Third Party Data Security

Data SecuritySecurity breaches are all the rage these days. It seems there is another one every week. And that’s just the ones we hear about. Speaking of which, ZenDesk announced today that they were hacked and the information of their clients: Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest were all compromised. Apparently, the email addresses of people that had contacted those three companies for support, were obtained. Along with that information, the hackers obtained email subject lines, which could make it easier for the hackers to socially engineer their way into the accounts of the customers of those three companies.

So, why does this matter? First off, if you have contacted any of those three companies, then you know at least one way that it matters. They have some of your information. Now you need to be alert, so that your account doesn’t get compromised. Second, it shows just how vulnerable every company out there is. If hackers want to get into your site, they eventually will. You can’t give up on security though. Otherwise, we would have to abandon the internet to maintain data security. That’s not going to happen.

All too often though, startups put off security until later. They figure that they don’t have to worry about it because they can coast by under the radar for the time being. I disagree entirely. Usually the most tech savvy people are the early adopters and the influencers. Are those the people that you want to get hacked?  Personally, I would rather not have those people talking poorly about their experience with my startup. So, that leaves startups with a conundrum. Do they create a very secure infrastructure and authorization system using all their own code or do they use a 3rd party authorization like OAuth, OpenId or Facebook Connect? It’s a tough decision. With a 3rd party login, users are often more comfortable signing up for an account because they trust the security of the service they already use. On the other hand, you run the risk of a user getting thrown out of that service and also losing access to your service as a result. On top of that, 3rd party services get hacked also. It’s a tough choice, but one that has to be properly considered.

The Magic of the To Do List

There really isn’t any “magic” to a to-do list, but there is definitely power in a to-do list when it is used properly. put out another of their short videos yesterday and I believe that it illustrated this very well. It’s called “How To Hack Your To-Do List” and features David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

It turns out that how I use my to-do lists comes up just a little bit short when you look at the criteria that David Allen describes. In my to-do lists, I list the items I need to accomplish and I clarify them so that I understand exactly what doing them entails. The part where I fall down is that I don’t park items on the list. Parking items on the list means that you trust that your list has everything you need to know, so you don’t waste effort trying to remember everything you need to do. Instead you would rely on the list. That frees your brain up from trying to remind you to do tasks constantly and lets it be at peace. With your brain at peace, you would be freeing up that previously wasted brain power and allowing yourself to be both more focused and creative.

I can definitely see the benefit in both of those areas and I know that I would benefit from more focused time than I have today. It’s time for me to try to give myself over to my to-do lists, so that I can get more things done.

Online Advertising Rates Will Rise

SalesmanA lot of tech businesses make their money using advertising. That can be problematic because companies seem to prize highly targeted ads a lot more than untargeted banner ads. Before internet advertising, advertisers relied on magazines, newspapers, television, radio and billboards. None of those are highly targeted. They just target the general audience that is exposed to them.

Online, we’re immersed in a medium that allows much better targeting than ever and yet still delivers lower ad rates. How targeted is the Super Bowl? How targeted is Facebook? Which costs more per view? Well the cost per viewer of the Super Bowl in 2013 worked out to about $0.035. Facebook ads cost about $0.20…per thousand. In other words, Facebook ads cost $0.0002 per viewer. That makes the cost of a Super Bowl ad about 175 times higher and with little targeting.  One third of the United States was watching after all.



Sleazy Used Car SalesmanThink about the stereotypical used car salesman. Tell me how you feel about him. Do you like him? Would you do business with him if you could avoid it?

I’m guessing that your feelings about the used car salesman aren’t so positive. He probably comes across as fake and as someone who only cares about the sale and not about what you want. If you’re like me, you’d avoid him at all costs. People don’t like to interact with people (or companies) that don’t appear genuine. That’s why everyone is always attempting to appear genuine. Well, I’ve come up with the solution. If you want to appear genuine, all you have to do is…be genuine.

I know, I know. You need to make money. Everyone knows that. That’s not a problem. It really isn’t. People want the businesses they like to succeed and make money, so that they can keep delivering a great product. The problem is how you make the money. Does your company make money by exploiting your customers? Are your goals at odds with the desires of your customers? If so, then you’re going to have a harder time creating or maintaining a successful company.


Social Media Hacking

Burger King hackedToday must have been a horrific one for the social media team at Burger King. Their twitter account (@BurgerKing) was hacked by someone claiming to be Anonymous. The result was a string of horrendous twitter posts, some of which you can see here. If you handle social media for your company and haven’t seen what happened yet, I’ll wait. Go check it out and then come back.

Bad doesn’t even begin to describe it, does it? That’s why you have to take social media and security seriously. Don’t put your social media accounts in the hands of people you can’t trust. Oh and don’t treat your social media team poorly. They can do a lot of damage. In this case, people know what happened and aren’t going to hold it against Burger King. What if it was a little more subtle though? Say a few tweets were rewritten to sound homophobic or racist. That could cause a lot more damage. Especially if it wasn’t caught quickly.

What if it happened to a smaller business though? The media wouldn’t be clamoring to cover it, thereby exonerating your name. Also, Twitter probably wouldn’t respond to the degree they did for Burger King. You might not even get your Twitter account back at all and then you’ll have to rebuild on a new account and hope your old account doesn’t continue to haunt you.

If your image is important and you choose to participate in social media, do it right. Make sure that the person posting on behalf of your brand is trustworthy, that you treat them right and that you maintain appropriate security measure with your account credentials.

The Problems With Startups

If you’re wondering what’s wrong with startups these days, check out Vooza, the world’s most unbelievable tech startup. It’s a satire about startups; complete with strange names, ridiculous pivots and data stealing business models.  The scary part? I almost believe that it could exist. Learn all about their “Radimparency” in the video below. That’s radical, impactful, transparency if you don’t have time to watch the video and the curiosity is eating you alive.

