Clear's previous experience vetting travelers and moving them quickly through airport security put it in an excellent position to take on the challenges of identity, health, and vaccination in the (hopefully) coming post-Covid panic world.
Clear CEO Caryn Seidman Becker spoke with Skift Senior Travel Tech Editor Sean O’Neill at Skift Global Forum 2021. The two discussed the theme “Technology’s Role in Safely Re-Connecting the Globe.”
You can watch a full video of their discussion as well as read a transcript of it, below.
Sean O’Neill: Hi, Caryn.
Caryn Seidman Becker: Hi. They told me not to swivel.
O’Neill: They told me the same thing.
Seidman Becker: Yeah.
O’Neill: The last time we met, we were mentioning this backstage before we come on, was in a much less glamorous place than the TWA Hotel. It was in Midtown in 2018 in an airless fishbowl conference room. It was about 20 square feet. We were sort of on top of each other. And the idea of an IPO was still a little bit of a distant vision. And Caryn was telling me about why CLEAR Secure, as a membership based biometric identity company, had just tremendous potential as a platform.
I said, “Well, it’s hard for me to believe that. It seems more like it’s, sort of, like a privatized airport security service. And there’s not a lot of a frequent use case, for that. So the potential audience must be very small.” And I don’t even know if we actually ended up writing a story out of the article.
Seidman Becker: I wowed you. Huh?
O’Neill: Yeah. No, no. So the thing is, this year you’ve had travel’s biggest IPO of the year. What is your market cap about?
Seidman Becker: It’s a little over $6 billion.
Seidman Becker: About six and a half.
O’Neill: So if that’s not six billion fuck you’s to all of the white male know-it-all’s that you’ve had to put up with for the past decade. Congratulations on the IPO.
Seidman Becker: That’s excellent. Thank you.
O’Neill: So I’d like to talk about Health Pass because everyone who came in here used CLEAR’s Health Pass. It helped make our event much more seamless. We’ve gotten some praise about everything. So how is Health Pass working for you as a product?
Seidman Becker: Health Pass has been an extraordinary product and one that really aligns with our mission of making experiences safer and easier. So I have to say, when you get up out of bed every day and know that you’re making the world a better place, it feels really good and it’s really important because this is about frictionless experiences. This is not about taking cards out of your wallet and, “Here’s my Skift ID that I got here, and here’s my driver’s license, and here’s my vaccine card or my test results.” That’s not frictionless.
So, the feedback and the understanding that the brand carries, well beyond travel into so many verticals and has become part of people’s daily habit, to your point, our view is always 12 times a year to 12 times a day to make CLEAR your daily habit and travel, sports and entertainment, getting into office buildings, concerts, events, payment. So it’s happening. And it’s happening at such an incredibly important time. Our entire team is taking so much pride in our part of this.
O’Neill: That’s incredible. So this was an example of, sort of, a product extension. So the Health Pass, because you already had that audience, you were able to add on, and there’s more product extensions that are potential. Right?
Seidman Becker: When you look at CLEAR… Yes, to answer the question. When you look at CLEAR foundationally, we always said, “We are a secure identity platform. It starts with you, which is why our ticker symbol is YOU,” and that, because you are you, you are all the cards in your wallet, driver’s license, credit card, building access card, employment status, keys, and passport, and healthcare ID. You think about all these cards.
But what we realized last March was that there was going to be another card in your wallet, and that’s the vaccine card. We were already using it. I had gone to Kenya a few years ago and took out my Yellow Fever Card, which was a yellow card, and they said, “Don’t lose it.” And I lose everything, and don’t like to carry anything. So CLEAR is definitely grounded in how I want to live my life, which is ultimate productivity and consistency.
We launched a product called, Home to Gate, which is on your mobile phone. You type in your flight number and it tells you when to leave for the airport to get to your gate with 35 minutes to go, because we put together traffic, plus the walk to the CLEAR lane, how long it takes to get through the CLEAR lane, which averages less than five minutes, the walk from the CLEAR lane to your gate. We’ve mapped that all together at one… All you have to do is put in your flight number. Well then you can start to pull in other things like, “Do you want a car to pull up?” And, “What do you want to order?” because we know that there’s a Starbucks, which is important to me, getting a 6:00 a.m. flight, from the CLEAR lane to your gate.
So there’s products like that. We’re going to be launching pre-check. We have, already, a product to come back into the country through a fast lane called CLEAR Pass, in partnership with CBP. We have Health Pass. We’ve done Biometric Beer and concessions, because you are your driver’s license, you are your credit card.
O’Neill: Biometric Beer, I like that.
