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Branding Lessons From Businesses That Use Buzz to Drive Growth.

Banksy and others demonstrate how to take advantage of this strategic tactic.

4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Every brand hopes to build major buzz. Gaining marketing momentum can position companies and ideas to take off and succeed in big ways, but how do they best grab this kind of attention? Before I showcase some other brands, I want to share one key lesson I’ve learned while building my own resume as a tech entrepreneur, author, angel investor and radio/podcast host. That is, I rarely talk about my success, instead focusing on my biggest failure as a way to differentiate my brand. Namely, my time in prison. I turned my hardest setback into a successful branding tactic, proving that creativity and resilience can transform even the bleakest situation into a massive opportunity. So don’t be afraid to make noise and go against the grain. Some people won’t like you, but you don’t want to do business with them anyway.

While attention-grabbing brands may vary in their marketing approaches, each knows how to tap into its respective market and earn the acclaim and loyalty of its followers. These three brands exemplify how to build major brand buzz and generate growth.

Related: 10 Tips for Creating the Perfect Social Media Content for Your Brand

1. Supreme

Few brands have created the level of obsession that streetwear manufacturer Supreme has. Every time they release a new item from their collection, followers line up to spend up to $1,000 or more. While major celebrities such as Kanye West and Victoria Beckham regularly sport Supreme, celebrity influence isn’t the only reason behind its success.

James Jebbia opened the first Supreme skatewear shop in downtown Manhattan in the early 1990s. This is an important part of the brand’s claim on authenticity. Very few periods and places were more famous for urban skate culture than New York during this time. Wearing Supreme offers consumers a claim over this cultural moment, demonstrating a certain awareness of what’s cool and why.

The brand’s exclusivity also plays a major role in its appeal. Because the amount of items Supreme produces is so low, it’s easy to encourage demand. If every piece is unique, it logically follows that the wearer is unique, too. Essentially, Supreme has built its brand recognition based on authenticity and exclusivity. And exclusivity creates the perception of limited supply, which in turn enhances the allure of high demand, which then makes a product or brand more popular. This is how Supreme  established its enduring coolness factor.

2. Banksy

The anti-establishment artist has somehow earned a reputation for building a brand so valuable that a single piece of his art sells for seven figures (including the piece with a built-in, self-destructing shredder that went for $1.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction). His success has helped elevated a once formally unacknowledged artform — street art — into work with the potential for serious profit. Part of his appeal is his distinctive and immediately recognizable style, but much of his brand’s buzz comes from the mystique behind each piece. Graffiti, in general, is still considered an illicit art, and the artist never shows his face in public. Mystery leads to desire. Banksy knows this and deploys it, creating an almost folkloric appeal. Plus, he is unwavering in his core values, which only further adds to his essential appeal.

Related: 5 Steps to Building Your Personal Brand From Scratch

3. SpaceX

From its logo to its attention-grabbing endeavors, Elon Musk‘s aerospace-manufacturing brand is set up in every way to generate major buzz. Really, everything Musk does is designed to get attention, and his forays into space exploration take this trait to another level, a la when he launched his Tesla Roadster into space via the Falcon Heavy Rocket.

While his plans to send recreational travelers into space haven’t yet materialized, and his goal of colonizing Mars may seem distant, there’s no doubt that Musk’s brand is built on showmanship and he knows how to excite an audience.

Musk is emblematic of the fact that entrepreneurs who build buzz around their brands know how to strike a widespread cultural chord. While some of the brands listed above used big budgets to gain their audience’s attention, others relied on minimal resources. But what the most successful ones ultimately share is having inspired a following and movement rooted in relentless loyalty. That loyalty is the ultimate buzz builder.

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Can You Build a Million-Dollar Business Starting With Just $100 on Fiverr? Here’s a Plan to Do Just That.

Andrew Medal reveals a Fiverr plan that he says can get your business up and running efficiently — and cheaply.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you’re building or starting a business, then Fiverr is an excellent resource to get some of the time-consuming work done. For those unfamiliar with the website, it is a marketplace where people can buy and sell services. What makes it different from its competitors is that gigs can start as low as $5. From there, price points go up based on experience, value and any additional extras the seller may offer. 

I’m a big fan of Fiverr, so much so that we’ve partnered with them on my Entrepreneur-hosted podcast that can be found here. And, as partners, they’re providing all of my readers and listeners 10% off with our promo code AA.

Related: 5 Ways Fiverr Jump-Started My Life as an Entrepreneur

Fiverr’s platform revolves primarily around “gigs,” meaning that the services sold are typically a one-time job; however, the website also offers the opportunity to create “milestone” deliveries, meaning that you could retain a Fiverr seller for multiple projects or steps of a larger project. 

I’m in the process of documenting how I’ve been building six and seven-figure businesses with Fiverr and am going to release a book by end of the year with all of the data, cheat codes and tricks. (Signup to be notified here.) In the meantime, here is a breakdown of some of the important things I’ve learned.

The most valuable gigs to build a business with Fiverr

The most useful gigs on Fiverr offer a wide range of sellers who can provide you with the price point and experience level that you’re looking for. The following services are some of the best to buy if you’re looking to build your business:

1. Market research

If you’re making your way into a new market, it’s smart to know what that market holds, including competitor research, trends and customer segmentation. 

2. Business plans

While you may not be able to buy a comprehensive business plan for $5, you can still get an affordable one written for you by an experienced seller. Be sure to look at reviews, because a lot rests on your business plan and how it’s presented to investors. You want to choose a seller offering a plan that includes: 

  • A market analysis summary 

  • A comprehensive executive summary 

  • What makes you competitive

3. Logo design

You can get a logo designed specifically for your business for a very low cost. 

