On 20th July 2021, Dutch SaaS startups Onegini and iWelcome formally announced their merger. The resulting entity, smartly called OneWelcome, immediately became Europe’s largest identity and access management software as a service vendor. With both the companies set 40kms apart in the Netherlands, Danny de Vreeze, CEO of OneWelcome, says this merger had been in the works for sometime and allows both the companies to better prepare for the possible consolidation.
What’s in a name?
When The Shins dropped their 2017 song Name for You, the line “What’s in a name?” in the chorus not only invoked Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but also questioned the notion of names being arbitrary labels. This is truer in the case of OneWelcome than most other companies. While, after a cursory glance, it may seem that OneWelcome borrows One from Onegini and Welcome from iWelcome, but there is more to this name.
Danny de Vreeze explains that the idea behind OneWelcome originated from the ethos behind the iWelcome name. He says they could have called the company OneiSecurity, but they went with iWelcome because security should be a welcoming industry, and the name conveyed the message of inviting customers to platforms without having to worry about their digital safety or privacy. The essence of this naming philosophy not only got carried over but was fused with One to create “one login, one identification as well as one journey for a customer.”
It had to happen
This welcoming nature of business has allowed Onegini and iWelcome not only to merge but also to synergise faster. Danny says both the startups built 80 per cent of the same products in their identity as a service (iDaaS) portfolio. This meant they were often competing for the same business and thus spent a valuable amount of money in sales and marketing. Since there was product synergy between the two companies from the start, it made them logical partners in the face of a hugely innovating market, growing competition and the forthcoming consolidation in the (C)IAM industry.
Danny de Vreeze best explains what the merger means for both the companies as well as for the industry. “We no longer have to build and enrich two stacks that are more or less of the same function, so we can reinvest our money and double down on innovation power.” When he speaks, Danny de Vreeze reminds me of Bill Murray’s character from On The Rocks. He is a fast speaker but also one who nicely connects the business fundamentals with technical know-how to explain the dynamic of CIAM industry that most people don’t even know powers all of their login activities.
This merger had to happen not because the competition is fierce, it happened because together, OneWelcome is well poised to not just compete but out-innovate the competition with a culture that is identical to the core. While iWelcome focussed extensively on business to business integration and Onegini has a robust mobile identity tool, the combined entity, Danny adds that the combined entity is “more attractive than the individual companies” for the customers.
Partner in cloud
Every business can be linked to one fundamental word that runs like a chord between the founders, leadership and all the other employees. In the case of OneWelcome, that one word is partnership. Why compete when you can partner defines the merger between Onegini and iWelcome, and this partnership also forms the bedrock for building the entire platform on top of Amazon Web Services. AWS is the largest cloud services provider in the world, but it is no longer the only major cloud vendor offering scale to startups around the world.
Danny acknowledges the competition in the cloud services vendor market, but he explains why they chose AWS. For starters, he notes that both Onegini and iWelcome have been using AWS for the last couple of years. As a European SaaS startup, Danny says they had their apprehensions about using an American cloud service provider since privacy is fundamental to everything that European startups build, especially in the identity space. However, when they joined AWS, it became clear immediately that AWS is a solid platform as a service.
Danny explains that with AWS, OneWelcome is able to innovate on the identity side of things instead of worrying about the platform. Another reason that made AWS a sensible choice for both iWelcome and Onegini is the fact that their customers, especially in the banking and financial services, the insurance industry also relied on Amazon Web Services. It is often not very well documented, but Danny notes how the knowledge base around AWS is wider than other cloud service providers.
This allows startups like OneWelcome to make smart hiring decisions and better integrate their product with partner ecosystems. One thing that truly made AWS the go-to choice for both Onegini and iWelcome is the partner focus on Amazon Web Services. “They [AWS] worked with us as a partner and assisted us in getting onto the platform,” Danny explains about the partnership.
AWS also plans to leverage its AWS marketplace (which is used by OneWelcome’s global competitors) to increase the reach of OneWelcome globally. This is another crucial element of the partnership between OneWelcome and AWS that would help the Dutch company reach new heights.
Too critical to fail
The pandemic really accelerated the digital strategy for all the companies around the world. From need, it became a necessity for every business to not only have a digital presence but also a digital storefront to survive in this pandemic. During the pandemic, the Dutch government declared 100 companies that were “too critical to fail”. OneWelcome was one of those companies since it is critical to the login infrastructure of so many companies.
While logging into an app or a service might sound rudimentary, but what OneWelcome has built not only makes it possible for users to log in across platforms and services, it does so in a way that the privacy and security of customers are never jeopardised. From 80 per cent of Dutch businesses logging into the Dutch government infrastructure, to retailers, banks, post-delivery and railways to the European Central Bank, OneWelcome works on mission-critical aspects of technology, and as a GDPR compliant tech vendor, it puts privacy, data integrity and security of customers and their end-users at the forefront. With the merger, OneWelcome is focused to bring this expertise to more customers in Europe.
From Single Sign-On (SSO), Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to cloud scalability, OneWelcome offers a robust set of tools that helps companies to give end-users access to their digital properties. While this is the trend right now, Danny is very much in the camp that wants to get rid of passwords altogether. A lot of the tech trend often emerges from sci-fi movies, and we hardly ever see them log in with a password. “Passwords are a strange mechanism that does not do what I think it should do, which is making digital access safer and simpler,” Danny explains.
He adds that the difficult password policies simply make people use the same password across services. Whether it is big tech firms like Microsoft, Google, Apple or Dutch startups like OneWelcome, every tech company wants to find a better solution. Danny is squarely behind the idea of using biometrics, and at Money 2020 in Amsterdam, he made one of the strongest arguments for passwords entering past tense in the immediate future.
He also expects banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions to get rid of paper and wet ink for things like know your customer (KYC). According to Danny, “Digital signing, the use of eID’s – governmental or private party provided – to verify identity and external validation of someone’s credentials – like having a driver’s license, an MBA, a health certificate will become the standard in the next couple of years.”
Advice for young entrepreneurs
Danny uses words like friendship, partnership a lot during our conversation. It just shows the amount of engineering and business partnership that he had to build from scratch for iWelcome at first and OneWelcome now. He says today there is a lot of infrastructure already available to startups which iWelcome and Onegini had to build from scratch when they started ten years back. He says the first advice he would give to anyone building a FinTech startup is not to go alone in this business.
He suggests that the best approach would be to start simple and identify your expertise and innovate there while leveraging platforms like AWS to build the core functionality. “I would advise anybody to leverage as much as you can from the platform and the infrastructure level,” he says and then adds that entrepreneurs should focus on business value and the areas where they can make the biggest difference in order to succeed.
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