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Wave Financial veterans are back with new digital ID startup

Qui aims to create verified digital versions of your professional credentials on your phone — a godsend for the forgetful and paperwork averse

“This will literally change the way we all work and live 10 years from now.” Serial entrepreneur Peter Carrescia doesn’t mince words when describing the idea behind his latest company, Qui, which aims to make it easier for users to verify and control their identity online.

Qui is the latest entrant into the nascent but growing field of digitized identity. That’s the umbrella term for technologies that aim to create secure and verified electronic versions of important documents like drivers licenses, insurance certificates or tax slips, that are stored locally on users’ devices. To start with, Qui is targeting the world of professional identity and building products to help workers prove their qualifications, employment history and areas of expertise.

At Qui, he has teamed up once again with Kirk Simpson, a fellow entrepreneur with whom he has a long history. Carrescia was an early investor and a senior executive at Wave, a financial services firm Simpson co-founded in 2009. A decade later, Wave secured one of the most lucrative buyouts in Canadian tech history when H&R Block acquired it for more than half a billion dollars. Following that success, Carrescia and Simpson have once again joined forces and have quickly raised $8.5 million for Qui.

Simpson says the company wants to help users protect their privacy and take control over their identity. “That means the existing world of sharing it through unsecure means or big companies having access to more data than you want goes away,” says Simpson.

Between Wave’s acquisition and the potential of Qui, Carrescia and Simpson have earned a reputation as one of Canada’s most exciting entrepreneurial partnerships. We sat down with them at their office at the new MaRS Waterfront to discuss their vision for Qui, their thoughts on the Toronto tech scene and their biggest lessons from Wave.

What was the inspiration for starting Qui?

Simpson: We saw this problem so many times at Wave. Entrepreneurs had to jump through hoops to prove their identity and receive financial services. It just seemed like the technology had finally caught up with the demand for better solutions.

What’s the most exciting thing the Qui team is working on right now?

Carrescia: Currently, we are building our first product for early users. We’re targeting delivery in the second quarter of this year. It will provide users with tools to easily document and verify aspects of your work identity and history, and then allow you to share it with your network and companies to help you seamlessly navigate verification steps or access products and services.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned from Wave?

Simpson: Solve a narrow problem first, then expand. At Wave, I think we sometimes tried to solve a too-broad range of problems too fast. The goal with Qui is to make sure we narrowly target our products to ensure they drive value for customers from day one.

I’m looking at two guys sitting in-person, in an office, surrounded by desks for your team. What’s the value of doing business face-to-face rather than through a computer screen?

Simpson: Our team, by nature, is remotely dispersed across the country. But we value in-person experiences and collaboration, and so we’ll be coming together often as a team in person. For Peter and I, we see value in coming into a workspace that’s outside of home and collaborating amongst the two of us, and having, quite frankly, a separation of work life and home life.

Carrescia: When you’re at an early stage in a business or an early product ideation stage, the serendipity of being able to turn and talk — that’s not as easy in a remote world where people can go away for hours at a time. At this stage there’s a lot more interactions.

Toronto’s tech sector clearly has a lot of growth potential, but the short term talk is of recessions and turbulent markets. As a company, how do you prepare for that?

Simpson: The common cliché is downturns are the best times to build a company, but quite frankly it’s true. The ability to attract talent is significantly different than it was 12 months ago, so for startups, now is an amazing time to build a company.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs to weather the economic storm?

Carrescia: Focus on meeting customer needs and that will solve all other problems, whether it’s funding or cash flow.

What makes a good entrepreneur great?

Carrescia: The best entrepreneurs have passion, drive and are amazing leaders. Founders trying to build massive businesses start out with an idea that’s incredibly improbable and they don’t have a lot of funding, yet they have to convince people to follow them. They just have an ability to lead.

Simpson: Number one: the ability to look in the mirror, learn from mistakes and continue to iterate and improve upon yourself as a leader and decision maker. Number two: relentless optimism despite challenges — the ability to shake off setbacks, get up the next morning and make it better.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

MaRS Discovery District
MaRS is the world's largest urban innovation hub in Toronto that supports startups in the health, cleantech, fintech, and enterprise sectors. When MaRS opened in 2005 this concept of urban innovation was an untested theory. Today, it’s reshaping cities around the world. MaRS has been at the forefront of a wave of change that extends from Melbourne to Amsterdam and runs through San Francisco, London, Medellín, Los Angeles, Paris and New York. These global cities are now striving to create what we have in Toronto: a dense innovation district that co-locates universities, startups, corporates and investors. In this increasingly competitive landscape, scale matters more than ever – the best talent is attracted to the brightest innovation hotspots.

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