This SaaS startup is modernising access control by integrating physical and digital identities
‘Software is eating the world’, wrote Marc Andreessen, American entrepreneur and investor, in an article in Wall Street Journal in 2011. He was talking about the transformational phase technology has kicked the businesses into, with more and more of them running on software and delivering online services.
Entrepreneur Mohit Garg, who previously co-founded Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) unicorn, says, “We believe it's not been done in the physical identity space, yet.”
He says, physical identity verification is still a hardware centric industry, with most people using photo IDs, RFIDs, badges or fingerprint scanners to authenticate themselves to enter into a defined premise.
“Either you have to carry photo IDs, badges or RFIDs or use your fingerprint sometimes, in which case you need a device to scan the impressions,” he adds.
“Offline identity, when you're not in front of your computer, is not as well thought of,” he says. This can make person authorisation a tedious process, he adds.
This is the problem Mohit’s new startupis trying to solve. Founded in 2018 along with Madhu Madhusudhanan and Shankar Agarwal, the Sunnyvale, California-headquartered startup has an engineering team in Bengaluru.
“We wanted to bring the ‘software eats the world’ theme to this market and go beyond that,” Mohit says.
How it works?
Oloid offers software-based physical access technology, which can be self-installed in a SaaS model by companies.
Oloid, which stands for online link offline identity, aims to replace traditional technologies such as pin-pads, badges, and fingerprint readers with single sign-on for all physical access and authentication needs in a workplace.
Its product works like a retrofit overlay technology, meaning it rides over the existing technology. It integrates with all the major access control providers and badge reader systems.
“When a customer deploys our product, we have a very simple retrofit for that, where it has API integration with all the badge reader systems,” Mohit says.
The startup has developed a small piece of low-cost hardware, which checks the Bluetooth range, and on detecting, converts it to RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), which then verifies the employee identity. The hardware is enclosed in a sleeve or a cover that companies can plug and play over their existing badge readers.
Access and authentication
The startup does not limit itself to solving the authentication problem by recognising a particular employee. It goes beyond by providing differential access based on the roles these employees have in any organisation, covering both access and authorisation.
Different employees, based on their teams and seniority, usually have access to different parts of the office. They may have access to the same building but not the same doors. For example, an engineer working on backend data would have access to the company’s data centre, which a contractor might not.
“We go beyond identifying who the person is, and we solve it exactly the way it’s been solved in the online world.”
Merging online and offline identities
Employees usually maintain badge ID in a separate system for lack of control, and online login and access in a different system. A company usually has an employee identity system such as Okta or Workforce, and so the employees already have identity in its system.
“We extend that identity by federating it with physical devices,” says Mohit.
For example, a human resource team creates an email id for a new hire and integrates it with the HR system for payroll management. Oloid is extending this to physical domains.
“You don't have to maintain two different identities today. We are bringing the two worlds together,” he adds.
The startup provides multiple options to choose from - face, Bluetooth or QR code, allowing contactless biometrics or mobile credentials to gain physical access, a factor which has proven useful after the pandemic. “We do not believe in contact-based technology anymore. We want to completely touch-less enrichment.”
This, Mohit says, is what makes the whole paradigm frictionless. A person not using a computer has access and it travels with the person. “Our vision is to build a single sign on for the physical identity space,” he adds.
Pandemic - the accelerator
The pandemic further expanded Oloid’s customer market. Prior to 2020, the company targeted large employers with hourly workforce. These employees could not benefit from identity management softwares and Oloid could improve the efficiency with its product.
“The pandemic has shown us that the need for physical identity has become even more pronounced for office goers, because now we are in a hybrid environment,” Mohit says.
With employees coming to offices only a few days a week, their physical and online identities need to be better managed. This means physical identity now needs to be tied to the employer’s IT systems.
Many of Oloid’s customers in the US are using user access and authorisation for doors using vaccine management systems.
“So, the automation and compliance around return to work of a hybrid workforce is now accelerating the need for integrating physical access doors and turnstiles with these IT systems,” says Mohit.
Mohit claims there are 72 million commercial doors in the US alone, which is its main market.
The startup works on a tiered SaaS subscription model, usually followed by software companies. Large customers pay for larger contracts, but as the number of users increases, the cost per employee comes down.
Mohit says Oloid is bringing software principles to the hardware industry, with the opportunity to change how customers look at technology partnerships or purchase decisions.
“You pay nothing upfront. It’s almost like a software upgrade. It is adopted like a SaaS platform,” he adds.
Oloid doesn’t charge any fee from its customers who sign longer duration contracts as it goes into its customer acquisition costs. Customers are subscribing to an online service by connecting to a Wi-Fi, with no capital expenditure and no installation hassles.
Oloid, which competes with global players such as Calamari and Accu, majorly serves the US market with customers such as Honeywell and Flex. It is serving more than 65,000 users in over 2,500 locations.
“We have plans to expand to global markets starting with India and the Middle East,” he says.
Recently, Oloid raised a funding of $12 million in a Series A round, led by Dell Technologies Capital, taking the total to $17 million. It plans to use the funds to expand its portfolio to integrate with major systems and its teams in Bengaluru and Silicon Valley. At present, it has a team of 24 members.
“We are on track to double our headcount this year and also from a customer standpoint, our footprint is likely to go to tens of 1000s of installations by next year,” he says.