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How Open Financial Tools and Services on the Blockchain Are an Enormous Opportunity for Entrepreneurs

The opportunity blockchain represents is just getting started.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Outside of all the consistent price speculation and novelty of cryptocurrencies, a compelling trend toward a more open and accessible financial ecosystem has materialized.

Underscoring this movement is the expansion of the infrastructure and regulation required to facilitate a transition toward open financial tools. From standardized identity protocols for KYC/AML (know your customer/anti money laundering) compliance to modular, open-source tools, the digital asset market is converging with traditional economic structures.

For entrepreneurs, the sheer scale of innovation in the sector is dizzying. The narrative of monetary sovereignty that cryptocurrencies have molded has coincided with broader trends toward data privacy and more accessible financial tools for the unbanked parts of the world. The potential for open, decentralized finance is enormous and has become one of the most convincing areas for attracting entrepreneurs.

The movement towards open finance and integrated financial services

Decentralized (i.e., open finance) is commonly defined as an interoperable financial system where the core beliefs revolve around increased accessibility, transparency, standardization and financial inclusion. The notion of wider access to financial tools is especially important.

According to the World Bank’s Global Findex, more than 2.5 billion people globally do not have access to formal bank accounts or other financial services. Cryptocurrencies have inherently lowered the barrier for accessing value storage and transfer mechanisms by removing intermediaries and creating a new class of assets outside of the existing financial system.

However, even assurances for open and censorship-resistant access to Bitcoin are weak and fragile in many areas of the world.

Parallel with the emergence of cryptocurrencies is the emphasis on open financial tools, either built directly on blockchains as open protocols or hybrid services for digital assets offered by commercial entities ingratiated with legacy systems. These projects expand on the concept of cryptocurrencies by building transparent and open financial instruments for creating and tapping into the power of digital assets.

One of the more compelling developments has been the rise of open financial tools — such as MakerDAO, Compound Finance and Dharma Protocol. These projects are open protocols that operate on the blockchain and provide secured lending services.

Secured lending currently constitutes the largest sector of open finance, but other areas such as security tokens and decentralized prediction markets are also gaining traction.

Despite the potential of open protocols, a wholesale transition to open financial instruments on blockchains is unlikely. Instead, the more prudent approach is a hybrid ecosystem of traditional financial services and businesses integrated with open protocols and digital assets.

The reality of an open financial system is only possible with the proper infrastructure and innovations in related spheres. Regulators and financial institutions in the U.S. are gradually warming to the notion of digital assets, but are looking for the right market maturity and infrastructure before diving in headfirst.

As startups have transitioned away from ICOs, a new focus has been placed on security tokens and transparent, regulatory-compliant digital assets. Similarly, models for ICOs have begun to strictly follow KYC/AML processes in an effort to provide assurances against their previous notoriety for fraudulent crowdfunding.

Increasing regulation, identity standardization and data sovereignty

With increasing regulatory oversight comes concerns about data privacy and security, as users traditionally need to duplicate personal data across various industries and markets to comply with KYC/AML processes. Within an open financial system, compliance with regulatory structures will be necessary, but initiatives are underway to make the process much more seamless — via standardization and enhanced data security.

Data sovereignty has coincided with the cryptocurrency narrative of monetary independence. Blockpass is a distributed KYC platform that is one of the primary companies pushing the transition to self-sovereign digital identities, and their work has some crucial implications in open financial systems.

“The issue is that a user’s digital identity is not private to them,” said Blockpass founder and CEO, Adam Vaziri. “Identity consists of the most sensitive information relating to an individual. This is not something that should be controlled by a corporation — it should be developed and controlled by the user.”

The duplication of identification data across myriad companies and industries lead to endemic, high-profile hacks (as reported by 01.Media), and improper use of data by financial institutions and tech companies.

Standardized identity protocols such as Blockpass enable users to store their data locally on their devices and can easily comply with KYC/AML processes across industries via attestations to the authenticity of their identity, without revealing unnecessary personal information. Their model is highly useful for financial service companies in the digital asset sector — such as exchanges — using their identity verification portal. Similarly, a new generation of ICOs and STOs are targeting regulatory-compliant launches.

A standardized and open financial ecosystem

The future landscape of an open financial system built on open protocols and hybrid financial services is an exciting proposition. For entrepreneurs, the rapidly expanding market presents some unprecedented opportunities for building in a cutting-edge field that is reshaping an outdated financial model.

As countries transition to cashless societies, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies provide a fundamental hedge against the privacy and censorship-prone abuses that come with an absence of cash. A hybrid system of open financial instruments and cryptocurrencies creates an environment where the billions of unbanked in the world can enter into the modern digital economy with monetary and data sovereignty on their side.

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How These 2 Brothers Started a Company Together While Living in Different Cities

This is the story of how theChive.com got started.

1 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Brothers John Resig and Leo Resig founded Chive Media Group and its flagship site, theChive.com, in November 2008, with no capital and a lot of hustle. Leo was living in Chicago (the “CHI” in “CHIVE”), and John was living in Venice (the “VE”).

With backgrounds in digital publishing and the financial backing from partner Doug Schaaf, the Resigs were able to turn a three-man project into the nationwide, 170-employee entertainment digital media company that Chive Media Group is today.

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4 Lessons That Most Successful Entrepreneurs Had to Learn the Hard Way

To help mitigate the impact of those speed bumps, here are four lessons that most successful entrepreneurs have learned the hard way, but maybe you don’t have to.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The path to building a successful business is rarely a simple one.

