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3 Must-Do’s You Should Complete Beyond the Interview to Vet That Potential New Hire


Background checks, online searches and tests for candidates can be key practices when you’re hiring.


7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Earlier this year, retail giant Target settled a $3.7 million discrimination lawsuit, as reported by USA Today. The suit alleged that Target’s criminal background-check process was biased against minority candidates. The litigation, spearheaded by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, has since led Target to set up a process for the plaintiffs to either obtain jobs or receive a cash award.

Related: 4 Ways to Test ‘Cultural Fit’ During the Hiring Process

The class action lawsuit centered around the experiences of two prospective Target employees. Both candidates were given conditional employment offers after their interviews, but following criminal background checks, the offers were revoked. According to reports, the background checks revealed misdemeanor convictions from more than 20 years before, on one candidate’s record, and a ten-year-old felony drug conviction, on the other’s.

The two main plaintiffs’ lawyers said those revocations violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars practices that have an unjustified and disproportionate impact on people because of their race or national origin.

Target’s reaction was that the events described in the case had taken place a decade before and that it has since improved its hiring practices. But the lawsuit still cost the retailer, in both financial and reputational terms.

The case illustrates why it’s vitally important for entrepreneurs and their hiring managers to reexamine their own hiring practices. Finding the right candidate for your open position is certainly important, but entrepreneurs hiring new employees must utilize tools beyond the typical criminal background check and interview.

Related: 25 Wacky Interview Questions That Work

A complete candidate-vetting process should include examining prospective employees from every angle. Here are a few things to keep in mind during the hiring process, including tips and resources to ensure your next hire is a perfect fit.

Background checks are still vital.

Despite the issues the Target case illustrates, background checks are still an integral part of the vetting process. But there are a few perils to the process entrepreneurs should know about, as outlined on the Lemberg Law website.

Before conducting a check, for example, hiring managers and entrepreneurs must explain, in writing, that they plan to use a candidate’s consumer report in their decision-making process. Hiring managers must also receive written authorization in order to obtain that report.

Then, once a hiring manager decides whether or not to hire the candidate, he or she must provide the candidate with a copy.If these procedures are not followed, the result can be costly penalties and potential lawsuits. 

Goodhire touts itself as a trustworthy background-check service that entrepreneurs and business owners can use to vet future employees. And, there are hundreds of other services that provide value for entrepreneurs looking to conduct background checks for future employees, including these nine services provided by Fundera.

Search the candidate’s online footprint. 

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can be ruthless places. Stories of people being fired after their employers have discovered those individuals’ past offensive or nefarious posts are commonplace. As a result, many employees are being more vigilant than ever about what they post online — and they should. 

But social media accounts remain a useful resource for hiring managers vetting candidates, and are still an underutilized tool. 

While everyone’s profile won’t include glaring red flags like racist language or other offensive material, many profiles do include subtle clues about a person’s attitude and work ethic. For example, someone who frequently posts pictures of himself or herself partying might not be a good fit for a straight-laced work environment.

Conversely, a person with an active social life might be a perfect fit for a job involving entertaining clients on a regular basis.

Similarly, a simple Google search of the person’s name can also prove valuable, providing information about a person’s previous employer, news articles and even old personal websites the person never took down. Context is important: An online search conducted prior to an in-person interview will help the interviewer ask the right questions.

Additionally, this hiring manager shouldn’t stop with first page Google results, but search on, through pages 2 to 5 to look for pertinent buried information. Negative content cannot be removed completely but can be buried on later pages, so it’s useful to keep digging when you’re trying to find information on a new hire.

Conversely, looking at Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn isn’t enough to glean information from a potential hire. It’s important to also search Instagram, AngelList and other social sites. AngelList shows a user’s work history and is a great indicator of how often a potential hire has changed jobs.

Quora is a tool that can show how a new recruit’s mind works. On Quora, a user answers various questions, and you can review all of the information and answers that person has posted. 

Test the candidate. 

Background checks, online searches and interviews can get hiring managers only so far. There are thousands of human resources horror stories of companies hiring employees who turned out not to be as advertised. Hiring may hinge to a large extent on a candidate’s level of honesty; and digging into a person’s past can reveal glaring issues. But other negative attributes such as personality flaws can be harder to suss out.

According to a 2014 report from the research and advisory consultant Gartner, 62 percent of human resource departments polled said they use personality tests to vet prospective employees. These kinds of tests give employers a deeper look at candidates; but of course, as anyone who’s ever taken a magazine quiz knows,you can easily figure out the answers that will impress an employer.

That’s a big reason why hiring managers are turning to integrity or honesty tests. These tests determine different things about an employee’s behavior, ranging, on the most serious end, from whether they may prove counterproductive or commit acts of “time theft” (taking long breaks) to whether they may commit actual theft (stealing company funds).

Finding an effective integrity tests involves some research; not all of them work as advertised. But, by utilizing this tool, hiring managers can gain valuable insight about prospective employees. Here’s a list of 14 personality tests, from The Muse, that can provide useful information.  

Additionally, for positions that require hard skills, there are tools that any employer can utilize. For instance, to hire a developer, the recruit can be given an assessment test that tests his or her skills (like these coding tests offered by Mettl). This type of tests can prove invaluable and save an entrepreneur time, money and energy knowing what a recruit is capable of before hiring. 

By using these tips and resources, entrepreneurs can ensure they are hiring employees who are a good fit for the company’s culture. The mantra that has never failed me is to fire fast and hire slow.

