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Caryn Seidman Becker is the Chairman and CEO of CLEAR, a biometrics company offering its customers a seamless and secure way to move through airport security.
BY PHOEBE DE CROISSET
PHOEBE DE CROISSET What is biometrics?
CARYN SEIDMAN BECKER Biometrics is anything that is unique to you that can identify you. We all carry around things; cards and phones and keys that represent that we are allowed to do something, but you always have your fingerprint, your iris, your face, or your handwriting. Think of a zebra, for example. Every zebra is different. No two zebras have the exact same stripes. Biometrics is anything that is unique to you that can identify you.
PC How does CLEAR use biometrics to identify its users? And where can we see it in action?
CSB Today, we are actively using fingerprints and iris images, but we’ll be adding things like face and voice recognition in the future. We launched JFK Terminal 2 at the end of December, and this week we’re launching LaGuardia and Atlanta. So we’ll be at 20 airports by the end of this week!
PC What is the key to the platform? Can you talk about the ways in which the CLEAR technology is making us safer and more secure?
CSB This is a technology enabling a great, frictionless customer experience; never having to wait on line, having control of your time back. That’s just so incredibly important to people from a consumer standpoint. But from a security standpoint, anyone could have your card, could take your key, could even have your phone. Definitively knowing that you are you means that we can change your experiences in so many ways and make it so much more secure. We’re attaching what I call entitlements to the fact that you are you. So for travel, you can tap and go, you don’t have to dig through your bag to take out your driver’s license. It’s a better, faster, more secure system. That’s the crux of it.
PC Some may consider this a luxury product for the kind of people who travel often and can afford this kind of expense. But it’s not just getting through security. In what other ways does it work?
CSB The opportunities really are endless, but right now we’re focused on going seamless curb-to-gate in an airport which is a place where there is enormous friction. A biometric boarding pass. Because if you are you, then the ticket out in the cloud in the reservation system is associated with you. Tap and go into physical screening. Tap and go to get into the lounge. If you are biometric, there is a credit card attached to you. You can buy anything.
PC Where else could you use that?
CSB In a sports stadium, for example. You are known, you are a pre-screened fan, again, increasing security and giving the customer a good experience. All that can be associated with your fingerprint or your face in a definitive way. In the hospital you are wearing these bracelets to identify you. That’s quite analogue in a digital world. We want to take it outside of the airport and making cities frictionless, more secure ecosystems.
PC In 2009, CLEAR was struggling to stay afloat. You led the acquisition and eventual re-launch of the company in late 2010. What are some of the lessons you learned during that process?
CSB The biggest lesson can be summed up by the word I used in my college essays: indefatigable. You have to be persistent and be tireless. Our passion to build this company has driven us. So I think to be indefatigable is lesson number 1. Because “no” is not “no”; it’s an objection to overcome and to learn from. So I think that’s really important and something I now tell my kids everyday.
Lesson number 2 is that it’s always about a great customer experience. I think when you look at great companies today, they’re all about putting the customer first. And putting the customer first in everything that you do means that you will gain customer loyalty and customer trust, and your customer will stay with you as you’re working to take your business into new areas, new verticals, new cities. If you put the customer first, you can build something for the long term.
Lesson 3 is all about bringing in great people. Nobody can do anything by themselves, and the value of a great team cannot be underestimated. Great people really do make great things happen. In terms of what I look for when hiring people? Passion, hunger, integrity, humanity.
PC You have talked about turning a “No” into a “Yes.” Would you care to divulge any of the ways in which you do that?
CSB It’s listening. As opposed to you saying no and me sulking away, ask why. Often times it’s a misconception, or a timing thing. Often times, it’s a huge lesson for something we need to improve upon, or change, or explain. So the next question after a no is “Why?” Not “ok”. But “Why?” And then learning from it. Making a change in a different direction. Our biggest priorities everyday aren’t everybody else’s priorities, so understanding people’s specific challenges and understanding how you may be able to help them. To every problem there is a solution. You just have to figure out what it is.
PC You are a woman working in a predominantly male industry. Do you consider your sex to be an asset or an obstacle?
CSB I grew up mowing the lawn and cleaning the gutters. My father never treated me any different because I was a girl. Because I never thought of myself as different, I grew up feeling I could do anything I set my mind to. That gender was not a barrier. So I started by working on Wall Street, where there were not a lot of women, and I think I work in an industry today where there are probably slightly more women, believe it or not. So I have never thought of it as an asset or a hindrance; I’ve always thought of the goal and how I am going to achieve it. So that probably just has to do with my background. I have to say that’s something that I try to pass onto my two daughters and my son because I do think how I was raised was a gift.
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To every problem, there is a solution.
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PC What is one thing you had to learn the hard way in this business?
CSB To me the value proposition of CLEAR has been so obvious since the beginning. I have always spent my time looking where the world is going to be in 5 or 10 years, and how we were going to bring it there. Not everybody does that, and so when people were saying 7 years ago, “Why are you doing biometrics?” I would say “Because this is where the world is going!” Not everyone sees the world in the same way you do, so the need to bring your vision to people in a way that is digestible and meaningful was a surprising challenge for me. But I think the world has gone there, so it’s easier now. Of course now we have new challenges.
PC You are a board member of the Young Women’s Leadership Network, on the Board of Trustees for the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, and a huge advocate for education.
CSB I really believe that education is power and that socio-economic circumstances should not dictate your potential and your future. Knowledge and curiosity will drive you and allow you to go to great places. It truly is really the great equalizer, and I think that I am living proof of that. My grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. My grandfather came here with no education but he prioritized and prized education in his children and his grandchildren.
PC Who is the person you most look up to and why?
CSB Probably my grandfather. Because he had this saying that I use. “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps.” His story was extraordinary. He overcame incredible hardships, left his family when he was 17 to come to the United States on the bottom of a boat for 28 days, didn’t speak English, didn’t have an education. You look at that and think, if he can do that, I can do anything.
PC What is your personal mantra?
CSB Bootstraps! And failure is not option.
PC What is your ultimate goal for the future of CLEAR?
CSB My hope is that it becomes the universal key to a frictionless city. That you are using your biometric for secure and easy access into so many different places and ways.
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