But in the beginning, it seems simple enough: you’ll build an amazing product, market it and watch as people pull out their credit cards. Then you’ll hire people to take over menial tasks and you’ll move into the role of CEO, eventually delegating that as well and living on the beach in Bora Bora, sipping on a martini.

Of course, anyone who’s spent more than three months trying to build a business knows that isn’t the common story arc for a thriving startup. The truth is, building a business brings lots of unexpected twists — people quit, products fail, you burn out.

To help mitigate the impact of those speed bumps, here are four lessons that most successful entrepreneurs have learned the hard way, but maybe you don’t have to.

1. Your first idea is rarely your best idea.

When you launch, your product is a bit like a newborn baby. It’s delicate, fragile and the last thing you want to hear is that it’s ugly — or worse yet, to hear nothing at all. Unfortunately, the latter is often the case when an ambitious entrepreneur launches a product they love. Since your market doesn’t want to outright tell you that your product is terrible, they don’t say anything at all — they don’t interact with your content, they don’t click on your CTAs and they are quick to unsubscribe from your email list.

And that’s OK. More often than not, your first idea isn’t your best idea, but can segway into a profitable idea if you do everything in your power to understand your market and what they really need. It’s not about getting it right the first time, but about getting it right eventually. In the words of Eric Ries, which easily sums up what a lean startup is, “The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” By the way, if you haven’t read The Lean Startup yet, it’s a must for first-time entrepreneurs.

Lesson: Don’t get married to your ideas. Focus on the metrics that matter. Test everything before and during your building process.

2. Hiring the wrong person is more expensive than waiting for the right person.

When an amateur entrepreneur hires their first employee, it usually has more to do with how much they like the person and how cheap it costs to employ them than it does with how good that person is at their job.

It doesn’t seem like such a bad idea at first. But it only takes doing this a few times to find out that hiring people because they’re cheap or because you like them is a terrible idea. You’re better off hiring someone who’s good at the work they do even if they’re more expensive — over the long run, the higher performer will actually save you money. Red Adair put it best when he said, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Lesson: Take your time when hiring. You may have heard this before, “hire slow and fire fast.” It’s applicable to this point. Only hire when you absolutely must, initially. If there are things you can do early on, do them. But also, if it’s best to hire and delegate to focus on cash-generating activities, do that too. This is when you’ll have to trust your gut.

3. Your mental health directly impacts your business’s success.

Entrepreneurship has a dark side — a side that’s riddled with mental health ailments. Statistically, entrepreneurs are twice as likely to struggle with depression and five times more likely to struggle with ADHD than their less ambitious counterparts.

You could make an argument, of course, that the entrepreneurial lifestyle has a tendency to attract those of us with chemical imbalances, but I think it’s equally likely that building a business creates (or at least aggravates) symptoms associated with depression, ADHD and even bipolar disorder.

And the more that you struggle, the more your business will struggle. I hit a workout recently with Austin Paulsen, the founder of AP Performance, and he explained, “It doesn’t take long to figure out that your own mental fortitude directly influences how quickly your business grows. I coach lots of people on their health and if there’s one thing I’ve learned along the way, it’s that a person’s health directly impacts their daily performance, at home and behind the desk.”

Lesson: Your mental and physical health is everything, and it’s not worth the cost of your success. Don’t fall into that trap. Be an entrepreneur focused on longevity and sustainability, which means you need to focus on your physical and mental health too. Eat healthily, exercise often and disconnect multiple times per week.  

4. The road to success can be a long one.

When you launch your business, dreams abound. You don’t just dream at night, either. During the day, you find yourself wondering distractedly what it might be like to make millions of dollars or to lead a team of genius-level employees.

And sure, for some businesses, that dream is a reality. But don’t get sucked into the media frenzy highlight reels. Building a company from the ground up takes time and work. Sometimes it will be a perfect storm and things will move faster, but be focused on the long term too.

Sometimes, the reality is far more boring, but also far more likely. A gradual slope upward that’s riddled with relatively uninteresting spikes and plummets. That’s how it’s supposed to be. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about entrepreneurship, it’s that you have to enjoy the journey. If you love it, then you’ll succeed.

Lesson: Be patient in your journey. Don’t compare yourself or company to others. And, focus on the things you can control. Entrepreneurship is the greatest thing I’ve ever experienced, but it can also be the most volatile. Embrace your journey.

You’ll have lots of unexpected twists and turns along your entrepreneurial journey. You may be subjected to lawsuits from partners or customers, you may raise money and lose it all in the same day, you may grow sales or go bankrupt. 

Fortunately, you can learn from people who’ve already been there and done that. Successful entrepreneurs will act as your guiding light to help get you where you want to go. Find mentors, read books and network with your peers. By remembering the above four points, you’ll streamline your path to success and bypass a few of the lessons that most successful entrepreneurs had to learn the hard way.

Catch the third season of my Entrepreneur Network video series Action & Ambition on Friday, March 22. The entire reason I created the show is so that we could learn the backstories and journeys that other successful entrepreneurs have endured along their path to success.

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13 Prison Slang Terms You Should Use With Co-Workers

You thought prison slang was reserved for hardened convicts and characters of ‘Orange is the New Black’?

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Prison life is hard. It requires its own language, a slang understood only by those who experience it. Do you know what else is hard? Your job. While you might not be confined to solitary, your cubicle might sometimes feel like a cell. Or sometimes, even a death sentence.

When you’re at your most pessimistic and your boss is being a dick, when the co-worker next to you is about to drive you to some heavy level manslaughter shit, you need the right slang to truly articulate how horrible life can be in the cubicle cell in which you live (or, maybe it’s not so dramatic and you just want to have fun).