Related: How to Use Social Media to Ethically ‘Stalk’ Competitors and Job Candidates

After all, an entrepreneur is only as strong as his or her team,and hiring the right candidate is the key to continued success.                                                                    



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3 Lessons the Big Brands Hopping on to the Blockchain Can Teach Entrepreneurs


By mirroring strategies undertaken by big brands, startups can find ways to offer unique services taking advantage of the blockchain’s beneficial attributes.


5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


With the blockchain bandwagon gaining momentum, it’s easy to argue that the increasing number of large companies testing the waters is simply a money grab rather than a decision to dabble in innovation.

Related: 7 Myths That Fuel Blockchain Hysteria

For these brands, blockchain technology, which has commonly been linked to the startup ecosystem, may seem like a somewhat unnecessary add-on that is largely unrelated to core business processes and practices.

Moreover, some of the high-profile public blockchain initiatives, like those by Kodak and Long Island Iced Tea (since renamed Long Blockchain Corp.), have flopped hard enough to make observers doubt the applicability of the technology to large companies (as  this Fortune article documented).

Even so, behind the more visible stories of failure are multiple cases of companies deploying blockchain systems successfully.

The common thread connecting those successful implementations is a careful consideration of needs and a targeted approach to integration. While the major corporations jumping in can count on bigger financial and human capital, blockchain technology is fortunately low enough in cost (see this Ruby Garage tutorial) that entrepreneurs can absorb the necessary information and try their own hand at deploying it.

In fact, those entrepreneurs can look to the big brands starting to employ the blockchain and three key lessons those bigger players can offer startups seeking a competitive edge within their industries.

1. Blockchain opens new avenues for businesses to add valuable services.

The surging popularity of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology that underlies them has meant more and more people wanting to be part of the action. However, despite the praise for blockchain as a magic bullet to solve various technological issues, this technology is neither useful nor even applicable for all business models.  

Related: 15 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

Simply adding blockchain to an existing platform, in fact, is likely to result in a scrapped project and an income-statement loss.

Instead, to ensure successful implementation, companies must find a practical use for the technology which adds value. Such is the case with ASKfm, which is expanding its already popular service by launcing its blockchain-based ASK 2.0 initiative.

The company, already one of the world’s largest Q&A social platforms, is set to add an educational component and improve the quality of its answers by using tokens to incentivize professionals to respond to queries. Eventually, ASKfm hopes to create a massive open online course (MOOC) platform delivering tutoring, private lessons and more.

Takeaway: Entrepreneurs often feel the need to jump on new trends to “stay with the market.” However, understanding why blockchain can be a valuable integration is the first step toward a company opening up this avenue to improve or transform its services. 

2. Blockchain improves accountability and tracking.

For enterprise-level companies in retail or logistics, expansive and complex supply chains are commonplace and difficult to efficiently manage. One of the blockchain’s biggest advantages over existing architectures is its distributed ledger, which creates an immutable record of all transactions closed across the blockchain.

For companies that operate enormous supply chains, this incorruptible distributed ledger is a vital addition, because it reduces the likelihood of missed inputs or faulty information. For companies in the food services sector, for instance, the blockchain can also improve their ability to track products and avoid foodborne disease outbreaks due to faulty goods.

Walmart, for example, as CoinTelegraph  reported, has already taken the step of creating a blockchain platform to track food products that travel from source to shelf. The retail behemoth is working in collaboration with IBM to create a system that was originally designed to track food deliveries to its stores.

By utilizing blockchain, other companies can similarly track their products more accurately, allowing every block on the chain to have the same up-to-date, incontrovertible data. In Walmart’s case, this means reducing the likelihood of outbreaks and expired goods. 

Takeaway: For entrepreneurs, the creation of strong supply chains and exerting better control of their products from the factory door to their stores and stakeholders is key. As Entrepreneur explained, the blockchain even empowers small startups to increase transparency, accountability and security throughout their supply chains.

3. Blockchain delivers more avenues for incentivizing consumers.

Another highly touted benefit of blockchain is its tokenization ability, which can be used to purchase services in-app or provide rewards and incentives to convince users to participate.

This allows companies to create value-added ecosystems that reward users for contributing and reinvesting their tokens back into the company. Tokenization is already being deployed by several large brands and is quickly being adopted as a marketing strategy.

As Bloomberg reported, Italian coffee maker Latesso, for instance, is including token addresses on its products where users can redeem online rewards and even perform exchanges for fiat currency. Similarly, communications brand Rakuten is creating its own tokens for its Viber app. As TechCrunch explained, the token will allow users to monetize messaging groups and communication streams, enabling businesses to easily integrate with the ecosystem.

These companies are simply adding blockchain utilities into their services, doing so in a way that generates incentives to persuade people to use their products.

Takeaway: Entrepreneurs can build more devoted followings and incentivize involvement even without an established brand name. By constructing ecosystems that reward participation and encourage reinvestment, startups can build loyal communities without having to resort to expensive and sometimes inefficient marketing strategies.

Related: 6 Ways Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Are Changing Entrepreneurship

Overall, the blockchain is catalyzing a transformation in the entire tech world, and entrepreneurs are well positioned to be at the vanguard of the revolution. By paying close attention to major trends and mirroring strategies undertaken by big brands, startups can find ways to offer unique services that take full advantage of the blockchain’s beneficial attributes.



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How to Overcome the 5 Top Challenges of Remote Freelance Work


A freelancer’s need for self-promotion. The battle against loneliness. Chasing clients for pay: Here’s what to do.


8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


To an outsider looking in, the notion of liberating yourself from a corporate environment and controlling your own success as a freelancer probably seems like nothing less than a dream. So much so that (as a slideshare study presented by Upwork shows) 57.3 million Americans were freelancing as of 2017. (Freelancing In America 2017 used the figure of 36 percent of the U.S. workforce).

