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Forget That Product You’re Working On. What’s Really Going to Sell in the Future Is … Services.

“Do-it-for-me” is the next evolution of the on-demand economy.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Today’s consumers value their time more than ever. With the proliferation of on-demand apps, there is virtually no need to wait in lines or even to leave your house if you’re that much of a homebody.

Related: How 3 Top On-Demand Companies are Redefining the Industry

You know the drill: Amazon for your groceries, Netflix for date night, Handy for that light bulb you just can’t reach and even on-demand car services to care for the car you hardly ever drive because you ride-share everywhere. Yeah, welcome to the future. 

Yet, as with everything, change is constant. So, if you think today’s adults require instant gratification, think about the high demands the next generation will have. For this reason, those building a business they hope will last should consider shifting from providing goods to providing … services.

Spend money to buy time

A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that people who spend money on time-saving services feel happier. “What we found is that people who spent money to buy time reported being almost one full point higher on our 10-point [happiness] ladder, compared to people who did not use money to buy time,” wrote Elizabeth Dunn, an author of the study and a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. “People from across the income spectrum benefited from ‘buying time.’”

Related: Why On-demand Services Startups Are The Next Big Thing

One consumer expert has labeled this phenomenon the “do-it-for-me” movement. That expert is Scot Wingo, cofounder of ChannelAdvisor and CEO of Spiffy, an on-demand car care service. Wingo says that the future of consumerism is no longer do-it-yourself (DIY), but do-it-for-me, or DIFM.


“The do-it-for-me consumer mindset disavows DIY,” Wingo told me in an interview. “The DIFM consumer discovered the power of convenience through the on-demand economy and never looked back,” he continued. “[These consumers] prioritize spending time with their kids or their hobbies over mowing the yard, cleaning the house or washing their cars. Importantly, the DIFM consumer is willing to spend money to save time.”

Others are starting to agree. To research the future of the on-demand economy, I listened to an interview with Vikrum Aiyer aired on the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative podcast. Aiyer is the strategic communications and public policy lead for Postmates, Inc., the on-demand logistics and delivery platform.

During the podcast, Aiyer explained that Postmates had actually seen its retail partners increase their sales three to four times over their previous level once it — the company — started using on-demand delivery.

“This goes well beyond food, because we’re actually servicing hardware stores and beyond,” Aiyer told his interviewers. “And that’s actually because of a new reach of their customer potential, in which geographically if they were located on one side of town, they’re now reaching customers at another side of town.

“This validates,” he continued, “the thesis that the on-demand economy and automation are going to really change, and are changing, the way commerce is connecting communities.”

The lesson for entrepreneurs

So how should entrepreneurs and business leaders respond? They should target consumers who are willing to spend money to save time. As entrepreneurs, we can use that information to shape marketing messages, ad copy, new products. Whatever product we’re creating or selling, we should incorporate into it the fact that consumers are willing to spend money to save time. 

“When you look at GDP in the U.S., products or goods represents 20 percent of GDP, and services represent the other 80 percent,” Wingo told me. “Using those broad strokes, I think [the trend for] ‘services go digital’ could be four times as large an opportunity as ecommerce.

“In the next five years, I think it will feel as archaic as using the Yellow Pages to have to ‘call’ a service provider.  Your phone will be the remote control for your life, and you will have a myriad of products and services available to you at your whim in a completely transparent and digital way.”

While some detractors will argue that DIFM is a luxury exclusive to the wealthy, that’s not actually the case. DIFM is beneficial for anyone who can benefit from time saved. “We thought the effects might only hold up for people with quite a bit of disposable income, but to our surprise, we found the same effects across the income spectrum,” Dunn shared.

Related: Why On-demand Start-ups have Failed in India

Giving consumers the ability to ‘buy back’ an increasingly scarce resource — their time — is the future of consumerism. Sounds a bit like the sci-fi thriller In Time (lLOL), but in order for on-demand companies to move past the ‘Uber of…’ era, a huge market opportunity will consist of consumers looking for DIFM options.

“Moving people up on the ladder of life satisfaction is not an easy thing to do,” Dunn said. “So, if altering slightly how people are spending their money could move them up a full rung, it’s something we really want to understand, and perhaps encourage people to do.”

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Rapper Nipsey Hussle Reveals the Art of Being a Self-Made Millionaire

Andrew Medal sits down with rapper Nipsey Hussle to discuss how gang life catapulted his success, his latest album ‘Victory Lap’ and his various businesses, including a blockchain-specific startup.

1 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Nipsey Hussle is arguably hip-hop’s hottest star right now, with his much-anticipated album release of Victory Lap. Hussle has been making his name from a steady stream of mixtapes including 2013’s Crenshaw, which he sold at $100 a pop, netting $100,000 in the process. He’s collaborated with artists like YG, Diddy and Jeezy. His record label All In Records recently partnered with Atlantic Records to increase his distribution, and he’s turning the industry on its head by owning the rights to his music. He’s an entrepreneur in every sense with multiple businesses including his record label and his clothing brand The Marathon Company, and he’s even an early investor in some blockchain-based startups. Hussle kicks off Season 2 of Action & Ambition with Entrepreneur Network partner Andrew Medal. 

Related: Hip Hop Legend Damon Dash Explains How His Street Mentality Catapulted Him to the Top

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8 Influential Women Making Headlines in Blockchain

Just because the number of women in technology-related fields has always been dramatically lower than that of men doesn’t mean that things will stay that way.

4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about nine influential women in blockchain who received a lot of praise and positive feedback. So I decided to write a follow-up post with a new list. 

The latest tech boom has revolved around blockchain and cryptocurrencies. And while this brand-new field is still heavily dominated by men, women are quickly closing in and making big names for themselves. The blockchain space, in fact, is the perfect place for women who want to make a big impact to get involved.

Related: Here Are the Best Tech Companies for Women to Work

Here are eight women currently crushing it in the blockchain and crypto space and serving as inspiration for budding female techs and entrepreneurs.