4. Business cards

Business cards are all about making a good first impression. You can get high-quality, customized cards built for your business. 

5. Web content and design

A website is necessary for the success of every business. You can find content creators who can describe your business and services well and with a word-count or page-based cost that won’t break the bank. You can also find someone who does affordable web design if you don’t want to rely on ready-made templates. 

6. Virtual assistants 

If you have an entire range of tasks that need to be done, you can go ahead and hire your online assistant through Fiverr. You can find an hourly or task-based rate that will cover those tedious tasks you don’t want to do, or can’t do, yourself. 

Related: How This Copywriter Made Money Fast Online With Fiverr

If you’re unsure of what gigs you want to buy to optimize your business, consider outsourcing tasks that are both time-consuming and low-value to you, meaning work that keeps you busy but that you aren’t able to prioritize yourself. 

How to make your first purchase on Fiverr a successful one 

1. Communicate well with the seller.

While some buyers place an order without first discussing the gig with the seller, it’s better to message the provider first. This is particularly true if your order is unique. 

2. Answer all questions in the order requirements.

Even if you’ve already talked with the seller, placing the information within the order requirements makes it easier for the seller to reference your needs while working on the order. 

3. Provide resources, websites or examples of what you want your project to look like.

You can provide links to competitors or samples of successful projects that you or someone else completed in the past. 

4. Allow the seller to ask questions.

Sellers only have the information that you provided. While to you it may seem like enough, it might not be for them. Make sure they’re comfortable clarifying any necessary information.

5. Be safe. 

If you need to give sellers any confidential or sensitive information, be sure that you have a safety plan in place. You can use an app like LastPass to manage access to your information and remove them as needed. 

Use this 5-step formula to find the best talent 

  1. Search for your gig. 
  2. Sort by the bestselling service providers for that gig. 
  3. Find the top 5 service providers that have the most ratings. 
  4. Sort by the providers that are online. 
  5. Reach out. 

Related: How Fiverr’s Culture Created a Company of CEOs

For entrepreneurs, time is your most valuable resource. I believe this makes Fiverr an invaluable tool for new and emerging entrepreneurs. Again, get an additional 10% off using my podcast promo code AA. Get you some! 

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5 Hot IoT Trends to Keep Your Eye On

You will soon be completely connected to all of your devices.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The Internet of Things (IoT), or the ability to connect everyday objects to the internet, has increased in popularity and widespread use over the last several years. According to IoT analytics, the global IoT market will grow to $1,567B by 2025. Various industries have already implemented the technology, which offers benefits for individuals and organizations alike. Its uses are diverse, with the potential to impact verticals ranging from retail to architecture to the ways we interact with our own homes. 

While IoT has been trending for some time, it is going to take on a more significant role in the next year, impacting our lives on a previously unprecedented scale. Here are the five hottest IoT trends to keep your eye on right now.

1. IoT devices will be more secure.

Security is one of the primary concerns that comes with IoT use. Because the market is still relatively unregulated, device hacking and data theft have been issues that the industry is actively trying to solve. The stakes are high when it comes to IoT devices (take self-driving cars and home security, for example), and security solutions are of primary importance. 

One of the most promising solutions for IoT security is blockchain technology. Because of its strong protections against data tampering and its ability to rapidly shut down or lock tampered devices, it may prove promising for the IoT market. The Hyundai Digital Asset Currency (HDAC), for example, aims to protect user privacy and remove hacking threats by connecting all IoT devices within their trust-based and secure blockchain token system.

In addition to blockchain, mobile-device management solutions and two-factor authorization could provide additional safety measures. 

Related: IoT Disruption Has Begun. And Retail Is Just the Start.

2. More data will be sold.

“Infonomics,” or the practice of selling data, is continuously growing more immense. The potential value of data collected by IoT devices is huge, with companies gaining the opportunity to interact with information that was previously unavailable. 

The “data-as-a-service” (DaaS) offers channels through which companies buy and sell data, and this market alone is growing; however, this isn’t an ideal way to sell IoT-based data. As a result, innovators are creating marketplaces explicitly designed with IoT devices in mind. 

3. Our cities will get smarter.

Forward-thinking cities are adopting IoT technologies to make their communities more accessible, efficient and safe. People are migrating to cities for better employment prospects and more diverse lifestyles, and IoT technologies will better allow cities to adapt to this growth. IoT devices use city-wide sensors and meters to collect data and use the acquired information to build better infrastructure and offer necessary public services. 

The European Union has largely been leading the way for the implementation of smart cities, with an allocation of 365 million Euros specifically for this purpose. Copenhagen, for example, uses sensors to monitor bike traffic and gather data for improved routes to better serve its heavily bike-dependent city. U.S. cities fall behind those in Europe when it comes to the implementation of smart technology; however, cities across the country will likely use more IoT-based practices over the next few years. 

4. It will play a more prominent role within our homes.

Just as IoT is leading to the creation of “smart cities,” IoT devices are also creating “smart homes.” It’s now easy to set-up most appliances and control them remotely through the internet. Google Nest, for example, automatically controls heat and hot water, and the company has even produced smart smoke detectors and security cameras. 

Big brands are also making investments in new IoT companies as they continue to innovate in their respective industries. AI-based smart kitchen assistant Chefling recently raised $2.5 M in series funding, and Bosch subsidiary BSH Hausgeräte GmbH brought one-third of the shares of the company. As a result, Chefling will be integrated into the Home Connect system and help consumers to automate cooking and receive access to personalized recipes based on what’s available in the kitchen at the time, dietary restrictions and other preferences.