Related: The Surprising Reality Is Freelancers Are Happy and Prospering

Theirs is a world I’ve shared: Before I became a business owner with employees, partners and 1099 contractors, I too was a freelancer and so came to understand the unique challenges freelancers face. I know from experience that pursuing an entrepreneurial venture alone can give you the freedom to decide “how, when and where”; but working as a remote freelancer often presents a host of other challenges.

Working remotely, for instance, can feel isolated and lonely. You are no longer operating in your area of expertise and are constantly challenged by the burden of self-promotion and the struggles inherent in time management, travel between clients, invoicing and chasing after payments, to name just a few.

Here are some solutions to five of the top challenges I myself have faced:

The burden of self-promotion

Marketing doesn’t come naturally to many freelancers, yet a business cannot continue to grow without it. This means that a freelance cake decorator, dog groomer and technical writer all need to worry about ways to advertise their services.

The solution if this applies to you? Start creating content, whether it be video, audio (podcast) or written. Content is the key to showcasing your expertise. Content will allow people to discover you, and content will help solidify your expertise.

Contributors like me are always looking for valuable experts, and for tips on hot trends, news or perspectives. If you’ve already started creating content, it will allow you to prove your expertise.

Follow contributors who write about topics you’re looking to provide your expertise on, and reach out on social platforms like Twitter or Instagram (Instagram DM still being the absolute best way to reach someone you’re hoping to connect with).

Related: Why Freelancing Is Perfect for Introverts

My advice with this approach is to focus on the relationship. Everyone in media is constantly pitched new stories, but not all those stories are worth covering. However, if you focus on building the relationship and have a unique perspective, a journalist or contributor will be more inclined to speak with you versus constantly reading one cold pitch after another from you. Buzzstream is a good tool to use to help you find different people from the press.

Working in a lonely solo void

While the freedom in remote freelance work may appeal to many, working in solitude may not, as FastCompany documented in a recent article. Human nature requires support and interaction, and constant isolation can wear you down. Our bodies only work at an optimal level for approximately 90 minutes at a time, so take your laptop and head to the nearest cafe for some company.

Co-working spaces are also all the rage these days, Harvard Business Review reported, as freelancers and small business owners are often looking to become part of a community. A well-designed work environment combined with a well-curated work experience enables coworkers to thrive in a way that office-based employees cannot.

What’s more, regular in-person huddles with stakeholders can enhance your productivity, through brainstorming and synergy. Be sure to incorporate meetings throughout your work week to break the silence and keep your motivation levels up.

Another tip: Set up your own branded corporate conference room on a virtual meeting platform to coordinate with clients, and put in some face time when proximity is an issue. I love platforms such as ClickMeeting, which offers features like screen sharing and white boards — features which enable collaboration and immediate feedback virtually.

These types of advanced tools also create the illusion that you’re not working by yourself in an office all day and gives you some refreshing face time with clients, contractors and anyone else involved in the business.

Struggling with your calendar

As a solopreneur, you are forced to wear many hats, and you need to manage your time carefully. And given that some tasks will be outside your comfort zone, you may be prone to pushing them off once in a while — or doing this as a chronic habit. But be careful here: Battle your procrastination by adhering to a rigid schedule, to ensure that the job gets done and your limited time is utilized well. Tools like Toggle can help you with time management and ensure you’re staying on top of your to-do lists.

I like to follow the Pomodoro rule for completing tasks. This technique can help you power through distractions, keep you hyper-focused and help you get things done in short bursts while taking frequent breaks to clean your brain and refocus. It’s sort of like short high-intensity weight training, versus long, slow cardio. The Pomodoro Technique consists of short bursts of work followed by a short rest break. You:

  1. Create your list of tasks.
  2. Prioritize the list.
  3. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro in this context being a timer).
  4. Work on the task until the timer rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper.
  5. Take a short break (5 minutes is recommended, but play around with what’s best for you).
  6. After every fourth Pomodoro, take a longer break (like 20 to 30 minutes).

The goal is to accomplish your tasks in short bursts. Ideally, each task can be done in one to two Pomodoros. The goal is to hold a limit to how many Pomodoros you do per day. Then, repeat the cycle the next day. I’ve found that my productivity shoots up under this technique. Here’s a great web app to track your progress called the Pomodoro Tracker.

Scope creep

What is scope creep? Scope creep describes those extra little client requests here and there. The need that that website you just created suddenly has for extra pages at the time of delivery. That graphic-design gig you took on that keeps accruing more and more changes …

Sometimes the creep is subtle, and sometimes it’s massive. But, if you let the scope creep once, it will never stop creeping.

The best, most obvious way to deal with scope creep is a thorough contract which clearly states that any additional work will be billed accordingly. I love BidSketch for quick, effective, template-rich contracts. If you create a contract once, you can save it and reuse it.

BidSketch also has contract templates for specific industries. You can send the contract and have your client sign it electronically with the click of a couple of buttons, which helps you keep a record of the signed document to reference should any of the obstacles described below come up:

Chasing clients for payment

You produced. You invoiced. You waited. But still … crickets.

Payments are undoubtedly the most aggravating and awkward part of freelance work. So, protect yourself: Ensure a contract is in place for every job, and stipulate that you charge interest for late payments. Set up automated email reminders upon invoicing.

A software like Invoicely can help you with invoicing, with reminders to make sure you are on top of your finances. Invoicely works well because it allows you to set up late fees for invoices that are paid late or not at all. This is another tactic to help make sure clients pay on time.

The best tip I have learned is that you should always wait to deliver the final project until you have the final invoice paid. That way you retain ownership of the work before a client can run off without paying.