Related: The Many Pros and Fewer-Than-Expected Cons of Hiring Ex-Cons

Some of these prison slang can translate to everyday office life, which just might make your interactions with co-workers a little more enjoyable. You probably already have a lot of things you want to call some of the people you work with … but here are some suggestions straight from the prison yard.

1. Buck Rogers time: In prison, this is used to mean that your release date is so far into the distant future that it doesn’t even feel real. If you work one of those 9-to-5s where Friday feels like an eternity and even your one-hour cubicle-bound lunch break seems distant, then you’re livin’ Buck Rogers time.

2. Cowboy: Spell cowboy backward. What is it? “yobwoc.” This might sound like rubbish, but in prison, it means “young, obnoxious bastard we often con.” Basically, your unpaid intern.

3. Ear hustling: We all have that gossipy, nosy co-worker who spends more time listening in on your phone calls and butting into the Monday morning conversations you have with your work friends. He’s “ear hustling,” which in prison means eavesdropping without permission.

4. Dry snitching: In prison, dry snitching means to snitch indirectly by talking in an excessively loud voice or drawing attention from the guards, or offering some information but no names. Dry snitching is snitching for cowards. Instead of just telling on you outright, a dry snitcher in the workplace speaks loud enough so that your boss or supervisor can hear what he or she was going to tell on you for, and gets you in trouble anyway.

5. OG: An “original gangster.” In prison, this is a respectful term for someone has been in the joint for a long time. In the work world, this is someone who has been with your startup for more than three months.

6. Road Dawg: This is your homie. It’s the guy you walk with during rec, who you share your commissary with and the guy who has your back in a riot. He’s the one who doesn’t rat on you for staring at internet memes all day.

7. Wolf tickets: When an inmate sells wolf tickets, he’s talking shit without backing anything up. He’s just “selling wolf tickets.” Same thing in the office. This is the co-worker who says he’ll close the client or make the next big deal but spends his day scrolling through Facebook because he’s doing “market research.”

Related: From Martha Stewart to Steve Madden, Here Are Some of the Most Famous Entrepreneurs Who Served Prison Time

8. Bug: In prison, this is an untrustworthy or unreliable prison staff member. You don’t want to get close to a bug. They’re untrustworthy and don’t have your back for a second. This is that person in the office who always looks through the stall door to see if you’re texting in the bathroom and then turns you in for it.

9. Cellie: In prison, this is the person you share your cell with. At work, it’s the guy or girl in the cubicle next door. They share your pain. You commiserate when work gets tough and your boss keeps threatening to take your stapler.

10. Fresh fish: In prison, the new inmates. At your workplace, the recent college grad with no work experience.

11. Holds the keys: Whoever holds the keys is the shot caller for that prison yard. At your office, it could be the janitor, who literally holds the keys. Or, it could be the IT guy, because let’s be real, he has all of your emails and therego controls your life.

12. House mouse: In prison, this is the inmate who maintains communication between prisoners and the deputies. At work, it’s your supervisor and general manager. Call em’ a glorified house mouse with a higher paycheck than you.

13. Juice Card: Holding a “juice card” in prison can get you out of some real trouble. It means you have some sort of influence with guards or even other prisoners. This works in the office, too. It might be that you’re tight with the CEO and your boss knows it. Or you could have a juice card because you’re a legitimately good employee who actually knows how to work and you earned respect the old fashioned way.

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

Oh, I know you’re on a new diet and are now using a standup desk for work, but how about you try out these prison slang terms and shake your day up even more. See how your co-workers or your manager reacts when you use a term usually reserved for prison gangs. Or watch how that higher up, who has a huge paycheck just for being persistently douchey, acts when you tell him to, “stop being a cowboy and quit all that ear hustling or I’ll take the damn keys from you.”  

If you like the slang you see here, there’s a lot more of that in my upcoming book, Don’t Drop the Soap: The Wildest $#*! About Prison You Can’t Learn on Netflix. You can find more names to call your co-workers, and you can discover a ton of other incredibly valuable stuff such as prison life hacks, prison food recipes (yum!) and prison workouts. Do you want to learn how to light a cigarette with a battery, or, how to make your own tattoo gun with a Walkman motor, guitar string and pen case? Well, then, my prison book is just for you! Go get it.  

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4 Influencer Marketing Secrets Entrepreneurs Need to Know

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Potentially earning thousands per post, influencers are cashing in on their ability to captivate large audiences and thus heavily impact the purchasing behavior of their followers. It’s clear why brands keep throwing products and money toward these social media stars — influencer marketing works.

The top 50 Instagram influencers have more than 3.1 billion followers, as reported by Social Blade, and overall, 3.028 billion people, or 40 percent of the world’s population, actively use social media. 

Here are a few more stats to consider:

  • Influencer marketing has 11 times the ROI of traditional digital marketing, as reported byTapinfluence.com.

  • Seventy percent of millennial consumers are persuaded by the recommendations of their peers in buying decisions, as reported by Collective Bias.

  • Thirty-seven percent of customers place more value on the quality of a post then its sponsorship and 67 percent don’t have an adverse reaction to sponsored content, according to Collective Bias.

  • Almost 40 percent of Twitter users have purchased a product or service as a direct result of an influencer tweet, according to Twitter. 

I grew my first company in 2009 with influencer marketing (before it was even a term), which spiked sales and created crazy brand loyalty in a short time. We went from zero to millions in revenue in under 12 months.