1. Piper Moretti is the CEO of The Crypto Realty Group. Her company specializes in real estate transactions using cryptocurrency. Moretti is a licensed international luxury realtor at Christie’s International Luxury Real Estate, one of the world’s largest luxury real estate brokerages, and she has a passion for the crypto space. She helps clients find or sell property, using cryptocurrency, anywhere throughout Los Angeles (and beyond).

2. Manju Mohan is the co-CEO and co-founder of Ionixx Technologies, a company that helps businesses turn their ideas into reality using technology. Ionixx focuses on mobile and web technologies that help digitize businesses. One of its services is working with companies on developing strategic approaches to implement blockchain technologies. One of its most recent projects revolved around applying blockchain technology to the process of educational certificate verification for businesses and recruitment managers.

Related: This Tech Founder Was Often the Only Woman in the Room When She Started Her Company. Here’s Her Advice for Young Entrepreneurs.

3. Mihriban Ersin Tekmen is co-founder/ COO at Colendi. Colendi is a cross-border decentralized credit-scoring platform using Blockchain technology to provide a secure and democratic service for the fintech world, and transforming the definition of banking. She is also the co-founder of Fintechtime, an independent publication that offers the latest news, insights and analysis of the global fintech market. 

4. Shadan Azali is vice president of investor relations for Dispatch Labs, a business-ready blockchain protocol that empowers industries to create scalable, secure and decentralized peer-to-peer applications. Prior to joining Dispatch Labs, Azali led corporate philanthropy initiatives at Ally Bank and the Bank of America. Azali’s role straddles two fields that traditionally lack female representation: finance and technology. However, she publicly expresses hope that the combination of more women stepping into leadership roles and the continual support and mentorship for young girls entering math and computer science programs will bring more opportunities for women in technology.

5. Elizabeth McCauley, a member of the board of directors at the Bitcoin Foundation and advisor at the BitGive Foundation and Coin Congress, got her introduction to blockchain and crypto while working as an assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives. During that time, McCauley was involved in the adoption of bitcoin in the United States.

6. Maxine Ryan is the COO and co-founder at Bitspark, the world’s first cash-in, cash-out blockchain remittance platform. She developed her passion for bitcoin while pursuing a degree in international relations in Australia. Ryan’s interest in blockchain and cryptocurrency was so intense that she dropped out of school just six months before graduation to pursue her dream. Shortly thereafter, she returned to Hong Kong and launched her business.

7. Rachel Wolfson is a blockchain guru and journalist who writes for Bitcoin magazine and has contributed to Forbes, Dataconomy Media, Elite Daily and more. Wolfson also serves as board advisor for a blockchain-based supply-chain management company and as board observer for a number of other blockchain companies. She was recently named by Next Web as one of the top five women working to change the world of crypto.

8. Emily Arth is the VP of operations at Constellation. Having worked as the right-hand aide to the CEO of a $300 million company — North American Power — Arth is a powerhouse of corporate leadership and management. Driving operational excellence and organization at Rakugo, Arth brings years of experience that will drive growth and success.

Related: Recruiting and Retaining Female Tech Talent Is a Challenge — Here’s How We Did It

These women (among many others) are making a big impact in the blockchain and crypto space as well as forging a path to help other women get involved. Just because the number of women in technology-related fields has always been dramatically lower than that of men doesn’t mean that things will stay that way. Blockchain technology is poised to disrupt many industries in the coming years, and women will play a big role in the revolution.

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3 Strategies for Ecommerce Sales and Growth Using the New Technologies.

Create new value offerings using blockchain and augmented reality.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There’s no denying that digital marketing has become an integral part of business success — everyone’s business success. Companies investing in building an online presence have a much better chance of expanding their brands than do those clinging to a “brick-and-mortar” mentality.

Related: 5 Ways to Increase Your Ecommerce Business Sales

In fact, the latter companies are falling by the wayside, a point underlined by the the facts outlined in this Trellis article:

  • Last year, 2017, saw an increase of 13 percent in ecommerce sales over the previous year. The prediction is that this growth will increase even further, to 17 percent, by 2022.

  • Some 80 percent of Americans surveyed have made an online purchase over the past 30 days; over half said they preferred online transactions to visiting retail outlets.

  • While ecommerce grew during 2017, traditional retail stores saw hundreds of closures. Some nine major companies declared bankruptcy. Pressure from online competition is reaching industries that only a short time ago felt immune.

Convinced that online sales are the way to go? Here are three strategies for pushing sales using new technologies.

Use blockchain to redesign supply-chain economics.

Technology and unique value offerings should be inherent to your overall strategy. SHOP is a business I know that provides a unique example of how to leverage a new offering using technology.

The company is a blockchain-based retail platform created by John Wantz (formerly of the Target store chain) and Jamie O’Shea (influential in marketing brands like Coca-Cola, Nike, Levi Strauss and Johnson & Johnson).

The SHOP system is designed to act as an information marketplace where users acquire brand tokens in exchange for sharing preferences, purchase histories, profiles on their preferred styles and other data.

The data is then stored on the SHOP platform and used to improve interactions and experiences between shoppers and company brands. This radical redesign of supply-chain economics provides a new type of alignment that the system has never before seen. Making data available empowers SHOP members to create new kinds of value exchanges and fair approaches to margin and price; and it represents an opportunity to drive innovation in unforeseeable ways.

Related: 10 Reasons Your Ecommerce Store Isn’t Making Any Sales

Ounie Phakousonh, CTO of Henry.tax, and a marketplace developer, for one, is excited to see how blockchain is going to enhance and improve the marketplace model. As Phakousonh told me, “Blockchain opens up countless new ways to enhance development and even users’ experiences. As a long-time blockchain activist, it’s great to finally see the power of blockchain improving marketplaces and e-ommerce experiences.”

In short, technology can provide a competitive advantage for any business, especially one scaling an ecommerce company.

Harness augmented reality for use by influencers and brands.

