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The Case for Disconnecting and Traveling as an Entrepreneur

Yes, it’s imperative to work your butt off, but, although it may seem counter-intuitive, it’s also vital to drop everything and travel.

8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I just got back from my honeymoon to Egypt and the Seychelles islands, and it was life-changing. As I flew and traveled to my various destinations, I thought about traveling as an entrepreneur and how it’s been one of the best ways to grow personally and professionally. While a number of my trips in the U.S. and abroad were for personal reasons instead of business purposes, they all had an impact on how I ran my companies and my view on the world.

Here are some of the reasons why I believe traveling as an entrepreneur is vital to success and a few of the places I recommend visiting.

It’s easier and cheaper than ever.

First off, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to travel anywhere in the world. Personally, I like to ball out when I travel, but if you’re a bootstrapped entrepreneur, there are hundreds of different tools that can make your trip easy and affordable.

Kayak and Google Flights allow you to find the most affordable airfare possible.

Related: 5 Science-Proved Reasons Vacation Will Boost Your Brain

Entrepreneur travel hack: I put everything I charge on one business credit card that provides a ton of benefits and points. Using one credit card for all of my company’s charges creates a massive influx of points that can be used for airfare or lodging. I recommend United’s Visa or if you have the spend, the Centurion by AMEX.

While booking my most recent trip I used Booking and noticed that the site let me schedule a pickup and dropoff ride for the same price I’d pay for Uber or Lyft. So, instead of waiting for my Uber, my driver waited for me. This made the whole taxing process painless. I dug around and found out the service was offered by Mozio. They power Booking, along with Hotels.com, SkyScanner, Despagar and a slew of others who’ve integrated with their API, making it easy for travelers to schedule ground transport rides. As an entrepreneur, I’m always looking for ways to save time and cut redundant corners. Being able to book and schedule everything from one site, at the same price, was a big win in my book. You can see the excitement on my face below. 

Andrew Medal

Also, you don’t have to book a hotel anymore and can use Airbnb pretty much anywhere, if that’s your cup of tea. Its experiences are super cool too, which allow you to book activities at your travel destination. I’ve used it a handful of times, and have been more than satisfied each time.

You see the world from a different perspective.

If your business does any work with another country, you need to see the world from their point of view. It doesn’t matter if you’re outsourcing, purchasing products or selling your merchandise to those outside the U.S., it helps to learn how people approach life in general. This can help you with negotiations, marketing and understanding your customer in general.

I recently went to Spain. I have clients in Spain, and to see how they conduct themselves, the culture firsthand, and the day-to-day life of how people interact opened up my eyes. My clients are typically hard to get a hold off late in the afternoon. I’ve obviously known of the Spanish Siesta (translated to nap in Spanish), but until I was actually there in person, I couldn’t grasp the magnitude of what it meant. Siesta typically lasts from about 2 to 5 p.m. and pretty much everything shuts down: restaurants, businesses, even public transportation. If it wasn’t for going there and witnessing this in person, I don’t think I ever would’ve truly understood why I couldn’t reach my clients daily during their late afternoon.

Related: 7 Entrepreneurs Who Built Businesses Off Their Love of Travel

I also went to the Bahamas a few months ago. I stayed at the beautiful Baha Mar hotel, which was gorgeous and new, with a ton of delicious restaurants and a manmade coral reef on their beach. I highly recommend it if traveling to Nassau. While there, I snorkeled with all types of animals from squid, to sea turtles and even sharks. Snorkeling with sharks was incredible — being with sharks underwater created a million different feelings for me. I realized there were a lot of feelings that can be associated with starting a new business or daily emotions I experience as an entrepreneur, such as excitement, fear and uncertainty. Once we were done, I had a bunch of new ideas and mapped out a growth plan for one of my companies that had been an ongoing obstacle leading up to the trip.

Andrew Medal

The different perspective can be culturally or a natural shift in thinking like being underwater with a bunch of sharks. Regardless, the shift that occurs will benefit areas of your business you may not even imagine.

You’ll get inspired.

When you see the same things every day, you tend to get stuck in a rut. Traveling will open you up to new experiences that will inspire you. You may come up with a new product idea or see a way of solving a challenge you’ve been facing. Often, I find myself being hit with inspiration when I’m traveling and relaxing. While I consciously focus on the beautiful blue ocean or the fascinating landscape, my subconscious is solving problems I’ve been dealing with for weeks at home.

I also recently visited Kauai, where I stayed at the Kiahuna Plantation, a hotel I stayed at while I was a kid, and ate at some amazing local restaurants, including the Beach House restaurant in Poipu, Da Crack Tacos and Papalani Gelato. I always find that eating local cuisine, especially when I’ve never had it before, pushes me out of my comfort zone. Something as simple as eating different food or waking up to a different sight outside my window is all it takes to inspire me with new visions for my life, new ideas or to help existing obstacles I’m facing in any of my companies.

Andrew Medal

Entrepreneur travel hack: TripAdvisor is great for local info, but the best way to find the best local spots is to ask the locals! Anytime I travel I ask locals the best things to do, the coolest places to stay and the best food to eat. It’s a failproof plan to travel and experience the local culture.

You’ll recharge your batteries.

If you’re coming home every day feeling exhausted and simply have little desire to get up and do work in the morning, you need a break. Traveling gives you that. Get away from your normal routine and try something new and different. It’s not enough just to take a few days off work. You need to escape.

My most recent trip to Costa Rica was a complete escape for me. I needed a break from everything, so my wife and I took off.

Entrepreneur travel hack: I never turn my phone plan on when traveling. Rather, I just use wi-fi wherever it’s available. It’s so much better and allows me to stay disconnected rather than tethered to my phone, messages and emails. Plus, when I’m on wi-fi it helps me get things done faster, knowing I have a finite amount of time to use the network. I also use tools to keep me off social media, like Antisocial, an app that allows me to limit the number of minutes I am allowed on social media per day. It’s great to keep my habits in check.

Related: 4 Tips That Will Help You Actually Afford Your Dream Vacation

I’ve been to Costa Rica three times, and during this last trip, we spent most of the time snorkeling and white water rafting through the jungle. My wife and I love to stay in Manuel Antonio because it gives us the ability to go to the ocean and jungle easily. The combination of ocean and jungle is unlike anywhere else I’ve traveled; pair that with wild monkeys, fresh fruits, food and lush green wilderness and you’ve set the stage for the most disconnected and recharging trip of your life. When I came home, I felt completely renewed and ready to get back at it. Our favorite jungle tour company is Amigos del Rio, and we’ve white water rafted with them three separate times.

It’s easy to feel like the only solution to get more done is to work more hours, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. Yes, it’s imperative to work your butt off, and although it may seem counterintuitive it’s also vital to drop everything and travel. If you need to recharge, need inspiration or want to view the world from a different point of view, I highly recommend traveling. You’ll find that the many different experiences you have will make you a better entrepreneur.

