Clef is shutting down. It broke my heart to read those words earlier this week, and it hurts more to write them now.
1534 days ago (4 years + 74 days), Brennen posted to Hacker News about their new product and it made a huge impression on me. I’ve been interested in digital identity and passwordless auth for years, and here was a startup with a novel, secure, and fun way to log into web sites. I’d recently reverse-engineered a single sign-on plugin for WordPress, so I was able to whip up a proof-of-concept plugin that night using their app & API. It felt like I was in a cyberpunk novel the first time I pointed my phone at the oscillating squiggles on my monitor and it logged me in.
I told the Clef team to take the WordPress plugin and run with it, plaster their names & logos all over it, make it theirs. And they did.
I never expected them to become so involved in the WordPress community, but in hindsight it makes perfect sense. How many hacked WordPress sites are the result of poor passwords? Last I heard, over a million users trusted Clef to secure their blogs and other sites. That’s simply amazing.
They came to WordCamps, shook hands and gave talks. They became active members of the community and evangelists for security beyond just using their technology.
But beyond that, the Clef team avoided the startup cliches and had an amazingly open, positive culture. They put their employee handbook on Github, and even took pull requests. They made a point of hiring a diverse team, and got some great folks in the process.
I’m sorry I never flew across the country to join them for Clef Cooks, their weekly dinner “for anyone who showed up” from the surrounding Oakland community.
While I haven’t stayed in close contact with the Clef team over the years, it’s been exciting watching them build a technically superior product and a superior culture. I don’t know what forced Clef to shut down, but I imagine there’s just too much competition in the two-factor auth space and no room for something so different and so beautiful. It’s too bad, because I hoped Clef would open the door to a blossoming of the identity ecosystem we dreamed of years ago.
I wish the Clef team all the best as they become part of Twilio. And I hope they continue to innovate in so many ways.