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The Myki team sit for a group photo at the startup's offices. (Photo Courtesy of Myki)
BEIRUT: The Eureka moment behind Myki, a locally-based application startup that serves as a password manager and authenticator, came to existence when Priscilla Elora Sharuk’s grandmother was facing troubles remembering her Skype password to chat with faraway family back in 2013.
“Numerous attempts of helping my grandmother remember her passwords triggered a conversation between me and my friend Antoine Jebara – who’s a computer engineer – about the inefficiency of the whole password procedure,” Sharuk told Annahar.
Two weeks went by and Jebara showed up to Sharuk’s doorstep carrying a crude and duct-tape riddled gadget that served as an automatic login tool for her grandmother, where she would only need to plug it into the computer’s USB port and it took care of the rest.
The device, though resembling a ticking-time bomb, served its purpose. The skilled computer engineer then built one for himself and Sharuk while adding a fingerprint scanner that served as a security layer, which allowed them to log onto their multiple social media platforms.
After showing off their cool-yet-hefty gadget to friends and family, the pair formed Myki a year and a half ago to sell their password management device to others suffering from the same difficulties.
They didn’t get far though.
By 2014, mobile companies started integrating fingerprint recognition within their smartphones, which quickly made their device obsolete. They ditched the hardware and combined fingerprint authentication technology with a software that generates complex passwords. The latest iteration of their technology allowed users to securely log into online accounts from a mobile app.
Myki secures and simplifies the way staff gain access to company-owned accounts. It provides the convenience of the cloud without the associated risks by distributing sensitive information across users’ smartphones in a decentralized manner.
“Passwords are not stored in the cloud, they are not on Myki servers, and Myki does not store them in the browser, they are saved uniquely on users’ smartphone,” Antoine Jebara, CEO of the company, told Annahar.
The mobile application is connected to a management portal allowing personnel to log in to any service without a username and password by using a fingerprint instead; it also allows them to share access to an account with colleagues or collaborators without sharing the password, as well as remotely logging out from any service with a click of a button.
The management portal, on the other hand, allows the management team to provision accounts (create usernames and passwords), change passwords on a scheduled basis using the automatic passwords changer, and revoke access in case of suspicious behavior.
“We haven’t tried to replace the password, we’ve just accelerated the evolution of the authentication, and the users never have to worry about another password interaction because Myki takes care of that while they maintain full control over their security,” Sharuk said.
The Complex passwords are generated in a certified RNG (Random Number Generator) on the user’s device and stored in a secure container; the encrypted backup does not sit in one location rather a blockchain across thousands of devices.
While in the enterprise context, the administrator doesn’t control the password, just when and where the password is released for authentication, so the user can never gain access to a service without the administrator consent.
Myki also allows the management team to design dynamic rules based on real-time users’ geographical location, time of day, as well as IP address, and even gives enterprises a browser activity monitoring tool for real-time visibility and analytics on user activity and online behavior.
In the case of a lost device, the user can easily de-provision and track the lost unit while transitioning to a new device seamlessly without losing any credentials. The information on the lost phone is stored in an encrypted backup which is broken up into hundreds of pieces and stored in a blockchain, the same technology that protects billions of dollars in Bitcoin and other digital currencies.
During the company’s baby steps, Jebara was working in data loss prevention at a software company while Sharuk, COO of the company, was working as a landscape architect, which was “completely different from what I’m doing today, but we had an opportunity to cure a problem that everybody was suffering from.”
The startup started off bootstrapping for almost four years, using the money they were making from their nine to five jobs before being accepted into an acceleration program called Startup Sauna Acceleration based in Finland where they were awarded top startup.
“Our experience in the acceleration program equipped us with the knowledge, the mentors and the know-how we needed that led us to quit our jobs and work on Myki full time,” the COO explained, while adding that the experience gave them the chance to meet influential people.
She also noted that at that time there wasn’t a startup ecosystem in Lebanon yet, thus to acquire the mentorship needed, they had to go elsewhere while being funded solely by personal savings as well as their families’.
“Thankfully today, there are a lot of players that are moving the ecosystem forward, allowing access to information and mentorship; thus people are starting to understand that the startup scene is not only something trendy, but is essential for our country, youth, and economy,” Sharuk added.
The startup raised money from three Venture Capital firms (VCs); it landed its first round of investment from Dubai-based Beco Capital, which was quickly joined by Beirut-based B&Y Venture Partners as well as Leap Ventures.
Over the course of raising their seed round and building the product, Jebara and Sharuk applied and were accepted to TechCrunch’s Disrupt Battlefield Competition held in San Francisco, making them the first Arab startup to actually make it to the conference.
“The conference is well known to be the most prestigious and coveted tech conference in the world, which boosted our waiting list subscriptions to almost 50,000 users prior to our official launch,” Sharuk told Annahar.
The blossom in waiting list numbers made both co-founders realize the importance of leveraging that list to launch a consumer offering, in addition to the B2B product. "Today, Myki is launching its consumer application for Android and iOS users globally, allowing them to log into all their accounts with their fingerprint instead of their manually inputting a username and password," she said, highlighting that the app will be the first password manager available in the Arabic language.
Sharuk also notes that users can now share access to accounts such as Netflix with a friend, without giving them the password to the account.
Both co-founders considered that finding and hiring a good team as one of the main challenges they faced since “the best and brightest have either left the country or looking for the traditional and safe nine-to-five job while considering the startup life to be too high risk,” the COO said.
While on a personal front, the main challenge for Sharuk was that she was delving into a field that she had no idea about; thus forcing herself to take an extra step by self-educating, which her colleagues humorously note qualifies her for an honorary computer engineering degree for her efforts.
“I made it a rule that even though I’m working on things that are not technical, I would always be involved in what the team is working on and their roles, and today I reached a point where I can defend the product on a technical level,” the Sharuk said.
From an informational approach, Myki also releases a weekly security report in the form of a vlog on their YouTube channel where Sharuk delivers a weekly roundup of tech news along with cyber security and hacking news from around the world.
Both co-founders, however, note that in order for Myki to be used successfully used it needs to more deeply integrated within enterprises and users to become seamlessly routine.