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3 Ways Entrepreneurs and Businesses Can Benefit From AI’s ‘Third Wave’

Third-wave AI is supposed to be truly intelligent and most similar to human thinking, meaning it will make sense of the independent world and its varying contexts.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Many might not realize it but artificial intelligence (AI) has ubiquitously made its way into our daily lives. For instance, digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri handle everyday tasks including scheduling reminders or playing your favorite morning jam. Support channels are being taken over by chatbots and you’re none the wiser.

Impressive as these applications may be, AI is entering its so-called third wave, which is set to create more interesting applications for the technology itself, as reported by Top500.org. Third-wave AI is supposed to be truly intelligent and most similar to human thinking, meaning it will make sense of the independent world and its varying contexts.

Related: How Artificial Intelligence Could Help You Design a Better User Experience

As an example, in this third-wave AI ecosystem, Mind.AI seeks to deliver a truly intelligent AI, with comparable mental intelligence to that of a human. Aside from being able to learn autonomously, Mind’s AI can generalize and even reason abstractly through natural language. Instead of using vast amounts of computational power, Mind aims to build its AI through patented proprietary data structures called “canonicals.” This enables the AI to construct models of how the world works, meaning it’s possible for the AI to perform context-specific tasks with a high degree of success.

While scientists and researchers are pretty excited by these developments, many entrepreneurs wonder how they can leverage the tech to their advantage. Fortunately, AI platforms and AI-driven cloud-based services are now working on making advanced capabilities available to ordinary users and smaller enterprises. Here are three ways third-wave AI can benefit them.

1. Better insights

Third-wave AI is capable of searching for patterns in large volumes of data and even across data sets. This could yield connections that have not been linked previously, resulting in new insights that could guide businesses in their decision-making.

Various AI-driven data and analytics tools are now available for use even by ordinary users. Growthbot, for example, compiles and analyzes marketing data and research such as search engine optimization (SEO) keywords, competitor intelligence and prospect leads. This way, you only have to ask its chatbot questions in order to get timely insights about your business and even your competitors.

Individuals can also leverage large amounts of communication data to gain insights about their professional and personal connections. Trove is a cloud-based AI-driven tool that helps users make sense of their email and social networks. Trove finds patterns in conversations and makes them searchable. This provides users with an accurate view of their relationships, helping them to better navigate their social connections.

AI can even be used to generate and analyze synthetic data (synthetic data is information that’s artificially manufactured rather than generated by real-world events), in order to make improvements in a variety of applications. Nueromation helps projects use synthetic data to help AI learn and improve its algorithms. Among its solutions are AI-powered cameras that feature superior facial or feature recognition capabilities. Accurate detection and classification could benefit projects working on security, retail or even self-driving vehicles.

Related: How to Make AI-Driven Emails Compelling Without Being Creepy

2. More effective automation

AI can also be used to automate just about any activity. Take personal finance. Micro-investing app Mylo uses AI to help ordinary users start an investment portfolio without any fuss. The app takes your spare change from purchases and invests the money in a diversified portfolio tailored to your preferences.

In the context of business, AI-driven automation tools are now being used in specific and specialized areas of business such as finance, manufacturing and task management. Roger, for instance, can automate the accounts payable flow, which is a mundane yet critical part of the business. Users simply have to scan bills and the system sends it through a streamlined process to ensure that bills are paid on time and reconciled with the books.

Third-wave AI could even bring further innovation to areas that are already benefiting from automation such as manufacturing. Manufacturing has largely been linear. But with third-wave AI, it might even be possible for processes to take on more dynamic and agile methods where systems would be able to work through sprints and iterations rather than in the conventional linear fashion. Hitachi already uses AI to automatically adjust equipment settings in every production run for greater efficiency, as reported by TechTarget.

3. Smarter assistants

Siri and Alexa might work wonders, but they’re still liable to trip even with some basic instructions. It’s because of these limitations that many of us still don’t pass on more serious tasks or decisions to AI.

Unlike Siri and Alexa, which only respond to one instruction at a time, new AI assistants such as Aigo are adaptive. They can remember and learn from your preferences so that they will be able to sustain meaningful conversations with users as if you are chatting with an actual person that knows you.

As a development platform, Aigo could be enhanced to deliver more specialized interactions allowing it to be used beyond personal assistance such as education and healthcare. It can also be adapted for use in enterprise and business applications similar to other AI-driven tools.

Related: The Real-World Applications of Artificial Intelligence in Marketing

AI’s (current) limitations

The third wave of AI is still ongoing and there are some kinks that need to be ironed out for it to meet our evolving expectations.

One example of the hurdles is called the AI black box dilemma, as explained in this piece by Sentient. Essentially, the AI’s decision-making process can become so convoluted that tracing how AI came to a decision can be impossible. A business using deep learning to improve its app design might be given the ideal solution by the AI. However, the business would still need to know the reason why the machine came to such a conclusion. Human decision-makers have the need to justify their decisions. Fortunately, a possible solution is to use blockchain’s transparent record keeping to keep track of AI’s “thought process” and make AI accountable for its decisions.

Instead of having these issues become knocks against the technology, these should be considered potential areas for improvement. In fact, it’s quite exciting that ordinary users and businesses could tap into these cutting-edge technologies. My recommendation is to subscribe to the various cloud and blockchain-based applications and freely experiment with them. You may even find that you can outsource the work to your new AI assistants. 

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5 Ecommerce Tools That Can Help You Score More Sales

Hustle isn’t the only tool you need.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It’s a great time to get involved in ecommerce, as revenues are on an upward climb. For example, in 2017, online purchases were responsible for 10.2 percent of all global retail sales. In 2021, they’re expected to grow to 17.5 percent of the market, as reported by Statista

However, running a successful ecommerce business isn’t as easy as putting up an online store. This fact may prevent many hopeful entrepreneurs to give up before realizing a profit or to struggle as they try to figure out where they are going wrong.

Related: 2019 Will Be a Revolutionary Year for Online Shopping

One way to avoid this type of pitfall — and to help entrepreneurial self-starters earn higher revenues — is to share a few simple ecommerce tools, all of which are designed to help sell products online and increase those sales.

1. BigCommerce

If you’re thinking about selling products online, you need a place to sell. BigCommerce provides that and offers ecommerce software that is designed for all sizes of business. The CMS helps you sell more by offering:

  • Visually appealing websites designed solely for ecommerce businesses including tools and conversion optimization features. 
  • Customizable options so you can create the best shopping experience for your specific target market audience based on industry, and simple to use drag and drop tools that will help you design without coding knowledge. 
  • BigCommerce’s site builder is awesome, but as your business grows, you may want to switch to a different CMS/site infrastructure. With BigCommerce’s API, this is easy enough for any developer to handle. This is what’s known as the “headless ecommerce” trend.
  • Many businesses consider Magento and similar solutions because they can host their own sites and tinker with the code as they like. Others prefer pure SaaS solutions such as Shopify because this puts the onus on providers to ensure that the site’s tech infrastructure and hosting are top notch and always up to date. Thanks to “headless ecommerce,” BigCommerce offers the best of both worlds. 