If you do have the time, watch the video and be honest with yourself. If some of it strikes you as hitting close to home, evaluate that area of your startup and make some changes, if necessary. A ridiculous startup will have a much harder time succeeding. If you’re in the clear, enjoy the video. The life of an entrepreneur can be rough.  But, at least you’re not faking your way through a startup like a lot of the so-called entrepreneurs attempting to cash in on another tech mashup.


What’s Your X-Factor?

Standing out

Standing out

When pitching a startup, entrepreneurs often focus on describing themselves as mashups of other successful startups in the hope that they’ll be able to gain credibility by associating their name with others’ success. You’ve heard the pitches before. “We’re Square meets Twitter.” Or maybe, ” We’re Pinterest meets Google Voice.”

I know those might sound ridiculous to some of you, but I know others are smacking their heads saying, ” Why didn’t I think of that?” Ok, maybe not, but you get my point. (If any of you make some money with either of those ideas, I wouldn’t mind a taste of the action, by the way.) The problem with these descriptions is that entrepreneurs often just stop there. They think that describing themselves as a mashup is enough to justify the funding of their company. It’s not. There are a lot of other factors at play. The one that I want to focus on is your company’s “X-Factor.” What makes your company unique? Are you the only one serving an important niche? Do you deliver significantly better service in a way that isn’t easy to replicate? Are you creating a new user behavior and monetizing it?


Entrepreneurs As Storytellers

Chalkboard with story openingI was reading an article on TNW about storytelling and entrepreneurs. It really struck a chord with me because I have always enjoyed telling a good story. Usually, I deliver that story in written form. In the right situation though, I really enjoy telling the story verbally.

While I knew that part of being an entrepreneur involved talking about what your company is doing, the storytelling aspect of it didn’t impact me fully before. I always focused on the need to create a product or service that was compelling and felt that any discussion of your product should merely convey that. What this article made click for me is that when you pitch your company, you’re not really pitching your company. You’re pitching the story of your company.

So, how is that different? It’s just a nuance. It means that it doesn’t matter how compelling your product is, if your story isn’t compelling. The point of the pitch is to catch the interest of your audience. The relationship isn’t that of a movie to a plot summary. The pitch is actually more like a good movie trailer. It piques the interest of the audience to go see the movie.

Your pitch should captivate the audience enough to get them interested in finding out more about your startup.  What that means is that you need to leave out anything that isn’t compelling and focus on the most compelling elements that will help you to craft a story that you can be passionate about and that can kindle the excitement of your audience as well.

Work-Life Balance

Post Its On BoardWork-life balance is an interesting topic to me because I don’t have an implicit issue with work. I work hard all the time. I’m literally (not hyperbolic use of the term) busy all the time. I haven’t had television at the house for 7+ years and haven’t missed it. We cancelled it because we just found ourselves too busy doing things to watch it enough to be worth paying for it. No judgement on people that like to decompress while watching television, but when we did the math, we were spending $17/hr for television. At that rate, we were better off just going to the movies or purchasing shows online.

Ok, back to the topic at hand. I was perusing my RSS feeds when I stumbled across a LIfeHacker article on “Why You Should Embrace Work-Life Imbalance.” I thought that was an interesting thought, since many people tell me I work too much. The gist of the article was that people most complain about work-life imbalances when their jobs are unsatisfying.  If you have a job that engages you, you don’t mind working and in fact it could make your life better to work more.

I liked where the article was going, but not where it arrived. I agree that we should all seek out work that engages us in a way that makes working a joy, if possible. That doesn’t mean that you should be willing to work all the time. Unless, your goal is to live alone, that’s not a great idea. A work-life imbalance isn’t something that only affects the person working. It also affects their partner, their children/pets and even relationships with friends. If you have people you love and that love you, you need to spend enough time with them or all of your lives will suffer. Of course, that doesn’t mean the magic number of work hours is 40. It could be 50 or 60. It all depends on you and your loved ones.

Outsourcing Your Startup

Software Development EnvironmentNontechnical founders are often tempted to outsource the technical aspects of their startups. The reasons for doing this are varied and include:

  1. Don’t want to give up ownership
  2. Difficulty finding a technical cofounder
  3. Desire to maintain complete control of project direction

Some people say that outsourcing a startup is hands down the worst idea you can have. They’ll argue that you’ll end up with a substandard product that was expensive to build and will still need to be rebuilt later.

I won’t entirely disagree with them. However, there is a situation where outsourcing could work. There are a few criteria though, which must be met for it to have a chance:

  1. You need to have a clear and complete vision of the product and how it needs to be built.
  2. You need to find an A team of developers.
  3. You need to be 100% right about #1 and #2.

If you can manage all of those, you will probably be fine. I can’t imagine anyone nailing all of those though. Getting a compatible technical cofounder is a better option. The whys are simple. A technical cofounder has strong motivation to make sure the product is solid because they believe in the product and have a financial incentive. Outsourced coders are only incentivized to work more work to earn more money. Since startups tend to be short on both time and money, that incentive is completely at odds with those of the startup. Also, a solid technical cofounder will both be skilled at building the product and at hiring others with the skills to contribute to the team. If you’re nontechnical, relying on yourself to decide who is and who isn’t knowledgeable about the technical side is problematic, at best.

So, my recommendation is to go with a technical cofounder where possible. If finding one is not possible (I didn’t say, not easy), then you can try the outsourcing route if the idea compels you to. Make sure that if you do that though, that you have a very clear idea of what you need and how it needs to be built. Also, test your target market to make sure you are right. You can’t afford to be completely wrong on the idea because reworking everything will cost you a whole lot more than a little time. In that case you would have been much better off just giving up a little equity to a solid technical cofounder.