Related: How to Structure Your 2019 Social-Media Campaigns to Appeal to Gen Z

Are you onboard with influencer marketing? If so, here are four tips to working with social media tastemakers you must consider:

1. Co-create with your influencers.

Influencers are a direct extension of your brand, so act like they are. Sew them into the fabric of your company by creating content together. Rather than just telling them what to post, learn about them and their audience and how your brand fits into their daily life.

I recently spoke with Sebastian Merkhoffer for an episode of my new podcast. He said he’s currently recording eight-figure annual revenue for his company, FitVia, thanks mostly to influencer marketing. “Influencer marketing is becoming a standard part of the marketing mix. For us, success in developing our core partnerships has stemmed largely from co-creating content together,” he said.

Merkhoffer said FitVia has influencers bring his products wherever they go. “Recently, we sent a German influencer for a detox weekend where she took her followers, and our team, along for the ride. It’s something authentic and far more engaging than just posting a photo of your breakfast.”

2. Leverage IGTV as the latest go-to social channel.

By 2021, it’s predicted that mobile video will account for 78 percent of all mobile data traffic, according to Instagram. 

In June of last year, Instagram released IGTV to compete with YouTube. It wasn’t a home run off the bat, but marketers should stay keen on its advances to come.

“While user engagement with IGTV has been fairly disappointing so far, I expect Instagram to improve the functionality and visibility of IGTV content and put a lot more money behind getting brands to make use of the feature,” predicted Michael Edelmann, senior marketing manager at The Business of Fashion, on Later.com.

Related: This Family Has 4 Million Instagram Followers — and the Kids’ College Educations Are Already Paid For

As a brand, it’s integral to keep an eye on these shifts to immediately track how your social media collaborators are responding. Are they early adopters to all the latest platforms? Or are they a bit more reserved, and stick with what they know?

As Alfred Lua explained in a Buffer article, “You might also want to check out less-known and less-popular social media platforms as well. For example, Musical.ly, a platform for creating and sharing short videos, has become very popular among teens. Other platforms you can check out include AnchorMedium and Tumblr. “

3. Focus on gen Z.

Millennials still hold the reins with more than $200 billion in purchasing power. However, gen Z is on track to become the largest group of consumers by 2020, and according to Millennial Marketing, they already account for $29 billion to $143 billion in direct spending. Gen Z is a growing section of the influencer economy across all platforms, making it vital for brands to consider their future consumer base.

For example, kidfluencers can be a massive opportunity for brands. “More people are looking at kid influencers for product recommendations. It’s definitely a long-term play. It’s building brand awareness and affinity through generations,” Zoe Marans, vice president of MediaKix, recently told Fast Company.

4. Slowly invest in influencer marketing.

Before you jump on the influencer marketing bandwagon, be cautious not to throw your entire marketing budget to YouTube stars. Sure, throwing $1 million at Beyonce to post about your product may reach hundreds of thousands, but that buzz will die in a matter of hours. Instead, start small to figure out what type of influencers will have the broadest impact.

“The key is to invest your budget into influencer marketing slowly,” Merkhoffer said. “I can’t stress how important it is to test, learn and then scale. The process iterates on itself and marketers must stay agile enough to integrate feedback as it comes through, not just once a quarter or annually.”

Related: When It Comes to Influencers, Fake Engagement Is Only Half the Problem

Even better, if you can use product or swag as payment to start a campaign, that can be an effective way to get influencer buy-in, especially if these are influencers that are already using your brand. As Lua explained, “If you are offering a discount or free samples for their followers, be sure to create a specific discount code or landing page for each influencer. That’s to help you with tracking the effectiveness of your campaign.”

Ready to ramp up your influencer marketing campaigns? Understand that success lies in your marketing team’s ability to nourish relationships that build trust between your brand and your target customer. Make sure you vet your influencers diligently and create a very clear deliverable so that everyone’s on the same page.

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What Business Owners Need to Know About Protecting Their Data

False sense of security? Even major apps and platforms can fall victim to security vulnerabilities.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With the recent rush toward enhancing consumer data protection due to GDPR and other privacy regulations that have taken effect, businesses have strengthened their platforms toward better protecting and securing user data. But is this enough? What do you need to know as a business owner, entrepreneur or manager?

Recent vulnerability reports prove that even major ecommerce and social platforms can easily become an attack vector for cross-site-scripting (or XSS) attacks, and these happen even if the platforms themselves are secure. With vulnerabilities in third-party application providers being used by major customer-facing platforms, there is an increased risk that user data will be exposed to malicious players. This is the risk we all face, unfortunately. 

Data privacy regimes

Perhaps the biggest tech news in 2018 was the enforcement of the European General Data Protection Regulation, which sought to protect European Union citizens’ personal data from being collected and utilized without consent. With the GDPR, any business that handles data on E.U. citizens, or which counts E.U. citizens as among their clients, will need to explicitly inform said users of data gathering efforts, and seek explicit content for doing so.

GDPR has had its impact even outside of Europe since any business that provides services to E.U. citizens or residents will need to comply. In addition, there have been numerous privacy-focused regulations that are also in effect worldwide, given the recent consumer and business focus on data privacy, which are all good things that are working to protect us.

Even with an increased focus toward enhancing privacy, however, there are still a lot of risks involved when it comes to businesses losing user data to malicious hackers. For one, given the collaborative nature of services (e.g., an ecommerce store utilizing a payment processor or a logistics provider), the weakest link here would be the service that can introduce a potential breach. In this regard, the moment a third-party application puts the user at risk, the entire operation could already be compromised.

