Meeting the Future Free of Any Scale Limitations

Lessons Learned from Digital Native Businesses: 1Password


The problem of passwords was destined to reach critical mass, the bigger the Internet grew. Today, according to one study, the average person juggles 100 passwords across various sites and services. Crisis? Near enough. But for digital natives like the founders of 1Password, it was an opportunity to solve a huge — and as time would reveal, a rapidly growing — problem.

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“My partner [Dave Teare] and I originally created 1Password as a side project to help keep track of all the different passwords used for our work,” explains co-founder Roustem Karimov. “Initially, the plan was to spend a few weeks developing an app, and then return to our day jobs. Of course, we had no idea this project would turn into the global business it is today.”

Big Demand

The case of 1Password is not an uncommon one among digital native businesses (DNBs), whose founders, for having lived the bulk or whole of their lives in the digital era, are trained to troubleshoot. Most digital natives have a keen eye for problems or shortcomings in technology. The co-founders of 1Password are certainly no exception.

1Password was launched as a Mac app in 2006. Though Teare and Karimov believed in
their product, they were pleasantly surprised at how much enthusiasm it generated in the market. “Since then,” said Karimov, “much of our growth has come from focusing on
two key things — building a great product and supporting the heck out of our customers.”

Growing and Growing Up

DNBs, as residents of the age of change and innovation, will not typically settle for “good enough” when there is always a greener pasture technologically. This was absolutely the case with 1Password, who in 2015 decided to take their app to the next level.
Karimov said, “Our CEO Jeff Shiner noticed that companies were using our technology to help protect and keep their employees secure. This led us to launch our Teams and Business products so organizations could secure their employees at scale.”

1Password’s next major milestone was in 2019 — a year of “growing and growing up.” The company closed its first ever round of funding after years of bootstrapping. Karimov said 1Password established plans to use these resources to “continue leading the industry in developing new ways to protect people and businesses’ sensitive data.”

Among the projects 1Password is currently working on: tools to help developers secure secrets throughout their workflows, and technology that will allow users to replace passwords with more secure “passwordless” authentication methods, including passkeys.

Game Changer

Companies that have their roots in the pre-digital era will wonder what advantages (if any) a young upstart enterprise like 1Password enjoys and leverages. Karimov said that while his company is deeply rooted in digital technology, and would not exist without it, “our ability and willingness to adapt is our true strength. Over time we have grown and adapted as new technologies have become available. This is particularly true of cloud.”

When 1Password’s product was first prototyped more than a decade ago, the range of cloud tools available today did not exist. Karimov noted, “Customers would download our apps, and manage their data on their own devices or with third-party solutions.” In 2016, however, Karimov and Teare saw a better way — and went for it.

“Using AWS Cloud we were finally able to build a model that allowed us to manage passwords at scale and in real-time on behalf of customers. We now run all our services through the cloud, relying on AWS infrastructure and tools that make this kind of constant availability achievable.”

By relying on AWS, 1Password can ensure there is no single point of failure. Every component of its product infrastructure has a failover option. In addition, 1Password can build its entire environment, from components to databases and caches and application servers, by running a single script.

Karimov added, “We have multiple development environments, test environments, staging environments, and production environments. This allows us to have a process that moves the system from development to testing, staging, and production in real-time, without missing a moment of service. The automation of the infrastructure allows us to stand-up new customers and serve existing ones quickly, predictably, and reliably.”

As to whether there was any other path available to 1Password, Karimov is clear: “1Password wouldn’t be where it is today without AWS. When it comes to building the cloud infrastructure that powers 1Password, we didn’t have the resources to pull it off without AWS. It was just me and one other engineer working on our cloud infrastructure, and I was also busy developing the application. So, in reality we had 1.5 people available to set everything up. The tools offered by AWS made our service possible.”

Customer Focus

As successful as 1Password has been over the years, it’s not something they have come upon by luck or happenstance. Company leadership has taken a deliberately customer-centric approach in its pursuit of success.
“For the first 14 years of our history, we were bootstrapped,” said Karimov. “We reinvested profits from the business to continue developing and growing our solutions. This forced us to pay particularly close attention to customer feedback so we could prioritize what they cared about most.”

The result has been the development of what Karimov called a “thrifty and adaptable culture” — one that has paid, and continues to pay, healthy dividends. With its first ever round of funding in place, 1Password has been able to accelerate its development.

While Karimov said change has been in effect “baked in” to 1Password’s culture from day one, the customer is never something the company will ever take for granted.
“Customer trust is our chief focus. This will never change. People must have the assurance that their password storage service can be relied on to secure and retrieve their passwords. And so, security and reliability will always be foundational to everything we do. Every decision we make has our customers’ safety and privacy front of mind.”

Built for Tomorrow

But Karimov was clear that a DNB must operate on more than just customer demand. There must be a genuine hunger to learn through solid partnerships.

“We are really cautious as we build our security model, technology stack, and partnerships,” he said. “Learning that we could rely on AWS was a big part of this. I first attended re:Invent in 2014, and we used a lot of what we learned to design the service so it is as secure and resilient as possible, without a single point of failure.”
1Password is one DNB that has “smart built” its way to success, and for that, it is set up nicely for the future.

“We have peace of mind knowing that our team has built a secure, resilient service that’s robust enough to sustain continual growth as we scale. Even with the millions of existing users who log in to 1Password every day, we’re confident that tomorrow we could have ten times more — and still have ample room to grow. That feels really nice.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada