Counterfeit sneakers are a problem. In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security seized $37 million in fake sneakers. But every sneakerhead knows that fakes still make it onto the secondary market. Because no one wants to get burned, a number of methods for authenticating sneakers have popped up over the years. Until now, most methods have relied on humans alone, with varying levels of success. But CheckCheck founders Arnold Luk and Edi Abramov knew technology could play a role in the sneaker game too, launching their company with the aim of putting artificial intelligence to work for the betterment of sneakerheads everywhere.
Since its debut, CheckCheck has authenticated nearly two million pairs of sneakers, worth over $500,000,000. To learn more about CheckCheck, we recently caught up with Luk and Abramov to ask them some questions. Read through to see what they have to say about CheckCheck’s mission to use artificial intelligence to fight counterfeiters.
CheckCheck has authenticated nearly two million pairs of sneakers, worth over $500,000,000.
Thanks for chatting with us Arnold and Edi. First, can you explain how you came up with the idea for CheckCheck?
We came up with the idea for CheckCheck based on our extensive experience in the sneaker reselling industry spanning over 12 years. Throughout our journey, we encountered numerous instances where we unknowingly purchased counterfeit sneakers, resulting in significant financial losses.
The existing methods for authenticating sneakers were often unreliable and inaccurate. Relying on online forums and social media groups for expert opinions and seeking validation from self-proclaimed “professionals” proved to be unreliable. Also, certain popular practices, like using scent and other sensory cues, were flawed due to inconsistencies caused by variations in manufacturing processes.
This realization prompted us to develop CheckCheck as a solution. We firmly believe in the power of data-driven authentication. Data is unbiased and speaks for itself. Instead of relying on subjective opinions, we leverage data and cutting-edge technology to provide a reliable and accurate authentication service for sneaker enthusiasts and resellers.
"We leverage data and cutting-edge technology to provide a reliable and accurate authentication service for sneaker enthusiasts and resellers."
Then, is there anything in either of your backgrounds that set you up to be successful with CheckCheck? Like once you had the idea, what skills or experiences did you already have under your belts that helped you get started?
Our backgrounds and experiences have played a significant role in setting us up for success with CheckCheck. One of the key factors is our extensive involvement in the sneaker wholesale industry for many years. We gained valuable knowledge and insights, starting as beginner resellers with small transactions and progressing to enterprise-level resellers handling multimillion-dollar deals. This journey has allowed us to understand the requirements and the necessary assurances to make both parties feel safe during transactions.
So getting burned on reps is every sneakerhead’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, many of us have been there before. What are some of your worst experiences getting burned buying bootleg sneakers?
We have been burned for a staggering amount of $450,000 in fake sneakers. One particularly notable incident involved a transaction of $250,000 for a pair of exquisitely crafted counterfeit Jordan 1 Bred Toes. This experience was a turning point for us, prompting the birth of the CheckCheck idea that very month.
Beyond that, we have also encountered other situations where we purchased sneakers through platforms that turned out to be counterfeit. Those experiences were also formative for us in founding CheckCheck.
And then how does the CheckCheck system help people avoid dealing with fakes, either from a buying or selling perspective? I know the system is unique, but I’d love to hear you both break it down for us.
Our platform offers a unique and digitized approach to authentication that combines advanced technology and human expertise.
Unlike traditional authentication methods that often rely on subjective judgments based on appearance or unreliable factors like smell, we utilize advanced technology, specifically Artificial Intelligence, to identify potential discrepancies in sneakers. This initial AI-based analysis is followed by a meticulous human authentication process conducted by our professional authenticators who undergo rigorous training and follow a standardized evaluation procedure.
Users can expect quick authentication results within 15 minutes, allowing them to proceed with confidence in their buying or selling transactions. Moreover, our platform operates 24/7, ensuring that users can avail of our services at any time convenient for them.
"Users can expect quick authentication results within 15 minutes."
Amazing. Can you go a bit deeper on how CheckCheck’s AI works to authenticate sneakers via photos?
We are continuously working to build our AI system by staying at the forefront of deep learning techniques and collecting extensive data to build a fully automated authentication system.
The process begins with data collection, where we accumulate a substantial dataset consisting of various sneaker models, versions, and sizes. This diverse dataset serves as the foundation for training our AI models. We process the collected data and utilize Convolutional Neural Networks, a type of deep learning model specifically designed for image recognition tasks.
By continuously collecting data, training our AI models, and refining the authentication process, we are dedicated to enhancing the accuracy and reliability of CheckCheck. Our ultimate aim is to develop a fully automated authentication system that can achieve close to 100% accuracy in verifying sneakers through photos.
"Our ultimate aim is to develop a fully automated authentication system that can achieve close to 100% accuracy in verifying sneakers through photos."
And can you say more about the role human legit checkers play in this process? What do they bring to CheckCheck that maybe AI can’t quite handle yet?
When a user submits a check for authentication and the initial AI inspection is completed, the images are then reviewed by the human legit checkers. These experts meticulously examine the provided photos to determine whether the sneakers are genuine or counterfeit. If both checkers reach a unanimous decision that the sneakers are authentic, the result is marked as “pass.” Similarly, if both checkers agree that the sneakers are fake, the result is marked as “not pass.”
In cases where the checkers have conflicting opinions regarding the authenticity of the sneakers, our internal system prompts the user to submit clearer photos for further evaluation. The team of checkers, alongside the AI system, re-verifies the shoes using the new images to reach a final decision.
The combination of AI technology and human expertise is what sets CheckCheck apart. While AI brings advanced image recognition capabilities and efficiency to the authentication process, the human legit checkers provide a critical human touch, bringing years of experience, specialized knowledge, and the ability to make nuanced judgments that may currently be beyond the capabilities of AI alone.
Together, the AI system and human legit checkers form a robust and reliable authentication process, ensuring the highest level of accuracy and instilling confidence in our users.
"The combination of AI technology and human expertise is what sets CheckCheck apart."
CheckCheck’s pricing is also unique. Can you explain a bit about buying the tokens and how they work for authentication?
We have implemented a unique and convenient token/credit-based pricing model. Think of it as purchasing chips in a casino that can be used for various services within the app. The difference is that we offer discounts based on the number of credits you purchase, providing more value to our users.
The pricing structure follows a volume discount approach, where the more credits you purchase, the bigger the discount you receive. So our pricing model is that users get three Credits for $3.99, six Credits for $5.99, ten Credits for $8.99, or twenty Credits for $16.99.
The token/credit system allows users to conveniently purchase credits and utilize them for authenticating their sneakers within the app. That way, users can select tiers of service for their speed of authentication.
Of course it’s important to note that the specific pricing details and credit packages we just mentioned are subject to change. We always recommend referring to the latest pricing information available on the CheckCheck app.
With all of that in mind, how do those steps contribute to CheckCheck being able to authentic sneakers so quickly, sometimes within 15 minutes? To me, that’s one of the best things CheckCheck offers. And it doesn’t seem like competitors can match that.
The ability to authenticate sneakers quickly, often within 15 minutes, is one of the key strengths of CheckCheck, setting us apart from competitors in the market. This exceptional turnaround time is the result of several strategic steps and ongoing improvements that have contributed to our efficiency and speed.
First, there’s scaling and expansion. As the demand for our services grew, we recognized the need to scale and expand our internal team. Over time, we have continuously refined and streamlined our authentication processes to eliminate bottlenecks and enhance efficiency. We’ve also hired true expert authenticators and have trained them rigorously. Through continuous learning and staying up-to-date with industry trends, our authenticators are equipped to make swift and accurate assessments.
Listening to our customers and valuing their feedback has also been instrumental to our continuous improvement. And we rely on technological advancements. Our AI-powered system leverages machine learning and image recognition to assist in the initial analysis and identification process. By combining AI with human expertise, we achieve a balance between speed and accuracy.
"By combining AI with human expertise, we achieve a balance between speed and accuracy."
With that in mind, how are CheckCheck users able to bring that authentication process forward into their buying and selling process? Do you provide a receipt they can take with them for proof that CheckCheck authenticated their sneakers?
CheckCheck ensures that users can seamlessly integrate the authentication process into their buying and selling activities. We provide a transparent and reliable system that offers proof of authentication for users to validate the legitimacy of their sneakers.
These Certificates of Authenticity have proven invaluable in helping customers handle claims and disputes. For instance, if a buyer transacts using a secure method like PayPal Invoice and receives sneakers that are not as expected or turn out to be fake, the customer may need to provide evidence to support their claim. CheckCheck's COAs serve as a solution, providing the necessary proof to validate the authenticity of the sneakers and support the customer's case for a refund.
How has CheckCheck been received by the sneaker community so far? Things seem to be going well, but I wonder if you could tell me a bit more about that please?
The sneaker community's been enthusiastic about CheckCheck, with many users expressing appreciation for the convenience, accuracy, and speed we offer.
Of course, as with any innovation, there are some differing opinions out there. While most enthusiasts embrace CheckCheck, there are those who hold some reservations or skepticism towards the integration of technology in the authentication process. That stems from a range of factors, including personal preferences, nostalgia for traditional legit checking methods, or concerns about the limitations of AI, and most importantly human mistakes.
But despite a variety of opinions, the overall response to CheckCheck has been overwhelmingly positive. The community recognizes the value we bring in mitigating the risks of buying counterfeit sneakers.
"The community recognizes the value we bring in mitigating the risks of buying counterfeit sneakers."
Outside of business, it seems like you’re both true sneakerheads. Can each of you mention a favorite pair or pairs of sneakers? Like what are your all-time favorites?
For Arnold, his all-time favorite pair is the Air Jordan 6 Black Infrared. This holds a special place in his heart as it was his very first pair of Jordans, gifted to him by his girlfriend who is now his wife. The sentimental value attached to this sneaker makes it a cherished piece in his collection.
For Edi, his top pick is the Air Jordan 1 Low Travis Scott Mocha.
Are there any grail sneakers you haven’t been able to get your hands on yet? Or maybe grails you sold and now miss?
Fortunately, we have been able to acquire every sneaker we've desired so far, and there are no specific grail sneakers that have eluded us. While we may have sold some sneakers in the past, we believe that each pair finds its rightful owner. As passionate sneaker enthusiasts, we continue to embrace the ever-evolving sneaker landscape and look forward to discovering new grails along the way.
"We have delved into the intricate details of sneaker production and composition."
To found and run a business like CheckCheck, you’d have to love the sneaker game, but even experts can always learn something new. Have you learned anything fresh or surprising about the culture from running CheckCheck so far?
Running CheckCheck has provided us with valuable insights and fresh perspectives on sneaker culture. While we started with a deep love for sneakers, our journey with CheckCheck has expanded our understanding even further. Along the way, we’ve learned some interesting and surprising things. For example, on sneaker production and composition, through our work at CheckCheck, we have delved into the intricate details of sneaker production and composition. We have discovered that even within the same style, such as the “Panda Dunk,” sneakers can be manufactured in different countries like China, Indonesia, or Vietnam, and by different manufacturers within those countries. This has highlighted the presence of different batches and potential quality control variations, adding another layer of complexity to sneaker authentication.
We’ve also seen counterfeiters evolve and update their methods. One surprising revelation is that it has become increasingly challenging to judge the authenticity of sneakers based solely on smell and appearance. This means that relying solely on traditional methods is no longer sufficient to differentiate between genuine and fake sneakers.
CheckCheck’s also discovered a need for ongoing learning and database updates. The sneaker industry is dynamic and ever-changing. To keep up with the pace, we continuously update our database and knowledge. This involves staying informed about the latest sneaker releases, tracking counterfeit trends, and understanding new techniques employed by counterfeiters. By staying at the forefront of industry developments, we can ensure that CheckCheck remains effective in identifying counterfeit sneakers.
"We’ve also seen counterfeiters evolve and update their methods."
Big picture: how do you think CheckCheck can help improve the sneaker game longterm?
CheckCheck is driven by a strong commitment to help the sneaker community by addressing key challenges and improving the overall sneaker game in the long term.
One of our primary goals is to provide a scalable solution for businesses and platforms that want to expand their operations. By offering efficient and accurate AI-based authentication services, CheckCheck enables these entities to streamline their processes, save costs, and ensure a high level of trust and authenticity in their transactions. This scalability contributes to the growth and development of the sneaker industry as a whole.
By facilitating fair resolutions and offering a layer of assurance, CheckCheck enhances consumer protection and strengthens trust within the sneaker community. Ultimately, our overarching goal is to help the sneaker community by instilling confidence, reducing fraud, and providing a seamless authentication experience. By addressing these challenges and improving the authentication process, CheckCheck aims to elevate the sneaker game and foster a community built on trust, authenticity, and fair transactions. We believe that by achieving these goals, we contribute to the long-term growth and sustainability of the sneaker industry, benefiting both individuals and the broader community.
"One of our primary goals is to provide a scalable solution for businesses and platforms that want to expand their operations."
Then last, what are your plans for CheckCheck down the road? I’m sure you’re constantly updating and improving the system, so can you share anything about what’s next there?
Looking ahead, CheckCheck has an array of exciting plans and potential developments to further enhance the sneaker game. First, we're planning on doing CheckCheck roadshows and expanding to have a significant physical presence worldwide.
Then, we also plan on implementing a price calculator feature that compares market prices of sneakers across multiple platforms, helping users make informed buying and selling decisions.
Beyond that, we're always making continuous AI improvements to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of the authentication process; expanding CheckCheck into different categories, with authentication services beyond sneakers to include designer handbags, streetwear, and watches; introducing a warranty program where users receive double money back if a check result is incorrect; entering different international markets and providing multilingual support to reach a broader audience; exploring the integration of AI technologies such as chatbots, image recognition, and automation into our CheckCheck systems; exploring collaborations with sneaker brands, retailers, and platforms to enhance authentication services; integrating blockchain technology for tamper-proof authentication records; developing social and community features within the platform to foster engagement and interactions among sneaker enthusiasts; and finally by providing users with valuable insights and analytics on market trends and predictive analytics.
By exploring these avenues, CheckCheck aims to continuously improve the authentication process, expand its services, and provide innovative features that enhance the overall sneaker game. These developments are driven by CheckCheck's commitment to authenticity, user satisfaction, and creating a trusted environment for sneaker enthusiasts.