XSS in a nutshell

In the simplest explanation, XSS attacks are a form of data-injection, wherein malicious client-side code is injected by an attacker into an otherwise legitimate website. This works by injecting code — usually JavaScript — into a website or web app’s output, often working through forms such as search fields, feedback forms, forum text entry fields and even cookies stored on a user’s browser.

When an unsuspecting user accesses an affected website, the injected code has the potential to deliver a payload, which can include executing code, stealing data, controlling a user’s session or installing backdoors to a computer system or network.

Such attacks are borne by the need for today’s websites to be interactive. With the numerous interactions between browser and server over a single session, XSS can even be used to pull content from a third-party website, use existing cookie data (which can include usernames and passwords), or interact directly with an app’s client-side processes.

What platforms have been vulnerable?

A recent DOM-XSS (document object model-XSS) exploit has been found on prominent social networking and ecommerce sites including Tinder, Shopify and Yelp, reports VPN Mentor late in 2018, exposing as many as 685 million users globally to data theft.

Digging deeper into the potential extent of the risk, the security researchers discovered that the XSS vulnerability included money transfer service Western Union and image sharing service Imgur. Other services affected by the vulnerability were Canva, Letgo, Lookout, Fair, Amazon Music, TicketMaster and Reddit, among others.

The weak point is assumed to have originated in Branch.io — a third-party mobile linking platform that unifies user experiences across different devices and channels. The service has an alias subdomain for its partner sites (including the ones listed above), and clicking on links pointing to these subdomains may have rendered users vulnerable to data theft through scripts injected by malicious hackers.

What can businesses and users do?

The company involved has promptly fixed the potential vulnerability after receiving reports of the XSS risk. However, this precludes the possibility that attackers may have discovered the vulnerability and exploited it to steal data. Therefore, this means that users who have recently or regularly used services detailed above like Tinder, need to double check if their accounts are not compromised. Password changes and browser cache/cookie clearing might be a good idea.

For businesses, meanwhile — especially those that run consumer-facing platforms, or even those that utilize websites for employee access — there are several methods to minimize the risks, as explained by ComputerWeekly, associated with XSS. This involves building applications with a tight security development lifecycle. This means constantly building and updating in order to reduce or eliminate security-related errors in design and coding. This also means assuming that all data that is being received by the application can potentially come from an untrusted source, even if it comes from users who are already logged in and authenticated.

As such, some changes that can be adopted for entrepreneurs, business owners and managers can include:

  • Not trusting user input blindly. This means constantly validating the input for type, length, format and data range whenever such data goes across trust boundaries;
  • Reducing client-side input, to preclude the possibility of unwanted code or character sets being passed through;
  • Setting a webpage’s character set to the bare minimum (ISO-8859-1), which is enough for English and most European languages;
  • Asking users to re-authenticate before accessing critical services;
  • Immediately expiring login sessions if access from multiple IP addresses is detected;
  • Utilizing vulnerability scanners to keep track of such risks in real-time;
  • And conducting penetration testing before an application or website goes live.

The takeaway

As XSS attacks have been all over the headlines, it makes sense to focus on preventing security risk, especially in the light of calls for better data privacy and protection. This is important today, given the fact that most sites will not work without client-side scripting.

If this has still gone above your head, make sure to contact your webmaster and have him or her walk you through these important points regarding data protection. Knowing that major social networks and services have actually been at open risk to a big XSS attack, both businesses and users need to be proactive about their security.

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How Blockchain’s Decentralization Narrative Can Redefine Data Privacy

The true value of blockchain technology can be found in data privacy.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Blockchain’s prolonged sentiment as a panacea to the world’s problems throughout 2017 was unambiguously representative of what the Gartner Hype Cycle details. However, out of the extended bear markets, which pruned many altcoins from the markets and helped participants in the broader ecosystem become more discerning, emerged several trends that still can drive important change in crucial areas.

One of those areas is data privacy, and the future role that decentralizing network and systems architecture can have in mitigating the endemic problems of data security, unethical data sharing and Orwellian-grade mass surveillance.

Related: Don’t Let Blockchain Technology’s Security Loopholes Go Unnoticed

Surveying the cryptocurrency and blockchain landscape reveals that privacy has been continually emphasized among core proponents of the underlying technology, and is beginning to garner more widespread support following consistent revelations of data hacks and the extent to which governments seek to reduce financial privacy.

Privacy is a fundamental principle that has been overlooked for years as social media companies and internet tech giants rose to oligopoly status with enormously popular platforms. The platforms were free and groundbreaking, but behind the scenes, it is the users’ data that drives the business model and is doled out to third-parties without reprehension.  

The centralization of these models is inextricably linked to the problems that have increased data privacy concerns, and are gathering momentum.

While blockchains and cryptocurrencies do not singularly pose the solution to data privacy, they have reignited the debate about digital privacy and accelerated growth in novel technologies that help to secure better privacy. From a tangential development like zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs) to distributed storage architecture, the narrative of decentralization provided the foundation for much-needed change.

Now, it is just a matter of creating that change.

Building a private and decentralized internet

Despite its original conception as an open and decentralized digital realm, the internet has not really lived up to its promises in this regard. Tech and financial companies employ siloed data models that contain massive amounts of sensitive, personal information and are subject to influence by governments and attack by hackers as central points of failure.

Related: Become a Blockchain Expert for Less Than $20

According to a Javelin Strategy & Research study from 2017, roughly $16.7 million was stolen through identity fraud in the U.S. Fraud stems directly from the poor security that centralized data models confer. Voluntary credit freezes following mass data scandals have become commonplace.

Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world, not have your information sold to the highest bidder.

Decentralizing data storage and transfer, as well as integrating decentralization with innovations such as multi-party computation, encryption and trusted execution environments has the potential to reshape data privacy. Looking past the hype of blockchain, you will find myriad solutions on the horizon that demonstrate the evolving nature of privacy and the unrelenting efforts by people to preserve it.

Technical developments such as IPFS alters how the modern web works by creating a distributed, P2P hypermedia protocol, with no central point of failure. With the potential to replace HTTP, IPFS reenvisions the original conception of an open and flat web, removing data duplication and employing cryptography for fingerprinting data without revealing sensitive details within the data.

More of an indirect consequence of the proliferation of cryptocurrencies, ZKPs have emerged as a dynamic new technology with wide-ranging potential. The concept, used in public cryptocurrency networks such as ZCash and Monero, is designed to verify the authenticity and integrity of a data transfer (i.e., a financial transaction) across a public medium without revealing any information about the transfer itself. Think verification of identity without needing to disclose the identity or completely private financial transactions without revealing the origin, recipient or amount transferred.

While both ZKPs and IPFS represent major steps forward in enhancing data privacy, they are complicated and require significant technical knowledge to implement. Platforms such as Promether are working to change this by providing the modular framework that integrates an “Adaptive Symbiotic Network” for anyone to create secure, decentralized and anonymous networks. An open-source technology, Promether abstracts the details of a secure and anonymous network from mainstream users, making accessing tools that safeguard privacy much more available to non-technical users.

Related: Blockchain Could Make Our Food Supply Much Safer

This protection of data can be used in specific industries as well. For example, take the sensitive issue of storing health data. MedRec provides a way of storing health records using fully decentralized access rights via an Ethereum blockchain. According to the developers at MIT (where the project originated), MedRec uses the World Wide Web as a model and provides patients all over the world control over record distribution.

As 2019 begins, looking back at the innumerable violations of privacy over the last several years should encourage people to once again emphasize a principle that most would admit they strongly believe in but is often ignored out of the lure and familiarity of centralized platforms.

Blockchain has not redefined data privacy, but it has refueled a growing generation of ideas that have the potential to shift the control from centralization to decentralization, once again allowing individuals the ability to take back privacy of their data.

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3 Tips To Effectively Manage Your Side Hustle and Avoid Costly Mistakes

Take that hustle from the side to full-time.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

According to a Bank Rate study, 4 in 10 Americans having a side hustle and earn over $8K annually through that side hustle. More and more people are freelancing, driving in the car share industry and starting their own small businesses. The car-sharing market is set to exceed $11 billion U.S.D by 2024, according to a research report by Global Market Insights, Inc. 

35 percent of the U.S. workforce, or 55 million people, were freelancers in 2016, according to the Freelancers Union. Even the youngest generation, Gen Z, is looking to the gig economy. In a survey by Deloitte, 62 percent of working Gen Zers said they would consider joining the gig economy to supplement full-time employment, while 15 percent already have a side hustle in addition to their full-time job.

With this increase in side hustles, it’s critical for entrepreneurs, freelancers and independent contractors to know how to effectively manage their business, not only to increase their take-home income but also to ensure they don’t run into any unforeseen (or costly) issues.

Let’s take a look at three effective strategies to manage these endeavors that can help in maximizing sales and minimizing the amount of time spent. Let’s face it, side hustles are cool, but not having any free time or losing money is not.

Related: 15 Easy Ways to Make Extra Money at Home

1. Meticulously track your income streams

When you run a side business, there can be many income streams (and if your business doesn’t have more than one, look for additional opportunities), the main one being obtaining new clients, of course. But, other ways to make some extra cash can arise as well, such as speaking opportunities as a result of the work you’ve done, creating content for other sites if you’ve positioned yourself as a thought leader within an industry or ad revenue from your company blog posts.

The key is to track how much revenue is coming in from each of these avenues, and then put more time and effort into the areas that are making the most money. This is especially important in the beginning when funds are necessary to re-invest in the business to keep it moving forward. Creating a spreadsheet to tally each revenue stream and checking your performance regularly will help determine where and how you should be spending your time.

It’s very easy to fall into the habit of focusing on the aspects of the business that you prefer to do or want to spend your time on, rather than on what’s bringing in the most revenue. But, that’s not the best way to increase your earnings.

For example, a graphic designer may freelance and take on clients for extra income, and since their passion lies in the design work, they spend the majority of their time on perfecting the deliverables for clients. But, another aspect of the business is identifying new leads in order to get more clients, which takes sales skills the individual may not possess or enjoy. Being that this is the best way to increase their income, a set amount of time should be allocated to this task, no matter how less desirable it may be. I like to call these rainmaking activities. Focus on these activities that are going to make it rain for you and the business, even if they suck to do.

Related: 10 New Ideas for Making Money on the Side

Grow your team systematically

The time will come when you can no longer wear all the hats and do everything as a one-man (or woman) band. Bringing on additional team members can free up your time to focus on the growth strategies that will bring in even more income, so it can be a win-win.

Knowing whether your business needs a full-time employee, a freelancer or an intern can be a tough decision, but an important one. And knowing what differentiates an independent contractor from an employee is critical. Not only so you can be as productive as possible, but also because you don’t want to violate any labor laws or get into costly disputes with your hires. Because technological advances such as drag-and-drop website builders create a low barrier to entry for new businesses, many entrepreneurs may not realize all the rules and regulations around minimum wage, overtime pay eligibility, and record-keeping.