Unfortunately, this is an obstacle that you will face. If you embrace this fact and plan for it, you won’t be shocked when it does happen. There is no shame in picking up the phone and speaking directly to your client. If you speak on the phone, make sure to follow up via email, to have a paper trail.

You are entitled to payment for your services. Take legal action as needed. I like RocketLawyer for free contracts for entrepreneurs and freelancers, if the situation dictates.

Related: Here Are the Benefits of Working as a Freelancer

Remote freelancing presents as many challenges as it does benefits, despite the allure of flexibility. But, if being a freelancer brings you one step closer to fulfilling your dreams, then don’t allow any obstacles to deter you. If you’re the type of person who dreams of working for yourself, you will have what it takes to make it. Stay focused, stay inspired and stay hungry — to learn and grow.



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Ex-Convicts Make the Best Entrepreneurs. Here Are 3 Reasons Why.


Think about it: They’re expert bootstrappers, comfortable with unknown situations and likely to have a healthy disregard for ‘the rules.’


6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


According to a recently published U.S. Bureau of Justice study, 76.6 percent of the prison inmates released in 2005 were rearrested within five years. That means that for every 100 inmates of the 404,638 prisoners in 30 states researchers studied, more than three-quarters were locked up again.

Related: How This Ex-Con Started From Nothing to Build a 7-Figure Business

That’s a staggering statistic about recidivsm given that the United States makes up 5 percent of the world’s population overall, and accounts for 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population (as shown on the website of The Last Mile, an organization I’m involved with, which goes into prisons to teach inmates skills).

This and related statistics have garnered national attention. So much so that a new prison reform bill passed the House 360 to 59, this month, in a rare show of bipartisan agreement, the National Review reported.

That bill will probably die in the Senate, the article noted. And, despite the fact that President Trump and Kim Kardashian West recently staged a selfies photo op at the White House to push prison reform (and Trump this week commuted the life sentence of an inmate Kardashian championed), these events offer little value for the vast majority of ex-convicts leaving prison.

Before I myself was locked up, I co-founded and built a megamillion-dollar business. But when I was released, I couldn’t even get a Starbucks job because of my record and was forced to reembark on entrepreneurship without a backup plan (the reason I created a Facebook group for other ex-convicts needing mentorship when starting off). 

Luckily, prison prepared me for entrepreneurship even more than I could have prepared earning an MBA. And that’s a fact which has cemented my belief that ex-convicts make amazing entrepreneurs because of three qualities prison has instilled in them:

Experts in bootstrapping 

As if prison riots, crappy living conditions and the absence of the internet weren’t punishment enough, the average prisoner gets a rationed state diet of fewer than 1,300 calories per day (a Sprinkle’s cupcake has more calories).

In fact, every prison inmate gets the absolute bare minimum issue of required items: typically a 2-inch golf pencil, a 2-inch toothbrush, state-issued toothpaste, a roll of toilet paper, a pair of pants, a pair of boxers, two pairs of socks, an undershirt, an over-shirt and a small towel. And, that’s it.

This minimum outlay will leave you cold, starving and struggling. You can buy commissary items, but they’re expensive, and if you don’t have any outside support, you’re out of luck. 

Related: 3 Reasons Former Inmates Make Great Entrepreneurs

Subsequently, each inmate becomes his or her own upstart, an entrepreneur by circumstance rather than choice. The goal is to figure out a hustle that will generate more resources. Inmates have to be relentlessly innovative and are forced to bootstrap their limited assets to maximize their resources. “Hustle,” therefore, can mean anything from running a sports book, offering tattoos and carving sculptures from soap to stenciling portraits onto bandanas and selling pics of their exes (actually a very popular hustle).

The point is that an inmate is forced to operate at his or her most optimal efficiency, leveraging those already-scarce resources. How does this apply to entrepreneurship? Bootstrapping is a vital skill for any newly formed startup. 

Comfortable with the unknown

The prison journey is not a linear trip, but rather a dynamic combination of unknown stops and experiences. An inmate is constantly moved around the system, from unit to unit, sometimes prison to prison and presented with new people and scenarios throughout his or her prison stay.

The only certainty is uncertainty. For me, figuring out how to adapt to the changing environment and changing scenarios, empowered me to get comfortable with the unknown. 

Startups operate in the same way. Every day presents a new challenge, a new obstacle, which has to be figured out and overcome. There’s no road map for doing prison time, and certainly no road map for building a startup. 

Living with uncertainty allows inmates to be fluid with expectations and helps them them roll with the startup punches. Plus, the experiences prison presents inmates with are much more severe than anything they’ll face as entrepreneurs.

For instance, being in prison sometimes means actual threats to inmates’ lives versus the startup world — where the biggest issue is the risk that (oh no!), they’ll fail.

The mentality inmates develop inside prison can effortlessly propel their startup careers once they’re out. 

Likely to have a healthy disregard for rules

Dissecting the entrepreneur versus the ex-con, I’ve found more similarities than differences. The most notable trait I’ve found? Their mutual, and healthy, disregard for rules. 

For the typical entrepreneur, a healthy disregard of rules has been the defining moment in his career, where he pushed the envelope of what society dictated and built a business where one did not previously exist. 

For the ex-con, who took that rule-breaking thing too far, a disregard for the rules has created an everlasting mark on her record and created obstacles that she will have to deal with for the rest of her life.

For the enlightened inmate who can harness his or her ambition and direct it toward a positive goal, disregard can be the ultimate power. A healthy disregard for rules can translate into a powerful motivating force. When harnessed and properly used, it can lead to unparalleled success in the system once the inmate is freed.

