Now, issue certificates as NFTs for hassle-free sharing, storage and verification | Certify Social | Kerala Startup

Ricky Jacob (L) and Nicky Jacob (R). Background Image: istock/ da-kuk

You must consider that folder on your shelf containing all your certificates, from your school talent fest to your recent workshop completion, to be your most valuable possession. You may even have a digital backup of these documents, buried deep in your cloud drives as PDF files. Some of them must have been shared as images on your social media to publicise your achievements.

But these physical certificates also come with a lot of risks. Damage or loss can be unimaginable since they tell the story of your decades of hard work and dedication. With certificate forgery on the rise, everyone wants to see your original certificates for verification. This means you have to carry that bulky folder everywhere. But what if there was a way to make them digital that can be verified online?

This is where Kerala startup Certify Social comes in. Started by brothers Ricky and Nicky Jacob, Certify Social helps organisations issue certificates as NFTs. The duo has built and launched innovative fintech products since 2015, which include India's first mobile wallet for enterprises and the first multi-wallet employee benefits and reimbursement card. 

They developed the Web3 product Certify Social at their home in Kanjirapally and launched it in December 2022. They also have two other team members working remotely to support their venture. Onmanorama had a brief email interview with co-founder Ricky Jacob to understand more about NFT certificates. He has a PhD in Computer Science from Ireland's Maynooth University and has previously led the Google Maps Data Team. 

1. What is the origin story of your startup Certify Social? How did you come up with the idea of issuing certificates as NFTs?
Certificates are part of our day-to-day life, whether they are for recognition, identity, proof of ownership, or any other applications. We are now in a digital age dominated by social media. But the way various certificates are issued hasn't changed in the past few decades.

Either they are issued in paper format or as PNG/PDF files. Both can be created and manipulated by anyone. In short, these are not socially verifiable. We thought there was a gap in the market. Thus, Certify Social was born to issue documents, certificates and digital badges or collectibles as Non-Fungilbe Tokens (NFTs). This enables students, employees, customers, users, and partners to receive documents, badges, and certificates as NFTs / digital collectibles from their organisation. 

2. Since NFTs and blockchains are relatively new concepts, can you explain them to our readers in simple terms?
Think of blockchain as a public ledger / digital book that helps in recording all transactions throughout multiple computers that enables transparent information sharing between businesses and people.

NFTs on a blockchain are unique digital tokens that serve as proof of ownership of an asset, and cannot be replicated. So if anyone needs to check the NFT issuer, date of issue and other details, it is available on the blockchain.

3. These days, anything related to NFTs is perceived as an investment or an asset. So what are NFT certificates and how are they different from traditional certificates?
Globally, NFTs that got popular were digital artworks that were listed for sale in NFT marketplaces and those were brought and traded for higher prices.

However, what we offer is a different use case. NFTs that we issue have no monetary value and are solely intended for personal, or non-commercial use.

Certificates are usually issued in physically printed format or as PDF/image files. However, these are not verifiable easily. That is why ones that are issued as NFTs can be socially verified as it is are available on the public blockchain.

4. How is the authenticity ensured for these NFT certificates? What measures are in place for secure custody, storage and authorised access? Are NFT certificates susceptible to link-rot or domain maintenance issues?
The entities issuing the certificates are verified profiles on our platform. These entities have a public wallet address on the blockchain. They can post on their website and other social media platforms that only documents, certificates or badges issued from these specific wallets are authentic. 

We have redundancy across blockchain and off-chain servers to ensure secure storage. (Redundancy here means the provision of a backup facility that immediately takes over if the existing function fails.)

Currently, no third party can access these NFTs to update or delete them. It is thus secured from any malicious attacks or unauthorised access.