With the release of augmented reality (AR) developer kits by both Apple and Google in 2017, and the advance of hardware devices, AR is poised to hit the mainstream in the coming years. Already, Fluffr is using blockchain technology to disrupt the AR space. Its platform rewards users with tokens for the purpose of interacting with and promoting AR experiences by influencers and brands.

Dave Lee, partner at Brilliant Investment Group, explained to me that he’s excited to bring the technology to the Asian markets, because they’ve had disruptive AR tech experiences, but none that have fused cryptocurrency with AR. Lee said he believes that blockchain technology harnessed with augmented reality is going to create mass adoption across various Asian markets, and he’s excited to pave the way with Fluffr.

In regards to the Fluffr platform, two types of tokens are collected (Fluffs and Carats) in a way that’s similar to the characters in Pokemon Gó. The difference is that these tokens can then be exchanged for real currency or exclusive prizes through the Fluffr marketplace. The idea is to encourage people to use AR apps and engage in AR experiences, and get paid for it.

The result is an entirely new and immersive ecommerce experience for brands and consumers using the tech. Plus, with the release of Fluffr and other AR-focused platforms, the barrier to entry for companies to create these experiences for their consumers has become extremely low. 

Use blockchian to ensure accurate consumer data.

Access to accurate consumer data is key to more effective ad-targeting, and, ultimately, to a growth in sales. Some brands don’t even know if their targeted audience is made up of real people: As an Axios article explains, about 20 percent of the $200 billion spent on digital advertising money is wasted on bots

That’s why brands have to ensure that their databases contain real people who have given their permission to receive promotions. One such company is YouGov Direct, a product of YouGov, which works to help brands gain more value from their advertising campaigns through its blockchain-based platform and ad network. Essentially, if brands “know” rather than “assume” that consumers are interested in their products, they can provide those people with actual solutions — rather than waste ad dollars on the wrong people. 

Related: 4 Sales Tactics to Grow an Ecommerce Company

Want to get ahead in ecommerce? The bottom line for achieving success in today’s increasingly technological age is to utilize the various advantages and tools available, orchestrating them into a symphony of performance success.

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These 6 Industries Are Using Blockchain to Gain a Competitive Advantage

Real estate. Law firms. Information services. Banking: Where else will this technology raise its profile?

8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While people debate the benefits and pitfalls of cryptocurrency, the blockchain technology that underlies these currencies is taking the main stage.

That’s understandable, as blockchain is a must-have in and of itself for creating competitive advantage.

Related: 5 Ways Blockchain Technology Will Change the Way We Do Business

For some companies, blockchain-based security applications are enticing; others are simply excited about blockchain’s potential for helping them create transparent marketplaces for their customers.

Whatever the motive, the immutable and transparent nature of the blockchain is what has so many people racing to incorporate it into their IT strategies. Joe Lubin, co-founder of Ethereum, interviewed by Newsweek  explained why more and more companies are taking note: “There won’t ever be a single powerful entity that controls the system or controls gatekeeping into the system the way blockchain does,” Lubin said.

As a decentralized platform for innovation, blockchain technology, over time, will revolutionize virtually every industry. First movers will have the distinct advantage of figuring out how blockchain can get their business to the next level. They’ll also figure out earlier than their competition does the challenges that come with any new IT integration.

Following are examples of industries that are already adopting blockchain solutions with a great degree of success.

Fund administration

The challenges associated with fund administration are extensive. Currently, most companies rely on outdated software or ungainly paper processes. Gary Markham, CEO of aXpire a blockchain-based solution for expenditure management, described the traditional challenges in this company white paper. “Normally,” he wrote, “businesses have to spend a lot of time sorting through paper, PDFs and spreadsheets to process documents by hand.

Related: 15 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

“Smart contracts use software code to automate tasks, thereby shaving hours off a range of business processes.”

One of the biggest challenges in fund administration is tracking and managing expenditures. Blockchain solutions could solve that issue completely by reducing data inaccuracies, improving interoperability of various enterprise applications and creating more transparent expenditure tracking.

Continued Markham: “For fund managers, financial industry leaders or any regulated group, the ability to show a regulator a report of [expenditures] in real time, having spent far less time and money gathering that data relative to legacy solutions, is immensely powerful.”

Information services

As the internet has become inseparable from everyday life and been transferred to our mobile phones whose access is at our fingertips, users have sought instant access to their favorite websites. According to this report by Shopify, page-load speed is one of the most important factors for consumers buying something online.

Even Google decided to incorporate website speed into its algorithm ranking factors as explained by TechCrunch. The world’s most popular search engine considers a page to be “slow” if it takes longer than 1.5 seconds to load!

Miao Zhicheng, a blockchain developer for NOIA Network, believes that blockchain will transform the global internet infrastructure as explained in that company’s white paper.

“The problems of latency, low internet availability and sluggish pace of digital-content progress due to high content delivery costs will soon be over,” Zhicheng wrote. “NOIA Network is solving them by creating a widely dispersed and decentralized content delivery network. This network is formed by household computers and data centers around the globe.”

Participants can share their idle bandwidth and storage resources in exchange for NOIA tokens,” Zhicheng wrote, claiming that, “Every single transaction is automated and seamless only because of smart contracts enabled by blockchain technology.”

Other technology experts, too, believe that blockchain will power us into Web 3.0, by offering the fast speed and decentralization they say should have been developed at the beginning of the internet age. 

Real estate

Real estate is an incredibly complex industry with a lot of moving parts. The participation of buyers, sellers, agents and brokers, and the processes of title and escrow make real estate transactions slow and potentially risky.

Blockchain can reduce that risk and increase trust in a number of ways. With home purchases, most people rely on title companies to verify real estate transactions and ownership. There has been much debate about how blockchain could solve this problem, but a recent Newsweek report detailing the example of a home title being issued on the Ethereum blockchain showed a solution: It’s only a matter of time, the article said, before government agencies start embracing blockchain as a valid alternative to existing title processes.

The technology can also be used to conduct transactions using various cryptocurrencies. Recent reports, including this Los Angeles Times article, have detailed how all types of homes being placed on the market for cryptocurrency rather than fiat currencies. This demonstrates a demand for the option to buy homes with digital assets over traditional ones.


