Breaking into Blockchain – Crypto 101

Breaking into blockchain is not hard, but requires some time invested in learning about the basics. I personally started by reading white papers – namely, Ethereum, Bitcoin, Dash, and tons and tons of ICOs. Of course, if you know mathematics, polynomes and cryptography, you’re already 3-4 steps ahead of the game and can understand the probabilistic models better than everyone else.

Here’s two of the best resources when it comes to taking the first steps into blockchain – collection by A16Z, bitcoin-focused link list by James Lopp. These two alone will get you far enough to begin with. From there you’re going to branch out into the wild and discover your favorite coins/algorithms/programs, whatever you understand and makes sense for you. There’s no right or wrong at this stage, mostly trials and scams.

Since I already mentioned I’m a big fan of Ethereum, here’s a link to a collection of applications build to top of this ecosystem. Mostly wallets, trading, gambling, games, just like any early stage medium and just 240ish. The internet started like this, too. It will eventually grow beyond this. After all, you need to build the foundation, lay the piping, create the structure before you can start operating the mall. I don’t know why I chose the mall analogy, but it fits the context very well. It evolved from the street market into the steel and stone edifices we find everywhere nowadays.

You need to keep up to date and if you don’t want to get all the newsletters from Coindesk, CCN, Bitcoin Magazine etc, then it’s easier just to follow Crypto Panic. It will aggregate the best news for you, along with community signals. Sure, there’s bias, but where isn’t one? Do your own research, don’t follow the shillers or the FUD (fear uncertainty doubt) spreaders or the FOMO peddler (I won’t explain FOMO).

Ok, you did the reading, time to grab some coins. Here’s a few lists of exchanges. Do your own research and choose the ones that make sense for your needs/strategy: Crypto to Crypto exchanges (I mostly use Bittrex and Binance); Fiat to Crypto Exchanges (Coinbase and Gemini are my favs here).

Now you have the coins, but where to store them? Definitely not in exchanges, as you won’t be able to do much with them there. I use a few wallet combinations, like Scatter, Metamask (protect your private keys), MyEtherWallet, Blockchain Info, Jaxx, Coinomi and several others that are coin-specific. Make sure you check the HTTPS, the URL and bookmark your wallets. Phishing is very common.

Lastly, for those who want to dive deeper into ICOs, here’s a primer along with the Price Waterhouse Cooper new global ICO guide, hot off the press from Switzerland.

Remember, it’s still early days, so the tools will be pretty rudimentary, but as the industry matures, the tools will too. Right now we don’t know what are the best ways to do things because we don’t know what are the best things we can do yet with blockchain technology. That’s enough to excite a lot of people out there to build, test, launch, fail, learn, build, rinse and repeat.

Cryptocurrencies – towards a circular economy

“A local currency is used within a defined area and promotes demand for local goods and services. A multiplier effect occurs as the service or goods provider in turn spends the funds locally, with each reuse strengthening the system, promoting local value, self-sufficiency and community interdependence, while providing independence from financial systems far from local control and benefit.
(…) The use of local currencies increases in times of recession or depression as we saw internationally after the banking crisis of 2008. Local currencies exist around the world in many different forms, with the common denominator being the intent to strengthen the local system, building in resilience, minimising waste and enhancing rather than diluting local productivity.” (The Guardian, 2015)

I’m anchoring the circular economy to its currency meaning and show how both the Euro and cryptocurrencies share the same adoption, growth and stability cycles. Few remember that the Euro was established in 1999 as a virtual currency first and only in 2002 did it become a printed / minted physical currency. Beginning on 1 January 1999, all bonds and other forms of government debt by eurozone nations were denominated in euros and all participating economies pegged their local currencies to the Euro, becoming subdivisions.

Kind of like an ICO, right? The ICO organizer sets a price and fixes all other crypto rates to the new currency, then distributes the new currency to be used in the local economy they are, supposedly, creating. I say supposedly because not all ICOs aim to create economies and those who don’t and aren’t a security are most likely scams / shitcoins.

