“I’m buying some Bitcoin right now,” exclaimed the giddy lady sitting a couple tables away from me at a Washington DC falafel shop last Saturday night.
“Hold up,” I called out – “step away from the vending machine, I got this!” I’ve heard of these machines but never came across such a thing in person, I had to get a closer look. After settling a mild sense of disgust I explained to the lady that this Bitcoin vending machine was charging an outrageous premium and that she would be much better off using a reputable exchange. At the time, one bitcoin was trading at around $2,400 USD and this particular machine was charging well over $2,600 USD – that’s more than 8% of the transaction lost on a terrible exchange rate, and I didn’t even check to see if there were additional transaction fees. Lately, there has been so much hype about bitcoin, and as the first modern cryptocurrency, with good reason. But before investing in cryptocurrencies, you should know where they come from – so we begin with an introduction to blockchain.
What is blockchain?
You’re not learn anything about cryptocurrencies before you get an elevator pitch on blockchain technology, so here is a definition by IBM: “A blockchain is a tamper-proof, shared digital ledger that records transactions in a public or private peer-to-peer network.”
Simply put, blockchain is a novel, secure, and transparent means to conduct transactions on the internet. Actualizing the concepts of “decentralization,” “smart contracts,” and “distributed ledgers,” this technology also brings to us a new way of thinking about relationships between people, businesses, and governments. Because transactions on the blockchain are “distributed,” there is a permanent record of the transaction on a large number of nodes across the internet – hence, decentralization prevents that any single party can control and manipulate the actual version of the “truth.”
As each transaction on the blockchain is distributed to all nodes in the network, one can imagine a virtual ledger that records, in connected blocks, transactions (i.e. asset exchanges, contracts, etc.) that take place between the peers in the network. In order for a new transaction “block” to be verified, it must be verifiable against preceding blocks – hence, we reintroduce the title of this film: “blockchain.”
What are cryptocurrencies?
Unlike traditional fiat currencies, cryptocurrencies reside entirely online. As valuable assets, these online currencies require a method of securing ownership, which is where cryptography comes in. In order to transact money on the blockchain, the parties involved in the transaction need to present a set of cryptographic hash keys to validate and transfer ownership of the money.
Bitcoin is built using blockchain technology. As the first cryptocurrency on the blockchain, it is a pioneer, and it continues to break barriers. Just recently, in April 2017, Japan officially recognized bitcoin as a legal method of payment – a massive validation for the cryptocurrency concept.
There are almost a thousand cryptocurrencies on the market, but you’ve probably heard of major players such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Litecoin, Dash, and Monero.
How to buy cryptocurrency.
If you’re looking for a good payout you might find it by investing in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ether, and Litecoin…but you might also lose a lot of money. So, be prepared to invest what you’re willing to lose. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find specific advice because the value of cryptocurrencies, aside from being subject to extreme market-driven volatility, depend fundamentally on each cryptocurrency’s underlying technology. For example, the Bitcoin community has been up in a fuss as of late (when has it never, really?) because of fundamental disagreements with regard to software development that have serious implications on the platform’s security, software performance, and competitiveness as a cryptocurrency. Out of all blockchain platforms, I am very bullish on the Ethereum platform; and, if the cards in play pan out, the platform will expand along with the value of the Ether currency.
Buying your first cryptocurrency is a great way to dive into the world of blockchain – so here’s a quick start guide to get you moving in the right direction by buying the Ether cryptocurrency:
First you need a way to convert real money (i.e. USD, EUR, etc.) to a cryptocurrency. For this there are several platforms you can use such as Coinbase, Kraken, Gemini, Poloniex, and GDAX (Coinbase’s pro platform). At the time of this writing, I can tell you that Coinbase is the simplest way to get started, and there’s also an intuitive iPhone app to keep track of everything on the go. Let’s assume you’re going to use Coinbase.
As soon as you’re all set up on Coinbase you can start buying one of three currencies: Bitcoin (BTC), Ether (ETH), or Litecoin (LTC). Check out the price trends over the past week, month, and year to figure out which price point you would be willing to pay for your first cryptocurrency. It’s simple to buy cryptocurrency: after selecting the amount you want to buy, the exchange will add its transaction fee (~1.5% to ~4% of the total transaction) and reveal a grand total.
Now what? I can’t feel the cryptocurrency in my hands…where is it?!
Once you hit “buy” it won’t be long before you receive the Ether, and you need to take fundamental steps to ensure the security of these assets. Enter: The Wallet. When you buy cryptocurrency from an exchange (like Coinbase) your currency is at risk because it’s always online. The best practice is to keep your money on exchange platforms only as long as you are actually exchanging (buying or selling). If you’re still working with a very small amount of chump change, don’t worry about moving the money – but, if you have any substantial value in your portfolio, move it out to a storage location that is not connected to the internet, known as “cold storage.”
ETH, like other currencies, can be stored into “wallets” using a variety of methods. The two entry-level methods are to use an online service like MyEtherWallet or a hardware device like the Ledger Nano S and the Trezor White. To use cryptocurrencies we really need to change the way we think about our internet connected lives. Just like we have physical wallets that go into handbags and back pockets, these concepts exist…only digitally. And soon, your neighborhood bank will offer cryptocurrency services as well.
The big difference? You don’t touch and feel this new money. It’s in cyberspace, it’s protected (sort of) so don’t freak out, but it’s floating around on the internet. Your only claim to that money, and proof that you own the money, is that you possess the public and private addresses for that money. This is why we use a service like MyEtherWallet to generate a digital wallet to store money.
