D.C. data security start-up Personal adds online auto-fill function to data vaults


WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24: Shane Green, President & CEO of Personal in his Georgetown Office on June 24, 2011. (TRACY A WOODWARD/THE WASHINGTON POST)

District-based data security start-up Personal spent the past year building secure, Internet-based encrypted vaults in which users can store thousands of pieces of personal information.

Now the company is taking a step to free that data.

The start-up this week launched an app called FillIt, which allows Personal users to automatically fill out lengthy online forms with any piece of data from their vaults.

The Personal team didn’t set out to develop an auto-fill app, and isn’t the first to launch one. Many Internet users are probably familiar with the auto-fill capabilities of browsers and certain Web sites, which often can supply commonly used information such as names, addresses and phone numbers, sometimes by detecting data cookies.

But Personal’s customers, some of whom were storing thousands of passwords and other bits of sensitive information, were complaining about the difficulty of filling and re-filling forms online with hard-to-remember information. Before FillIt, they had to manually navigate their vaults to retrieve data.

Form filling was such a “massive pain point,” founder and chief executive Shane Green said, that the Personal team decided to create its own auto-fill app, instantly drawing relevant information from users’ vaults.

Personal’s move illustrates the opportunities that can sometimes pop up unexpectedly when a company rolls out new products.

The app detects what information an online form requires, and if the user presses the “Fill It” button, retrieves that data. Users can automatically populate order forms with names, addresses and credit card information at online retailers, for example.

Working mothers were the demographic most enthusiastic about systems such as FillIt, Green said. Mothers, often responsible for records and purchases in a household, reported “constantly going back to find the same information, and a constant feeling of being overwhelmed” by online forms.

Using FillIt,“you instantly don’t have to know where each piece of data lives,” he said.

FillIt may have begun as a response to a problem its current customers were having, but also represents the company’s attempt to bring in new customers — people who don’t necessarily use Personal to store information, but are frustrated with lengthy online forms.

“We realized that by teaching [consumers] how to solve that pain point with our product was the Trojan Horse so people could start [using Personal]. It’s a path to onboarding a lot of people,” he said.

In product tests, the ease of auto-fill “made it simple for people to understand why they needed a copy of their data, and how absurd it was that they had to continually manually look for their data,” Green said.

Personal is also encouraging businesses — particularly e-commerce platforms — to promote Personal and FillIt to their customers. If a business’s customers were Personal users and had stored all relevant information in their vaults, any check-out could become instantaneous.

Software developers can access Personal’s software development kit to integrate the technology into their site, thereby pushing users to authenticate to Personal.

“You don’t have to be Amazon to have one-click checkout,” Green said. “Anywhere you’re reducing friction is good for commerce.”

Personal is doing much of its own outreach to large and small businesses, but hopes some of the marketing is organic. “We’re encouraging users to tell companies about it,” Chief Policy Officer Josh Galper said.

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“You don’t have to be Amazon to have one-click checkout,” Green said. “Anywhere you’re reducing friction is good for commerce.”

Shane Green, chief executive, Personal

Mohana Ravindranath covers IT and small business for the Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication.
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