But this disregard needs to be harnessed and used for good; otherwise, it will become the reason for that high rate of recidivism previously described. A disregard for the rules can be the defining quality behind a statistic that can fall on either side of the bell curve. 

In sum, there’s no debate that prison reform needs to happen. Prisons do not rehabilitate; they create scenarios that set up those returning citizens for failure. Simply put, ex-convicts can’t get jobs because of their records. And, bereft of a steady income, most of them lack the resources or support to live a normal life. So, what are their options? A return to crime is one. Entrepreneurship is another. 

Related: Meet the Company Creating Jobs for Former Gang Members

That’s why we entrepreneurs need to be teaching more ex-convicts how to build businesses and become positive influences in their communities. That kind of activism could be an actual and realistic solution for achieving true prison reform. 





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Retailers Jumping on the Digital Bandwagon Are Transforming the Industry in 3 Key Areas


Are you exploring digital mobile transactions, payment technology and automation? It’s high time you did


5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Last month, Virtusa Corporation released the results of a September 2017 study examining digital transformation across multiple industries.

Related: 5 Emerging Technologies for Rapid Digital Transformation

Virtusa is a global digital engineering and information-technology services provider. According to its study, conducted by Forrester Consulting, 85 percent of businesses surveyed said they planned to invest in digital transformation in 2018.

That means that the vast majority of businesses are changing to internet-based online systems to find customers, market their products to them and process their payments. Storefronts are still part of the mix, but their role is diminishing more and more.

Many of those businesses fall into the six industry segments the study examined: retail, banking, healthcare, insurance, telecommunications and media. Of the 600 respondents, 37 percent said they planned to increase spending on digital transformation by 10 percent or more.

Of the six segments in the study, the retail industry in particular appeared to be setting the standard for innovative, digitally driven customer experiences. And those innovations are having a major impact on retail industry specifically; but that should come as no surprise. The reason: As more and more consumers turn to digital sellers, brick-and-mortar retailers increasingly are being left behind.

Large department store chains, for example, are either reporting digital transformations — or closing their doors, as Business Insider described. The reason of course is that online shopping has become the go-to destination.

The need to embrace digital transformation is therefore clear, and retailers that have jumped in with both feet are starting to reap the rewards. Here are three ways digital transformation is changing retail, and how businesses can strategize to stay ahead of the game.

Mobile

According to a report released by Business Wire earlier this month, department store retailer Macy’s has seen unprecedented growth in recent quarters. And Macy’s shares have increased in value by 13 percent.

“The winning formula for Macy’s, Inc. is a healthy brick-and-mortar business, robust ecommerce and a great mobile experience,” the report quoted Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette as saying. “While we have more work to do,” Gennette said, “the continuing improvement in our stores is encouraging, and we once again achieved double-digit growth in the digital business,”

Providing consumers with a user-friendly, engaging and useful online and mobile experience is key for retailers. Macy’s plans to take digital transformation even further with a new augmented reality feature on its mobile application.

Related: The Changing Face Of Digital Transformation

Augmented reality can give consumers a real-life image of how a product will fit them or fit into their home. For instance, Ikea‘s app can show a potential customer whether that new sectional sofa she’s been eyeing will really fit in the living room. This level of digital innovation communicates that a retailer is harnessing the power of new technology for the benefit of its customers.

Payments

In the past, retailers were forced to rely on traditional financial institutions for payment options. But, as technology has advanced, payment options and even the currencies consumers use have changed. Online retailer Overstock was the first major retailer to begin accepting bitcoin payments. The company embraced cryptocurrency in January 2014 and was able to generate $2 million in eight months, which equated to about $300,000 per month in bitcoin purchases, according to Reuters. 

Cryptocurrencies are becoming more and more popular in general, but most retailers still don’t accept them as a form of payment. Reasons for this reluctance include the volatility of the cryptocurrency value and slow transaction speeds. “Cryptocurrencies, if built on proper enterprise level blockchains, offer a significant reduction in transaction costs and increase in transaction security to benefit retailers,” Stefan Krautwald said in a company white paper. Krautwald is commercial director of FluzCoin, a patent-pending intelligent retail cryptocurrency.

Certain cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin, come with a high level of anonymity and because of “know your customer” (KYC) government regulations, companies must be able to verify the identity of their customers, making anonymity a major issue.

But there are options for retailers looking to embrace cryptocurrency, Krautwald noted: “For ecommerce businesses,” he said, “reduced fraud, such as the elimination of fraudulent chargebacks and lower transaction fees, can play a crucial role in cryptocurrency’s adoption.”

Automated services

Just as brick-and-mortar retailers have had to switch up their game to compete with online retailers, ecommerce sites are finding themselves under assault by newer subscription-based companies. An example is Stitch Fix, a personal shopping service of sorts. Stitch Fix doesn’t just sell clothing and accessories the way thousands of other online retailers do. Instead, its customers receive a box of clothing and accessories month, with each box specifically tailored to their individual needs.Stitch Fix collects a fee for the curation, whether the customer buys something or not.

Online retailers are succeeding due to the convenience they offer consumers; and, thanks to the digital transformation in online retail, subscription-based services are taking the convenience factor one step further.

At their core, subscription-based retailers are harnessing the power of automation to offer new innovative services. Consumers no longer have to go to a store when they run out of shampoo, or other necessary household items. Amazon offers a number of subscription options for necessities, and orders can literally be placed with the push of a button.

Amazon’s Dash Buttons lets consumers order refills automatically. Other companies, like Dollar Shave Club, which offers shaving razor subscriptions, are popping up to fill niche markets and offering customers affordable products by passing on wholesale cost savings directly to consumers.