The euro grew in importance steadily, with its share of foreign exchange reserves rising from nearly 18% in 1999 to 25% in 2003 – while the dollar share fell by an equivalent margin.” (source)

The biggest turning point for the Euro was when a part of the circulating supply was locked as foreign exchange reserves and that share increased, replacing some of the dollar share of reserves, sending the dollar value down and the euro value up.

But back to the circular economy component — if you just have the above decisions and adoption, including forex reserves, then your economy still risks having to use external resources more than internal ones and devalue the local currency by oversupply.

Let me create an example here – fiat with fiat.

People in your local economy consume a lot of wheat, and that wheat is imported from US. They pay for it in Euros, but those Euros get converted in USD so that the wheat producer can pay salaries, bills and other expenses in the US, where USD is legal tender. Once the wheat producer has sold the Euros they received and got dollars in return, the total supply of Euros has increased, while demand has stayed the same. This drives the price of EUR-USD down, which means you can buy more Euros with the same dollar amount.

How can you stop this? You produce wheat in the Eurozone and consume it there. Let’s see what happens if you do that. Your people buy wheat from the wheat producer inside the Eurozone with EUR, the wheat producer pays for their cost of doing business with EUR, so there is really no change in supply or demand for EUR versus other currencies. A potential consequence for this might be even a reduction of supply or increased demand of EUR, as there is less EUR available for foreign exchange, therefore driving the EUR-USD and other pairs up – meaning for every dollar, you can buy less and less EUR. And that’s a good thing for the Eurozone, it increases the value of their currency and economy.

If you go a step further and produce goods and services beyond what your people can consume and based on external demand, then the supply reduction / demand increase of your currency is accelerated. Let’s use the wheat example again. If the wheat producers of the Eurozone satisfy all the wheat demand locally and have surplus they export to other countries, let’s say Russia, so we can use the ruble, then there are goods flowing out of the zone. The wheat is paid for in Ruble and the local wheat producers exchanges those rubles for Euros, as they need local currency to pay salaries, bills and other expenses. The ruble drops, the Euro increases, so next time the same ton of wheat will be worth more rubles for the same euro amount. The supply of Euros decreases and the supply of ruble increases, making it more expensive to buy wheat from Eurozone countries.

I ended the story on that note to show that a circular economy without inflation is dangerous, as competing goods and services from other countries with inflation can become a better choice, even if yours are superior in quality, if the Euro becomes too expensive year after year. But then we enter the advanced realm of monetary policy, competing systems and that’s beyond the scope of what I’m addressing today.

Back to cryptocurrency, though, and the point I want to make. If you replace Euro with Monero, for example, you get the following story:

People in your local economy consume a lot of wheat, and that wheat is imported from US. They pay for it in Monero, but those Monero get converted in USD so that the wheat producer can pay salaries, bills and other expenses in the US, where USD is legal tender. Once the wheat producer has sold the Monero they received and got dollars in return, the total supply of Monero has increased, while demand has stayed the same. This drives the price of XMR-USD down, which means you can buy more Moneros with the same dollar amount.

How can you stop this? You produce wheat in the Monero community and consume it there. Let’s see what happens if you do that. Your people buy wheat from the wheat producer inside the community with Monero, the wheat producer pays for their cost of doing business with Monero, so there is really no change in supply or demand for Monero versus other currencies. A potential consequence for this might be even a reduction of supply or increased demand of Monero, as there is less Monero available for foreign exchange, therefore driving the XMR-USD and other pairs up – meaning for every dollar, you can buy less and less Monero. And that’s a good thing for the Monero community, it increases the value of their currency and economy.

If you go a step further and produce goods and services beyond what your people can consume and based on external demand, then the supply reduction / demand increase of your currency is accelerated. Let’s use the wheat example again. If the wheat producers of the Monero community satisfy all the wheat demand locally and have surplus they export to other countries, let’s say Russia, so we can use the ruble, then there are goods flowing out of the zone. The wheat is paid for in Ruble and the local wheat producers exchanges those Rubles for Monero, as they need local currency to pay salaries, bills and other expenses. The ruble drops, the Monero increases, so next time the same ton of wheat will be worth more rubles for the same Monero amount. The supply of Monero decreases and the supply of ruble increases, making it more expensive to buy wheat from Monero community members.