Seidman Becker: Yeah, that’s game changing. So it is this moment of coming back better. The future of travel and the future of so many experiences in this convenience economy is about being better, safer and easier. How we went out is not how we need to be coming back. So I think it’s created a moment for people to rethink the customer experience and rethink safety. People were getting flu and neurovirus, and things like that, before this. Like, that’s not acceptable anymore, when the person next to you at work is sneezing all over you. It might not be COVID but…
O’Neill: Right. It’s changed our expectations and behaviors.
Seidman Becker: Absolutely.
O’Neill: So this dovetails into what the CEO of Booking Holdings earlier today was talking about the connected trip strategy. He feels like broadly, there’s a real opportunity for a lot of companies to try to knit together all the things that you were saying, like it’s not… Right now air is treated by one thing, cruise is treated in another, and how to make… So, CLEAR is also, sort of, a play on that. Right?
Seidman Becker: Absolutely. We consider ourselves the glue that holds it all together, and Glen’s exactly right, which is when you think of all the different… I think of it like staccato points in your trip. You’re either figuring out what the traffic is, where you should park, or you’re calling a ride share. You’re figuring out what terminal, what gate, the walk. Then you’re doing the bag drop. Then you’re doing the lounge. Then you’re get boarding. Then you’re getting another car, figuring out what door that is, canceling it, the wrong door. Then you’re checking into the hotel. You’re showing them your driver’s license, your credit card. You’re showing up at the event, you’re showing them your registration. Like that’s nuts. This is one journey.
O’Neill: It is nuts.
Seidman Becker: So, again, safer and easier, trusted and frictionless and innovation, not just CLEAR, although we think CLEAR is crucial, puts it all together and drives trust of, who are you, who am I, in the shared economy? And I think, again, it’s the expectation. You can sit at home. We were saying before, “I want to watch TV.” Boom. “I want tacos to my couch.” Boom.
O’Neill: Customer expectations in this era has changed …
Seidman Becker: Absolutely. The expectation and travel needs to lead on that, because it is the hospitality experience.
O’Neill: Totally. I want to build one more thing on this point, which is there’s a newsletter writer, Byrne Hobart, who I like, and he did a review about CLEAR, and he was making the point, “Just what’s the one next level after this platform?” So, if you have a membership-based biometric security platform… In the real world today, if you go to a Michelin Star restaurant, if you go to a very popular club, the Maitre D’ or the owner can lift the velvet rope if they recognize you as a regular or as a celebrity. But it’s all informal. None of that is in a digitized, organized process. So, in theory, a biometric security company that’s membership based can, sort of, open that up and they call it… Byrne’s words for it was, “‘Do you know who I am?’ as a service.” So you do see that as you get into events.
Seidman Becker: It’s funny when people recognize someone, that’s subjective facial recognition. I mean, that’s what that is. So the whole point of, again, first of all, always important, always opting in. But if I want to be known and I want to share that information… So you raised an interesting point on restaurants, which is we’ve partnered with OpenTable and with Resy to integrate Health Pass because, today, you’re having to show… So it will be integrated into your reservation. So they’ll say, “Hi, Sean. Welcome back.” They know you’re vaccinated.
That is a better experience than having to stop you and do all these things. But next after that, what about knowing your allergies? Every time I go to a restaurant, I tell them that my son’s allergic to sesame, my daughter’s allergic to this, and it’s over and over again. Those things are part of who I am. They’re part of my identity and I want to share them for that safer and easier experience.
So you start to think about these integrations and, “Do you know who I am?” sounds elitist. I think turning it the other way of, “I want to be known. I want to have a customized and personalized experience. I want to marry my online and offline experience or preferences, and I don’t want to have to repeat them a hundred times. I don’t want a clipboard anymore at the doctor’s office.”
Seidman Becker: So I think that’s where the world is going in the best way possible for consumers and for partners, for hotels, for cruises, for ride shares, for airlines, to come back better and make sure they never shut down again and delight consumers, and I believe you can have the and.
O’Neill: Okay. So [Glenn Fogel], if you’re listening, it’s only $6.5. So you can get this company, get the connected trip. I’m wondering if I could build on the issue of security. You’ve talked with Kara Swisher about security before. You’ve talked on the whole investor things. But it does still stick in the back of my mind that CLEAR is like one bad hacker away from writing down your value to zero, because if I lose a password, I can always change my password, but I’ve only got one face. So how do you address the security issue that some people may still be worried about?
Seidman Becker: So it’s crucial. Look, we started in the hardest place, aviation in 2010, in a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, where something called Safety Act Certified, which is a qualified anti-terrorism technology. Those are our roots. That is our DNA. We didn’t start by saying, “Hey, buy bottled water at the corner with CLEAR. And now we’re going to do of these other things.” So that is foundational and not only from a cyber security perspective, but a privacy and data security. So everything’s opt-in.