Related: 25 Innovative IoT Companies and Products

5. Retail will further adopt IoT to  improve customer experience.

Retail-based businesses across the country are going to use IoT, both for online purchases and with brick-and-mortar shopping. IoT devices will allow retailers to determine how long consumers spend interacting with products and can collect data about in-store foot traffic. All of this information lets businesses decide which products are best suited for their customers and create experiences suited specifically for their audience. 

Speaking of connected devices, my comedy book about prison hits the shelves next month. Do yourself a favor and go sign up to get notified when it’s available. Sign up here!

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3 Areas Where Enterprise-Focused Startups Are Poised to Make an Economic Impact

How do you improve efficiency by reducing costs and overhead without sacrificing performance?

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The ongoing enterprise/business/startup saga is: how to improve efficiency by reducing costs and overhead without sacrificing performance? I deal with this on a daily basis. Trade-offs are inherent in any business decision-making process, and it is often through new developments (i.e., technology) that the optimal solution arises. I’m an early adopter for these exact reasons. So much new tech is constantly being built to create efficiencies and support business processes.

For enterprises in industries ranging from digital identity verification to supply chain tracking, that answer has frequently resulted in a specific iteration of blockchains: enterprise blockchains.

They are more attuned to conventional business models and are subject to many of the same liabilities as business-operated software systems, such as a cloud-based database network. For example, a consortium of banks leveraging a blockchain as a settlement layer. See: the IBM-powered CLS that was launched last year.

Facebook’s recently launched Libra network is another example of a consortium-based network, with the underlying blockchain serving as the thread that connects the firms participating. 

Enterprise-oriented startups have made significant headway in recent months, so what exactly are the areas where they can make an economic impact? 

Digital identity verification and security

Look no further than recent Facebook scandals or what seems like an endless barrage of data impropriety among major tech firms to understand the significance of mitigating their control over user data. But how do you reconcile user data sovereignty with identity systems?

Several firms believe that enterprise blockchains can provide the solution.

For example, MaxonRow is an identity dependent mainchain that allows token issuance, and an identity chain which confers control of user data directly to the user. Users can selectively reveal their data to third-parties and use of the system can be governed using whitelisting and hash-based identifiers. This allows identity built into the blockchain, without worrying about third-parties gaining access to personal information. 

Importantly, MaxonRow ensures the ecosystem will be able to comply with government KYC/AML requirements. Their identity verification system enables governments or regulators to act as the ultimate arbiter of identity validity and allows enforcement and audit when necessary. 

Blockchain-based identity solutions have garnered significant attention for several years, in large part a consequence of their congruency with cryptography and new technologies like IPFS that leverage hash-based identifiers. However, identity solutions based on permissionless networks such as Ethereum are sure to rub governments the wrong way, as they could be wielded to conceal information on illegal actors.

Some digital identity services, such as Civic, are built on Ethereum, but their traction has faltered so far, and enterprise-based systems seem poised to grab more regulatory support.

Digital banking and open finance 

Despite the rising narrative of decentralized finance (DeFi) in the broader cryptocurrency space, DeFi presents some problems and faces some critical hurdles to its widespread adoption. 

For example, the popular over-collateralized lending services, MakerDAO, saw its stability fee rate near 20 percent following the inability of its stablecoin, Dai, to maintain its 1:1 peg with the USD. A product of its inability to scale, MakerDAO highlighted how with only a subset of users within an esoteric field, DeFi products struggle to remain operational in times of high user numbers. 

This is aptly demonstrated by services such as BlockFi, which is a hybrid of conventional credit systems and DeFi, that has emerged as popular alternatives to MakerDAO and is not subject to scaling woes. 

Similarly, Mt Pelerin, a Swiss-based digital banking startup, is bridging DeFi with the conventional banking system. The goal is to bring an entire bank’s balance sheet on-chain, creating a blockchain-based banking ecosystem, but under the umbrella of meeting government regulatory requirements.

Though built on a permissionless network like Ethereum, Mt Pelerin is an authorized financial intermediary in Switzerland and can help expedite the operational process of issuing tokenized assets to the public for small and medium enterprises and other firms wishing to raise funds. 

Other initiatives, such as Ripple’s RippleNet product for global payments and liquidity, are more attuned to the needs of conventional banking requirements, based on the XRP token. It is uncertain at this point which path (i.e., permissioned versus permissionless) will come to dominate the transition towards more open financial products, but it seems that solutions bridging the old with the new are positioned the best. 

Supply chain tracking

Logistical networks are massive, convoluted endeavors that span global consortiums of businesses and require minute details on the timing and conditions of product shipping. As a result, blockchains have emerged as an ideal solution for increasing efficiency and transparency in the industry.

From Accenture reports on the effectiveness of blockchain-based supply chain tracking in the food sector to the rise of enterprise networks like VeChain, the compatible fit of blockchains and logistics is manifest. In particular, enterprise blockchains have gained an advantage over permissionless solutions so far. 

For example, VeChain’s hierarchical governance system is representative of a conventional business, and its blockchain acts as the shared ledger for validating and tracking products (i.e., luxury fashion) across the globe. Numerous entities can join and participate, but they undergo a verification process, and specific sets of data are made accessible to select portions of the network. 