Let’s go a step further and remove all fiat from the story. Here’s how it sounds now:

People in your local economy consume a lot of wheat, and that wheat is imported from the Bitcoin community. They pay for it in Monero, but those Monero get converted in Bitcoin so that the wheat producer can pay salaries, bills and other expenses in the Bitcoin community, where BTC is considered tender. Once the wheat producer has sold the Monero they received and got Bitcoin in return, the total supply of Monero has increased, while demand has stayed the same. This drives the price of XMR-BTC down, which means you can buy more Monero with the same Bitcoin amount.

How can you stop this? You produce wheat in the Monero community and consume it there. Let’s see what happens if you do that. Your people buy wheat from the wheat producer inside the community with Monero, the wheat producer pays for their cost of doing business with Moner, so there is really no change in supply or demand for Monero versus other currencies. A potential consequence for this might be even a reduction of supply or increased demand of Monero, as there is less Monero available for foreign exchange, therefore driving the XMR-BTC and other pairs up – meaning for every Bitcoin, you can buy less and less Monero. And that’s a good thing for the Monero community, it increases the value of their currency and economy.

If you go a step further and produce goods and services beyond what your people can consume and based on external demand, then the supply reduction / demand increase of your currency is accelerated. Let’s use the wheat example again. If the wheat producers of the Monero community satisfy all the wheat demand locally and have surplus they export to other countries, let’s say the ZCash community, so we can use the Zcash, then there are goods flowing out of the zone. The wheat is paid for in Zcash and the local wheat producers exchanges those ZEC for Monero, as they need local currency to pay salaries, bills and other expenses. The ZEC drops, the Monero increases, so next time the same ton of wheat will be worth more ZEC for the same Monero amount. The supply of Monero decreases and the supply of ZEC increases, making it more expensive to buy wheat from Monero community members.

Cryptocurrencies are no different from classic currencies, unless we invent new ways of using them in our economies. In capitalism, the system I just described above applies and will separate the winning cryptos from the losing ones long term. The ones who are able to circularly produce and spend and attract external resources in will win, while the other ones, producing less, will owe more and more and their currency will be worth less and less, until it eventually disappears and they adopt the next ruling currency.

Dear Youtube Product people, your Live sucks for webinars

Every now and then, I need a reminder that if you’re not paying for something, you’re likely the product.

Today, I had the pleasure of getting that reminder from Google, through its more horrible product, Youtube Live / Hangout on Air as a webinar tool (credits to this article for the photo below).

Google Hangout On Air Webinar

Here’s the backstory

I was organizing a webinar with my team that was supposed to go live today. We had registrations, people were looking forward to our content. But we failed to go live because of a button that wouldn’t load in Hangouts on Air. We had tested the Live functionality thoroughly in the previous two days, with an internal test and a full dry run with all participants the day before. The morning of, scripts in hand, decks ready, we signed on and were ready to go. As we saw the clock strike 10am Pacific, the Hangouts On Air stayed, ironically, Off Air. No matter what we did to it, it wouldn’t go live. After more than 20 minutes of struggles, we abandoned and had to reschedule. Fail, thanks, Google!

Given that it is a free product, I’m going to provide some free feedback here for the product people responsible for this terribly designed functionality.

  • Why do you even need encoders for the live video stream? Isn’t the Hangouts functionality enough?
  • Why don’t you have a consistent experience when using Hangouts on Air? Sometimes you see the Go On Air Button, sometimes you don’t
  • Improve that FAQ section that has confusing references
  • When choosing quick vs custom, you should never see encoding details
  • Why doesn’t the webinar automatically go live at the selected event date? Did someone forgot to code that functionality?
  • If you are serious about this product, have you considered adding paid technical support for companies to use it as a business tool? I know it works for kids doing stupid stuff live from their living rooms, but others are tired of old, clunky interfaces from other webinar platforms and would gladly pay per use
  • You need a better integration with Google Docs / Slides / Sheets – presenting in full screen and seeing what’s going on in the webinar requires two people, due to the fact that the slides take up the whole screen and the Hangout on Air controls are not visible

Let me know if you had similar issues with the product, maybe we can start a petition or something to get their attention.