My software agency uses CMS platforms including WordPress, Joomla, Magento and even Shopify. BigCommerce is my team’s favorite tool for a number of reasons, including the above points. More importantly, apps can be easily installed. The platform itself is built with conversion optimization tools such as one-touch buy features that also provide a ton of value.

2. Oberlo

Sometimes an entrepreneur doesn’t even know what they want to sell before they know they want to sell products online. Oberlo is a perfect tool for this scenario, enabling an entrepreneur to customize, dropship (meaning they don’t have to hold inventory) and sell pretty much any type of product from bracelets to drones to sweatshirts. Or, if the ecommerce company already sells and dropships products, Oberlo can be used to sell new products. It offers a lot of great features including: 

  • Thousands of different products to sell, customize and ship. 
  • Automated product and order management, creating a more seamless shopping experience that can inspire customer loyalty.
  • Automatic inventory updates so customers can be assured that the items they want are in stock and available.
  • The ability to edit product descriptions and images so they’re more attractive to your target consumer, which can also fast track your search engine results in web browsers.

Oberlo takes the headache out of trying to figure out what products to sell or makes it super simple for an existing business to sell new products. In either scenario the value of the tool becomes exponential. What used to take trips overseas to find manufacturers, meet with product designers, buy massive quantities of inventory, etc., has all been condensed into one easy and effective to use application. 

3. Packhelp

One of the things that set Amazon apart as an ecommerce business is that products shipped from its warehouses are in branded boxes. Packhelp provides this service to other ecommerce brands, helping increase sales by:

  • Strengthening brand development and recognition,
  • Making customers feel as if they’re getting more than just the goods they ordered and
  • Offering a more personalized experience, setting your company apart.

Great customer service is one of the most fundamental but most overlooked activities. From a focus on customer service alone, Zappos and Tony Hsieh changed an entire industry. Amazon does a phenomenal job with customer service and it’s worth a trillion dollars. I love using this tool when shipping physical products. It’s an extra touch that provides your customer with one additional layer of service that may win them over or encourage them to refer you business. 

Related: How to Build a Profitable Business Online by Selling Nothing

4. Neatly.io

It can be maddening to have an underperforming ecommerce site, especially if you know that there’s a market for your goods. That’s where Neatly.io comes in because it enables you to improve sales by:

  • Compiling your data in easy-to-read graphs and charts, giving you a big picture view of where your ecommerce site may need to be improved to increase completed purchases,
  • Providing tips as to how you can improve upon problem areas and
  • Enabling you to set monthly goals, motivating you to keep making progress.

I’m a big fan of this tool for its easy-to-use dashboard and useful data. Data can be the biggest advantage you have as an internet entrepreneur. Data gives you the ability to know how customers and potential customers are interacting with your store. This data can help you make changes that will enable you to sell more. 

5. Intellifluence

Social media marketing is a must. One way to dramatically accelerate sales through social media is to get some of your industry’s top influencers on board. Intellifluence does this by:

  • Helping you figure out who those individuals are,
  • Enabling you to message them directly,
  • Giving you the opportunity to approach several influencers at the same time and
  • Powring you to do deals and measuring their success.

Related: When Selling Online, Make Decisions Based on Data, Not Your Emotions

In 2010, I became a co-founder of a sports nutrition company. One vital component of our growth and success that led us to multi-million dollar revenues in under a year was leveraging influencers in the CrossFit space. Influencer marketing has grown leaps and bounds since then but still plays a critical role, especially when executed successfully, to drive brand awareness and sales. This tool can help accomplish both. 

Connecting internet entrepreneurs with these new tools can help create systems that will make customers buy more, repeat sales and lead them back to your site again and again. Sometimes the difference between a successful ecommerce business and a failing one are the tools that are used in the backend. Hustle helps, but that’s not always the deciding factor. Stay ahead of the curve and on the hunt for any new tools that surface. Make sure you’re working smart and leveraging all of the tools at your disposal.

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5 Tech Trends Content Creators Need to Pay Attention To

Content creation will continue to evolve and morph, and as a content creator it’s vital to stay ahead of the trends.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Technology has provided new ways for creative professionals and artists to overcome the “starving artist” stigma and become digital entrepreneurs. Platforms including YouTube, Patreon and Shutterstock provide viable means for creators to publish and monetize their works.

However, there have also been some down moments. Constant changes in the monetization policies of these platforms have been largely considered to be disadvantageous to creators, compelling a number of artists to quit or, at least, threaten to leave, as reported by The Verge

Still, these issues shouldn’t discourage enterprising creative professionals to pursue their passions. If you’re a creative professional looking to leverage technology to your advantage, it pays to stay on top of trends. These serve as good indicators of where the industry is headed, allowing you to make the necessary moves to stay relevant.

Related: Preparing for the Future of AI

Here are five key tech trends that are set to change the landscape for creative content and content creators. 

1. Decentralized distribution platforms

One important issue for content creators is how to easily share and distribute their work. Blockchain ventures are building decentralized platforms that aim to challenge tech giants. Decentralized platforms promote openness, spurn censorship and reward their participants.

Projects such as TRON are working on building better global infrastructures for this. TRON has recently partnered with peer-to-peer (P2P) network BitTorrent in an attempt to further decentralize the web and provide more distribution. The effort, dubbed, Project Atlas, will incentivize users for acting as “seeds” who are peers who help host and distribute content. This encourages more participation and improves the network’s capacity. Users then get to enjoy better uptime and faster downloads.

2. Augmented and virtual reality

Improvements in mobile computing and display technologies are making augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) more affordable. Tech giants have all made huge bets in AR and VR since they recognize the potential of these technologies. 2017 saw $3 billion in investments pour into the industry, as reported by VentureBeat.

AR and VR have already proven themselves in a variety of use cases. In entertainment, the technologies are expected to provide more immersive gaming and live entertainment experiences. They are now also being used in teaching and in scientific research.

Ceek, as an example, is enabling artists and content creators to securely create virtual live concerts and merchandise. These items can then be used to enhance the audiences’ viewing experience during events broadcasted through VR.

Once AR/VR hardware and platforms mature enough to drive device prices down at the consumer level, there will inevitably be a large demand for content. As such, the need for artists working on visual and sonic content including motion graphics, 3D, sound effects and music will also increase.

3. AI-driven discovery and curation

Publishing platforms are also investing in using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to help them discover and curate content.