Tracking food, retail products or medical supplies via a consortium (i.e., enterprise) blockchain empowers businesses to reduce transaction overhead. They can even monitor the real-time metrics and environmental conditions of products using technologies such as NFC and RFID tags that upload hash-identified data directly to the blockchain.

Anonymity technologies and better scalability solutions may make permissionless networks a viable medium for tracking high-value assets in the logistical field one day, but for now, enterprise blockchains seem to have the advantage.

Enterprise and public blockchains come with different value propositions. In terms of pure cryptocurrencies, public blockchains are the undisputed leader, primarily deriving from their ability to mediate trust across an open network of participants.

Conversely, enterprise networks are more of a compromise between the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies, blockchain and the standard regulatory and business requirements of contemporary times. Camps supporting both sides have compelling arguments, and we will likely see an ecosystem where both types of networks can flourish side by side.

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4 Tech Trends That Are Positively Changing Workplaces

From reporting bad behavior to allowing more flexibility, these advancements help everyone.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Workplaces are impacted by a wide variety of factors, including changing ideologies and other external influences, both negative and positive. Technology is likely one of the greatest factors impacting workplaces, and it is also one factor that can have a truly positive impact.

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workforce report, engaged teams show 21 percent more profitability, and yet only 51 percent of individuals actually feel engaged at work. Considering this, it’s beneficial to employers and employees alike to consider the following four technological workplace trends.

1. The workplace is getting safer for everyone.

If an employee feels unsafe in their environment, complete productivity and satisfaction are unlikely. Fifty-nine percent of employees who observed some form of misconduct said that they were actively searching for a new place to work, meaning that employee retention depends largely on how well misconduct is managed. 

#NotMe, by example, is an HR platform advocating for employees who have witnessed and experienced misconduct while also arming employers with solutions. Through its AI-powered platform and mobile app, it streamlines the reporting process, empowering employees to quickly report on the job harassment or discrimination. Employers can then use these reports to create a safer, healthier work environment for their employees. 

Founder Ariel Weindling explained, “America’s work culture is in need of a major paradigm shift. Companies and employees need to work together to take decisive action to both address and prevent incidents of harassment, discrimination and bullying. For that to happen, employees and employers need modern digital tools that enable them to communicate easily around very complex issues. When we see incidents of workplace misconduct decline, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

2. Collaboration is easier than ever before.

Digital technology continuously impacts collaboration, transforming how work is completed and how employees engage with one another. Without the use of digital tools, collaboration is left largely to chance and proximity. Because of evolving technology, collaboration is not reduced to a common space or even geographical area.

Tools such as Slack and Google Docs have made it easy for employees to communicate and work cohesively regardless of physical location. Collaborative techniques within the workplace can boost productivity by 20 to 30 percent, according to McKinsey. While working together can be more difficult due to the increasingly remote nature of work, it’s vital to a company’s success. Technology can help organizations achieve continuity. 

3. Improved work-life balance is possible.

A study by Ernst & Young discovered that 76 percent of employees have a difficult time balancing their work, family and personal obligations. As a result, workplace flexibility is high on the list of employee priorities. While allowing employees to at least partially build their own schedules is beneficial to them, it’s also better for employers. A report called The State of Flexible Work Arrangements found that 78 percent of employees said flexible work arrangements made them more productive. 

Because of technology, flexibility is possible without sacrificing workplace organization or cohesion. Programs such as Slack and Trello make it easy for companies to communicate and designate tasks. There’s also Workplace by Facebook, which enables users to quickly chat or hold video calls. 

If employees can have greater control over their own schedules, then demographics often excluded from the workforce (those charged with childcare, for example) can still have access. Employees will find greater satisfaction in their work, and employers will see an improved workplace culture. 

4. Technology boosts efforts to support diversity and inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion create a positive work environment by encouraging new ideas to flourish. Different backgrounds and experiences will inevitably lead to a multitalented team with members who can make unique contributions. It’s not enough just to have diversity though, all members of a team must feel heard and included in order for it to lead to cohesion and productivity. 

Todd L. Pittinsky, a professor of technology and society at Stony Brook University, recently noted in the Harvard Business Review that “the more the members of an organically diverse society enjoy that diversity and see the visible benefits of investing in shared prosperity and the common good, the more secure and resilient that society will be.” 

The same can be said for the workplace, and technology can help. CEO Action’s Check Your Blind Spots Unconscious Bias Bus Tour uses VR technology to show users how they are unconsciously biased, training them to gain awareness and challenge those biases they may not know they have. 

While individuals in the workforce often fear that technology will lead to automation-based job loss or workplace surveillance, there are an entire host of ways that technological advancements are changing workplaces to reflect the improved quality of life. 

As an employer, you will undoubtedly see your workplace shaken by advances in technology. You can choose to use these developments to the benefit of your employees, improving their work and personal lives in the process. As a result, you will likely see greater employee satisfaction, productivity and retention. 

Are you obsessed with work culture? Then you’re going to love my new comedy book called Don’t Drop the Prison Soap that shows the parallels between prison and startups! There’s also fun prison slang, life hacks, recipes and workouts.

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How Cryptocurrency Projects Are Tackling Transparency and Security Problems

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I invested in BTC in 2010 (and sold shortly after, but have bought and sold all along since then), and have experienced a wild crypto ride. I’ve also advised and been working on a project that has developed the first application to bridge cryptocurrency with augmented reality.

I’ve seen the crypto market on both sides and witnessed the persistent problems of cryptocurrency exchanges, from hacks to insolvency. Institutions and mainstream investors are rightfully hesitant to engage with many exchanges, drawing from mainstream headlines such as the recent Binance hack to the tune of $40 million, as reported by CNBC.