At this point, banks that remain somewhat skeptical about the new technology are only slowly changing their tune regarding cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Barclays, J.P. MorganChase, Goldman Sachs and other big players are investigating potential applications.

In Europe, the banking industry is shifting from closed unilateral systems to a more decentralized “bank as a platform” approach. The process, Open Banking, is explained in this Medium article. Recent legislation has forced banks to allow third-parties access to client data via APIs.

Different banks, deposit and insurance accounts, crypto holdings and exchanges can now be reached using a single interface. From the consumer’s perspective, this degree of access decentralizes banking services, in a secure and user-friendly manner.

While other platforms suggest direct blockchain usage, ORCA, a customizable open-banking platform connecting crypto and fiat services, reverses things, aggregating only third-party services, but storing no data. “It’s the first time in history when open banking allows [us] to combine traditional banking and cryptocurrency services, “ Natan Avidan, CEO of the ORCA Alliance, told Medium.


Blockchain can also make escrow a thing of the past, not just for real estate, but for all industries that work with any kind of escrow middle man.

New York City Department of Education attorney Tsui S. Ng recently explained the benefits to the American Bar Association. “In securities trading,” he said, “it currently takes several days to transfer assets, thereby increasing counterparty risk. Smart contracts that use blockchain technology could shorten settlement times and mitigate such risk.”

By creating an automated, incorruptible and instantaneous contract, blockchain solutions will be able to eliminate costly intermediaries and the risks associated with drawn-out transactions.


Businesses are getting more comfortable with the idea of digitally secure contracts, to facilitate deals in real time. This means law firms will need to become intimately acquainted with the technology to advise clients on the best ways to structure various transactions on the blockchain.

That’s precisely why the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance has worked so hard to get law firms invested in the technology. To date, the alliance has added over 14 firms as members, according to this Coin Telegraph article, to help drive development and adoption of blockchain solutions for the legal industry.

As Aaron Wright, chair of the alliance’s Legal Industry Working Group, told Coin Telegraph, “Lawyers are poised to serve as the catalysts for blockchain technology, and the Legal Working Group will serve as a neutral space to explore blockchain-based legal technology, develop standards for ‘smart’ legal agreements, support emerging enterprise use cases, and tackle important policy issues raised by this new, impactful technology.”

What business owners should know

Business owners in any of these industries need to start incorporating blockchain into their strategies so as not to fall behind. One of the best ways is to hire a firm that has blockchain built into every aspect of its service offering. Just make sure the company knows the technology through and through. Larger companies might consider hiring a chief blockchain officer or placing a blockchain director under the CTO.

They should ensure that blockchain development is an integral advantage for their businesses — not just a cool-sounding tech phrase.

Related: 8 Benefits of Blockchain to Industries Beyond Cryptocurrency

Whatever strategy you deploy, you can be sure that tbeing a first mover on blockchain in your industry will give you an edge over your competition.

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8 DIY Tools You Need to Get Your Business off the Ground

Why spend all your resources on expensive consultants when you can do it yourself?

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I’ve learned the hard way that building a business from scratch requires scrappiness and strategy in equal measure.

Related: 11 Killer Free Tools to Launch and Build Your Startup

While you’re building a solid team to help support you, you’re also in the process of getting your business off the ground. And that process is rife with setbacks and rejections.

You may often feel that the only way to make money on your venture is to invest every dollar you’ve got to your name into external agencies and consultants to ensure that your go-to-market strategy is seamless.  While working with outside help has its merits, I’ll be the first to tell you that alternately doing it yourself (DIY) to launch brand-building initiatives is both possible and effective.

So, don’t spend all your resources on expensive consultants: Below, I’ve listed the tools I wish I’d known about when I began my own entrepreneurial career. While some aren’t free, they do empower you to manage your foundational business practices in-house without throwing all of your marketing budget to third-party boutiques or large, enterprise agencies.

Without further ado, here are those eight tools:

Deluxe’s Free Logo Maker

Promoting a recognizable, identifiable logo is important, but it can cost a lot of money to have one custom designed. Rather than hiring a designer, use Delux’s free logo maker, which is absolutely free until you finalize the logo you want.

Related: 15 Tech Tools Startups Can’t Do Without in 2016

You simply browse the industry-specific templates, choose the one that’s best for you, customize it, then check out and pay an affordable, one-time fee. No paying for drafts, no paying for revisions. You design it exactly how you want it, and then you’re good to go.


Designing an attractive, functional website is more important than ever in today’s internet-focused society. Web designers can be expensive, though, and may not be in your budget at this point. Luckily, there’s Themeforest. Themeforest has a wide selection of stunning WordPress themes you can choose from and purchase for your site.

You just choose the one you want, import the demo content, customize your site with your info and you’re done. I know, it sounds easier said than done, but there are endless tutorials online to help.


To market effectively, one of the most important things to know and understand is your target audience. You could always hire somebody to make an educated guess on the best and most effective ways to reach your target audience, or you could use LeadCrunch’s Predictive Outreach, a platform which uses artificial intelligence to help you create, define and engage with “look-alike” audiences.

It then helps you market more effectively, giving you a better return on investment. The platform enables you to implement and run smarter demand generation campaigns to ensure that your new venture’s messaging reaches the right audience.  

Famous Industries

Social media is one of the most important tools for a business these days, to communicate, notify and interact. Social media makes business more personal and lets you create a community around your brand.

Along the way, it’s important to post attractive, high-quality posts that lead to attractive, high-quality landing pages, and Famous Industries makes that possible. Its  platform lets you replace landing pages with its engaging and effective Instant Apps, which are proven to increase engagement and drive conversions.


When you’re just getting started, you’ll probably find yourself too busy to handle all customer support on your own, but it may not be worth bringing on a full-time employee to handle it either. That’s where Desk comes in. For an affordable monthly fee, you can get all-in-one customer service support for your business to make sure your customers are taken care of, but for a fraction of the cost of bringing someone on.


