Emmanuel Schalit is the CEO of Dashlane, a “secure personal data assistant.” Though on the face of it, Dashlane is another password management site, Schalit explains that his designs are much greater. Even more than security, it’s the convenience that Dashlane enables that is its main selling point, and Schalit hopes it will transform the way we navigate websites in the post-PC era. A premium version of the service debuts later this month.
FAST COMPANY: So Dashlane gives you one mega-password that’s the key to all your other passwords?
EMMANUEL SCHALIT: The notion is that today the only way to be safe online is to have a different password for every website. The reason why hackers stole those 6.5 million passwords from LinkedIn was not to use on LinkedIn. The reason is that 90% of Internet users tend to reuse the same password everywhere. This one password you set in the beginning is the only password you need, and you’re the only one who knows that password. There’s no record of it anywhere in the universe.
Dashlane works across multiple devices. How often do you have to re-enter your password?
That’s a setting you decide. We do it more frequently on a mobile device than on a Mac or PC. Some users like to have it every hour, others only when they reboot their computer. On iPhone and iPad you can also have a four-digit PIN so you don’t have to retype the master password every time you go to the app. But maybe this is not the right answer to your question. What we hear from our users and see is, even though security is important to them, it’s not the primary reason to use Dashlane. The primary reason is the convenience we bring, the speed we bring, and the simplicity we bring.
What do you mean?
Dashlane can be used to automate a number of tasks, tasks like registering, logging in, and checking out on commerce websites. For many users, the reason they use the product has a lot to do with the e-commerce aspect, how we change things you can do on mobile.
If I can’t log on to a website on my iPhone after one or two tries, I give up. Dashlane fixes that?
The other day I was showing Dashlane to someone and they were saying, “Do I really need this?” I took the simple example of something today you would never do on an iPhone because it’s just too painful. I said, “Let’s try to create an account on PayPal on the iPhone.” He said, “That doesn’t make sense. Nobody would do that.” “Exactly, that’s the point,” I said. He tried to do it, and after four minutes, gave up. With Dashlane, I did it in 10-15 seconds. We’re moving personal data to a world where there are no keyboards, just touch and click and pinch gestures. Suddenly many things that you cannot do on mobile become possible. There are 50,000 e-commerce websites in the U.S. alone. How the hell are those tens of thousands of e-commerce websites going to move toward the new world, unless there’s a solution to make personal data on mobile more practical?
I always thought with passwords, it was a zero-sum game between convenience and security. You’re arguing you can have both.
We are about convenience and security. Ask anyone on the street, “Do you care about security?” and my guess is all of us say, “Yeah, of course I care, I don’t want to be hacked.” But the fact is, when you look at our actions, the reality is that we don’t. Ninety percent of users use the same password everywhere. People are not ready to make a significant effort to work towards security. The only way to make them safe is to make it convenient and completely effortless. Dashlane is about solving the paradox of personal data on the web: it needs to be everywhere, and super convenient, and at the same time it needs to be protected.
It seems like you’re aiming to compete not just with security services, but with the digital wallet, too.
Yes, but with a fundamental difference. Digital wallets are passive devices, just there to store information. The information stored on Dashlane is active. Dashlane uses it to automate tasks. It’s not there just to keep your data, but to put it to work for you. It’s your digital wallet coming alive.
What’s your business model?
Dashlane’ core functionality is free. We’re launching a premium version of Dashlane in a few weeks. Users will have two options: become premium subscribers for a small fee, or if you want to continue to use premium functions and not pay, you can access those by earning points by doing certain actions. The best way to earn points is to invite others.
The gamification of security?
I had doubts about the notion, but the way it’s been received by users is fantastic. They took to the game immediately and started tweeting about badges and bragging about points.
I read that Dashlane uses a password-generating technique involving acronyms from memorable sentences. How does it work?
Think of any sentence that for you is memorable. I like to ride horses, for instance. Using the first letter of each word, and simple variations, we can generate a potential password for you.
So, you said, “I like to ride horses…” Is your password ILTRH?
That’s not my sentence, just to be clear!
Then our readers can’t hack your Dashlane account?
No. My master password is known only to me.
Will you give us a little hint?
This interview has been condensed and edited.