Netflix, for example, relies heavily on its recommendation engine to keep subscribers interested. Wired explains that 80 percent of shows being watched on the platform are recommended by the engine. YouTube and Instagram are also using similar techniques to drive content discovery.

Much like with how writers had to master search engine optimization a decade ago, you now have to figure out how to get these recommendation engines working to your advantage. This way, you can optimize your content and even launch campaigns to increase your chances of being recommended by your chosen platform and gain more views.

Related: These Bots Have Eyes: Why the Evolution of Visual Chatbots Is a Boon for Entrepreneurs

4. Machine-generated content

Speaking of AI and ML, several projects have also been trying to teach machines to perform creative work. Shelley, for example, is AI that writes horror stories, while Alysia writes songs.

Some of these AI are even good enough to be used for mainstream purposes. The Washington Post now uses an automated storytelling engine called Heliograf to write a number of its news articles. Other newspapers are also using AI to generate news updates.

As a content creator, you might see these projects as threats. But instead of being discouraged by these developments, you could consider it a source of motivation to hone your craft. Know that mediocrity isn’t an option when machines will soon be able to produce works of passable quality.

5. Sharing economy side hustle

The growth of the sharing and gig economies has been a boon for just about everyone. It has afforded professionals with ways to earn not only on the side but full time as well. Sharing economy revenues are expected to reach $40.2 billion by 2020, as documented by Juniper Research. 

Content creators can take advantage of opportunities to earn extra. You can try the more conventional route of accepting freelance gigs. Or, you can also rent out your equipment or computing resources during your downtime.

Designers, AI developers and filmmakers often invest in computers equipped with high-end graphics processing units (GPUs) that are capable of running demanding tasks such as image manipulation or video rendering. If you happen to have such a computer, you can rent out your GPU’s computing time to a platform such as Tatau. The platform pools together GPU power from renters for companies and projects to use in running their own complex computational requirements. You get compensated for the work your computer performs while others get to enjoy cost-effective and affordable supercomputing services. 

Related: How Investing in AI is About Investing in People, Not Just Technology

The takeaway

So how should you react to these trends? Here are some ways that you could make these developments work for you:

Embrace the changes. Progress will happen whether you decide to participate or not. So why not dabble in these new channels to see what they offer? This way you’d be able to check if it would be fitting for the type of content you create and your audiences’ preferences.

Find opportunities. Today’s successful content creators were fortunate enough to carve out their space in the market. Given the emergence of new platforms and tools, being an early adopter of these new technologies may give you the opportunity to be a pioneer and tap into fresh and unsaturated markets. Performing side hustles can even sharpen your skills or expand your network of contacts.

Focus on quality. One of the pitfalls of today’s content creators is the tendency to copy the formula of established creators. While there’s nothing wrong in drawing inspiration from others, avoid becoming a stale me-too. Find your own voice. Add some spit and polish to your work. Good content will always find an audience.

Lastly, be inspired and keep working on your craft. Remember that masterpieces aren’t created overnight (and neither are careers).

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4 Industries That Are Being Disrupted by AI

The top 100 AI startups of 2017 have raised $11.7 billion in aggregate funding across 367 deals.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The widespread disruption of AI is summed up best by Andrew Ng, the former chief scientist of Baidu, who views AI as the new electricity: “Just as electricity transformed almost everything 100 years ago, today I actually have a hard time thinking of an industry that I don’t think AI will transform in the next several years.”

While most large corporations are undergoing technological transformations to use, support or offer AI technologies, the real magic takes place in the AI startup arena. According to CB Insights, the top 100 AI startups of 2017 have raised $11.7 billion in aggregate funding across 367 deals, thereby making the market rich with innovations plus financial backings.

Related: How Investing in AI is About Investing in People, Not Just Technology

The most surprising AI startups and applications are those that are paving the way towards more unconventional verticals, such as insurance, background checks, real estate, health and retail. The unique application of AI in areas that aren’t traditionally high-tech is particularly fascinating for multiple reasons. For instance, it proves that with AI, all industries can be enhanced for greater efficiency and streamlined processes. When AI takes over time-consuming and tedious jobs, human counterparts are given more time for impactful contributions with greater value and tacit knowledge. Although many may argue that AI removes the human touch, it’s also important to bear in mind that it drives strategic and creative thinking at a larger scale.

Here are four industries being disrupted by AI:

1. Insurance

Insurance companies and their leaders have a lot to deal with lately, as reported by Deloitte’s latest market research report called Fintech by the numbers. As reported by Deloitte, “Political and regulatory upheavals around the world are changing some of the ground rules about how carriers are allowed to operate. An accelerating evolution in the way business is conducted is being driven by innovation and higher customer expectations, while disruptive newcomers are looking to take market share from incumbent insurers in the insurance industry.” 

Upheaval and changes create opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs, which is exactly what Lemonade is capitalizing on. Without relying on legacy players in the space, Lemonade blends insurance with tech and digitally transforms the user experience by appealing to consumers of all ages, removing costs and expediting claims. The data that is gathered helps drive efficiency and quantify risks.

In December 2016, Lemonade set the world record for settling a claim in three seconds using its AI-powered claims bot, which ran 18 fraud algorithms simultaneously. Its technology understands the nature, severity and urgency of most claims. If any claim is too complex, it gets handed over to human counterparts for further manual analysis.

2. Background checks

As President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda continues to be debated and laws are modified, employers need to keep a close watch on the reaction of the states to the administration’s federal employment law decisions. Changes made at federal regulatory agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) result in new business laws that can affect taxes and hiring practices.

State and local legislation will continue to be big issues in screening in the next year. In 2017, there was an increase in legislation that bans asking for salary history in cities and states across the country. There will be more of these laws introduced in cities, municipalities and states in the next year. Ban the box laws have been sweeping the country for the last few years. The newest ban the box law went into effect in California on Jan. 1, 2018. The California law, which involves both the public and private sectors, states that employers cannot make a criminal history inquiry until after a conditional offer has been made to an applicant. State and city ban the box legislation will continue to pass in the new year.

Related: Why Smart Cities Are a Golden Opportunity for Entrepreneurs

Thanks to the above, the background industry has seen a spur in innovation and growth. Intelligo is leveraging AI and machine learning to conduct background checks on people and companies in just minutes. This reduces the wait time and frustrations that are traditionally associated with the backlogs of federal agencies and large financial corporations that rely on human analysts to manually conduct granular research across multiple mediums.

Their solution quickly combs through thousands of data sources without concern of manual labor and offers a user-friendly interactive report, which presents actionable insights in a manner that is insightful yet easy to understand.

