The industry has thought long and hard about how to process finance beyond a physical form, and in many ways, it’s achieved this feat with ease. But what about the endless paper trails and documents that co-existed with finance’s more traditional forms? How can the industry ensure that those vital pieces of paper are kept at pace with the industry they seek to validate?
This is an area that has been thought through at great length by the creators of fyio. Likened to a digital filing cabinet, the platform has pioneered the rise of paperless paper trails and the importance of digital integrity. Fyio’s unique offering is set to alter what we know and expect from document storage and the transfer of vital information.
Here in our latest Behind the Idea instalment, we sat down with Louise Marsh, the company’s founder, and Sarah Wrixon, its CEO, to fully discuss the company’s journey to becoming a pioneer in this quickly-evolving sector, and its exciting trajectory for the future.
Tell us more about fyio
Designed to navigate life and bits of paper, fyio is a simple, accessible and secure digital filing cabinet and document share app.
A guiding principle was that it would become a true companion for life. The founder’s premise was that if she could use it, anyone could, and everyone would want to. In her days as a life insurance adviser, Louise had one day discovered a life insurance policy in the understairs cupboard worth £80,000 to the family who had all but given up on finding it and was acutely aware of the human and financial cost caused by chaotic paperwork.
In practical terms, fyio offers an exceptionally simple way to upload or migrate documents into exactly the right categorised place, and when required to share that document on – where it will arrive in exactly the same categorised place.
To give an example, Mo is sharing a flat with Alex and wants to share their home insurance document. Originally filed in Mo’s home/home insurance drawer, it is then shared securely with Alex – who is given the option to view the document and then accept or decline it, and if accepted, the document lands in Alex’s home/home insurance drawer.
An illuminated tab signposts the new document’s location, Mo can see the document has landed, and everyone is paperwork happy. And Mo has ultimate control, time limiting access to the document if required or alternatively setting a renewal date, reminder, and adding a note with additional details – all of which are shared alongside the original document.
Additionally, fyio will provide a bank of information ‘fyio facts’ to help the fyio community navigate all aspects of their paperwork life.
For example, how to file a personal tax return and what documents are required to do this, how to register a birth or death, and what insurance is required if you’re renting a home. When funds allow, the app will interact regularly with its community proactively providing notifications, reminders and practical advice.
Our mission to make the world paperwork happy is not one to be underestimated. When we were working through our brand purpose and culture, we commissioned research by Censuswide to better understand how people really felt about their paperwork.
The words people most associated with organising their paperwork were tedious, time-consuming, and frustrating. What if fyio could not only overcome those negative feelings towards paperwork but actually reverse the pain to one of pleasure and create a genuine paperwork happy experience? This became fyio’s mission.
What problem was fyio set up to solve?
Like many ideas that resonate and have potential global traction, fyio is rooted in what was a personal problem. Louise’s husband Ian had left the British Army after 25 years of service and was finding the transition into civilian life challenging.
Soldiers need to operate without distraction, which means everything but the most mundane of tasks are eliminated from their lives while in service. Back in Civvy Street, organising and managing day-to-day paperwork proved particularly daunting.
The damascene moment came when Ian realised if Louise were to disappear from his life, he would have no idea where to find even their most important life documents, let alone a record of their electricity spending or the dog’s vaccination history. Over a long walk through the Tamar Valley, dog in tow, they talked through what an ideal solution would look like.
At this point, Ian was also applying for work in private security, which involved sending highly sensitive documents by unsecured email to some of the world’s most dangerous locations. They saw this as another pain point to be resolved and gradually the concept emerged for an app that was exceptionally simple to use, based on a life navigation principle, protected by military-grade security.
They realised an idea was one thing but if theirs was a unique problem, there would be no market traction. Louise started questioning friends, family, and strangers on trains and dog walks, in fact, anyone who would listen, on how they managed their paperwork.
Specifically, she was interested to know if they were engaged with, and how they felt about, existing document storage solutions, which were largely focused on functional benefits – hosting, storage, and synchronisation but were neither intuitive nor joyful to use.
Essentially they were built on a rising demand for cloud storage with varying degrees of light touch user benefits. The feedback from those people using them was that, while they served a purpose, they were effectively data warehouses with which they had no emotional engagement. Many more people had tried them briefly but couldn’t engage with them either because they were too much effort or they simply couldn’t fathom the process. This created an opportunity for differentiation.
What would eventually emerge as fyio would be a highly personal life management tool, focusing first and foremost on an informed and informative user experience. While the mission to make the world paperwork happy was yet to be articulated, as a brand essence it was there from conception.
Since launch, how has fyio evolved?
Since it first emerged as a primitive MVP then called 1File4Life on 11 November 2018 (Armistice Day), fyio has been extensively tested with a community that ranges from 18 to 80 years old, and continuously refined based on their feedback, regular code audits, and app pen testing. Fyio’s watchwords are simplicity, accessibility, and security but the app’s purpose and function demand that security is the single most important feature, and this is where the app has evolved most significantly.
Fyio is protected by AES-256 bit encryption, the same advanced encryption standard used by the United States Government to protect classified information. This method uses a block cypher, which encrypts (transforms plain text to ciphertext) one fixed-size block at a time, unlike other types of encryption such as stream cyphers, which encrypt data bit by bit.
According to cyberexperts.com AES is exceptionally efficient in 128-bit form but can leverage 256-bit keys for heavy security increasing the number of rounds from 10 for 128-bit to 14. According to medium.com it would take a supercomputer 140,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years to crack a single AES-256 key.
A 256-bit private key will have 115,792,089,237,316,195,423,570,985,008,687,907,853,269,984,665,640,564,039,457,584,007,913,129,639,936 possible combinations.
