Business Startup Spotlight: Notakey


Notakey is a smartphone based solution that brings the same level of protection as a hardware token with the convenience of the phone. This has changed been a game changer for modern businesses who are also using hardware tokens or smartcards for VPN access or workstation login.

Name: Notakey


CEO, Jānis Kiršteins

Location: Riga, Latvia


Product / Service Offering: Strong, Smooth Authentication and Authorization

Co-founder Interviewed: Janis Kirsteins (CEO)

Other Key Management Team Members: Gints Kirsteins (COO) and Janis Graubins (CCO)

This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies.  We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.

Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.

I have been working in cybersecurity for several years, developing the architecture for Latvian eID cards and electronic signatures. I understand to be successful in cybersecurity it is not enough to build something secure. It also has to be convenient for users; otherwise, nobody will use it. That has been the case with eID cards. It is a secure solution, but typically only 1% of the population is using it. This insight was the reason I started Notakey, providing a convenient solution without compromising security.

When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?

We “fell into” starting the company when the Association of Commercial Banks of Latvia asked Gints in 2015 to help them find a solution for problems they had with their existing authorization solutions. We realized banks had no suitable products, and that we were in a unique position to address this problem. In 2016 we started Notakey, and have been able to sign our first PoCs with some of the biggest banks in the world.

Learn more about the Funding Life Cycle.

What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?

In Europe there is a new regulation, PSD2, which mandates banks to have strong two-factor authentication before the end of 2018. User name and password are not enough. People should also use an additional factor, such as a hardware token or biometric. The problem with hardware tokens are that they are expensive and decrease customer engagement. Biometrics are a more convenient solution; however, they still have a high rate of false-negatives. Although the system is good at keeping bad guys out, it fails to match between a valid user and the stored template. On large transaction amounts, this simply is not acceptable.

Thus the reason we created Notakey. This is a smartphone based solution, which brings the same level of protection as a hardware token with the convenience of the phone. People receive a push notification and can authorize or decline the transaction. Since starting the company, we have seen that the need for our service goes even beyond customer authentication for banking. Most of the modern businesses are also using hardware tokens or smartcards for VPN access or workstation login, which is where Notakey again fits in well. By substituting hardware tokens or smartcards, we have been able to provide less intrusion from their work. This in turn improved company productivity by $7,000 per employee per year.

What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?

Notakey is based on digital signatures and Public Key Infrastructure. Together with hardware chips, which are already in phones, we can provide the most secure and convenient way for accessing and protecting data anywhere.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was getting the first customer. Everybody was quite excited, but wanted to see first that our solution be used somewhere. Our first customer was a large IT company, who we participated with in a bank RFP, as we were too small in the beginning. After going through our structure for the RFP several times, they liked it so much that they implemented it in their company for VPN protection.

Have you ever wondered, What’s the Key to Customer Discovery?

Are there resources you have utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?

We are using Slack for communication, Sketch for designing mockups, Trello for work organizing, Google Docs, and Slides for collaboration on presentations.

What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?

We are revenue driven. When we talk with investors there is always data to prove our assumptions. I think that we need to learn more how to dream and make riskier assumptions.

Have there been any questions you have had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?

There are many. The most difficult ones are the ones that you even do not know the real question. However, it is good to be surrounded by great people who can point you in the right direction. As Robert Tinker, founder of MobileIron once told me, ”Everything is so clear in the rear-view mirror”.

What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?

Currently we are trying to find the right product market fit. We have had several customers from different industries and different use cases. We need to find one where we have the highest potential and really scale on it.

What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?

Selling customer facing solutions to banks takes very long. To get our foot in the door, Notakey looks at how the same solution can be used first for employees. It takes less decision making time and is easier to roll out.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?

Take a look at Notakey

Want to learn about other businesses in the spotlight? Check out our Business Startup Spotlight Series.

Are you familiar with other startups you believe should be spotlighted? If so, we would like to hear from you. Tell us about them, sharing your comments below!

Sandra Sloan

Sandra has previous supply chain and business operations experience which she is leveraging as an author with FundingSage focused on spotlighting entrepreneurs and their startup efforts.