Why Trustev Won Big in the SXSW Accelerator Competition

No, it’s not the executive team's Irish brogues, their polished pitch, the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is almost here or even that they have a connection to Twitter founder Ev Williams.

Trustev, the Cork, Ireland start-up primed to take the world by storm, leverages big data, social graphs algorithms and analytics to verify identity and prevent fraud in an entirely new, innovative way. And, get this: it does so by starting with the premise that you are innocent — that you are who you say you are.

The company beat more than 1,000 companies from all over the world to win a grand prize in the SXSW Accelerator competition in Austin, Texas this week. The company, which won in the big data and enterprise category, joins an exalted group of previous winners, including Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook and Uber. 

Founder and CEO Pat Phelan said he was "over the moon."

What's the Big Deal with Trustev


“Most of today’s solutions employ rigid rules and what has been likened to racial profiling for fraud,” said Donal "DC" Cahalane, Trustev's Chief Marketing Officer. “So, say you live in Nigeria, which is known for Internet scams, and want to buy something online. There’s a 20 percent to 30 percent chance your attempted purchase will be flagged." Ditto if you live in certain other geographic areas or are of a certain age group.

And that’s a problem, Cahalane said. He doesn’t think 20 percent to 30 percent of the people in Nigeria — a country a third of the size of the US — are thieves.

Instead of looking at a single factor, like where you live, Trustev uses numerous dynamic data points. Take, for example, an individual who always logs into Facebook from the United States, but claims to be on another continent. That might raise a flag, Cahalane said. And though a single factor alone may not prevent a person from making a purchase, enough of them together might.

“Trustev isn’t rigid,” said Cahalane. Instead of deciding whether a person is who they say they are, by giving a yes or no style answer, Trustev generates a score ranging from 0 to 100. Companies can decide what score is acceptable to them and what is not.

Billions in Lost Sales

And while this might seem risky and some would argue that it’s smarter to disqualify all transactions that appear questionable in any way, there’s the other side of the coin. Some $25 billion in Internet sales were lost last year because of false positives, he explained.

Needless to say, this is something that most businesses find worrisome.

While Trustev starts its identity verification/fraud prevention process by checking IP addresses and the movement of a mouse on a screen (the automated tools many professional thieves use move a mouse faster than any human), they then add-in a “secret sauce” which consists of deep location  (it even looks for proxies), social finger printing and email.

“We don’t read email or your Facebook,” Cahalane said, adding that Trustev instead looks at technical data.

How it Works

Trustev has grown from three to 19 employees in 12 months and now has more than 100 customers in five countries. It's a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering.  Users just install a line of code on their websites. It’s sold not by subscription, but by transaction, with the first 1,000 transactions free of charge.

“Guys who sell t-shirts out of their garage love us,” Cahalane said.

It’s worth noting that Trustev leverages Datameer, a self-service and schema-free big data analytics application for Hadoop that ensures the fastest time to discovering insights in any data. “Without Datameer we’d be knee-deep in Excel spreadsheets,” Cahalane added.

What Did Trustev Win?

Publicity, recognition and a goody bag full of tech stuff from companies like Rackspace.

And lest we forget, there was $5,000 dollars, which Cahalane said will go a long way in helping them celebrate. (Maybe they can save some of it until April when they open their first US-based office in New York City.)