3. Real estate

In 2017, real estate accounted for about 13.4 percent, or $2.6 trillion, of U.S. GDP, as reported by BEA.gov. That’s more than any other industry, including manufacturing at $2.2 trillion. Real estate, as a whole, covers a number of market segments, including commercial industries such as construction and rentals to residential with consumer housing. Real estate construction alone contributed more than $1 trillion to the economy last year, while apartment rental properties are worth north of $1.4 trillion.

The real estate industry provides a huge market for opportunity. An example of AI in this space is from Compass, a startup that uses AI to connect potential homebuyers and renters with properties that best meet their needs. Though it is safe to say that there are multiple websites that offer a similar service, Compass perfected the art by breaking the mold and standing out. According to a representative of SoftBank Vision Fund, which invested $450 million in Compass, it is well positioned for future growth for building a “differentiated end-to-end tech platform that aggregates across diverse data streams to support agents and homebuyers through the entire process.”

4. Retail

In an age where many claim that we are experiencing the retail apocalypse, Inturn proves that is not the case at all. If anything, we are only experiencing the latest shift in retail trends. According to Business Insider, by 2021 most retailers will invest in AI and IoT technologies for supply chain automation, location-based marketing, customer traffic sensors, machine learning, asset tracking and big data solutions. Inturn uses AI to empower brands and retailers to use automated workflow tools, a pricing optimization engine and business intelligence to gain visibility of their business and simplify the buying and selling of excess inventory.

Related: Preparing for the Future of AI

As fascinating as these technological breakthroughs may be, it’s important to note that contrary to popular belief and Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters, AI is not set to take over jobs, or the world for that matter. AI exists to work alongside human counterparts for increased efficiency, so people can apply their skill sets towards more meaningful tasks without getting overwhelmed. Or, maybe AI will take over and rule the world, and make humans their working slaves (like when the FB chatbots started talking to themselves).  

Whatever the case, AI will continue to impact industries in the future, and it’s important for large institutions, decision-makers and enthusiasts to keep tabs on startups that are disrupting industries with AI so that they can stay ahead of the curve. And, potentially, stay ahead of the AI that will one day rule them in more ways than one.

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3 Startups That Are Using Technology to Reinvent Entertainment

These companies are using blockchain, augmented reality and 3D in groundbreaking ways.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For the first time ever, Netflix received more Emmy nominations this year than any other TV network, as reported by BGR. The video streaming company received 112 nominations from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences last month, beating out former Emmy dominator HBO, which received three fewer nominations.

The success of Netflix demonstrates the power of technology in the home entertainment industry. When Netflix debuted its streaming service in the early 2000s, it gave users access to thousands of titles with the push of a button. At the time, it was the first service of its kind.

Today, the streaming company has changed the way people enjoy and access entertainment at home and it’s led to an influx of similar companies offering new tech innovations in home entertainment with a variety of viewing options for consumers. In 2017, these video streaming services contributed to a 5 percent increase in home entertainment spending, seeing it rise to $20.5 billion in the United States, as explained by Deadline.

Related: Don’t Understand Blockchain? It Can Work for You Anyway, This Founder Says

Now new tech innovations are being applied to home entertainment, revolutionizing the industry even further.


Those who have heard about blockchain or are familiar with this innovative technology likely associate it only with the cryptocurrency market and most notably, Bitcoin. But blockchain is being utilized by a growing number of markets. The technology can be used to create a highly secure ledger of transactions, and its potential applications are numerous.

Hollywood producer Andrea Iervolino, best known for backing the James Franco film In Dubious Battle, founded a new home entertainment company TaTaTu and is using blockchain to reward customers. TaTaTu pays TTU tokens to consumers for watching movies, playing games and listening to music. And with blockchain,TaTaTu can record each transaction in an open distributed ledger, which ensures users get rewarded. The blockchain also ensures content providers are compensated by using a digital rights management platform to create an accurate record of work for talent, distributors and studios involved in the site. Eventually, tokens will be able to be traded for cash or used in the company’s own ecommerce store.

“Blockchain technology is providing the opportunity that rights holders are looking for. No longer will they have to take someone’s word for it when it comes to distribution across different territories,” Lervolino wrote in the company’s white paper. “Once we bring a system of digital rights management into place, rights holders will be able to see exactly when and how their content has been shown — via the irrefutable ledger that is the blockchain.”

Augmented reality

Futuristic settings in movies often feature some kind of augmented reality (AR). The technology lets users apply digital layers to the real world. In science fiction movies these layers often appear in the form of advertisements. Whether through a pair of high-tech glasses or some kind of cortical implant, characters see billboards and pop-up ads wherever they go. It’s like the notifications you receive on your phone when walking near a business, but instead, the advertisements appear before your very eyes. If you follow my articles, you know that I’m a partner of an augmented reality platform called FluffAR, which rewards users with cryptocurrency for viewing AR experiences.

Related: Upcoming Pokémon Game on Nintendo Switch Hopes to Capture Huge Mobile Fan Base of ‘Pokémon Go’

AR is currently being tested in the world of advertising to bring these ideas from the movies to life, but it’s also being used in innovative ways in the area of home entertainment. Tech startup Eyecandy’s augment.tv project lets users access digital overlays while watching sports, documentaries, kids programming and more. In order to see the digital layers, users point AR-enabled smartphones or tablets on a video screen. The digital layer is then overlaid on the content.

For example, when it comes to sports, users can see an overlay containing a newsfeed of relevant stats and data about the match, teams and players. And augment.tv will even give users the ability to replay content themselves. Other features will include letting users shop for the clothing and accessories seen in the movies or tv shows they’re watching.


While some companies are using technology to enhance a user’s viewing experience. Other companies are using technology to bring content to life.

3D technology has become ubiquitous in the movie industry. With dozens of movies being released in 3D every year, nowadays moviegoers have the option of watching most action blockbusters in 3D. According to recent reports by True Industry News, the global 3D and 4D market are expected to reach $168.6 billion by 2023.

Related: 17 Inspirational Quotes from Oscar-Winning Movies

New startup Urus is using 3D imaging technology to bring the 3D viewing experience home in a new way. The company is working to make movie and other video content scenes appear as if they are playing out in a viewer’s living room. Urus is using 3D technology to modify a user’s home scenery to match the look of the movie they’re watching. Using the technology they already have at their fingertips — their smartphones — users take a panoramic photo of their surroundings using their phone’s camera. This image is used to reconstruct a 3D model that then blends in the action on screen.

Just as Netflix revolutionized the home entertainment industry more than a decade ago, these startups are ushering in a new wave of home entertainment innovation, bringing technology usually reserved for science fiction movies, to life.

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5 Points to Consider When Choosing an Ecommerce System for Your Business

With cryptocurrency gaining prominence, have you considered accepting Bitcoin and its ilk?

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Consumers expect businesses to provide ease of use, efficiency and seamless payment processes. That’s especially pressing considering that globally, around two-thirds of the population of 52 key countries are expected to own a smartphone in 2018, as documented by Zenith Media.