A good portion of customer support is devoted to answering the same few questions over and over or guiding different customers through the same process. Since so much of this can be handled easily, why not give the job to a bot? Nanorep is a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to respond to customers, walk them through processes and help them with their needs.

You can use Nanorep to provide your customers with 24/7 support and reserve your top-notch customer service reps for handling the more technical stuff.


Right off the bat, you’re going to need accounting and payroll services, but hiring professionals to handle these tasks may not be in your budget right away. Gusto is a great service you can use to cover the majority of your HR functions and assist with accounting. It handles everything from payroll to benefits and more, for a fee that is much more budget-friendly than the cost of hiring an entire staff right away.

Startup Stash

As you get going, you may find yourself in need of other resources that aren’t on this list or that you didn’t think you’d need. That’s where Startup Stash comes in. It’s a curated directory of resources and tools designed specifically to help you build your company and get it off the ground. You can browse the different categories, from idea generation to sales, and everything in between, to find tools that will help you with what you need.

Related: 7 Essential Tools Every Startup Can Afford

What other tools are you using to help you get off the ground?

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6 Innovative Ways to Increase Brand Awareness

Wendy’s sassy Twitter feed is a great example of how to stand out in a sea of noise.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Having a solid, trusted brand is important for your company to thrive. If your target audience doesn’t know or trust your brand, how will you ever increase your customer base and sales? Here are six innovative strategies you can use to increase brand awareness and help your business thrive.

Related: SXSW 2017: Sure, You’ve Got a Brand Strategy, but What’s Your Chat Strategy?

1. Get influencers to display your art or other product.

Inviting influencers into your niche is a great way to increase brand awareness and hopefully drive sales. When influencers have an established audience that knows and trusts them, once they mention your product(s) and discuss your brand in their content, those mentions will expand your reach and increase people’s awareness of your product.

Ikonick is a perfect example of a company that works directly with influencers: It sells canvas art for your home and office. The way Ikonick uses influencers involves providing them with art and having those influencers pose with the art, then share the photos on social media.

“Our relationships are an important part of our business,”  co-founder Mark Mastrandrea told me. “Our relationships make up our community, and the community is how our brand grows.”  

Ikonick uses all types of influencers, from Instagram photographers to celebrities. The company’s social strategy has enabled it to scale and grow exponentially because its influencers become part of its sales team — even ambassadors. The relationship is mutually rewarding, Mastrandrea said. 

Related: Your Personal Branding Strategy in 10 Steps (Infographic)

Companies can also offer to sponsor influencers at an event (if they do that sort of thing) and even use them as spokespersons for their brand and product(s). A lot of CrossFit-related companies do this, including Rogue Fitness, which sponsors certain athletes with clothing. The athlete then becomes a walking billboard for the company. 

2. Use branded packaging. 

Have you ever received an order that came in branded packaging? Rather than see it as just another shipment, perhaps you felt that that that special branding made the package seem like a gift.

Packlane is a company that allows companies to design custom packaging, using their own logo and branding to enhance the customer experience. The team has created unique boxes for L’Oreal, HP, Shopify and RedBull, to name a few.

The team knows that the product experience doesn’t commence at first use, but rather at the unboxing stage. How companies present their brand, and the story they tell through their design and graphics, can create an emotional connection with the customer that may last even longer than the product itself. 

Branded packaging offers an additional touchpoint to the value your brand gives to each customer’s experience, and helps distinguish you from marketplace competitors. Overlooking your product’s packaging is a missed branding opportunity in today’s ultra-competitive market landscape. 

3. Do your SEO research.

Have you heard that the majority of consumers don’t look past the first page of search results, and the majority of people in that group don’t look past the first few results on the page?

Think about how powerful that SEO is for companies pitching to prospects. If competitors are all citing the same information, though, it loses some of its power because of all those companies trying to get new clients. 

Researching SEO strategies related to your niche, products or services can help you increase brand awareness. This research will set you apart as an expert and leader in your industry. Jaaxy.com is a great tool that helps you conduct the right type of research because it provides specific keyword research. 

4. Double-down on social. 

Instagram is a social media platform with power. It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and Instagram lets you promote that story via the image(s) you post and the text you narrate. It’s a great tool for friends and family to keep up with one other, and it’s just as good for brands reaching out to their consumers.

Azazie sells bridesmaids’ and bridal wedding gowns. To do that, it’s become hyper-focused on growing its social communities, especially on Instagram.

The reason is that on that platform, the company can ask new brides to share images of their special day — and their experiences with Azazie’s dresses. Not surprisingly, Azazie’s Instagram page is full of beautiful photos that inspire other brides-to-be to imagine themselves in one of its gowns.

Best of all, Azazie harnesses the power of social proof by leveraging testimonials (and personal images) from the customers it’s helped make gorgeous brides and bridal party members.

Then there’s Facebook: Like Instagram, Facebook has the power to increase brand awareness and create a community. Gallant Dill is a self-made entrepreneur who’s built a community through his Facebook group. Dill’s business is a mentoring program which teaches entrepreneurs how to build and scale their companies.

Facebook helps him speak directly to this community and share the results of his different mentoring programs and products.  Just 26 years old, he has multiple multi-million dollar businesses, a feat which testifies to his intelligence but also to the power of social communities. 

5. Step up your game on Twitter.

Twitter is yet another big social media platform for brand awareness because it helps you publish news and interact with customers already talking about your business.

Wendy’s, for instance, has built a reputation on Twitter and increased its brand awareness by responding to media mentions of its brand, as well as competitors’ posts with quippy, sassy and hilarious remarks. One of the best examples occurred when a user called out the company, asking where the closest McDonald’s was.

Wendy’s responded with a trash can image.

Then there are Wendy’s tweets (here are some examples shared by BoredPanda). Whether you like Wendy’s or not, it’s hard not to appreciate its roasts — and keep the brand top of mind.

6. Take advantage of Google’s AdSense auto ads.

Finally, paid ads are a great way to get your name and website in front of your target audience, but narrowing down your audience and getting your pitch just right can be tricky.