The security woes of centralized exchanges are not the only prominent issue that makes investors and regulators uneasy. Bitfinex’s recent misleading of investors about $850 million locked up, as reported by Coin Desk, with a shady capital firm and the bizarre and ongoing debacle of QuadrigaCX are only a recent spate in a long history of cryptocurrency exchanges mired in dilemmas. 

Fortunately, the problems of exchanges are well-known, and many projects, even some exchanges themselves, are working toward providing better trust, transparency and security. 

Improving transparency

One of the core problems with cryptocurrency exchanges, aptly demonstrated by both QuadrigaCX and Bitfinex, is transparency. 

QuadrigaCX was not solvent, and the exchange’s owner was actively siphoning his own funds into customer withdrawals to appear solvent to the customers before his untimely death. Bitfinex, who dipped into its closely-related firm Tether’s reserves to cover an inaccessible $850 million of its funds, failed to disclose this information to customers — and subsequently led to the New York Attorney General filing an injunction against it.

Add in the notion that the vast majority of cryptocurrency exchange actively engage in wash trading and report fake volumes, and transparency clearly is a cardinal issue in the exchange ecosystem.

Transparency primarily involves two areas: proof of solvency and proof of legitimate trading volumes. Proof of solvency is critical because investors need to know the risk of engaging with a financial entity that holds their funds. However, the issue that exchanges take with this is that they do not want to publicly disclose the financial details of their internal operations.

While various degrees of “proof of solvency” has been speculated as a potential scaling advantage for Bitcoin as well, some intriguing technical advances have produced promising glimpses of provable exchange reserves that remain private.

For example, Blockstream — a leading Bitcoin development company — announced its standardized tool for ensuring exchange solvency called “proof of reserves” earlier this year. Essentially, an exchange can prove their reserves of BTC without publicly moving or spending the reserves through generating an extra valid input with a transaction of their total reserves. 

All of the UTXOs would consequently become verifiable under the exchange’s ownership without them risking moving the funds since the network would reject the transaction.

However, Blockstream’s proof of reserves still does not preserve privacy entirely, and their team is working on solutions to mask the value of the exchange UTXOs, which would be publicly available. 

Other solutions, such as Arpa, take privacy as the foremost consideration. Arpa relies on a fascinating subfield of cryptography called secure multi-party computation, which applied to exchanges, would enable them to jointly compute the average solvency of their exchanges without actually exposing the full solvency data to competitors. 

“ARPA’s cutting-edge cryptographic multiparty computation (MPC) disrupts the traditional way of using data, enables privacy-preserving computation or joint analysis of secret data, and replaces trusted data aggregator that captures the most out of the current data value chain, ” as explained by Arpa founder Felix Xu on its site. “Dapps built on ARPA layer 2 solutions across industries like finance, insurance, healthcare and even personal data wallet for secure data exchange and monetization.”

Some exchanges, including Poloniex (owned by Circle), have even begun publishing quarterly reports to provide better assurances of solvency to investors. 

Gemini, who also produces the Gemini Dollars stablecoin, has continually emphasized their close relationship with the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS) to assure investors of both their solvency and legitimacy. And the exchange provides the issuer, banking and security audit information for the Gemini Dollar stablecoin. 

Considering the lack of regulatory control over many exchanges located in obscure jurisdictions and their unwillingness to provide better transparency due to the “dark underbelly” money machine, tools such as BTI and Messari 10 can provide better information to investors. 

Unfortunately, they still will not solve the fake volumes predicament among exchanges. 

Removing centralized custody

Many initiatives in the cryptocurrency sector strive to remove centralized exchanges entirely, or at the very least, their custody. Exchange custody over user funds is an established security threat, and a new generation of trust-minimizing technology and P2P exchanges are working on circumventing centralized custody of funds.

Projects such as Atomic Wallet, a cryptocurrency wallet, focus on deploying a technology called Atomic Swaps. Atomic swaps enable users to exchange assets without third-party custodians ever taking control. The process is entirely P2P and supports cross-chain (i.e., Bitcoin to Ethereum) swaps. 

The type of interoperability afforded by atomic swaps is a prevailing trend in the broader cryptocurrency community as well. As more cryptocurrency networks launch looking to provide better scalability, interoperability is also becoming a significant consideration. 

Some projects even bypass custody altogether by both users or exchanges. For example, Morpher is a virtual trading platform where users speculate on the market of the underlying asset via Ethereum smart contracts. Smart contracts mint and burn the Morpher token based on the performance of the underlying asset represented by the contract. 

As a result, there are no fees and there is theoretically limitless liquidity for any type of market, considering the Morpher token can “morph” into any type of asset. According to Morpher: “If the underlying market gains in value, the smart contract issues new coins to the investor proportionally. If the underlying loses, staked coins are destroyed proportionally.”

The idea of P2P exchanges has also been gaining traction recently, although decentralized exchanges (DEXs) and P2P marketplaces have been around in the crypto sphere for several years. 

Traditionally, the problem of P2P marketplaces and DEXs is that their liquidity is insufficient compared to their centralized counterparts, largely excluding them from the partialities of traders.

Despite this, some P2P marketplaces such as Bisq are quickly gathering momentum — in both users and volume. Particularly in economically destitute regions, such as Venezuela, P2P marketplaces such as LocalBitcoins, as reported by Coin Dance, are invaluable to pegging in and out of a store of value when the Bolivar has become effectively worthless. 