Unfortunately, as NFIB research shows, many smaller companies still forgo adopting digital solutions. One of my main companies helps small and large businesses with software, and we constantly encounter issues of old and unreliable systems and even an absence of the right software, including ecommerce options. Although this may seem like a no-brainer topic, the research proves that there are still slow adopters and laggards to digital solutions. 

While there are a host of variables to consider when putting up an ecommerce channel, among the critical decisions to make is choosing a payment system. As shown in this Baymard article, checkout concerns are among the top reasons why online shoppers abandon their purchases. Customers demand a frictionless experience.

Related: New to Ecommerce? Save Yourself Thousands Yearly With These 5 Frugal Hacks.

It’s high time for small business to ramp up their use of digital solutions. Here are five factors you should consider when choosing how to integrate ecommerce into your business.

1. Customer’s preference

There’s a dizzying array of payment methods and solutions that are currently available. However, supporting every method available can be costly and impractical. A good way to approach this is for you to support the methods most preferred by your key customers.

This can be based on geography. For instance, Americans typically use cards as funding sources even with digital wallets such as PayPal and Apple Pay. Certain regions in Europe such as the Nordics prefer to use bank accounts. The Chinese use mobile payment solutions such as WeChat and Alipay. Other parts of Asia still prefer cash-on-delivery.

Preference can also be based on your particular audience and niche. Working-age customers should have a certain level of financial capacity and would have access to bank accounts and credit cards.

Payment services can help you support virtually all these methods but keep in mind that service tiers that accommodate multiple payment methods come with a cost. If you run a smaller operation, consider prioritizing support for the most preferred method by your market.

2. Emerging tech

Consider emerging niches as well. There’s a growing demographic of the crypto-wealthy who made their money investing in Bitcoin and Ether. Because of the lack of means to exchange cryptocurrencies to local currencies, these people try to spend them instead. This creates an opportunity for you to tap into this market. Services such as Paybear can help you support payments in Bitcoin and other altcoins.

However, supporting cryptocurrency payments does have its challenges, after all, cryptocurrency values can fluctuate wildly. For example, Bitcoin can take double-digit swings within a single trading day. 

Projects like T.OS are developing blockchain-based emoney that can even be pegged to local currencies. Such “stablecoins” hold their value even if the rest of the crypto market fluctuates, making them suitable for use in commerce. Such options could allow you to work with crypto payments while minimizing the risk of volatility.

Developments in logistics and payments have allowed cross-border commerce to grow. So, if you’re looking to expand your market across borders or overseas, accommodate the preferred methods in those places.

3. Security of transactions 

Security is always a concern for anything that involves money and customer data. Payment services providers should be the ones who work towards compliance with security standards. Check if the provider you’re partnering with follows industry standards such as the PCI Standards if you’re accepting card-funded payments.

Related: 5 Hot Trends That Will Continue to Change Your Ecommerce Horizons in 2018

Fraud and chargebacks are also concerns. Criminals often use stolen credit cards for online purchases. If you happen to process orders from such fraudsters, you may be left shouldering the cost of goods and even shipping since card companies typically rule in favor of the cardholders in cases of disputes.

Fraud prevention and chargeback protection may be available with your payments provider but they often charge extra for these services. One of the advantages of accepting crypto payments is that transactions can be irreversible and final, which eliminates exposure to chargeback fraud.

4. Ease of use

Due to the advances in user experience design, customers now demand speedy and convenient interfaces to use. It would do you well to check if your targeted payments solution will enhance your checkout experience. The fewest clicks or page loads customers have to make, the better.

Take note of the ease of use at your end as well. See if the experience will be idiot-proof for your or your staff to handle. Go through the checkout process yourself to confirm. Ask questions about reporting, such as will you gain functionalities such as dashboards and reporting, inventory management, invoicing and bookkeeping integration? Does the new software have plug-ins and integrations for your shopping cart platform (e.g. Magento or Shopify)?

You don’t want your payment solution to introduce unwanted complications to the way you do business.

5. Fees and costs

Among the reasons many small businesses want to stick to cash are the costs associated with supporting other payment methods. Card companies can charge somewhere between 1 to 3 percent for every transaction. Digital payments services that support card payments often pad these rates even more.

Crypto payments can charge lower rates. Since they use blockchain, they don’t have to route payments through intermediaries such as banks and clearing houses. However, it’s a different story if you have to convert crypto coins to traditional currencies. Crypto exchanges charge additional fees and commissions for such transactions.

Related: $0 to $1,000 in a Day: How to Create a Community That Keeps Buying and Buying From You

Most payment services offer tiered charging depending on the volume of transactions you make. Shop around so that you can find the best option depending on your locality. Crunch the numbers to see which one will give you the best value.

As a business owner, you are in the best position to know your business, industry and customers. The success of your ecommerce efforts depends on various factors, but your choice of payments system will play a major part. So evaluate your situation, check out possible providers and do the math to see how these would affect your bottom line. 

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One of the Biggest Issues Facing Blockchain Is Its Lack of Ability to Scale

Here’s what you need to know about the problems facing the technology backing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In order for the world economy to continue to grow, we need to develop digital infrastructure to sustain the speed and volume in which we share information. Data infrastructure needs to be scalable and deployable as the needs of our digital era continue to evolve.

Even though blockchain is somewhat the “new kid on the block,” it has excited the world of business. According to a survey carried out by Gartner, 66 percent of the respondents said they believed that blockchain is a business disruption and 5 percent were willing to spend over $10 million on the technology.

Blockchain has many uses and implications; however, the first mainstream application we’ve seen is through cryptocurrency. But the initial design of cryptocurrencies was not built for widespread use and adoption.

Related: 15 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

For Bitcoin and Ethereum to compete with mainstream systems such as Visa and PayPal, they need to step up their game with their transaction times. As explained by crypto trading company Coindesk, “While PayPal manages 193 transactions per second and Visa manages 1,667 transactions per second, Ethereum does only 20 transactions per second while Bitcoin manages a whopping seven transactions per second. The only way that these numbers can be improved is if they work on their scalability.”

Scalability obstacles created by mining 

When dealing with Bitcoin and Ethereum, a transaction is granted only when a miner (the person whose computer processed the code behind the currency) puts the transaction data in the blocks they’ve mined.

Let’s say Stephen wants to send Andrew 10 BTC (bitcoin). He will send the transaction data to the miners, the miner will then put it in their block and then the transaction will be completed.

However, as Bitcoin rises in popularity, this process becomes more time-consuming. Plus, there is the issue of transactions fees. When miners mine a block, they become gatekeepers of that block. In order for transactions to go through, users will have to pay a toll to that gatekeeper. This “toll” is referred to as a transaction fee. This fee creates issues when scaling because it creates an additional barrier. 