Seidman Becker: Right. And so the question is, since it’s ubiquitous, how do you use it securely in an opt-in active, not passive way, with a trusted brand? And that’s where I think CLEAR is even more important, because we are a trusted brand, because we do not sell our shared data, because we are not passively scanning crowds, but you have actively opted in and know what you opted in for. I actually think it’s a significantly better system. So cyber and privacy and data security are in our roots, but also we have a brand that’s continually communicating about privacy, data security and what we’re doing.
So I think you’re exactly right, which is why I think it’s a little scary when hundreds of little companies are starting and everyone’s giving them little pieces of data. I think it is much better, also, to say, “We store as little data as possible, and what we’re doing is building secure integrations and secure links. We’re not holding your boarding pass. We’re saying, ‘Hey, Delta Air Lines, we have Sean here. Is he allowed to fly? And it’s definitely Sean.'” So, also how we’ve constructed it is in service of privacy and data security.
O’Neill: I’m glad you built up that point. I think that’s the important connection.
Seidman Becker: Right. It’s not the database of all the things about you. It’s this is definitively you, and then building those integrations, those pipes and that two-sided market. Right? You want a cruise to use it, and you want customers to use it, and then you want to put them together.
O’Neill: Fantastic. Subscription travel is something that we’ve covered intensively. At Skift, there’s a dozen some companies that are in the subscription travel space. We heard earlier from Steve Kaufer, of Tripadvisor, talking about their attempt. And CLEAR is a subscription model. About 70% of your signups, at the time of your IPO release, were at airports. So what works well for conversion for CLEAR? If I sign up for Netflix or for Amazon Prime, I instantly get a payoff from having signed up for that membership. So what is the conversion sign up?
Seidman Becker: Well, I think that’s a great question because we did model. So we have two parts of our business. We have the subscription-based travel. Health Pass is free to consumers, and then the partners pay CLEAR. And that’s really important from a consumer perspective. And then if you enroll at the airport, you’re already enrolled in everything else, if you want to be.
We modeled what we do at the airport after Netflix or Amazon Prime, or Spotify, which is free one-month trial. So if you enroll at the airport, you can enroll for free, try it. Now, it’s a free two-week trial. Then you try it and use it immediately. So what you often find is that people will literally come enroll, use it and have made their flight. So seeing is believing, experiencing it. We used to say, nobody wakes up and says, “I got to get myself some biometric identity today.” That’s not like a Googleable thing. So getting to the airport and seeing the CLEAR Ambassadors, who we think we’ve sort of built a genius bar in the airports, which is people bring technology to life.
You can’t just say like, “Here, go trust it, use it.” We have these amazing Ambassadors in the airport, across the country, who bring the technology to life, who explain it, who help enroll. Then to be able to use it, that is instant gratification. So we have very strong conversion from the free to paid product. And I just have to say I was in Orlando this week at the airport. It’s an incredibly exciting time in travel, coming back better. The Orlando Airport was busy in the middle of the day.
I think the joy and the appreciation that people have for travel… And what I like about subscription travel, not just CLEAR, but others, is some level of predictability and consistency, again, that you experience in other places, now coming to the travel industry.
O’Neill: So you expect to see more subscription travel models, be experimented and possibly take off?
Seidman Becker: I do. I think the travel industry is an unbelievable and important industry, and can look to other businesses to redefine itself. I mean, at some level, timeshares were, sort of, subscription based. So I do, and I think the way people are going to work and travel, they want some sort of pricing certainty. It’s a little random for today.
O’Neill: I’ll remind people, if you have any audience questions, feel free to put them in the app and we’ll get to them. I wanted to build on that because I understand in the beginning CLEAR, would’ve gone to airports and say, “We’ll pay you to let us have signups.” Are you getting to a point now? Airports, you add a level of efficiency to the process. Are any airports actually paying you to sell?
Seidman Becker: The answer to that is no. And I love our model. I love our model, because we’re partnering with airports and cities. We are enhancing security, creating jobs, delighting customers and making the travel experience better. And we share revenues with them. So I do think it’s a win-win, and I think it’s never been more important for airports to be able to invest and ensure that they are great places for people to come and transit.
O’Neill: So one last thing on the subscription model. For a company like Netflix, the thing that they’re looking at is churn, but churn is a lagging thing. If someone drops the subscription, it’s too late at that point. What is a metric at CLEAR that you can check so you know whether the user is likely to be lost?
Seidman Becker: We look at utilization.
Seidman Becker: At, we look at NPS score. We are obsessed with the member experience. So we’re looking at NPS score. If you are CLEAR members, you get surveys, and we read them, and we look at them, and we crunch that data. We use service tools like [Medallia] to see real-time feedback. And you’re putting this whole mosaic together. So it’s the quantitative, it’s the qualitative.