P2P marketplaces and DEXs still have a long way to go in reaching an optimal level of liquidity but, parallel to the rise of scalability and interoperability, should start becoming more popular among investors in the coming years. 

Even some centralized exchanges, such as Binance, are exploring DEXs. Binance’s DEX launched last month, and although it is yet to be seen just how decentralized it will be, it is indicative of Binance’s recognition of the larger trend at hand — users want custody over their funds because they don’t trust exchanges. 

The implicit nature of trust makes trusting exchanges all the more difficult considering their history peppered with controversy, but at least projects and the overall industry are beginning to take a hard look at how to improve transparency and remove the need for custody of user funds.

My podcast has launched and we talk all things startup, tech and blockchain. Check it out here

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Cash Advance Apps Can Be a Short-Term Bridge for People Short on Money

If you find yourself short on cash, these services could be a good short-term solution.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Around 78 percent of Americans found themselves living paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 study by Career Builder. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that cash advance apps, which give people access to their money before payday, have become a hot trend in recent years.

These apps allow users to temporarily borrow the money they need to bridge the gap until that invoice money comes in or payday hits, at a cheaper cost compared to overdraft fees and missed payment penalties from banks. In this respect, many entrepreneurs and early stage startup employees are finding these apps genuinely helpful.

For example, I recently learned of a startup team that is building a company that gets paid on the performance of their work, so their accounts payable is in the rears each month, and they depend on these apps to provide them cash until their customer invoices get reconciled. Learning about this team and how they use cash apps for creative financing gave me the inspiration to write the article and share more apps that can help more startups. 

A drawback to using cash advance apps though is that they can potentially encourage bad money habits. For example, some users may rely on accessing their cash early too often and end up with very little in the bank when money comes around.

Here’s a short list of a handful of apps that can be used to support your cash needs.

PockBox app

What sets PockBox apart from many others is that users can borrow up to $2,500 — up to 10 times higher than the amount typically offered by cash advance apps. PockBox works as a connection to multiple lenders, which may lead to increased chances of getting approved. Users can apply even if they have bad credit, and if approved, they’ll usually get their cash the next business day. Interest rates vary by lender.

Float app

Float is a new app that offers 24/7 bank account monitoring and will push a variety of alerts to help users keep track of their balance more easily. Float also offers a high loan amount of up to $2,000 and is connected to multiple lenders which may increase the likelihood of getting approved.

Dave app

The Dave app is the first app of its kind, created to help Americans avoid ridiculous overdraft penalties. Dave lets users borrow up to $75 at a time in return for a $1 per month subscription fee. No credit check is undertaken. There’s no interest charged, but users are “gently” encouraged to leave a tip. The loan is simply repaid on payday. The Dave app has some handy features such as alerting the user when their bank balance is running low, and it also helps them plan for future expenses.

Earnin app

With Earnin, it’s possible to get paid early (up to $100 per day) for hours already worked — and it’s entirely free to use. Workers are encouraged to leave a tip if they can afford to — but this isn’t compulsory. The caveat? Users must receive wages on a regular basis via direct deposit into a checking account and also have an online timekeeping system at work or a fixed work location.

MoneyLion Plus app

Users can download the MoneyLion app and sign up to the Plus service to get access to a $500 loan with a low APR of 5.99 percent whenever they need to. The Plus service costs $19.99 per month, but this fee is waived providing the user logs into the app every day.

To be eligible for MoneyLion Plus, users must verify their identity, have a consistent source of income, have a bank account that’s been open for more than 45 days and they must be able to show a positive bank balance. Credit scores are considered but a good score isn’t required.

Brigit app

The Brigit app costs $9.99 per month and allows users to access up to $250 instantly. Additional features include the ability to set up automated advances, free instant transfers and free extensions for those who need a little longer to pay back what they’ve borrowed. Brigit doesn’t look at credit scores as part of their qualifying criteria, but users must have a bank account and a recurring income from a single source.

Are these early paycheck apps appropriate for more substantial borrowing?

In short, no. Low-cost personal loans are the route to explore for larger borrowing, as opposed to the short-term lending solution that cash advance apps offer. LendingClub or Prosper are examples of lenders that provide longer loan lengths and better terms for this type of borrowing — but they’re not suitable for giving access to money in a pinch.

Cash advance apps and responsible use

Early paycheck apps and apps such as Dave can be a useful temporary solution to help entrepreneurs and startup employees avoid unpaid bills, operational expenses and even dirty little overdraft fees. However, they shouldn’t be relied on regularly, as transfer/subscription fees can add up over time and leave users even more out of pocket. Think of these tools as a rich uncle that can help you in a bind. You can get a loan from him once and a while, but you don’t want to depend on him every month.

What’s more, frequently using these services can lead to a vicious cycle of dependency, especially for those on low incomes in impoverished areas, or anyone building a startup. Entrepreneurs who often resort to constantly borrowing money will no doubt find it hard to develop good money habits, such as building up savings, because they’ll be trapped into living invoice to invoice and paycheck to paycheck for the long term.

The bottom line: like all types of loan products, cash advance apps should only be considered if absolutely necessary. If you’re in that pinch, I hope these tools come in handy.

On another note, do you know what’s used for money in prison? Top Ramen or a book of stamps. If that’s interesting to you, you may also want to learn how to make a tattoo gun out of a Walkman Motor or light a fire with a gum wrapper and battery. All those things are in my new comedy book about prison called Don’t Drop the Soap. Presale starts July 15. Sign up for alerts and get more info here: Don’t Drop the Soap.

