Alum has his fingerprints all over newest iPhone feature

September 19, 2013
By Bill Krueger

When Apple unveiled its new iPhone 5s last week, F. Scott Moody’s phone “blew up” with texts and emails from friends. They were excited about one of the new features on the iPhone, and wanted to congratulate Moody for his part in it.

The newest iPhone will include a fingerprint sensor that can be used to unlock the phone or to make online purchases. The sensor was developed by AuthenTec, a company that Moody co-founded and led until Apple bought it last year.

Moody, a 1980 graduate of NC State, says it’s “pretty cool” that a product that he helped develop will become such an integral part of so many people’s lives. It was, in many ways, a validation of the approach that Moody and others took when they started AuthenTec in 1998 in Florida.

Moody had worked for Harris Semiconductor for 18 years, rising to vice president of a $200-million division, when a couple of the company’s engineers approached him about developing a fingerprint sensor that could be integrated into various products. The company wasn’t interested in pursuing the idea, so Moody and one of the engineers, Dale Setlak, licensed the idea and co-founded AuthenTec to see if they could make a fingerprint sensor that was small enough and effective enough to be useful.

“It was scary,” Moody recalls. “Both Dale and I were about 40, we both had three children, and we were quitting good jobs to start this company.”¬†When the new company’s first prototype failed, Moody went home to talk with his wife: “It was like, ‘I’m so sorry, honey, I’ve blown it.'”

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F. Scott Moody with his wife and daughters when AuthenTec went public in 2007

But Moody and Setlak (described by Moody as “the smart guy” in the company) got back to work, with a different approach than other companies working with fingerprint technology. While other companies were focused on developing products that would appeal to government agencies, law enforcement agencies or other big entities interested in using fingerprint sensors to protect themselves against intrusion by outsiders, AuthenTec was developing sensors with individuals in mind.

“It’s all about that end user, how to make their life easier,” Moody says.

Moody says it also helped that he left the engineering work to Setlak and others at AuthenTec. His time at Harris Semiconductor had given him experience in areas ranging from manufacturing to marketing to product management.

“I had an engineering degree, but I never considered myself much of an engineer,” he says. “We had a great number of very smart engineers. I would ask for this, and drive you crazy until you make something like it. If I was smarter, I probably wouldn’t have asked for some of the stuff I did.”

Moody says he didn’t know until last week’s announcement that the fingerprint sensor AuthenTec developed would be in the new iPhone. He says that Apple was free to do whatever they wanted with the sensor when they purchased the company last year for $356 million.

“It’s pretty cool that a company I helped start was acquired by Apple,” Moody says. “But it’s a whole other thing when people use your product. Dale and myself, when we started this company, we had a dream of being a part of everybody’s lives. This is kind of cool.”

Moody moved back to the Triangle last year. He is the entrepreneur in residence at Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network and the founder and managing director at First Talent Ventures. He does some investing, but spends much of his time mentoring others who are considering starting their own companies. He dispenses advice through his Twitter account, and encourages potential entrepreneurs to ask themselves tough questions before they take the leap to start a company.

“The biggest investor in your business is you,” he says. “You need to vet the opportunity harder and more aggressively than any investor will ever do. I can assure you that you’re betting a lot more on that thing than the investor.”

Moody also encourages new graduates to consider working for another company before launching their own business.

“There is a benefit,” he says, “to gaining some experience.”

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