Related: Helping Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses Make the Digital Transformation

The success these retailers are having demonstrates that retailers that don’t hop on the digital transformation train will be left at the station.



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Where to Spend and Where to Save


Bootstrap, and be scrappy. If it’s cheaper to do it yourself and you’re capable, why not give it a shot?


6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Building a company from scratch is no easy task. I know: I’ve done this successfully a handful of times.

I also know that I’ve learned a lot about the many expenditures you have to account for, from office space and employee salaries to taxes and marketing. But, thankfully, you don’t have to do all of this alone — which means that the main question you face is, exactly where should you spend your money? And, what are the best resources you can turn to, to help build your business without breaking the bank before you even start?

Related: How to Start a Business With (Almost) No Money

Here are a few tips regarding the areas where you can save, and where you would do well to spend.

Getting started

Initiating your business is the first and most important step. To do this, you’ll need cash. I like to bootstrap (build without investors) or first build enough value to bring on investors later. But, there are times when a loan can be a good option. Many people go to banks they are familiar with, but that process can take weeks. 

Meanwhile, there are other, and faster, lending options for entrepreneurs, especially for those with a healthy credit history. Examples include Currency Capital, The Entrepreneur Fund and Kabbage. These companies streamline an applicant’s approval and funding process by getting a more complete financial picture at the beginning of the application process. The applicant submits basic information so his or her business-credit worthiness can be assessed.

“Hopeful borrowers receive approvals within a few minutes 60 to 70 percent of time, Currency Capital’s vice president, Jared Takeuchi, said in this Nerd Wallet article.

Currency Capital is a platform of multiple lenders, each with his or her own respective criteria, so it connects applicants with a best-fit match. Not only is the process quick, but loan amounts can range between $5,000 and $2 million, with competitive APRs.

Related: The Complete, 12-Step Guide to Starting a Business

Establishing your brand

Visuals are imperative to your brand. This means a strong logo: Even without their full company names printed out, McDonald’s’ signature “M” and Starbucks’ two-tailed mermaid are familiar to just about everyone. A strong logo grants you legitimacy and the ability to “stamp” products or services as verifiably yours.

How do you get a good logo? You don’t have to hire an expensive graphic designer or go through a boutique agency to achieve the desired result. This is one area where it’s best to save money rather than spend it. Even though a logo will (hopefully) last for a long time, there are online tools that make it a snap to build a unique logo on your own. Deluxe Logo Design is inexpensive and easy to use, and you can experiment with its numerous templates without paying a dime until you’re satisfied.

Planning for accounting

Depending on your passion, you’re likely starting a business because you want to pursue your interests more than because you love finance and accounting. Accounting is still a crucial aspect of any company, though. So, should you hire an accountant from the start, or do it yourself?

Odds are you will need an accountant eventually, especially as your business grows. While your company is still in its infancy, however, accounting software may fill your needs. As Investopedia says, about taxes: “Good tax preparation software walks you through the process very quickly and easily. For those who have only a few deductions, sources of income, or investments, there is little need to sit down with an accountant to sort it all out.”

Ultimately, the decision to hire an accountant or not will depend on how complicated your business model will be. If you need extra help, another pair of eyes — belonging to someone with experience — will be worth the cost; but if you don’t have a complicated finance system, inexpensive software is probably fine.

Setting up an office

This is the digital age, so a significant amount of work can be done online. Construction companies may not have this option, but ecommerce ventures and other services that do business on the internet will likely find rented office space unnecessary.

Many companies are actually becoming entirely remote, using employees from around the world. I run three of my own companies remotely, thanks to various tools and cultures focused on results. 

If you (and your potential team) can work remotely, there are online project management and workflow platforms like Slack that can streamline communication and productivity. Online businesses also have a much broader pool of talent to choose from, since offices require hiring locals or relocating people; but distributed teams are open to anyone.

Planning for marketing

Marketing is an area where if you can avoid costly advertisements, you should. An Entrepreneur article on saving business costs suggested that splitting costs with fellow business owners can be a benefit. “Split advertising and promotion costs with neighboring businesses,” the article advised. “Jointly promote a sidewalk sale, or take your marketing alliance further by sharing mailing lists, distribution channels, and suppliers with businesses that sell complementary goods or services.”

Online businesses, in particular, should work on social marketing. They can cultivate their social media channels, which audiences are often more likely to find organically than the business’s website, and they can do so in a way that promotes their efforts and willingness to listen to customers.

Related: Chris Tucker’s 3 Tips to Starting a Business

If you are just starting a business, then, don’t feel compelled to spend vast amounts of money every step of the way, believing that those expenditures will result in increased ROI. If it’s cheaper to do it yourself and you’re capable, why not give it a shot?



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4 Ways to Reinvent the Facebook/Google Data Model in the Wake of Cambridge Analytica


The traditional model of collecting user data is hurting us all. Let’s change it, with blockchain.


7 min read


The Cambridge Analytica scandal, as CNBC reported, marked an important tipping point in how many of us view tech giants like Facebook and Google.

Related: How to Tell if Cambridge Analytica Scraped Your Facebook Data

To briefly recap what happened: Facebook allowed a third party (the British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica) to access huge amounts of Facebook user data and use it for political ends. This data contained details about the identities of millions of Facebook users and was shared without their direct knowledge.

A massive controversy ensued and is still in full swing. Just this week, Mark Zuckerberg tried to address the European Parliament’s concerns. This and other recent events have confirmed what many of us have known for some time: Our data is not safe with the Facebooks and Googles of the world and is used without our knowledge.

Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, widespread protests and furious debate have surrounded the issue of how our personal data ought to be handled. The ethics of the tech juggernauts are being questioned as never before.