With the rise of ecommerce companies, some key points for business owners to stay abreast on are that employees could be subject to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections if the employee’s regular work involves interstate commerce. In today’s digital world, that applies to a lot of people. Not to mention some of the most common mistakes made by employers are paying employees who may otherwise be exempt on an hourly basis, docking pay for partial days worked or misclassifying employees as exempt.

Related: A Complete Guide to the Highest-Paying Jobs, Companies, Freelance Jobs and More

Spend your time very wisely

Since your full-time job most likely takes up the majority of your time, it’s critical to make sure the time you spend on your side hustle is worthwhile. That’s why it’s important to know when to say no.

Opportunities pop up all the time, and it’s natural to think that you need to capitalize on all of them. After all, you could miss out on an opportunity that could’ve been huge, right? Well, not so fast. Mark Cuban once said, “every no gets me closer to a yes,” and if you follow this advice it may be in your best interest to say no more often so you have the time and bandwidth to say yes to the opportunities that will truly grow your business.

Additionally, how you spend each minute per day is vital when you have a side hustle you’re trying to build and can’t dedicate full-time to it. There are some time management techniques I follow. For example, I like to use the Pomodoro technique when managing my time and to-do list. This keeps me focused on what I’m working on at the time. Here’s how it works:

  1. Set a timer for 20 minutes (or whatever amount of time you want to work. I like the 20 minutes).
  2. Focus on one task during that time.
  3. At 20 minutes, take a 5-10-minute break (depending on whatever works best for you).

This is an effective way to focus without distraction. Work on completing a certain number of pomodoros per day. Doing more with less is the name of the game, especially until that side hustle becomes the full-time hustle. Good luck and happy hustling!

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5 Ways to Be More Productive in 2019 Without Driving Your Team Insane

Here’s how to get your business running faster and better.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When talking about their biggest challenges for 2019, many of the entrepreneurs I speak with say they’re overwhelmed with the rapid pace at which business operates today. Today’s consumers have come to expect instant gratification, and they’re putting pressure on companies to make sure that they get what they want right now.

Technology’s partly to blame for these questionably reasonable expectations. We’ve got virtually countless hours of on-demand video streaming content at our fingertips. We’re on the cusp of mass product delivery by drone. We get frustrated when customer service departments fail to respond to our queries within minutes.

Just a couple of decades ago, looking up information meant going to the library to check out references. Today, we don’t even type out our Google searches. We just holler at Siri or Alexa to get the answers, products and media we want.

In a survey by PwC, nearly four out of five surveyed customers customers say that they want experiences that are speedy, convenient and helpful. For businesses, reliably offering these experiences has become a constant challenge.

With 2019 already underway, why not make speed improvement one of your key objectives for the year ahead? Here are five strategies you can apply to speed up your processes as we get ready to zoom through another year.

Related: How to Manage Time With 10 Tips That Work

1. Maximize your real-time social media opportunities

Knowing what delights customers most is a huge component of business leadership. Data from the 2018 Sprout Social Index suggests that there’s a widening disconnect between what brands’ social media profiles are posting about (61 percent of the 2,000 social marketers surveyed favored teaching, while 58 percent favored telling stories) and what customers want (73 percent of the 1,200 surveyed prefer deals, while 60 percent prefer posts showcasing new products and services).

So, how can you improve your organization’s ability to discern what the market really wants right now? Conducting your own market surveys can help, but it’s a resource-heavy solution that yields dubious insights. Social listening, on the other hand, allows marketers to follow what people are saying about your industry, products, and competitors.

I’ve used solutions like SentiOne that can track such mentions across social platforms and online communities in real-time. Armed with this information, you’d be able to act on customer issues in a timely manner and even launch targeted campaigns that speak directly to customers’ interests with precision. It’s also a useful way to know what new features or products to roll-out or at least give you the starting point to start your market research.

2. Shorten time to delivery

Customers don’t like waiting for their online orders to arrive at their doorsteps. Last year, the maximum time that ecommerce buyers found acceptable for orders with free shipping was just 4.5 days, as reported by Emarketing. If they’re paying for shipping, they expect to receive their packages even sooner.

Having the ability to expedite delivery can be a major differentiator, but it’s a tall order if you’re a smaller enterprise. Thankfully, as the independent ecommerce economy has grown, so has the ecosystem of logistics services empowering the industry.

Using a third-party, fully white label-ready fulfillment partner gives you the capability to offer two-day shipping, without being dependent on Amazon.

Industry leader ShipBob, for one, can store your inventory in a network of shared warehouses around the country, so that products are ready to ship, with maximum proximity, as soon as your customers check out. Better fulfillment partners integrate directly with leading shopping cart systems like Shopify and WooCommerce and can save you and customers massive amounts of wait time.

Related: Get it Done: 35 Habits of the Most Productive People (Infographic)

3. Maintain a bird’s eye view of your business

With competition seemingly getting tougher every year, in 2019 your ability to make quick but informed decisions has become mission-critical. However, getting hold of the necessary information may require pulling data from dozens of sources, each with its own interface, before you are able to generate reports that are comprehensive enough to act upon.

A consolidated business data resource can provide you with an integrated dashboard that pools together information from all the platforms you use for social media, sales, project management, finance and marketing.

Even if you use separate services like HubSpot, MailChimp and Twitter, Rivery.io’s platform, for example, can aggregate real-time information from your accounts and even push metrics to the data repository of your choice.