Google recently announced its new AdSense Auto ads, which show publishers the best place to create and optimize their ads.

Through machine learning technology, Auto Ads can be automatically placed on sites that are best for your brand. There, they effectively reach your target audience, giving you a greater return on investment.

Related: Why Converting to Instagram Business Is Not a Winning Brand Strategy

These six strategies are great ways to increase your brand awareness and help your company thrive. Which do you think will be most effective for you and your brand?

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Here’s What You Need to Know

According to Forrester, 20 percent of marketers’ budgets is being wasted on fake traffic.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Given the online advertising boom in today’s digital age, businesses need to learn to allocate their marketing dollars wisely. Unfortunately, there’s a big challenge to meeting that goal: Advertising fraud and lackluster results are rife in the digital ad space.

Related: Telltale Signs You Have an Ad Fraud Problem

As a business owner, digital manager and entrepreneur, you’ve likely already experienced these issues, via paid Instagram ads that failed to achieve their intended results, or paid services like Google Adwords that had no conversions. To avoid such outcomes, you need to make sure your ads stand out and that you’re spending your dollars on actual results — not bot traffic.

To clarify my Instagram example: Let’s say that you paid Instagram to promote your post, and, all of a sudden, you start gaining a bunch of followers who, according to their account information, live in India and have only about five pictures each on their individual profiles.

I’m no ad-fraud detective, but judging from the looks of that kind of new traffic, you’d be wise to question these followers’ validity. While Instagram gains a benefit by earning your ad money, you need clicks from people likely to buy your product — not “followers” from some faraway land with profiles that appear fake.

Those people won’t benefit you as a business owner. 

This is why you need to make sure you’re on top of your ads, because they’re big money these days: Nearly $170 billion was spent on digital advertising in 2015, according to the statistic portal Statista. By 2021, Statistic has predicted, this figure can will rise to more than $330 billion.

The problem is, digital advertising is a constantly changing game. And organizations are struggling to respond effectively. To adapt to the many changes happening, many companies are planning to increase their investments in advertising technology. They’ll be focusing on solutions that are more result-driven and customer-centric. Here’s what you need to know:

What artificial intelligence can do.

Part of the newest wave of advertising tech utilizes artificial intelligence (AI). Advertisers are focusing their efforts on AI to provide potential customers with a personalized experience tailored to their wants and needs. AI can help advertisers avoid pushing irrelevant messaging and instead use consumer data to create customized campaigns that are relevant and engaging.

Related: You Should Be Protecting Your Business from Phony Leads

That’s all very well. But, as Jon Gillham, founder and CEO of Adbank, recently told Crypto Analyst, “Over 50 percent of online traffic are bots.

“An unknown percentage of digital advertising dollars are wasted on fraudulent traffic and sites,” continued Gillham , whose online advertising platform has developed patent-pending blockchain technology for fraud detection.

Specifically, more and more advertising companies are inflating their results with ad clicks from computer-based bots, instead of real potential consumers. These companies use bot traffic to exaggerate their data and inflate prices for customers. 

Similarly, many websites use those bots and inflate their traffic figures to entice potential advertisers to place ads with them.

That’s the website situation. Mobile advertising fraud, meanwhile, has also become commonplace, so much so that many companies expect a certain level of it, according to a new report by Forrester Consulting. Forrester surveyed 250 marketers whose companies spend at least $1 million a month on digital advertising. And, the result, Forrester reported, was that 69 percent of the marketers said that at least 20 percent of their budgets was being eaten up by fraud on the mobile web.

In other words, 20 percent of their budgets was being wasted on fake traffic. 

Despite this problematic landscape, 70 percent of the marketers in the survey said they were actually increasing their budgets for mobile advertising over the next 12 months. That’s a problem because, as 43 percent of the marketers said, the amount of fraud they had been subjected to had increased over the previous 12 months.

At the same time, only 19 percent as of the date of the survey had implemented systematic fraud prevention programs, and that figure was expected to increase in 2018.

So, the overriding question was whether these prevention programs would be enough: Fully 92 percent of the marketers reported that combating mobile fraud would be a high or critical priority of their companies for the next 12 months, in 2018. 

The problem is, ad fraud is only worsening. 

Forrester wasn’t alone in its doom-and-gloom forecast. A recent report from the digital market research firm Juniper, predicted that advertisers would lose an estimated $19 billion to fraudulent activities in 2018. 

The Juniper report, Future Digital Advertising — AI, Ad Fraud & Ad Blocking, 2017-2022, said that that $19 billion worked out to $51 million per day and  could  be expected to rise, reaching $44 billion by 2022.

The report also specified that advertising fraud would increase due to the lack of transparency between advertisers and publishers. The big problem, Juniper said, is that publishers aren’t providing campaign result reports, due to the fact that they don’t possess the right tools for these reports. Without more transparency, Juniper warned, successfully tackling fraud will be difficult to accomplish.

Still, there are solutions.

Despite the gloomy nature of its report, Juniper did identify some solutions to ad fraud — like AI. By using AI to analyze data generated from advertising activities, Juniper said, advertisers could minimize financial losses. 

Of course, that in turn would demand innovation and the development of new strategies to fight fraudsters, simply because they’ll just adapt their methods and find different ways to imitate genuine advertising activity. This activity, typically carried out by bots, includes simulated clicks, mouse movements and the creation of fake social network accounts that engage (via likes and comments.).

Juniper’s research indicated that platforms utilizing AI to target specific markets would account for 74 percent of total online and mobile advertising expenditures by 2022. 

With AI-powered technology and innovations now focusing in on advertising fraud, some studies predict that that fraud may become less rampant in coming years. According to a report on ZDNet from the security company White Ops, companies lost $6.5 billion due to ad fraud in 2017. That’s a decrease of 10 percent from the estimated $7.2 billion fraud took from companies in 2016.

These results are probably due to the increased awareness about deceptive advertising practices and the efforts companies are taking to address them, using AI and other technological advancements. With increased information, companies will know where and how their advertising dollars are being spent and be more likely to attain the results they want.