As the case against Facebook unfolds and as that conversation dominates the spotlight, the flaws with the Facebook/Google model (where big companies control our data and do with it as they please) are becoming more apparent every day. It’s a system based on profiting from user data, and it pretty much benefits no one aside from the platforms themselves.

Let’s take a look at the problems the model shows.

Related: Read Mark Zuckerberg’s Full Statement on Facebook’s Data Scandal

A seriously flawed system

The problems boil down to the fact that users of these companies’ services don’t own their data. It’s the property of the platforms themselves, and that means it just isn’t safe.

While Facebook repeatedly insists that it doesn’t directly sell users’ data to advertising companies, this is an incomplete answer. In reality, both Facebook and Google work closely with ad companies, using users’ data to help them — the tech companies — bolster their efforts to target their own ads at the users most likely to respond well.

Worse, the Cambridge Analytica scandal is proof that this data isn’t safe with these tech companies. It can (and does) easily fall into the hands of people we know very little about, who may then use it in ways we may not agree with.

But the issues run deeper than privacy.

The data-model benefits users and advertisers in theory because users get to see ads for things they like, and ad companies get higher responses and ultimately more money.

Unfortunately, things aren’t quite that straightforward. Often, data is inaccurately used, leading to ad companies targeting the wrong users and losing money. So a data aggregator might say it didn’t sell the data — that it simply got leaked or wass “harvested” by other companies (as Zuckerberg testified in the Cambridge Analytica case).

But, whatever its genesis, the data gets out there; advertisers grab it, and he users themselves are forced to look at hordes of ads for things they couldn’t care less about.

Another group losing out? Content creators.They’re vital to the process because the videos, groups and posts they share are what attracts traffic to the platforms and make advertising possible.

But they’re often seriously underpaid, despite their crucial role in Facebook and Google’s business model.

It seems, then, that the only real beneficiaries are the tech companies. And these parties certainly do benefit — with enormous profits and ad revenues, as Statista reported in this article.

These are the reasons we need a new system. And the good news is there could be one just around the corner.

A new model, with four points

There’s been one good thing about the Cambridge Analytica controversy: It’s sparked a strong desire for new ways of doing things in the online advertising space. The result has been calls for a better way of handling data.

Blockchain technology is one method being considered. It’s decentralized by nature, so it offers a refreshing alternative to the heavy centralization of Facebook and Google. Projects like Kind Ads and Basic Attention Token are making serious headway in the war against protecting user data. These platforms,both blockchain based, are competing directly against tech giants like Facebook and Google. 

Here are four suggested points to reinvent the old model:  

1. Decentralization

In a decentralized, blockchain-based system, advertisers will be able to work directly with users and content-creators instead of doing everything via a powerful middle man. This will benefit everyone involved.

Users will regain control of their data and be able to sell it directly to advertisers in return for payment via cryptocurrency. This way, they will be able to decide who can access and use their personal information, and specify what ads they’ll be happy to see.

2. No identity

Because blockchain promises to be highly secure and preserve anonymity, users won’t need to worry about a user’s identity being shared or made public.

“Traditional businesses are for profit, and they are built with the intention of the company doing whatever is in their best interest,” Neil Patel, a board member with Kind Ads explained to me. (Kind Ads is an advertising platform that serves user-friendly ads without taking any middleman fees.) “With blockchain,” Patel said, “not only is your data distributed, but many of these foundations have a mission that is focused on the user and don’t ever plan on making a dollar. In essence, they are putting the user first.

“Users are empowered, and they are given options in which they can sell their data in exchange for compensation,” Patel added. “In this new model, the power is flipped, where the user/consumer is in control versus the business.”

3. New ad networks

Decentralized ad networks will be able to put the focus on the user, letting users see the ads they want to see. Advertisers won’t have the ability to misuse people’s personal information, and publishers will control what is shown on their websites.

Advertisers will benefit too, because they will target ads much more accurately, to people they are certain will want to see them. They’ll be able to shift from impersonal, annoying ad styles (like banner ads) and embrace more pleasant and effective methods, like push notifications and chatbots.

4. No middle man

Finally, content creators will be able to negotiate with advertisers themselves and keep all the revenue. They’ll be able to charge their own rates and earn more money than they would by relying on Facebook and Google. This will free them up to devote more time to creating the content their followers love.

That will be a step toward a much fairer way of advertising; and when users view it, they’ll rest easy, knowing their data is much safer.

Related: What the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Data Leak Teaches us About Ethics And Privacy

Overall, in the wake of events like the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the Equifax breach, people are rapidly losing faith in the ability of big tech companies to protect their data; and blockchain could well be the way we advance. Obviously, I’m an advocate of the blockchain revolution. I believe that disrupting big tech is the only way forward.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.



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How to Build a Fitness Empire With Clients Like Kevin Hart


Andrew Medal talks to Ron “Boss” Everline about what it takes to build a successful fitness business with a high-celebrity profile list


2 min read


Ron “Boss” Everline has made personal fitness and training his life’s work. He attended Northwest Missouri State University on a full athletic football scholarship in pursuit of his professional football dreams. This next level of athletic achievement was the obvious choice for him as he comes from a pedigree of football elites.

He headed and co-created programs such as CJ the Workout Kid, which targets childhood obesity in Atlanta, and Teachers Get Fit, a secondary program to CJ the Workout Kid, to motivate teachers to be active and healthy examples to students.