You can’t afford to get stuck in the nitty-gritty anymore. Keep an eye on the trends that matter, so you can make smarter strategic decisions on the fly. I also like to use tools like Kipfolio, for interactive business dashboards that give me a pulse on everything from sales to accounting to marketing spend.

4. Accompany your customers on their journeys

As reported by Strategy and PwC, three out of four surveyed buyers in the U.S. say that customer experience is a major factor in their shopping decisions, citing speed and ease as their most valued factors. Yet, despite the efforts of developers and designers to create intuitive interfaces, some customers, especially those who lack tech savvy, have been known to hit roadblocks on their paths to purchase.

To avoid alienating these customers, you can ease access to your interface with an interactive walkthrough solution. Offering onsite chat, either automated or human-driven, can help maximize a sense of accessibility and trust, shortening the time to convert prospects into customers.

This type of “digital adoption” hand-holding can be a major game changer, especially if your sales prospects are less comfortable experimenting in digital environments. There are all types of new chatbot software tools that can be used for streamlining these conversations and navigating customers. We’ve used Drift across my various companies and found it works well.

Related: 5 Habits of the Wealthy That Helped Them Get Rich

5. Minimize slowdowns caused by absenteeism

Team productivity gets compromised due to staff taking unexpected time off can derail your entire operation. If you can’t find someone else to quickly step in and pick up the slack, it can be hard to fulfill orders and maintain pace on projects.

Using workforce management platforms can help you sort out staffing and scheduling issues, largely on autopilot.

Deputy, for instance, has functionalities that can help line up shift replacements when someone suddenly needs time off. Using the employee-facing app, team members can inform HR with just a few taps that they’ll be out, and the scheduling system automatically dispatches push notifications to others who have similar skills, asking for substitutions that can often be lined up before you even know they were needed.

Absenteeism was a big issue for one of the nonprofits I’m involved with and tools like Deputy have helped us to make necessary adjustments on the fly. Don’t let people interfere with your systems. Manage the systems that manage the people.

Be quick and nimble

Today’s business landscape moves at breakneck speed. But, things always go wrong. For your startups and scaling businesses to keep pace in the coming year, you need to be prepared, with systems in place to expedite processes and minimize the impact of bumps in the road. I wish you a prosperous 2019!

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Stablecoins, Rather Than Cryptocurrencies, Might Be the Future of Money

Cryptocurrency remains volatile, and stablecoins may provide the stabilization the market needs.

4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While the cryptocurrency market is trying to find a bottom after losing over 80 percent of its value since its year-to-date peak, stablecoins are getting more attention thanks to their ability to store value and smooth volatility noises. Currently, stablecoins represent the fastest-growing market within the cryptocurrency space, with several major coins of this kind being launched in the last few months.

The payments industry is perhaps the key beneficiary of this emerging sub-market. Stablecoins enable merchants and consumers to rely on balanced prices that are not affected by the high volatility of the crypto market, as these coins are pegged to real-world assets, especially to the US dollar. Bitcoin was also designed as a secure and fair means of payment, but it has failed to bring utility in the context of payments. In the last few years, hundreds of new coins and tokens have been issued by various entities, but most of them have been prone to the same volatility risks.

Are stablecoins worth the hype?

Stablecoins are hybrid cryptocurrencies because they are blockchain-based units that are also backed by fiat currencies or commodities, which is why they provide the benefits of both crypto and fiat currencies. Thanks to their stability, stablecoins represent the ideal tool that can connect countless of internet and blockchain ecosystems with traditional economies. These coins help users streamline payments via automation while ensuring liquidity, security, and transparency.

Most of the blockchain ecosystems are still struggling to become more interconnected with traditional banking, but the latter seems to have tough barriers in many jurisdictions. To avoid the hardships caused by banks, crypto firms can rely on stablecoins.

This is also the recommendation of Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who recently spoke highly about stablecoins in a Lovin Malta article: “We’re obviously not going to intervene in banking policies because they have to deal with issues such as correspondent banking and risk assessments. Our job as a government is to create this new market and not allow a vacuum to form within it. Some platforms are already banking in cryptocurrencies and new sectors, such as stablecoins, are being set up that are being viewed as more secure.”

Judging by the potential impact they can bring to blockchain ecosystems, stablecoins are definitely worth the hype — at this time it’s not just about speculators.

USD-backed stablecoins are dominating this sector — you’ll find Tether’s USDT, Circle’s USDC, Paxos Standard Token or TUSD in the list of top cryptocurrencies by market cap. However, some firms choose to break the stereotypes and develop new forms of stablecoins that incorporate even more features.

The concept of smart money remains a topic of conversation, for example, as discussed by Coinbase chief operating officer Asiff Hijri, who recently said on Twitter at the Money 20/20 conference that, thanks to stablecoins, money became programmable for the first time in history. “[Stablecoins] will unlock the ability to create programmatic money applications like we have not seen before because now money is truly programmable,” the COO noted.

To substantiate the potential value of stablecoins, crypto exchange Binance just announced in rather breaking news fashion that Circle’s USD-pegged stablecoin USD Coin will now be listed on the exchange. It is a quote asset for several new trading pairs in its combined Stablecoin Market (USDⓈ) listing. The exchange announced this in an official post published in this article from the Binance support site.

Stablecoins are yet another mega-trend these days, and they pledge to disrupt the payments industry, ecommerce operations, salary and rent payments, wealth management and lending markets among others. So the future of money might belong to stablecoins, rather than cryptocurrencies as everyone has speculated. 

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