What about Ethereum? In theory, Ethereum is supposed to process 1,000 transactions per second. However, in practice, Ethereum is limited by a cap of 6.7 million gas — the amount of computational effort required on the receiver’s side of the transaction — on each block.

Here’s how to understand what “gas” means. Stephen has issued a smart contract for Andrew. Andrew sees that the elements in the contract will cost X amount of gas. Accordingly, he will charge Stephen for the amount of gas that’s used up. It’s like letting your friend borrow your car and making them pay back the amount of gas that was used when they drove.

Related: 3 Industries Blockchain Entrepreneurs Will Change for the Better

These issues haven’t surfaced much yet, because there hasn’t been widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies until recently. Ethereum exploded in popularity around December 2017 through a game called CryptoKitties (where users buy digital cats and raise them). The popularity of the game brought to fore the issue of scalability, as documented in this Mashable article.

Here are some terms you should know regarding the scaling of blockchain.


Sharding is the splitting of the block verification process and running of parallel subcommittees to collate the completed data. Zilliqa is a platform that utilizes sharding. It has been proven to handle 2,400 transactions per second with a goal to match Visa’s average of 8,000 transactions per second, according to The-Blockchain

Perhaps most importantly, Zilliqa reacts efficiently to scaling needs as its throughput increases with its network size, as opposed to Bitcoin becoming clogged with transactions. With a node size equivalent to Ethereum, Zilliqa predicts it could handle twice the transactions of Visa per second.

Hard fork

When a platform drastically branches away from its initial platform direction, it is referred to as a “hard fork.” Preceding the hacking of the decentralized autonomous organization on the Ethereum network (where $53 million of crowdfunded cryptocurrency was “stolen,” as reported by Bitcoin.com). Ethereum took a hard fork in order to reclaim the money and continued as Ethereum Classic, while the existing course maintained the original blockchain as Ethereum. 

Bitcoin recently adopted a hard fork in its capped block size, which means that old and new software are incompatible with each other and renders the old outputs invalid. Bitcoin has already forked previously, such as with Bitcoin Cash, and there are more planned for this year.

Related: Blockchain Is How We Can Protect Our Privacy in a World of Ubiquitous Surveillance

Segregated witness

The proposed Bitcoin hard forks will all incorporate SegWit (the Segregated Witness soft fork), which is software designed to solve transaction malleability but also improve the capped block size issue. Each block has a capped size that creates a finite amount of transactions to occur on each block. 

SegWit increases the block size limit to 4MB, meaning a single block can hold the records of more than 8,000 transactions. However, although the block increase provides short-term respite in scalability issues, it will still eventually present the same restrictions once transactions have exceeded the limit.

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3 Mental Shifts You Need to Make to Build a Stable Financial Future in the Gig Economy

Draw up plans on your future finances, with the goal of becoming independent, freeing yourself from debt and putting away savings for your future.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The gig economy has become a massive industry. Uber, the oft-cited mover and shaker of the gig economy, is now valued at $62 billion, TechCrunch reported. It’s even rumored to being going public next year.

Related: Don’t Sell Yourself Short in the Gig Economy

No doubt the company has to be grateful to the millions of drivers who choose to participate in the platform. In the United States alone, there are 1.5 million drivers sharing their rides.

And it isn’t just Uber that’s driving the gig economy. A host of other services are tapping into the freelance workforce, as well. A study by Upwork revealed that 57.3 million people worked freelance in 2017, contributing $1.4 trillion to the economy. The workforce is also shifting, because more workers are starting to prefer freelancing to traditional employment arrangements.

Freelancing has become a huge draw, especially for younger workers, with perks like flexibility and uncapped earning potential. Workers can definitely make a nice sum of cash maximizing the opportunities these platforms provide, especially if those workers possess in-demand skills and show that they can work hard.

There are, however, certain trade-offs. To start, there’s the issue of job security. Even if gigs seem plentiful, there still are chances of lean periods for certain types of work. The tech game is also quite fickle. You don’t know how long these platforms will remain sustainable or when they may pivot from their current ways of doing things.

Uber’s sudden exit  from Southeast Asia, Bloomberg reported, affected not only the regional ride-sharing market but the lives of its drivers as well.

In addition, regulations are still quite muddy about how freelancers are classified. Some geographic areas have already ruled that gig economy workers should be considered employees, but many countries still consider them self-employed. As such, typical employer-provided benefits, like pensions, insurance, days off and healthcare need to be shouldered by freelancers on their own. These perks are important because they are worth tens of thousands of dollars in the course of someone’s employment.

Related: 7 Reasons Why the Gig Economy is a Net Positive

That’s why, if you’re part of the gig economy, you must be mindful about long-term financial stability. Even with traditional employment, it isn’t easy to save for the future these days. Freelancers face an even more uphill battle — a challenge but not an impossible one, given the tech-driven tools available to help people invest and save. Here are three ways to build up your finances as a member of the gig economy workforce.

Plan for retirement.

Payouts from gigs may be good enough to earn you a decent living today, but you need to put away part of it for your future. Life expectancy is increasing (as documented by the World Health Organization). So if you want to retire in your 60s, you should save enough to sustain you for about two more decades of living, especially if you are in a country with excellent healthcare.

Pensions have typically been the way to go about retirement planning: You contribute a portion of your income while working and you’re set to receive monthly payouts when you retire. But even if you have access to these plans, they seem to have fallen out of favor these days; and most freelancers and contractors lack easy access to them.

Fortunately, the blockchain-based pensions platform Akropolis aims to make sustainable and secure pensions available to freelancers and gig economy workers. Through pension platforms like this one, you can shop around for a product that fits your financial goals. You can also track the progress of your contributions, thanks to the transparent record-keeping blockchain provides.

The platform further engages vetted funds and fund managers, which ensures that entities vetting your money are legitimate.

Nor are pensions the only way to save for the long haul. You can also shore up your assets and diversify your portfolio by putting money into mutual funds, stocks, insurance and even cryptocurrencies. If you have little to no idea how to start investing, you can try out robo-advisor apps like Wealthfront and Betterment, which will help you find easy ways to start investing.

Manage debt wisely. 

Financial stability can be hard to achieve if you’re in the red. If you’re like the typical young gig economy worker, you’re likely dealing with a sizable student debt. In 2016, the average student loan debt amounted to over $37,000, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Conventional financial wisdom has it that clearing your debts is often the first step toward financial wellness. However, for most, this becomes a question of priorities. If you’ve had a good month from your gigs, don’t rush to reward yourself with some pointless or fleeting expense. Instead, use an app like Mint to keep track of your cash flow. Mint can help you track your income and set budgets for your usual expenses, like bills and groceries. Consider whittling away your remaining loan balances with the extra money that you earn.  

