathon coming 3rd with a solution which used behavioural economics as well as open-banking data to improve financial behaviour, e.g. saving more money, not spending so much on coffee, etc. 

Neither of us were in the right place to start a company then and a year later we found a company building our idea, down to the same name. (To be clear, I’m not accusing them of copying). But that really lit a fire for me that I would never let that opportunity slip away again.

When this idea and opportunity came around, we decided to go for it to avoid ever feeling that regret again! 

What do you think have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far as a start-up founder, and what lessons have you learnt from them?

It’s a cliche, but hiring the right people. Finding the right skillset with the right personality is absolutely crucial and getting it wrong has big opportunity costs, e.g. hiring the wrong person means time spent hiring, up-skilling and working with the wrong person and then spending the same time to find the right one.

Plus, if you really get the wrong person, they can be a drain on the rest of the team which is a double-whammy. I guess the reason it’s a cliche is that it’s true!

Are there any resources that you go to for learning about being a startup CEO? 

I mostly go to our team, board or advisors, almost all of whom have built start-ups before. A strange quote that comes to mind is Mike Tyson’s: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”.

All the theoretical advice is great until you find yourself with a specific problem which inevitably, the advice doesn’t cover the nuances. Sometimes you just need someone to talk to, like the software debugging “rubber ducky” method, where you attempt to explain your code to a rubber duck sitting by your laptop as a mechanism to explain your logic.

That being said, I loved a podcast called How I Built This with Guy Raz where he talked with founders and how they built their companies. All of the companies are different and the range of anecdotes means you can normally identify parallels with another anecdote to help you think through options. 

But overall, I’d always go back to talking things through with people I know have experienced these kinds of things before.

cheqd is a remote-first startup, so how do you find yourself building and maintaining a company culture?

There’s no way around it, it’s difficult! It helps that most of our team have worked in remote-first teams before. My first role at Accenture was working within an entirely remote team which means I’m comfortable working that way. A lot of our team has worked this way before so we are comfortable.

We’ve found two things that work or help. By far the best is taking any excuse to meet in person, there really is no alternative to achieve those bonds. For example, our CTO met one of our engineers in India when he travelled there to see friends and family. Recently, a lot of us happened to be in London at the same time so we made a point of meeting in person.

If that’s not possible, whilst arranging remote events, e.g. games and such helps, the best thing is to talk with people about non-work topics and genuinely listen: about where they want to go on holiday, how their family is doing, their dreams and aspirations. Anything that helps you know about their life and how they might be feeling. Again, it’s no substitute for meeting in person but it helps to build bonds.

One last question before you go, where do you see cheqd headed in the next few years? 

I always love this question. The main thing is driving self-sovereign identity adoption through our support for commercialising the technology. We just finished the identity functionality which we consider the scaffolding and now we’re refocusing on building the payment rails and commercial model functionality.

We’re seeing adoption up the technology stack so as we’re adopted into use-cases, we expect the network effects to really take off and start driving self-sovereign identity adoption. And once we start seeing that adoption, we expect the public in general to become aware of the benefits of SSI through the user-experience and begin demanding it of more and more companies, freeing them from surveillance capitalism.

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