Romanian IT in San Francisco — official launch

Romanians working in IT in San Francisco met for the first time on February 5 as part of the Romanian IT local chapter. This the first step in building a global Romanian IT community, part of the project “IT without borders”, which aims to facilitate communication and collaboration among Romanians everywhere. We’re now over 20 people and looking forward to welcoming even more!

For the past 15 years, many Romanians have left their home country to work in IT in the Bay Area, so it was only natural to start the Romanian IT community here. Now they have access to a platform that can connect both locally and with Romanian IT specialists world wide to work on relevant projects and initiatives. This may very well be a solution to one of the biggest problems that Romania is facing — brain drain.

Read more here

Key takeaways from my 1st AI Webinar

igitalgenius

  • Hosted by Ruben @ Microsoft (Bucuresti), with
    Titus, Growth Manager @ DigitalGenius — Human+AI for Customer Service (San Francisco) & Cosmin — Data Science & Machine Learning developer, CEO of Clusterr.io (Timisoara)
  • Artificial Intelligence = “(…) the study of methods for making computers behave intelligently. Roughly speaking, a computer is intelligent to the extent that it does the right thing rather than the wrong thing. (…) AI includes tasks such as learning, reasoning, planning, perception, language understanding, and robotics.”
  • AI is not new, it has been around since 1955, with the first definition being proposed by Arthur Samuel
  • Machine Learning = “(…) the branch of AI that explores ways to get computers to improve their performance based on experience” — same source as AI
  • Examples of practical applications of Artificial Intelligence: playing board games and card games, answering simple questions, assembling complex objects, translating text from one language to another, recognizing speech, recognizing many kinds of objects in images, and driving a car under most “normal” driving conditions, fraudulent credit-card transactions or evaluating credit applications.
  • We’re now at the point where we have good enough data, good enough computing power (GPUs) & good enough algorithms to be able to produce usable neural networks and practical applications

Read the rest here, including the part where I talk about DigitalGenius & deep learning as a practical application of Artificial Intelligence for Customer Service

Artificial Intelligence – the Hottest Topic of 2017

ai20172017 has just started and already there’s a lot of voices in the market placing Artificial Intelligence at the top of predictions and reports from Forrester Research, Gartner, Tractica and venture capitalists alike.

In one GeekWire piece, three of the five venture capitalists quoted about 2017 trends mentioned AI on their list. That’s remarkable for an industry that has not yet reached maturity but has demonstrated it is ready for widespread adoption. 2017 is likely to be the year we see significant uptake in practical applications for artificial intelligence.

We are after all in a perfect storm of data, computing power and algorithms that fuel these applications both at startup and at corporate level. And I’m not talking about the all knowing AI, but something way more practical:

The promise of artificial intelligence is ubiquitous and often portrayed in Hollywood as a calculating robo-nemesis, disguised as a friend or personal assistant (just see Her, exMachina, and Westworld). Yet, there are few areas better suited for an AI-powered transformation than enterprise & business functions.

Mikhail Naumov, President & CSO at DigitalGenius – Human+AI Customer Service

As a bonus, Udemy is offering their AI/ML course at a 95% discount, an easy way to get in on the machine learning growth wave.

Save the Date – Top 5 2017 Growth Conferences

We’re running out of 2016 and if you haven’t done it yet, it’s a good time to put some dates in the calendar for your personal development. Being a great growth manager means you have to be on top of your game with both marketing, business development, management and operations. And that’s beyond your company’s industry.

growth-managers

Every year, things evolve very fast, so even if you keep up with the news, you need to get a boost by going to at least 5 events. This will not only give you an edge when it comes to info and case studies, but it is also a great way to network with peers and develop professional relationships with likeminded individuals.