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4 Trends That Will Rewire the Inner Workings of the Fintech Industry

The past few decades have seen entrepreneurs sprinting to innovate and exploit outdated process gaps for riches.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Financial technology (fintech) refers to the infrastructure for modern digital payment rails, payment processing, back-end settlement of assets on capital markets and many other financial pieces of software and hardware.

With a lot of different software and hardware needs on the part of financial institutions, the past few decades have seen entrepreneurs sprinting to innovate and exploit outdated process gaps for riches.

These four impending trends won’t just rewire the inner workings of the fintech industry, they’ll create space for further innovation on the part of agile startup entrepreneurs.  

1. Quantum computing

Modern computers are based on binary code that is interpreted by the computer as ones or zeros — each binary digit represents a binary state (on or off). Quantum computers turn that notion on its head by leveraging quantum phenomena such as quantum entanglement and superposition.

Suffice it to say, they’re like supercomputers on steroids.

Where quantum computing has a potential impact on fintech is with processing and settlement of transactions, faster data processing, risk and performance modeling and better security. Even JP Morgan and Barclays have been dabbling with IBM’s quantum computing tools, according to Wired, looking to the future for practical applications. While quantum computers aren’t yet perfected, if they turn out to work like fintech giants hope they will, that will mean lower energy costs and vastly improved performance.

2. Artificial intelligence

AI is making big splashes in almost every industry. When robots can do the work instead of humans, the advantages are obvious: lower overhead costs, faster processing and more seamless user experience.

In fintech specifically, AI offers a highly practical tool for major financial organizations to manage portfolio risk and help institutions with regulatory compliance — a task which has become increasingly time-consuming and complicated over the past several years. One CNBC reporter, for instance, expected an impending wave of regulators to scare off investors altogether back in 2016. In the future, AI can likely help ensure that fintech companies are adhering to their vast network of boundaries and regulations.

Pacific Wealth Solutions is a perfect example of a fintech company that uses quantitative computing and AI to break down which investments in insurance and asset protection programs have high odds of producing strong returns. Nelson Lee, the managing partner of Pac Wealth, has released a new project using similar AI that gives consumers and institutional investors transparency as to which programs will provide a return versus those which will result in low value.  

AI and other advanced tech such as quantum computing will reduce the need for salespeople and advisors in the financial industry altogether. Technology will continue to reduce costs and streamline access to information, providing improved returns for investors, consumers and firms providing more effective programs.

By example, the major exchange infrastructure on Wall Street is already almost entirely managed by automated machines. This is a continuing trend, as Wired explained this back in 2010. It is a trend that won’t be slowing anytime soon, and may eventually completely replace humans — why pay someone to do something when you could buy an equally adept robot to do it instead?

3. Cryptocurrency and decentralized finance

Decentralized finance (DeFi) is one of the prevailing narratives in the cryptocurrency and blockchain niche. Based on open protocols, DeFi projects such as MakerDAO on Ethereum for decentralized lending of the Dai stablecoin and insurance products such as Nexus Mutual provide decentralized alternatives to traditional financial institutions.

The sheer scale of pioneering in DeFi was recently outlined by Ethereum development firm, Consensys. In its simplest form, DeFi strives to offer a more accessible, powerful and less censorship-prone set of financial products to a diverse group of people.

DeFi is not limited to just blockchain based companies. There are many up and coming non-blockchain fintech incumbents establishing themselves through decentralization. Chargezoom by example has used two-way syncing to make accounting easier by syncing payment information to many popular existing accounting software packages. This empowers their users with minimum manual input so that they do not have to waste a lot of time or resources by employing an accounting expert, shifting the power back to the user.   

Additionally, platforms such as TomoChain have positioned themselves as a foundation for DeFi applications with near-zero transaction fees, fast confirmation times and scalable infrastructure for a new ecosystem of open financial protocols.

Another area of ongoing innovation in open finance is with the flood of stablecoins (cryptocurrency designed to mitigate financial risk). Tether remains the dominant stablecoin in the cryptocurrency realm, but stiff competition is emerging with projects such as Stably. In an effort to provide the utmost transparency, the Stably team provides real-time bank data to prove their reserves back the circulating supply at a one-to-one peg with the dollar while also conducting regular attestations through third-party auditors.

Stablecoins are a vital tool in the volatile cryptocurrency markets that can be used for everything from smart escrow to margin lending. As open financial products on blockchains continue to develop, look for stablecoins to play a role in building the bridge to decentralized finance.

4. Big tech

One of the more evident trends in fintech is the continual entrance of big tech firms into the financial sector.

Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay are all becoming enormously popular among smartphone users. Alibaba, China’s massive online retailer, has made significant progress with its fintech partner, Ant Financial. According to The New York Times, Facebook is developing a stablecoin for its platform. Add in the fact that major social media platforms are planning on integrating with ecommerce stores, such as the certain-markets-only Shopping on Instagram feature, and more flexible payment methods offered by big tech firms may come to dominate online retail in the future.

Big banks are not taking the pending competition from major tech firms lightly either. According to a quote by Peter Gordon, CEO of Payment Relationship Management, in a Bloomberg piece, he detailed: “The large banks want to reclaim the payments and do not want Amazon, Apple, Google and others to displace them. The banks understand that the current payment system infrastructure is broken, like our roads and bridges in the U.S. They’ll work to create new rails that are more efficient.”

Payment rails are long overdue for a speed upgrade, so perhaps the increased competition from big tech can move the needle for the benefit of consumers and entrepreneurs burdened by high fees and slow transaction processing times.

