digi.me’s start-up story

“Digi.me started life, as many of the best ideas do, as an aside in another conversation that led to a lightbulb going off in my head.

“I was at a board meeting for my innovation hub iBundle in 2009, and one of the directors mentioned he had a friend who had just lost three years’ worth of Facebook interactions after a glitch while changing password wiped his account.

“What a shame, we said, all those posts, photos and comments just gone – and then, realising that there was nothing out there to help you back up your social media, we decided there and then to create an app that did just that.

“And so SocialSafe (digi.me’s original name) was born – a great and easy-to-use social media tool that allowed you to save information and pictures you had posted to your various social media accounts and search them and see the original comments and likes, as well as make your own collections of content and export what you wanted, see your most popular posts and followers and much more!  A key decision was to have this data stored locally on the user’s own device – not on our servers; this was to ensure privacy and also because it was the only way to comply with Facebook’s terms and conditions.

“We got a company in to get it working and made it paid for but cheap, when we probably should have gone for free to grow the user base faster, but regardless it ticked along nicely and got some traction and a bit of press from big industry names like Mashable and Hermione Way.

“But in all honestly my attention was on other products and it was little more than a hobby for the first year, not least because my developers and finances were spread among many projects.

“Then users started asking if they could include Twitter as well and view all of this data they had gathered, so we built a viewer that normalised and aggregrated all the data together so you could look back across all your posts and photos across networks.

“Then I thought it would be great if you could search for something by date, so we built the journal functionality, where you can jump around any dates you choose and find out what you posted on any given day across all your linked networks.

“Demand came from users for back-ups for other social media networks as well, so we started adding the functionality for Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, Viadeo and many more – and suddenly it became clear there was massive demand for this kind of service, where people could get their data back somewhere they could see it and then use it how they wanted.

“The defining moment came when I realised that what we were doing was similar to what I had done for the military for 20+ years – bringing disparate data from multiple sources together, normalising and aggregating it and making it available for reuse. Because data was being stored locally, this would allow us to extend the data captured for a user across their entire life whilst retaining privacy, ensuring security and providing control over that data, as we never see, touch or hold it.

“With this lightbulb moment, we started moving development towards the direction we are focused on now – which is gathering the data for the benefit of the user, first and foremost, but also looking to see if we could help them do something with it, over and above selling it on which was (and in many ways is) the most common user data model.

“In 2013, I decided to focus full-time on building digi.me as a business, as it was clear to me that how people viewed personal data and how they felt about companies taking and using it for their own means was undergoing a seismic shift, and I could see that our app spoke to those deeply-held concerns, giving people back control of the data they posted.

“I was excited for the possibilities, particularly after we won Le Prix d’Argent at the Le Web start-up competition later in the year from more than 700 entrants, but as ever when you’re pushing a new idea or concept, things don’t always take off quite as you’d hoped, and correspondingly development and major investment wasn’t always as quick to happen as we’d like.  We had the idea, the team and the product, but we were still early to market – and timing is a key component to success.

“But over time our Permission Access model, which is due to come into being later this year, was developed and evolved – and this impending expansion saw us change our name from SocialSafe, which was well-known but really related only to the (excellent) social media back-up tool it is currently, to digi.me, which reflects the whole-person-and-life-data tool it will soon be.

“Our app will retain its social media back up and aggregation functions, which have already been used by over 350,000 people in over 140 countries, but users will also be able to add their own data from other areas of their life, starting first with financials and health, and moving on to other such as shopping.

“The Permissioned Access aspect will then allow businesses, who want access to these rich, deep datasets that our users will soon hold, to approach them directly and offer them personalised offers (for service, convenience or reward) in exchange for seeing some slices of that data.

“With investment from both the UK and US from people who understood we were doing something important, I started to build a team, bringing more developers on board at the same time as a CEO and CMO – and with them came new opportunities and ideas. Our CEO, Rory Donnelly, lives in France, for example, and got us in as partners on the FNAC security pack over there, which is very popular and where we’re in our third year.

“Then things began to snowball in 2015 as we started looking to the future, and what the personal data economy would look like in another five years. It was clear to us that there had to be a cultural shift, from individuals having things done to their data but unable to access it themselves, to becoming the centre of their connected world, back in control of their data and able to use it as they wished.

“This Internet of Me is the future of the personal data economy, a new model that the current stand-off between ad-tracking and ad-blocking will help create, as businesses and consumers seek a third way that offers universal benefits.  We think this is so important for the whole personal data industry that we are sponsoring and supporting an independent forum to look at the issues surrounding it and to try and build momentum as quickly as possible. http://internetofme.info/

“Meanwhile our app continues to go from strength to strength, with partnerships with Toshiba, Lenovo and Evernote with more to come, and other exciting developments with major players in various industries including health, insurance, banking, telcos and FMCG.

“We’ve also just appointed an EVP, Jim Pasquale, in the US as we continue to grow and expand – so there are exciting times ahead – and I’m delighted to be part of them.

“It all started with a simple comment, burst into life as a result of user comments and a flash of inspiration and now the journey continues with what I believe is a very promising future ahead.”

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