Jacob Sever

Co-Founder at Sumsub

Jacob Sever is an expert in the fields of ID verification market, personal privacy, anti-fraud trends and regulatory compliance. Being a true visionary, Jacob leads the entire product creation and organization. Jacob has worked on compliance projects for over 400 companies and gathered insights regarding interaction with regulators and provision of compliance for all segments that require regulatory attendance in over 220 countries. He aims to create a world without money laundering & fraud.

Where did the idea for Sumsub come from?

I founded Sumsub with my brothers, Andrey and Peter, in 2015. Before then, Andrey worked in the sales department of a large-scale automobile dealer, where he learned about a car insurance scam that involves using doctored photos of allegedly damaged vehicles to make fraudulent insurance claims. We saw a business opportunity in fighting this criminal scheme, and developed software that recognizes alterations made by graphic editors.

By 2017, we realized that our business had limited scalability and started looking for new ways to shift our focus. We entered fintech and, right around the same time, a friend from the crypto industry asked us to transform our solution into a full know-your-customer (KYC) system for their business needs. So we created a solution for their crypto wallet based on our graphic alteration detection software, and they loved it!

Soon after, many companies started reaching out to us. As our clientele increased, we hired a team of industry experts and developed dozens of new features—all with the aim of building our existing anti-photoshop technology into a more powerful product. At the time, regulatory demands were rapidly increasing, and many businesses were looking for ways to automate ID verification, KYC, and compliance. This gave us a clear path towards pivoting our business, and it worked out for the best. The rest is history!

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My work day usually starts with checking my messages and looking at the key dashboards in my task managers, as I need to evaluate the situation and to know exactly what’s going on in our business. Then I join calls and in-person meetings to discuss new ways to enhance our product. I may also have to talk to our partners or outside experts for insight on helping our company grow. I do my best to focus on creative tasks and activities which might push us forward, and I try to minimize time spent on day-to-day operational duties.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The most important thing is to take action. You wouldn’t want your ideas to just stay ideas, right? If I come up with an interesting thought, I try to understand whether it’s actionable and worth the effort. Then I discuss the idea with my team and make somebody responsible for realizing it, or do it myself. The only way to bring your ideas to life is to take action right away. Not tomorrow. And certainly not in a week or, say, next month. Of course, you still need to take your current resources and workload into account. Nonetheless, if there is a new business idea worth exploring, you’d better take immediate steps to make it into reality. Otherwise, someone else might do the same—only faster.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Well, we live in such an interesting time, and there are surprising trends emerging on a daily basis! What excites me most is the growth and development of the crypto and decentralized finance industries. These trends are changing the world and it’s fascinating to listen to DeFi experts, though there are only a few yet. Let’s see where these trends take us in the future!

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

What makes an entrepreneur successful, first and foremost, is their attitude towards their team. You need to be able to create a productive yet non-stressful working environment, where each team member is motivated to achieve results on their own, and contribute to the success of the business through their work.

When we have new and interesting ideas, we start probing them right away. It’s useless to wait around before taking action; personally, I make sure that any worthy beginning is put into realization as soon as possible.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Stop thinking that someone else can solve your problem. The world is so complex and variable, and somebody else’s experience can’t always apply to your situation. So you need to approach every new issue creatively and stop waiting for some expert to come and tell you exactly what to do. Sure, you have to listen to those with thoughtful advice. But the final choice you make should be based on different viewpoints mixed with your own well-considered perspective.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Back when we were deciding on whether to focus on the local market or expand globally, I argued that Sumsub was ready to expand into the high-competitive US market. And the entire management board was against me. Turns out, I have the right idea all along. That is, you should start going global right away if your business has international goals. Don’t waste your time and effort on the local market only.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I recommend going deep into your subject and business processes to get a grip on what’s going on. And I don’t imply micromanagement—let people do their job the way they want to, of course. But you should still be aware of all aspects of your company’s performance and tasks, otherwise you wouldn’t be capable of building a productive team and controlling the key business results.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Our main strategy is to be bold about taking new directions and experimenting. We’ve grown our business by testing new strategies and products in the real world, and made our decisions based on the results. We never drew conclusions from mere contemplation, no matter how sound the arguments were.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Our business was initially focused on anti-photoshop technology. We tried to sell our solution to insurance companies and hoped that it would take us up to 3 years to succeed—but ultimately we failed. Later, we realized that devoting all our resources to this business idea was wrong. Our mistake was that we hadn’t analyzed our target audience prior to launching the project—which is exactly what we should have done at the very start. So, when we pivoted our startup to KYC/AML technology, we made sure to study the market and scale future opportunities in advance.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Develop and sell the technology for wireless charging of all devices, including laptops. Living in a world without wires is a dream for many, so an actual business capable of making this a reality would definitely see massive success.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

That would’ve been the $100 I spent on crypto investments, and the outcome was great. Although others might think dealing with crypto is a risky business, I’ve come to learn that it could be pretty rewarding—if you know where and what to buy, of course.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

That might sound too obvious but, for me, it’s task trackers. There are plenty out there—each corresponding to the needs of different teams and organizations, and you can choose whichever is appropriate for you, as long as they help your team stay on the same page. In my experience, task trackers help the whole team stay informed about what’s going on with the business.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

It’s really difficult to recommend only one book for all, because different books can help you tackle different kinds of challenges. But I can recommend one book though—“Hacking Growth” by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown. If you’re looking for effective strategies to scale up your business, this is definitely a must-read. You’ll find actionable methods as well as inspiring examples of how they actually work.

What is your favorite quote?

That would be Steve Jobs saying: “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

Key Learnings:

  • Don’t overthink. The only way to bring your ideas to life is to take action right away. Probing and testing actual results should be the sole strategy for leading your business in the right direction.
  • What makes an entrepreneur successful is their ability to to create a productive but non-stressful working environment for their team—where each employee sets individual goals, and their personal results contribute to the total success and growth of the whole company.
  • Going deep is crucial: a business leader should be aware of all the aspects of their business and all the problems it’s struggling with. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to build a strong, productive team and control the key outcomes.