As an entrepreneur, whether you’re looking to position yourself for the future of open finance, AI tools or even the long-term promise of quantum computing, one thing is clear — fintech is ripe for disruption. Will you be the one to disrupt it?

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Here’s What Entrepreneurs Must Know About the Booming VPN Industry

The future of the VPN industry is bright, but mostly because the future of online privacy and security is so bleak.

5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Twenty years ago, virtual private networks (VPNs) were almost exclusively connected to businesses. The consumer VPN industry, as it is now, was pretty much non-existent, with many people using proxies to access blocked sites. However, with more streaming sites and faster speeds, consumers have begun to take to VPNs. A huge factor in the increase in consumer VPN usage is streaming content – especially Netflix – with nearly half of all people using VPNs for entertainment. Only 31 percent of consumers use VPNs for greater anonymity.

For that reason, VPN services have also become extremely user-friendly, with many applications allowing users one-click connections. That way, even the most non-technical user can get started with VPNs. Geo-blocked content, censorship and prosecution are many of the reasons why the VPN industry is expected to grow to nearly $54 billion by 2024, and why entrepreneurs should take advantage of this booming trend. 

Who’s at the top of the consumer VPN industry?

The time is right for entrepreneurs looking to leverage this trend for their own businesses or create in this space. With such a huge demand for such a niche industry, you’d expect the number of VPN services vying for the top spot (and the biggest piece of the pie) to be growing every year, and that’s exactly right.

There are hundreds of VPN providers currently on the market, offering both paid and free plans, all promoting their high level of security and ability to bypass geo-blocking measures. However, the reality is many VPNs aren’t able to meet these promises, and only a few major providers are able to rise to the top. In fact, these providers are beginning to employ marketing strategies to allow them to appeal to an even wider audience.

Cybersecurity experts at VPNpro recently analyzed the marketing impact of 100 popular VPNs. According to their VPN market share research, there were three real leaders over the last year: ExpressVPN, NordVPN and Hotspot Shield.


Overall, ExpressVPN was found to be the current market leader in terms of its monetary value. Using website metrics, the research found that ExpressVPN had monthly traffic roughly $700,000 higher than the second place, NordVPN. ExpressVPN was also a top contender in the other areas analyzed, including overall popularity.


NordVPN seems to do the best in terms of reaching most consumers. VPNpro research looked at how many searches each VPN provider gets for their brand name and its variations. Here, NordVPN has the most in terms of both global searches and searches from the lucrative US market — a total of 1.2 million per month. They were also the provider with the most servers in their fleet and have been effective in accessing geo-restricted content, like Netflix or BBC’s iPlayer.

Hotspot Shield

One of the big dominators of the consumer VPN industry also happens to be one that has a free version: Hotspot Shield. While Hotspot does have a paid option, most of its users come through its free offering.

For that reason, Hotspot Shield dominates the market when it comes to the total number of VPN app installs on Google Play and the App Store, totaling 1.75 million installs. They were also found to have the biggest social media following, with 4.1 million from Facebook alone. However, it is unclear how this translates to actual revenue for the company, since its popularity in the market hinges mostly on its free VPN services.

The future of VPNs

While the research looked at the current situation of the consumer VPN market, it’s important to consider what the VPN industry will look like in the upcoming years, especially for entrepreneurs looking to build in this space or leverage VPNs for their own businesses. Due to the current political and copyright landscape around the world, growth projections show that the VPN industry will continue to take off.

Here are some predictions for the upcoming years that will lead to increased consumer VPN usage:

1. Wider political repression

Many countries around the world have begun blocking certain websites and online services from being accessed inside their borders. Twenty countries, including Sri Lanka, Turkey and Uganda, have shut down social media sites and applications from being used in their countries.

Then, of course, there are the usual restrictive regimes like China and Russia that continue to restrict how their residents use the internet. There are also questions about Brexit and the EU’s Article 13 that may contribute to an increase in VPN usage.

2. Successful clampdowns by Netflix and other streaming sites

Far and beyond, the main reason consumers are attracted to VPNs is to access geo-restricted content from services such as Netflix, Hulu, iPlayer, Spotify and even YouTube. While VPNs include strong privacy and security features, 49 percent of consumers use VPNs purely for entertainment. As these services improve their geo-restricting capabilities, and as more content is restricted, more consumers will be forced to use VPNs.

3. Increased fear of data breaches

Lastly, the data scandals surrounding social media sites, especially Facebook, have impacted consumers to where they are constantly concerned about their online privacy. In fact, trust in Facebook has dropped 66 percent since the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. This, coupled with major data breaches from healthcare and finance organizations, is causing consumers to turn to VPNs.

For all of these reasons and more, the future of the VPN industry is bright — but mostly because the future of online privacy and security is so bleak. As conditions worsen, and as VPNs continue to reach more consumers, VPN usage will continue to skyrocket. 

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Here’s How This Former UFC Champion Runs His Company Today

Tito Ortiz became the ninth inductee into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2012, and now he runs a clothing line.

2 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Tito Ortiz is an American mixed martial artist. In the MMA world, he is known for his stints with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, where he is a former Light Heavyweight Champion (having held the title from April 14, 2000, to September 26, 2003) and Bellator MMA. Ortiz ultimately became the biggest pay-per-view draw of 2006 for his fights with Liddell, Forrest Griffin, and Ken Shamrock.

Now, Ortiz is the CEO of the equipment and clothing line, Punishment Athletics MMA. He also manages a number of other business ventures including the Ortiz Auto Group.

Related: This Comedian Breaks Down Stand-Up, Startups and Entrepreneurship

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