Everline’s training programs have grown into the brand Total Player LLC, an umbrella company he created to introduce luxury health and fitness. He trained for the royal family throughout Europe, Africa and the United Arab Emirates. His celebrity client list is growing by the day, including award-winning comedian and actor Kevin Hart; Grammy Award-winning R&B artist and actor Ne-Yo; singer, actress and host Christina Milian; former “Cheetah Girl” and star of Empire Girls Adrienne Bailon; and R&B artist and actor Trey Songz, to name a few. Today, Everline is taking his vision to the next level by incorporating youth fitness into his constantly growing Just-Train brand.

Related: From Prison to Y Combinator Graduate to Megamillion-Dollar Business

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.



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Sick of Passwords? Here’s How Blockchain Can Help, and Enhance Cybersecurity, to Boot.


The blockchain revolution includes white hat hackers banding together and the promise of no more passwords.


5 min read


Financial institutions, credit agencies, major corporations and small businesses are all in the news on a regular basis for security breaches (exemplified by this list of the top 17 security breaches from CSO that show the breadth of the issue).

Related: Protect Your Business! The 7 Cybersecurity Tools You Need as an Entrepreneur.

Because of these breaches, the average consumer needs to take measures to protect his or her individual information.

This is where blockchain technologies come in handy, because they’re disrupting the cybersecurity field in terms of how they’re better able to protect the individual user. Security and transparency are part of the overall promise of the block, as this IBM article explains.

Before an individual shares personal information or logs in to a favorite website, he or she must decide what’s getting shared. Thanks to the blockchain, cybersecurity is better than ever. Companies are focusing on keeping your information safe, focusing on access, detecting cyber attacks, protecting connected devices and eliminating the need for passwords.

That’s right! No more passwords

In an effort to get rid of those annoying passwords in your daily life and business dealings, REMME.io provides a secure and comprehensive blockchain-connected solution for authenticating identity: This solution has the potential to completely disrupt our password-heavy online lives by generating an individual SSL/TLS certificate rather than forcing users to log in manually.

REMME does this by using, as its foundation, Hyperledger Sawtooth, which is based on a public key infrastructure (PKI), and additional access management apps for user information.

Related: 3 Biggest Cybersecurity Threats Facing Small Businesses Right Now

In simpler terms, Hyperledger Sawtooth reflects the fact that traditional passwords aren’t that secure, as they are prone to getting hacked or to users forgetting them or losing access. Instead of passwords, REMME provides a fully secured authentication, in the form of SSL stored in the blockchain, so there is no authentication server or database that could be breached or manipulated. By removing the need for passwords,REMME’s solution removes the issue associated with them.

More good news! No more DDoS attacks

Gladius offers a new approach to fighting distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. These attacks happen when hackers take control of devices and direct them to a particular server.

Think about “zombie” traffic (so named because of the spike in recent years in useless traffic that comes from traffic with this Google nickname). Zombie traffic will overwhelm the bandwidth of the victim server and may lead to severe downtime and damage to a business’s productivity and reputation.

In Q4 2017 alone, as this Secure List article describes, DDoS attacks took place in 84 countries, with the longest lasting for 146 hours. These attacks can be terribly costly: the average cost of one for enterprises was $2.3 million in 2017, the article estimates.

Certainly there’s a lot at stake, but Gladius has a solution. Its approach involves using blockchain to build a network of users who can share bandwidth and resources to help one other combat DDoS attacks and accelerate the loading time of websites by deploying a wide network of caching devices (CDN).

In the event of an attack, victims can then draw on the bandwidth of their peers to help absorb the flood of traffic and prevent downtime; and, using this solution, users, in times of calm, can help to cache contents and serve websites.

In return, users who donate bandwidth to struggling members can be rewarded with crypto tokens. It’s a new and exciting way of dealing with the DDoS threat and could create a new incentivized model for sharing resources.

White hat hackers join forces

As cyber-crime increases, the cybersecurity industry grows. It’s now a huge and sprawling field, full of new companies and innovation. There are plenty of people with the skills to conduct cyber attacks of their own, who have chosen to fight for the good side and help defeat hackers.

Hacken wants to harness all this power and use blockchain to build a cybersecurity community that cares about ethics. Members of this community will be able to share resources and expertise in return for Hacken tokens.

For example, companies will be able to share information about their vulnerabilities, while white hat hackers figure out ways to resolve them. This information would then be publicly stored on the blockchain for future reference.

This kind of setup can not only help fight crime but also encourage investment in cybersecurity startups and help support this growing and valuable industry, for everyone’s benefit.

The future of cybersecurity in 2018

Blockchain technologies in 2018 have the potential to disrupt the way we navigate cybersecurity by keeping your information safe, detecting cyberattacks before they happen, eliminating passwords completely and banding white hackers together to do good.

Related: 4 Vital Cyber Security Measures Every Safety-Conscious Entrepreneur Needs to Take

There’s no doubt that blockchain can have a profound impact on cybersecurity since it is at its core a secure and encrypted database. And this database is immutable, transparent and — above all — resilient.



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From Prison to Y Combinator Graduate to Megamillion-Dollar Business


Andrew Medal chats with Frederick Hutson, the co-founder and CEO of Pigeonly. Hutson created a multimillion-dollar business after going to prison for five years.


1 min read


Frederick is the CEO and founder of Pigeonly, a low-cost communication and financial services platform that makes it easy for people to support an incarcerated loved one. He came up with the idea after serving time in the federal penitentiary for distributing 3,000 kilograms of weed. Hutson leads a growing team of over 20 people from Pigeonly’s Las Vegas headquarters and has raised over $5 million in funding from investors including Erik Moore (Base VC) and Mitch Kapor (Lotus).

Related: This Entrepreneur Was Down to His Last Cent When He Got an Order for His First Product. Now, His Company Is Worth More Than $28 Million.



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