If pressed to choose between putting in money for your retirement or paying extra to service your debt, it’s advisable to prioritize your retirement fund (as Time magazine has written). The reason is that contributions carry tax incentives. Funds could also have gains that are higher than your student loan interest, which would make you better off in the long run.

Just make sure you make your monthly payments to your student loan. Keeping your debt manageable will at least stop you from hemorrhaging money from unnecessary interest.

Be your own boss.

Stop thinking of the gig economy as something to tide you over, as your “side hustle” or as a chill way to earn a living. Maximize every opportunity to earn through these platforms, but also think of the long term. While some may argue that working in the gig economy is like entrepreneurship, participating in centralized platforms means you’re still working for large corporations.

So, work on transitioning to real business ownership versus gig employment. You’re more than halfway there anyway. Specifically, you’re already the one in charge of your operating expenses and your equipment. And by participating in platforms, you may have gained access to ready customers and the automated tools you’ll need to manage things like invoicing and collections.

Business processes can easily be dealt with, using technology. Services like QuickBooks and Xero can help you manage your books and numbers. Why not work on making the platform you choose relevant for your own context? Take advantage of the opportunity to network with your customers. Get to know them. Building relationships will make it easy for you to take them with you when you eventually leave to run your own outfit. 

See gig work as a means to an end.

Financial stability requires serious planning on your part. Start by overcoming the mentality that gigs and freelance work are a more relaxed way to earn money.

Related: The Gig Economy Is Reinventing the Enterprise — Don’t Get Left Behind

Alternately, take advantage of the flexibility that gig work brings, to develop yourself and build toward something greater. Always keep in mind that rainy days will come, and that you’re aging. That’s why being wise with money should start sooner rather than later. Draw up plans on how you’ll manage your finances, with the goal of becoming independent, freeing yourself from the clutches of debt and putting away savings for your future.

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5 Exciting Innovations in Gaming That Entrepreneurs Absolutely Should Know About

If you’re in the gaming world, school yourself in AR, VR, AI, cloud-based gaming and blockchain. Everyone else is.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The gaming industry has come a long way since its inception in the 1940s, and it’s important that entrepreneurs and developers in that field make themselves aware of how quickly the industry has evolved over 70 years.

Related: 3 Things Video Games Can Teach You About Being a Better Business Leader

In fact, every innovation has represented a leap beyond the previous one, and (by extension) has formulated a gaming culture of early adopters who are enthusiastic about tech.

With that in mind, today’s gaming entrepreneurs should school themselves in the latest gaming innovations as they work on further gaming developments — as part of their effort to stay ahead of the curve.

Here are five of the top trends that are rising in popularity within the gaming community.

Augmented reality

Smartphone designers are in an ongoing race to pack in as much processing power as possible, using the sharpest camera possible in a small form factor.

The recent availability of this equipment in portable devices has spurred an increase in augmented reality games and utilities. These applications make use of specialized software that superimposes interactive content onto the “real world.” Now, users’ devices will allow them to see the world differently using this dynamic lens.  

Then there are games like Niantic’s Pokemon GO, which Polygon reports has attracted over 650 million users. This level of popularity has developers clamoring to create games offering a lively gaming experience that bridges the gap between real life and virtual reality. Apple has even made it a point to express the capabilities of augmented reality on its website when that technology is used alongside Applie’s iOS.

Virtual reality

Large companies are striving to find ways to put consumers “inside” their — the companies’ — simulations, through means of a VR headset; the companies are also finding intuitive ways for users to interact with these simulations.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Breaking Into the Video Game Industry

Oculus got its start raising nearly $2.5 million through Kickstarter, and built its empire large enough to the point of being bought out by Facebook for $3 billion as Business Insider reported.

Since then, we have seen many efforts from titans like Sony and HTC to create more premium virtual reality experiences that are accessible to the consumer. A barrier to entry when it comes to these forms of virtual reality, however, is the need for users to have the proper gaming rig necessary, either in terms of a high-end gaming PC or a console.

Samsung, with its Gear VR, and Google, with Cardboard, have come up with ways to make VR accessible to the masses at a far lower price point. Anyone with a smart device compatible with these headsets is able to experience the thrill of jumping inside a program without breaking the bank.

Cloud-based gaming

Experiencing the highest frame-rate possible is the ideal experience for a hardcore gamer; this requires a monitor with the largest resolution, and high refresh rates. However, given the increasing costs of GPUs due to the sharp increase of cryptocurrency and blockchain mining, this goal is not easy to achieve, especially with next-generation games becoming more hardware-intensive.

A solution to this dilemma? Cloud gaming.

Cloud gaming is a form of online gaming that enables a user to either stream games, or stream files to a given device, allowing for the playing of these games on these devices. Nvidia offers a service called GeForce NOW, which lets subscribers play demanding video games on enabled tablets; it even allows for cross-platform gaming, giving Mac users access to games they wouldn’t otherwise be able to play on their machines due to software incompatibility.

Artificial intelligence in gaming

Every industry is seeking to dip its toes into artificial intelligence. One would be hard pressed to find a modern product that doesn’t boast an AI feature. From ride-sharing applications to email categorization, many consumers are benefitting from AI without knowing it.

It was only going to be a matter of time before game developers found ways to reap the benefits of artificial intelligence. The most established form of AI in a video game entails having a computer opponent, whether that means an opposing player in a game of Checkers or an “armed” assailant in a stealth-based video game.

Programmers have actively sought out ways to have these “enemies” self-learn, in order to create a variable gaming experience that not only increases in difficulty but keeps the players’ experience fresh. And, here, advancements in AI have enabled developers to answer the call as they design new games.

Today, these developers are able to attain stunning visuals by creating algorithms that scan footage, and according to an interview with Tim Sweeney on TechRadar, create results beyond what someone could achieve using motion-capture technology.

Blockchain in gaming

The advent of Blockchain has led to many shifts in the digital market, mainly in the form of cryptocurrency but also in the rise of other innovative areas like cybersecurity and increased government efficiency (for more, see this Entrepreneur article). There are also indications that game developers and users will be getting on board with blockchain, as seen in Gods Unchained, the world’s first blockchain-based eSport created by Fuel Games.

The prevalence and popularity posed by the union of blockchain and gaming have previously been seen with other games, such as CryptoKitties. But, in addition, members of the gaming community can benefit from blockchain by having true ownership of the items they purchase or earn from the games, adding real economic value to their digital assets.

Why is knowledge of these innovations crucial? Because, before they make even their first, initial mark on their drawing boards, gaming entrepreneurs must have a starting point to discuss potential ways to stay two steps ahead of what their users are accustomed to.

Related: Developing an App or a Game? Take a (Retro) Lesson From ‘PAC-MAN.’

Gaming after all moves fast. And, the early adoption of technological innovations is embedded in the DNA of the modern gamer.

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