Women in Digital: Seema Khinda Johnson

Seema Khinda Johnson, co-founder and COO at Nuggets on how a personal experience led her to establish the decentralised, self-sovereign ID and payments platform

Posted 12 April 2021 by Christine Horton

Has your career path been a smooth transition, a rocky road or combination of both?

My career has grown pretty organically. Like everything in life, there are ups and downs, but I’ve begun to realise that these are actually the universe’s way of nudging me in the right direction.

There was never really a plan when I started off as a production coordinator at a digital agency. I just loved making things happen and working as part of a team. Over the years, this progressed into leading product and go-to-market for global businesses and start-ups – including Skype and Microsoft. So for over 17 years I was happily delivering whatever came next.

In 2015, my husband Alastair’s credit card and data was used fraudulently. That kicked off a hugely frustrating process, and showed us that no one really owns or controls their own data. This was against the backdrop of data breaches, people being told to change their passwords, a lack of any comprehensive solution to protecting data. Every day, customers’ data was being compromised.

Alastair and I decided this was the challenge for us. We set out to solve it and set up Nuggets in late 2016.

The mission is to help businesses protect their customer data, and to allow people to own and control their own data. We believe personal information should be owned and controlled by the person.

To deliver on that, Nuggets lets you pay, log in or verify your identity without having to share your data with anyone – including Nuggets itself.

What’s the best career advice you can give to others?

Connect and speak with as many people in the industry as possible. These relationships are essential in building a network that supports your business.

Don’t underestimate the value of the support you can get from mentors and sponsors.

Draw on all your skills. When you set up a business, you’ll need to understand the fundraising process, cap tables, financials, operations, the product, operations, etc. The work is never done!

And go into it with your eyes open. Being a founder isn’t for everyone. Someone once told me ‘if you want to work the longest hours and be the lowest paid – be a founder!’ But there’s also nothing quite like it.

And finally, and more importantly, be your authentic self and know you’re enough.

From where do you draw inspiration?

Trying to solve a massive issue like privacy, and give people ownership and control of their data – that’s the drive for me. I’m wholly focused on delivering our vision to redefine online privacy.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced to date?

I think when Alastair and I decided to set up Nuggets, that was probably the biggest challenge. I had to adapt to the pace of a startup, and I felt exposed doing roles I had never done before. We were both working incredibly long hours and every weekend – with two children! There was no switching off. On top of all that, we couldn’t even pay ourselves!

In solving privacy, I would say we were a little early at the time, and using a nascent technology. So we really needed to believe in what we were doing. It took a lot of commitment to stay the course through all the ‘No’s.

What qualities do you feel make a good leader?

I’ve had to draw on a wide range of skills on my entrepreneurial journey – from multi-tasking, leadership, and quick, accurate decision-making, to methodical patience and the ability to pivot. Especially in tech, where seconds can be a lifetime. You need a bit of risk-taking coupled with the ability to go for it and try things in your business – make changes on the fly. And you need a ton of optimism.

What is the biggest digital identity challenge we face today?

Digital identity in itself is an island. The key is to apply digital identity to everyday uses for everyday people, in everyday life.

Give us a fact about you that most other people wouldn’t know.

I’m a qualified clinical hypnotherapist.