Retention is crucial, win-backs and reactivations. So we look at many metrics. And again, right now, just incredibly excited about what we’re seeing in the travel industry. Travelers are traveling, whether it be for leisure or business. Just a few interesting stats. People are staying… Their median stay is twice as long. There’s-
O’Neill: This is during-
Seidman Becker: Right now.
O’Neill: … what period of time? Right now.
Seidman Becker: Right now.
O’Neill: Okay. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Seidman Becker: So I think that when you look at the hybrid work environment, they are… Weekend travel’s up by 20%. I think travel patterns are going to change, but, holistically, I think more people are going to be traveling and appreciating frictionless [Home to Gate] experiences more than ever. So-
Seidman Becker: Yeah.
O’Neill: We have some audience questions. Do you think passports could be digitized and how far away are we from that?
Seidman Becker: Yes. So to speak our own book, if you go to the CLEAR Pass App, which is a separate app from CLEAR, you can download, for free, your passport… digitize it, not download it, but connect it and digitize it and use it to get back into the country quickly. So right now that’s obviously a two-step process, but passports have chips in them that phones can read so you could digitize it. So from a digital issuance perspective… Sort of like today, if you get a credit card, it’s entered into your Apple Wallet or your other digital wallets and sent to you physically. I expect the same thing with passports. All of these physical records are just physical manifestations of digital records. All of the cards in your wallet are obviously held digitally. You should just be able to connect to them digitally.
O’Neill: An audience member is asking, “Can we please get the U.S. government on board with this right now, similar to what’s happening in the European union?” Are those conversations happening at the federal level?
Seidman Becker: So we’re 18 months into this. There are conversations at the federal, the state, the local. They’re all different, all moving forward at different… You know, it is hard. But I think, to answer the question, the conversations are happening. I think that there are initiatives, like the vaccine credential initiative, where a lot of people, including CLEAR, have come on-board. So I think that there are strong public/private partnerships being forged, and I have to say, I think, at the federal level, many people have been working really hard on making good strides. I don’t see us having one standardized solution as opposed to a standard that people have to meet. And I think those standards with smart QR codes and the vaccine credential initiative are happening.
O’Neill: The Marriott CEO was on stage, and he had just been back from Europe, he then spoke to the Commerce Secretary in the U.S., and he was like, “In Europe, they’ve got their act together much better than here.” Oh, do you think, just to draw out that point a little bit more, if we have the standards, as you say, and the building on it, where will it be filled out? What’s the timeline?
Seidman Becker: I don’t know. Look, first of all, the Commerce Secretary, Secretary Raimondo, she’s fabulous. I met her. I was really impressed with her. Look, I think we’re partnered with the cities of San Francisco, and L.A. You’re going to see more city partnerships coming. This is a complicated country, and I think that trying to forge and force a federal response as opposed to a federal standard, which I think they’ve done, in building public private partnerships, it’s getting there. I mean, we’re building partnerships with the NFL, the Las Vegas Raiders, and NBA, Major League Baseball. Teams are coming on board. I think we’ve gone from epidemic to endemic. I think standards are coalescing. And I look and say, “It’s happening. Schools are back. Restaurants are open, Broadway restarted. We’re all…” Not all, but lots of us are sitting here and people are in their offices or at home. It’s happening. Not as quickly as any of us would like, but…
O’Neill: Okay. Do you have everything you need in your platform or do you need to do any mergers and acquisitions, especially so seek to expand internationally?
Seidman Becker: I think it’s an exciting time, both domestically and internationally. And certainly one of the reasons why we went public was to accelerate our growth and our opportunities, and we are seeing those opportunities around the world today.
O’Neill: Okay. And lastly, you essentially got into CLEAR at the tail end of the financial crisis. Then you were hit by the pandemic crisis. Is there any, sort of, leadership lesson that you’ve, kind of, drawn out of that, about how you interacted, how you got the team on board, or how you handled anything?
Seidman Becker: I’m a girl who likes a crisis. Yeah. Look, from crisis comes opportunity, and keeping cool head, keeping your team together, looking around corners, not burying your head in the sand, and being extraordinarily communicative. As we all sat in our living rooms with our puppies and our babies, we got on Zoom every morning at 8:00 a.m. We started an initiative to create Health Pass. And it was to look around corners and to ensure that you have a culture that embraces change, which is one of our core values, because the only thing certain is change and a balance sheet to withstand it, and a business model. And with those things in place, we went to work.
So I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes of the past and I’m humbled by them and really proud of the culture that we’ve had since 2010, because you’re right. CLEAR was actually born, originally, out of 9/11, through a public/private partnership. Cooler heads prevail, and a team that stays together and is highly communicative and is thinking about solutions with that growth mindset…
O’Neill: Growth mindset and the balance sheet to back it.
Seidman Becker: Yes.
O’Neill: Thank you, Caryn, so much. Really appreciate you coming out. We’re done.
Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch