Alan EJ Jones is a tech entrepreneur and business leader with four successful company exits under his belt. He’s the former Founder & CEO of Virgin Hot 100 Company Shuttle Technology Group and has been awarded the Fast Track 100 Innovation Award. His experience of launching and scaling innovative businesses acts as YEO’s North Star.
“In 2008 I witnessed the new rage for messaging and realised that we were all exposed as we had no control over who could see any message that we sent. They could be shown to anyone, forwarded, copied, and so on. Terrifying! What’s more, my own kids had started to use messaging and social media apps and there was nothing to protect them. Even now, I am sure the readers of this paragraph think to themselves how naïve we were to be sending all sorts of details, photos, and more without any form of security. How many of us will be, or have been side-swiped by something out there that we sent years ago, and even today still have no control over.
In 2009 I had an idea to protect us by digitally burning a message while it was being read, in a similar fashion to the Mission Impossible briefing that self-destructs after 10 seconds. The plan wasn’t quite for your mobile to go up in smoke, but for the message to literally fray around the edges as you read it, like a smouldering piece of paper. I wrote down the idea, built an early-stage wireframe by hand, and came up with the name “Snatch Shot” — a message that would be delivered and then snatched away. Of course, the small-minded sniggered at the name and the connotation which I for some reason missed, but even so, it would have worked. Alas, I didn’t launch it. I was in the middle of selling my third start-up and had no time. By the time I got round to considering it, SnapChat was at the height of its popularity: I had missed the market window.
In 2017, I visited an expo for a local university and saw how facial recognition was being used on mobile phones. This gave me an idea for how I could resurrect the original idea, but make an even better mousetrap. It was a lightbulb moment. This led me to immediately investigate how we could use facial recognition in a continuous state on mobile phones to ensure that whatever we send can only be seen by the person we intend it to be seen by. Could we restrict viewing, and make it almost impossible for any content to be shared, shown to others or saved?
I researched and wrote down my ideas before running them past two people: Luca Rognoni, a digital asset security expert who I worked with on other tech start-ups, and my daughter Sarah, who knew more about social media, digital marketing and millennial users. Both concurred that the idea had legs and helped me develop it to really get things going. I wrote the IP and, with Luca’s help, made the application for our first patent by August 2017. I came up with a name using the acronym YEO (pronounced “Yo”, as a cool greeting and abbreviation of “Your Eyes Only”) and made a sketch for the logo. Sarah’s partner (now husband) Keith Bone, an award-winning creative designer, took hold of the sketch and the logic flow and designed the wireframes. And off we went to the races. From there, we built YEO Messaging and now, four years after that light bulb moment and 12 years after the initial idea, we have a world-beating product that repatriates privacy, control and confidentiality to users and business, enabling them to use YEO as a trusted communications channel where one no longer has to rely on, but is assured of, trust.”
Sarah Norford-Jones is an experienced creative business leader with 10 years of experience. After graduating from Parsons The New School For Design with a BA in Design Management, Sarah began a career in PR, marketing and advertising, going on to form the Jones & Bone Brand Agency. Her creative experience and on-the-pulse mindset guides YEO’s direction.
“My dad came to me with this unique idea about ways in which we could improve instant messaging to make it more secure and give control to the sender using facial recognition. It was at a time when people were not as aware of their digital footprint as they are today, and the harm that it could do, but something I had witnessed first hand. What I loved about it was the control aspect — the fact that you could send something and know that only the intended person could see it and they couldn’t share it with anyone else.
I, like many people out there, have been side-swiped by something that I have sent or posted. I have sent messages to someone in confidence and had it forwarded to several others. When I was 13 years old, my whole identity was stolen for a mean email newsletter to my classmates, written by the class bully pretending to be me and being very nasty about everyone in my class. I had witnessed first-hand what could happen if your digital media and messaging got into the wrong hands.
A person’s right to privacy is something I am passionate about. I once read that by the time a child reaches the age of 18, there would be more than 160,000 images of them on the internet — all posted before they are able to consent. Becoming a mother myself has spurred on my desire to repatriate people’s privacy even more.”