Startup Grind – Global Conference

WHEN – February 21-22
WHERE – Silicon Valley – Fox Theater | Redwood City

“These are our people” – Sam Altman, Y Combinator, plus with 3,000 founders and investors, more than 40 keynote and fireside sessions, and over 50 exhibiting startups, this is Startup Grind’s largest event ever.

GrowCo

WHEN – May 8-10
WHERE – New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Join like-minded entrepreneurs, business leaders, bestselling authors and headliners straight out of the pages of Inc., for three days of ideas, inspiration and insights, networking and learning, and proven strategies to help your company grow and thrive.

Traction Conference

WHEN – May 31 – June 1
WHERE – Vancouver, Canada

Traction brings founders and growth experts from tech unicorns including LinkedIn, Dropbox, Pinterest, Zillow, Hootsuite, Marketo, Groupon, HubSpot, AngelList and more to teach startups distribution strategies and tactics to get, keep and grow customers and revenue at scale.

CONTENT MARKETING WORLD CONFERENCE AND EXPO

WHEN – September 5-8
WHERE – Cleveland, Ohio USA, Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland

Over 80 sessions and workshops presented by the leading brand marketers from around the world covering strategy, integration, measurement

TechCrunch Disrupt 2017

WHEN – September
WHERE – San Francisco, California

It is the world’s leading authority in debuting revolutionary startups, introducing game-changing technologies and discussing what’s top of mind for the tech industry’s key innovators.

As 2017 kicks in and more conferences are announced, I’ll update this list with dates and places, so keep an eye out for this post.

What’s your shortlist for 2017?

Image Source

3 MUST Focus Areas for Growth Managers

There is an increasing amount of noise out there about what a growth hacker or a growth manager (please don’t confuse these two!) should do to drive 10x growth in organizations. I’ve seen a lot of tactical suggestions, examples and strategies, ranging from PPC, A/B testing, to branding and sales organization setup, but very few talk about the WHYs, the reasons behind all the tests and the activities, the larger picture, the strategic intent. Sure, you can argue that it could be all for growth.

startup-photos

Growth for growth’s sake is not sustainable and is a bigger danger to a company than not having growth in the first place!

Here’s my take on it. Every Growth Manager who is building a sustainable oranization must focus on the following 3 elements:

  1. Product Marketing
  2. Business Development
  3. Investors & Other Key Stakeholders

1. Product Marketing

The Growth Manager needs to understand the customer and be able to work with the product & sales teams to develop benefit statements and compelling stories.

They own the message, the brand and the marketing strategies, channels and budgets and are responsible for lead generation, PR, thought leadership, influencer relationships and all other brand building activities. They own the paid, earned , owned media mix and drive brand awareness both industry-wide and to customer segments.

Here’s a very good definition given by Openview Partners:

Product Marketing also focuses on understanding the market and market needs, but with an emphasis on understanding the buyer of the company’s products and services. Product Marketing is responsible for developing positioning, messaging, competitive differentiation, and enabling the Sales and Marketing teams to ensure they are aligned and work efficiently to generate and close opportunities.

Deliverables: Product Marketing Strategy, Marketing Assets (website, branding, PR, messaging), Marketing Campaigns

2. Business Development

If a Growth Manager focuses on just the first point, then they are effectively a Product Marketing Manager. However, given the moment a growth manager joins the organization, they are required to step up and step in the business development process, as well as the marketing process.

That way, they learn two important things – first hand customer feedback on product marketing messages and materials that sales teams need in order to be successful. The feedback is very useful in refining and iterating on product benefits, narrative, angle, story, case studies, customer success showcases.

The materials needs assessment feeds into creation of product sheets, pitch decks, videos, websites, communication campaigns, email marketing, automation flows, lead nurture campaigns – any activity that the sales team needs “air support” for in the process of moving leads down the funnel to opportunities and active customers.

Deliverables: Business Development Strategy, Sales Funnel, Sales Pipeline Management, Sales & Marketing Collateral (white papers, product sheets, videos, presentations, nurture campaigns)

3. Investors & Other Key Stakeholders

To ensure healthy and sustainable growth, the last piece of the Growth Manager puzzle is resource & stakeholder management. They must always think two steps ahead of the game, making sure the team is ready to raise the next round, ready to bring in the right people to expand the team and ready to present itself in front of customers.