5. Can you tell us a little bit about your collaborations? What are the different ways in which your clients have used NFT certificates?
All major organisations in Kerala were very welcoming, which includes TiE, Kerala Management Association (KMA), Nasscom, Kerala StartUp Mission (KSUM), Muthoot Finance, Geojit, and Kochi Design Week. Additionally, we also onboarded the fintech unicorn OPEN Financial Technologies and the HR & employee experience platform Zimyo. We are also working with some luxury brands like Smaram (an exclusive furniture brand by Stapati Architects) and are in talks with some jewellery brands to issue proof of ownership through our platform. We are also talking to brands globally to work on use cases around rewards and recognition, loyalty, ownership and verification.

All the winners of the Climathon, organised by Kerala Startup Mission, in collaboration with EY Global Delivery Services, UNDP, Startup India, Global Shapers Kochi, NASSCOM, and TiE Kerala were issued physical certificates at the event and a digital twin was issued as an NFT.

For the Seeding Kerala event, we issued NFTs as a digital collectible personalised with AI images generated from their profile photo. The beneficiaries included Zoho founder Sridhar Vembu and OPEN founder Anish Achuthan, among other founders and investors.

TiE Kerala issued certificates for the TiEcon 2022 event where for the first time across any global TiE event, a Certificate of Participation was issued as a digital collectible/NFT. Muthoot Finance sponsored these certificates that were issued.

India's 100th Unicorn, the SME Neobank Fintech, OPEN used the platform for their employee rewards and recognition. Key employees were rewarded for their contribution for the period. And these certificates were shared on Linkedin by these employees as a matter of pride. These recognition certificates which were issued as NFTs can also be extended to other forms of digital collectibles to acknowledge, engage & attract talent.

Kerala Management Association (KMA) had its annual convention which saw the coming together of management professionals from across various companies. It also helped management students from various colleges across the state to come and learn from the best. Certificates of Participation were issued to all the speakers, panelists, and attendees including students. Zimyo sponsored these certificates.

Nasscom in partnership with KSUM organised the Startup Springboard Accelerator Program 2022. All the startups who went through this program were issued a Certificate of Completion as a digital collectible/NFT.

Kochi Design Week event brought together entrepreneurs, artists, designers, architects, musicians, creators and other amazing people from all walks of life to share, learn and see the best use of design across industries. Certificates of Participation were issued as NFTs to all the speakers & panellists.

6. What industries or sectors do you think can benefit the most from your startup's service?
Although initially, we are focusing on employee recognition and proof of attendance, we are currently in talks with luxury brands to issue tokenised guarantee certificates. We are also looking at the key sectors where this is applicable - education, healthcare, insurance, finance, agriculture, entertainment and sports. 

NFT certificates can be used for rewards & recognition, digital badges, achievements, internship certificates, membership certificates, appreciation certificates and participation certificates

7. How was the process of launching an NFT-based startup in Kerala? What were some of the challenges you faced during the concept development?
We are one of the early brands globally to adopt NFTs for certificates that are compatible with Meta platforms like Instagram and Facebook. It can also be listed as a digital collectible on Instagram. 

So we needed to ensure we do not use fancy technology jargon and not make NFTs/blockchain seem like rocket science when we talk to our potential customers. They should also be able to use our platform as easily as possible. Ours is a zero-knowledge, zero-effort service. You just need to subscribe to our service and upload all details in an Excel sheet.

We auto-generate certificates and convert them to NFTs immediately. There is no complex learning curve for businesses or end users as we simplify the journey of adapting to this. 

Brands are also exploring NFT certificates as a marketing tool by co-branding in digital collectibles. Since it is digital, it gets more post-event engagement as people share them on social media like LinkedIn.

Kerala also has a budding blockchain/NFT ecosystem slowly growing. We will surely see some innovative work coming out of Kerala in this space in the coming years. 

8. What do you think will be the future of the NFT certification space?
What Digi locker had done for identity and what UPI had done for payments, we believe we can do the same for certified document verification. If we can make adoption and change at the point of issuance, it helps all future entities to verify without additional human intervention. 

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