At a hardware level, fyio partners with AWS S3 service recognised as one of the most secure and compliant services available. All data is encrypted by AWS at source, which means in the unlikely event that a hard drive was to be stolen, no information could be read.
Files are saved to S3 with a distributed key, which means that if someone were to access the AWS console no one, including the developers, could read the files read because one part of the key is stored in AWS Secret Manager and another part of the key belongs to each fyio user. Effectively, files are still encrypted because part of the key is missing. Other enhancements have recently come into play.
For example, fyio encourages its users to set an 18-character password in line with modern ‘three random words’ best practice. It is estimated an 18-character password (even if all characters are lowercase and there are numbers or symbols) would take 50 years to crack.
We are also taking a ‘secure by design’ approach, working with a leading UK cyber intelligence company, led by former military and special forces personnel, to develop and implement a 360-degree security mitigation plan that will wrap around both the app and the company itself.
From a user perspective, fyio has also continuously evolved according to our principles of simplicity and accessibility and will continue to do so.
What has been the biggest challenge or most ‘tricky moment’ to overcome?
The biggest challenge has been building a sustainable team and learning who, and who not, to trust.
There’s an old adage that the people who made money in the gold rush were the ones selling pots and pans along the way, and the same is true when you’re in startup territory, especially when the startup has the kind of potential fyio has and early investment money is coming in.
I recognised the gaps in my experience and knowledge in the early days but it took time to understand that some of the people who persuaded me they could plug those gaps often prioritised their own interests, rather than fyio’s longer-term sustainability.
I felt instinctively early on that what I later heard the founder of the Calm app, Michael Acton-Smith describe as a ‘go slow to go fast’ approach was the correct one even though Silicon Valley is predicated more on act fast, fail fast.
I remain convinced that had we hard-launched earlier than we did, we would simply have failed. Having taken a longer-term view has enabled us to enrich our brand with purpose, values, and personality but more importantly to focus resolutely on delivering an unambiguously secure app that is exceptionally simple to use and is now being advocated by military charities.
The trickiest moment was acknowledging that an early partner, to whom I had naively given a five per cent share of the business, was not capable of delivering the role we had specified and a number of other ‘advisers’ turned out not to be quite all they seemed.
But I’ve also been exceptionally lucky that my nature, which can occasionally be too trusting, has also opened doors to some wonderful people without whom fyio would not be where it is now, in particular Major General Seumas Kerr and Sarah Wrixon, fyio’s chairman and CEO respectively, both of whom have very significantly invested their time and in Sarah’s case, hard funds that have allowed us to bootstrap and achieve all we set out to achieve.
We worked together closely, alongside our head of finance, who is also an investor, a fabulous employment lawyer who has subsequently invested, and a corporate lawyer who gave considerably more time at no fee than was called for, to resolve the situation with the early partner, and bring the shares back into the company.
What are your biggest achievements so far?
Launching the newly branded fyio to the app stores on schedule on 6 June 2020 (D-day!); Seumas agreeing to be fyio’s chairman, a role in which he excels, and Sarah accepting the Board’s offer to become our CEO earlier this year; maintaining an incredibly functional working relationship with our amazing Ukrainian development team, especially over the past six months; Harriet Yakub, an immensely talented illustrator winning our art college competition to produce our beautiful fyio ‘family’; being named a TechRound 100 winner at the end of last year following in the footsteps of the likes of Revolut, TikTok and Zoom; that our first partnership has been with the Royal Marines Charity; and that we have attracted some incredible investors, many of whom are active in the business.
And from a personal perspective, while the journey has at times been immensely challenging, it’s also been a voyage of discovery. Prior to joining fyio full-time, Sarah was CEO of Salix & Co, the PR consultancy she founded specialising in brand and reputation, and I’m eternally grateful that she explained the value of investing in the brand (which she did on an investment basis) taking 1File4Life and its $299 internet-generated logo to a brand ready for a global platform.
I’ve learnt that ‘brand’ isn’t a name and a logo but a complex set of attributes that capture purpose, values and culture that is expressed through the brand’s personality – the words we use, the colour, and the images are infinitely valuable because it extends a product offering to an experience.
How would you describe the culture of your company?
Our culture is inclusive, where roles have been carefully scoped and defined but where there is open space for discussion and collaboration, especially on road map development.
Everyone working within fyio has, or will have, some ownership of it. Although the company doesn’t yet employ many people, one of our early commitments was to a modern people plan where potential and nascent talent will be our priorities. Alongside them, we have experienced and highly competent strategic advisers on board, who bring their wisdom and experience to help shape our financial and exit strategies.
We have incorporated a ‘business for good’ approach from the outset identifying military, animal, and end-of-life charities as those we particularly wanted to engage with.
We are delighted that our first partnership is with the Royal Marines Charity, which offers all its members access to fyio at a lower subscription cost and fyio will make a donation to the Charity when the app is downloaded using its specific code.
An aim to achieving B-Corp accreditation is part of our road map.
What’s in store for the future?
Our first offering, fyio app, has pioneered a new approach to document storage and sharing. The next steps are to take that approach into the micro business and financial services worlds.
Just as fyio app provides a personal HQ for people, fyio biz will launch to provide a corporate HQ for small businesses, while fyio pro will become complete the trinity and become the engine to integrate providers of financial and professional services with fyio app and fyio biz.
Aside from new product development, fyio’s next key phase will be to integrate sovereign identity and state-of-the-art document verification and biometric enhancements.
From a development and security perspective, fyio’s next key phase will be to integrate enhanced sovereign identity and state-of-the-art document verification and biometric functionality, while quantum computing is an ever nearer reality, and requires factoring into our road map.