Growth Managers need to figure out how the company should look like, what it needs to become, in order to grow into that picture piece by piece. It can be the way the branding is portrayed, the way the website is designed and structured, the way you handle recruitment & employer branding and how all of these are externally perceived by stakeholders other than customers – i.e. investors, partners, future employees, peers.

Deliverables: Marketing Collateral, Investor Relations Collateral (decks, website, marketing and sales assets), Employer Branding Strategy & Collateral

If you are a Growth Manager today or planning to become one, you must keep your actions focused on all three of the elements to ensure consistent, sustainable results delivery. Hey, one day you could be the CEO of the company.

When do you need a Growth Manager?

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expansion

I won’t quote the Harvard Business Review article that decisively said that every company needs a growth manager because I think that’s a wrong approach. Only businesses that have a strategic goal to grow need a growth manager, all others need a manager that can maintain the status quo, the market share, the profit margin, the shareholder returns a.s.o. The latter companies will suffer from having a Growth Manager as will the Growth Manager suffer from being in such companies, because growth does not come without pains or changes.

If you don’t leave room for some pain in order to grow towards the reward, you will never get to the reward.

Another article I’d like to mention here is the Intercom piece about the bullshit that is growth hacking and how bad it is for an organization to turn it into a strategy. Sure, it’s scrappy, lean, works for a while, but the price you pay in the long run is a lack of foundation for the growth you hacked your way into. That foundation is done with investment in tools, strategies, deliverables, templates, methods, people, offices that don’t deliver right away. Hell, they may even push your organization at the very edge, stretching the runways, cash flows and giving the C-levels some nightmares. But the ones who choose to grow this way are the most likely to reap the rewards in the long run.

One of the best places and times to hire a Growth Manager is when the company is opening up a new office in a new geography. The founder / C-level / co-founder that is in charge of opening this new office should first hire the growth manager to essentially build infrastructure for operations, sales, recruitment and marketing and benefit from their network and expertise, especially regarding process design and management. Without this person to drive the new office growth, the pace will be significantly decreased due to the lack of bandwidth of the person opening the office alone.

It’s here that the redundancy rule stands very strong – have at least two people in the company with overlapping skills, that way if one gets hit by a bus or goes on vacation, the other can keep running the shop.

Hire a Growth Manager that is curious, hungry, that has built at least several other projects, managed business units or functions from zero to regional if not global impact. Give them resources and freedom to act, trust them to build the infrastructure which will enable the product-market fit startup to grow, the established company to expand and the team to specialize and move from a learning – jack of all trades type of roles to production focused, quota focused, ROI, KPI focused machines that will deliver the results for your next round or the IPO or the results you will need 3-4 quarters from now.

Remember, it’s not just about the 10x growth requirement or the go-to-market readiness that needs a Growth Manager. The best companies hire one before that so he/she will have time and resources to build the vehicles to be used in the future growth process.

Breaking into Startups in San Francisco is not like on HBO

When I moved to Silicon Valley, I thought to myself:

Man, opportunities will come at me from every corner!

While it took me just over two weeks to break into the startup world, others aren’t so lucky to have pre-existing connections or traditional startup backgrounds and get rejected a lot. I got rejected too, before hitting it big at DigitalGenius.

Last night, a few awesome folk launched a different kind of startup podcast: one that’s about beating the stereotypes, conscious and unconscious biases of Silicon Valley startups. Not just white, male, top tier school graduates should be the ones joining companies backed by top VCs or household names like Google, Facebook or Twitter. Everyone should have a shot, but they don’t.

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That’s one of the reasons the community behind Break Into Startups came together and supports one another – the only way to break the pattern is if we all work together. No more job board rejections, no more interviews where you are given a hard time because you don’t fit the pattern.

If you agree with what I said, listen to their stuff, subscribe and leave a review to help spread the word. Share, tweet, post for a more inclusive, more creative world.