[Startup story] Lightpass | Rubik Garage Accelerator 2022 Batch
August 22, 2022
First of all, we would like to know who’s behind the keyboard.
Hi. My name is Razvan Braghesiu, and I do a bit of everything here at Lightpass – from finding customers, partners and talking with users to getting hands-on designing the product. I guess there is a fancy label for this – CEO, but I’m also one of the cofounders.
I come from a background that people would call “diverse” and/or “interesting”. I started my career in the maritime industry where I worked as a navigation officer onboard merchant ships. I did that for about 4 years, and then I switched to an office job where I had various roles ever since, but I was mainly involved in leading eLearning and digital product development projects.
I’ve been spending the last 2 years focusing on problems related to digital identity, and how to make it easy for people to prove what they can do in order to get easy access to learning and work opportunities, and this is something I still (happily) go to sleep and wake up with every day.
Tell us more about Lightpass. What problem do you solve? Who’s your audience?
Sure. Credentials are part of our lives, and we collect and use them to prove things about ourselves. Sharing and verifying those credentials, however, especially across borders, is still a paper-based manual process, not suitable for the digital world we are more part of.
At Lightpass we want to make verification of credentials, especially educational credentials (diplomas, micro-certificates, skill certificates) as easy as possible while providing people with simple and fast access to services. We are currently focused on the Educational sector, so our main customers are education and training institutes such as universities and private training centers.
The way we solve this problem is by providing universities with a system to issue various types of digital educational credentials. Students receive and store these credentials in a digital wallet, and can easily share them with 3rd parties that are able to instantly verify them. Unlike paper or PDF-based credentials, each entity can rely on digital credentials that are tamper-proof and instantly verifiable, which reduces admin burdens, verification costs and increases trust in document’s authenticity.
Moreover, students are able to have full control over their data and credentials, speeding up access to learning and work opportunities within Europe. I mention Europe because our solution is built to be compliant with the EU’s blockchain (EBSI), and aligns with their single market vision and digital identity initiatives.
What motivated you to create this startup? What’s your „why”?
Mainly 2 factors. (1) I’m incredibly mission-driven, and a firm believer in meaningful work. This is what drives me, and I see it as a civic responsibility to try to solve certain things in the society that I think can be done better.
(2) In recent years I have personally felt the symptoms of not being able to prove certain things about myself and what I can do when I was looking to either further my career or learning. As I got more deeply into the causal factors, I developed a strong connection with the space, the challenges and what must be done to solve this on a global scale. In the end, this is not about merely credentials or documents that are just a way to pass on information. I think this is fundamentally about our identity, the sum of all the things that make us – us, so being able to have better control over our identity information, how it’s used, when it’s used, I think it could become an important building block for access to quality education and career opportunities.
How is your startup different from competitors?
I think that what makes us unique is our culture, our hands-on approach to support and assist our customers, and our obsession with designing non-intrusive solutions that make people advance and achieve more.
This helps us provide a great overall user experience, not only at a product level, but mainly at the job-to-be-done level. We are focused on solving the customer’s job end-to-end, and not merely providing point solutions.
What are the biggest rewards of being a startup founder?
Not that many to be honest, especially in the beginning, but the few there are make everything count. To me, the most important reward is this incredible feeling of purposefulness. The world is not void of problems – problems ranging from climate change to easy access to public services and quality education.
I remember Steve Jobs saying something along the lines that “everything around you has been created by people not smarter than you”. So, as a startup founder, and not only, you are in this unique position of influencing and designing the world around you, and changing things that you are not happy with or are bothered by.
On the contrary, what are the biggest challenges?
At the stage we are in (early-stage), I would say fighting with your emotions, and being focused on the important stuff and avoiding distractions. It might not be the answer many people expect, but from what I have experienced so far, is this constant fight with your beliefs, convictions, self-doubt, how you want the world to look like, what’s possible to build, what’s not, and so on. I’ve read somewhere that “for startup founders, it is more a battle with themselves and their emotions, rather than their competitors”, and so far I agree 100%.
The other challenge is the ability to remain focused and ignore or de-prioritize what might appear to be “big leads” or “big wins”. As you discuss with more people, you will also get more exposure and this will inevitably lead to discussions about potential projects/collaborations/pilot programs that might not be in the best interest of your growth. So, saying no to a wrong customer who might bring you some revenue is very difficult, but I think the more you focus on executing towards your vision, the better you will allocate your energy and efforts. I might be super wrong on this one though, as it depends a lot on a case by case basis, but, as an early-stage founder, I find that making decisions on what to spend your efforts on is quite challenging.
What made you apply to our accelerator Rubik Garage?
I was initially part of the RubikEDU program, and I was impressed by the community of like-minded people and dedication of the employees, who were ready to offer help and assist on any topic.
With this in mind, I was very happy when I discovered the acceleration program, Rubik Garage, which was a no-brainer for me to apply. Moreover, what gave me assurance was this philosophy of “we are in this together” and focus on the community – be that of mentors, other startups, or investors. And I came to realize that it was not at all pie in the sky, and people here are genuinely interested in you to succeed.
What are your top 3 learnings of the acceleration program?
- Think about pricing from day 1. As much as it is about your mission and purpose, you also have to make money to survive and keep that mission alive.
- Give before you get.
- Ask, ask, ask – for help or anything else. Many people want to help. Just ask.
What do you like in the Rubikorns Startup Community?
Everyone is ready to jump in and help whenever you need help, either with a piece of advice or solving more specific problems. This kind of support is really valuable.
What are your plans for Lightpass for the next 6-12 months?
- Validate the value we bring to our customers, by completing the 2 pilot programs we have in the pipeline.
- Become the go-to solution for all credential management needs, by onboarding at least 5 Universities.
- Make the life of at least 10.000 students easier, by providing them with faster access to services as part of their learning and work mobility.
What message do you have for other startup founders?
For the founders within the community, I want to tell them that I feel fortunate to be surrounded by so many talented people, each with their own perspective, insight and life story. Just being able to discuss with them, exchange ideas, get help or even help wherever I can is an incredible experience, so a big thank you from my end and I wish them loads of strength to overcome challenges.
For the startup founders I haven’t met yet, well, I am definitely in NO position to give them any advice or something, but I want to congratulate them for having the courage to challenge the status quo, start something on their own, and to not forget to ask for help, especially early on. They might be surprised by how many people want to help.
What is your special power?
I would say perseverance and resilience. In everything I did throughout my life, I kind of started from the back of the grid. I was always seen as someone who doesn’t fit the profile, or who shouldn’t be there, but this helped me develop a special relationship with failure, preconceptions, and gave me strength to overcome challenges much easier and don’t lose sight of the big picture.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
If you get to read this, then I want to thank you for taking the time to read through what I had to say. I feel very fortunate.
Stay tuned to discover the story behind the other startups from the Rubik Garage accelerator! #WeAreInThisTogether
Rubik Garage is an equity-free acceleration program aiming to support startups from CEE. We are helping early-stage startups get to their first paying customer, raise investment or go international.
The accelerator started with a Founders Bootcamp in Piatra Neamt. Four months of acceleration will culminate with a Demo Day in September, where startups get the chance to pitch their startup in front of investors. For the most motivated teams, the journey will continue in the next 6-12 months – our team will offer their full support to help them raise an investment round.
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