Related: 4 Ways Advertising Agencies Can Protect Themselves From Click Fraud

Then, hopefully, your company will gain new Instagram followers from Milwaukee, versus Mumbai. 

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3 Startup Lessons From Hip Hop Entrepreneurs

From Nipsey Hussle, to Jay-Z, to Dr. Dre, rappers are showing how they can think bigger than just bars and hooks.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Hip hop has significantly redefined and shaped our culture. From NWA to Pac and Jay-Z, hip hop artists have pushed the boundaries of society and reinvented our culture.

But what’s also interesting is that most don’t just stick with music and call it a day: Instead, there’s an inherent entrepreneurial foundation to most of these artists. And the result is that their businesses reach deeply into different spaces like fashion, sports, alcoholic beverages and tech.

From creative product launches like Jay-Z’s Magna Carta album drop (in partnership with Samsung), to joint ventures like Diddy’s Ciroc deal and partnerships like Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s headset company, hip hop has not only redefined culture but business, too.

Related: Hip Hop Legend Damon Dash Explains How His Street Mentality Catapulted Him to the Top

Perhaps hip hop can help redefine your own business? Here are three startup lesson from some of this musical segment’s leading entrepreneurs:

Nipsey Hussle: Bet on yourself and double up.

I recently caught up with hip hop artist Nipsey Hussle at his new tech incubator and coworking space, Vector90, in his hometown, the one-time violent gang haven, Crenshaw, Calif. My purpose was to shoot an episode of Action and Ambition, my video show airing (March 16) on my Entrepreneur Network channel.

Just don’t be fooled by Hussle’s laid-back LA style, because climbing record charts and dropping tracks aren’t the only methodical steps he’s taken to advance his team and mission. In fact, this Slauson Avenue (a local thoroughfare) rep is a visionary thinker and champion of the underdog whose multiple businesses and partnerships include his clothing company, The Marathon Clothing (also based in Crenshaw), and his record label, All Money In. Hussle has also invested in a cryptocurrency company.

His career goes back several years: Indeed, Hussle started as an indie artist and signed with Epic, but in 2010 was let out from the Epic contract due to creative differences. He could have given up at that point, but instead created his record label.

Striking out as an indie artist on his own label, he told me, allowed him to test different types of songs and retain creative authority with his brand. It also gave him the ability to test new marketing campaigns.

Related: This Media Company Used Hip Hop and Sneakers to Attract 55 Million Viewers and Sell for Over $250 Million

For instance, in 2013, after reading Jonah Berger’s book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he decided to sell his Crenshaw mixtape for $100 a pop. This move not only generated viral news, but caught the attention of music A-lister Jay-Z, who bought 100 copies for $10,000 (as described by the hip hop culture site Complex).

The result was that Hussle created buzz and critical mass as an independent artist betting on himself. He also made a major statement when his record label entered a partnership with Atlantic Records; that led to his debut studio album, Victory Lap, which I regard as an instant classic that should hit platinum.

Signing with Atlantic was another affirmation that Hussle bet right.

And, as for his entrepreneurial activities, Hussle told me that, “We never lost on some street s***, but that ain’t worth bragging about it. That’s not what the metric is.

“The metric,” Hussle said, “is what we built as entrepreneurs and as leaders. That’s the nature of my various businesses.”

Jay-Z: Build your brand through collaboration.

Jay-Z grew up in the Marcy projects of Brooklyn, New York, during the time when crack cocaine ran the streets and crime was at an all-time high. If you’d been a witness to Jay-Z’s origins, you’d never have envisioned the success he’s created for himself, or the influence he’s developed. In fact, “Jay-Z” is practically a household name.

But, it wasn’t always like that. This rap artist too started from the bottom. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, he did a lot of collaboration work, appearing as a guest on other rappers’ tracks. When he couldn’t get a record deal with a major label himself, he created his own label and sold albums on the streets and out of his car trunk. He used to sleep on studio floors and open for other artists. But these moves weren’t just about impoverishment; the relationships he developed along the way became key to his success.

Specifically, Jay-Z used those relationships as a stepping stone to create a stronger name for himself. He would open for artists with big shows, and use those appearances to establish his brand and share his music. He relentlessly networked with other hip hop artists, but also collaborated with artists outside of his genre.

Those outside genres allowed him to cast an even wider net and garner wider mass appeal. From Fall Out Boy and Linkin Park to Alicia Keys and Panjabi MC, Jay-Z pushed his music and extended his network to multiple music genres. Through these collaborations, he not only doubled his listener base but created a much larger fan base and continued to build his global brand.

Dr. Dre: Leverage your influence.

Dr. Dre grew up in Compton, Calif., during the peak of gang culture. It was a time when the Bloods and Crips ran the streets and police brutality was as dangerous as the gangs. Dre lost many friends, including his own younger brother, to the violence.

He then had a choice to make in terms of work, and decided to go all in with his passion for music. He spent every waking moment in the studio, producing tracks, working with artists and ultimately creating the notorious rap group NWA. Through his success with NWA, he developed his own brand, and ultimately joined the group Death Row.

After Death Row, Dre kept climbing to the top, establishing Aftermath and signing Eminem and 50Cent. His career has continued with an upward trajectory that has not only landed him on the Forbes list, but has him sitting among the five wealthiest rappers in the world, getting close to billionaire status.

Related: Lessons on Innovation and Evolution From 3 Top Hip-Hop Artists

One of his biggest turning points came in 2017, though, when Apple announced it was acquiring his Beats by Dr. Dre headphone company. In 2006 record producer Jimmy Iovine approached Dre to partner with him, and asked Dre to use his influence and build a hardware company that would create speakers and headphones (the company’s inception has been written about by Business Insider).

Thanks to Dre’s established influence and appetite for risk and vision, which enabled him to understand the potential opportunity, Beats by Dre was created. And, with Apple’s $3.2 billion acquisition in 2017, Dre’s success was cemented in business and hip hop music.

Overall, that genre has spawned some of the most musically talented, gifted and creative people on the planet. These artists have shaped the music industry, but have also reinvented the way we build influence, create startups and scale businesses.

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Here’s How Prison Taught Me How to ‘Lead From the Front’

The lessons I learned during my 17,520 hours of incarceration may help you, too. Just don’t learn them in their native environment.

7 min read

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In an earlier part of my life, I went to prison for two years. My incarceration began two months before my 28th birthday, and I was released two months before my 30th. I went to prison due to previous convictions and a fight I was in when I was 22 (six years earlier).

Related: The 10 Biggest Business Lessons We Learned In 2017

I was a much different person going into prison in my late 20s than I had been when I got into that fight at 22. So, prison was a crushing blow to my life, considering that I’d already changed my life around.

That’s how, going in, I found myself confronting two choices about how I’d spend my time:

Choice 1: Be a part of the “yard society,” playing cards all day, shucking and jiving with the fellas, talking about past and future crimes I had committed or planned to commit . . . or

Choice 2: Figure out how to use every waking second of my upcoming prison time to be as productive as possible.

I chose the latter option (which I’ve previously written about). Specifically, I chose to stay open to learning in prison, which I did, in terms of the specific subjects I studied and the stuff I learned about myself that I’d never known.

One more thing I learned about was leadership lessons. I used those lessons and my prison experience as the launch pad for my current success. I’m a firm believer that any situation can create an opportunity to learn if you have the right mindset. That’s how I came to the leadership insights I gained as an inmate.

What kind of leader are you?

Before I expound on those lessons, it’s important to review the various leadership styles, as there are many out there to choose from. There’s a leadership tactic, for instance, called shepherd leadership, which is fashioned after a shepherd taking care of a flock.

Related: 5 Important Business Lessons You Can Learn From Billionaire Oprah Winfrey

A shepherd leads from the front versus a leader who “facilitates” and “guides.” I believe that the latter leadership style is important at times — for example, for empowering employees or teams to handle objectives while you work on the business versus in the business.

I also believe that there are times when a strong leader knows when to follow (and here I’ve been inspired by an article I read in 2012 in the publication Executive Education, from The Wharton School). A strong leader puts aside her or his ego and steps aside in order to focus on what’s best for the group. An example would be a medical emergency when a doctor — with the technical skills to deal with the scenario at hand — is best equipped to handle it.

I believe a true leader knows when to flex his or her leadership capabilities, and knows to be ready for that exigency, with a massive arsenal of leadership weaponry he or she can choose from.

I also believe that taking charge and leading from the front (as Napolean did and as I explain below) is a powerful skill and equally needed when the time is right.

As cultural icon 50 Cent and his co-author Robert Greene explained in their book The 50th Law: “The greatest generals in history . . . are invariably those who lead from the front and by themselves. They can be seen by the troops at the head of the army, exposing themselves to the same fate as any foot soldier.

“The Duke of Wellington said that the mere appearance of Napoleon Bonaparte at the head of his army translated into the equivalent of an additional forty thousand men,” the book continues. “A kind of electrical charge passes through the troops — he is sharing in their sacrifices, leading by example. It has almost religious connotations.”

This is the type of leadership I admire. In prison, I quickly learned that taking charge and being a frontward-facing leader was the most effective approach for that environment, where respect is demanded and aggression is the norm. However, my frontward-facing leadership wasn’t planned, and was a lesson I accidentally stumbled upon.

Here’s how that happened:

1. Mindset is everything.

As I already wrote, in prison, I made the conscious decision to make the waking portion of those 17,520 hours productive. Overall, I was relentlessly focused on bettering my mind, body and spirit. I learned conversational Korean, studied everything from string theory physics to ancient Greek and even taught myself the basics of computer programming without the internet, using textbooks.

I had all sorts of business publications sent to me, from Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and Wired, to the Wall Street Journal and San Jose Mercury (for tech related news).

And I trained my body religiously, performing hundreds of burpees a day. No matter what yard I was sent to, I diligently focused on my program. That left me little time or room to get mixed up in prison politics or yard dramas. Mindset was the only thing I had any control over, and it empowered me to be the person I needed to be for myself, my future, my family and even the people around me in prison.

2. How I became an agent of change.

By having the right mindset, I saw an interesting thing happen. No matter where I went, and whoever was around — from my cellmate to other prisoners in my housing unit, to even the correctional officers who delivered my mail, people gravitated toward me, asking questions about what I was focused on.

Even though I wasn’t leading groups or recruiting people to better themselves, my actions made me an agent of change, no matter where I was in prison. I began to positively influence the people around me. The people in my housing unit started reading my books, joined my workouts and focused on their emotional and spiritual states.

3. My responsibility increased.

Carrying myself the way I did, resulted in an overall respect for my character during my incarceration. As counterintuitive as it may seem, in prison, character and respect are two very important traits to possess. There are prison politics that are put in place to make sure people treat one other with respect and don’t steal, and to weed out the people causing problems on the prison yards.

I found myself in leadership positions in prison, where I helped make sure the yard ran smoothly and ensured there was continued peace throughout. This increase in responsibility helped me improve my leadership ability even more and allowed me to focus on being the best version of myself.

If you’re looking to improve your leadership capabilities, the best way to do that is just start leading. Be bold in your requests to take on new positions, seek ways to be an agent of change and experiment with the various types of leadership. In those ways, you’ll improve your leadership experience.

Also, take a page from my upcoming book on my convict period: When leading teams and people, recognize that it’s critical that you understand how you show up. It’s critical that you become conscious of the actions you represent, versus the words you speak, and how you treat your teams. Learn various leadership styles, and adopt the ones that will empower you and your teams.

As I look back, I see how prison taught me more about myself than almost any other experience I’ve faced. It made me mentally stronger and helped me establish habits I still use today (like my insatiable hunger for knowledge and self-education).

Related: 7 Business Lessons From the Gridiron

Eager to learn more? How about we agree that you just take my word for it (or read my book), rather than try to learn these prison leadership lessons in their natural setting?

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