When you generate a wallet with MyEtherWallet you are granted two critical pieces of information that you must never forget in order to maintain access to your wallet: 1) Public Address (this is the front door to your wallet, money can go in with or without your permission); and, 2) Private Key (this is your key to get into the front door, you need this key to access your wallet and to send money from your wallet).
Know this: the wallet you just generated lives on the internet at large, not on MyEtherWallet’s technology. All MyEtherWallet did is create a public address and private key pair for you. Now it’s up to you to save that information in a safe place – ideally in a locked safe, in the real world! In this regard, the ETH trading community overwhelmingly advocates using a hardware device as a wallet, the most popular hardware wallets are offered by Ledger and Trezor. So, instead of preserving a piece of paper, you can maintain a hardware device that displays wallet information on a small screen and is able to connect to your computer to enable transactions.
Bonus round: Tracking down Ether transactions on the blockchain.
When you start moving ether around, because it’s done on a blockchain, you can use online tools to demonstrate a complete transaction history for your public address. One such tool is Etherscan, where you can enter any known Ethereum address and get key details for each transaction such as the exchange rate, public address of the other party involved with the transaction, and technical details such as the amount and price of gas used (cost of computation). Now you can imagine the powerful visualizations this data could fuel to reveal relationships between individuals, businesses, and governments.
I’ve been on the road a lot lately. Great memories were made by taking to the road on thousands of miles of highways and byways – traversing metropolitan cities, rural stretches, quaint villages, and international borders. And, just like it was 25 years ago when my family drove thousands of miles coast to coast, billboard advertising is still very much alive in 2017. When you’re driving for hours on end, roadside attractions and billboards offer a fleeting break to the monotony – and it’s so interesting to observe the varying messages and designs, which are markedly different everywhere you go. The fascinating thing about roadside billboard advertising is that you have to be as concise as possible – the impression doesn’t last more than a few seconds. Continue reading …
Bali is bigger than it looks because there is so much to do and so little time. If you are going to Bali for a retreat that is all about sun, sand, and sea it’s pretty obvious you want to head to the coasts. If you’re going to Bali for spirituality and soul searching, those ambitions will take you deeper into the interior of Bali. In this article I share my recent experience visiting Bali. I hope it’s helpful for you.We started our holiday by going to the center of Bali in the beautiful city of Ubud. Ubud is known as the cultural capital of Bali because you find lots of artisans, a lot of folks also visit for spirituality. There are a lot of temples and it is also home of the famous monkey sanctuary and from the town center you choose from a variety of retreats and day trips, some of which head deep into the jungle. You can go to Trip Advisor and figure all of this out, though it’s also pretty easy to go to the center of Ubud right in the heart of the town and pick one of many tour guide companies to book an excursion ranging from visiting rice fields and coffee farms to lesser known temples and zip line tours.I stayed at a resort that I would totally recommend called Ayung Hotel Resort they have reasonable rates that get you a personal villa with a private pool. The villas are all unique and they’re constructed from strong, solid dark stained wood that is carved with intricate patterns. When you arrive, ask for an upgrade nicely and you may get it – we were lucky (and kind). This resort is about 15 minutes from downtown Ubud – and like other hotels in the area they have shuttles that go downtown and pick you up from there at a decent frequency.
In the daytime we visited the Ubud Art Market which is really a bazaar of vendors that sell very similar products like souvenirs, t-shirts, and artisan-made decorations like masks depicting Hindu deities. Definitely don’t be shy and dare to walk deep through the vendor stalls – there are some hidden stalls that most people don’t see from the street level. For example, I bought most of my wooden crafts not from the vendors on the side of the street but upstairs in a little building that houses several indoor vendors. Definitely negotiate starting at a very low offer, in fact, your first offer should be ridiculously low so you can work your way up. If you’re one of the first customers of the day, you’re likely to get a better rate because the first deal usually brings good energy. Of course, at the end of the day these vendors don’t make a fraction of Western incomes – so the goal isn’t to get a “steal” as much as it is to not get ridiculously overcharged. If you don’t bargain, you will end up paying up to 300% more than a person that negotiated. If you feel you got a great deal – I recommend adding a little more on top of the final negotiated cost, the people work very hard and deserve it. As an added bonus you get “good karma.”
Just being in that town was great – lots of little shops, including several clothing designers (we bought a super chic unique, one-of-a-kind, dress you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else). We also went to the monkey sanctuary which was a great experience, very interesting at least. There are temples within the sanctuary and beautiful landscapes including flowing streams. You do pay a small price to get in and it’s worth it. Don’t buy the fruits that are sold to give to the monkeys — you can just watch other people as they expose themselves to the minor risk of getting bitten, scratched, or just frazzled by one or many monkeys. Rabies would be a terrible addition to your Bali trip – LOL. Definitely hide your valuables and zip up all your bags…they are cheeky monkeys. I caught one on camera when I let him jump on my back — the footage caught the monkey opening my backpack successfully then sticking his grubby paws into it to see what he could grab. Luckily he didn’t take anything but I saw another monkey take someone’s keys. Good luck with getting those back! (you won’t get them back).
Depending upon how much time and energy you have, you should head deeper into the heart of Ubud (or even further to the north of Bali, well past Ubud), away from the center of town for interesting excursions. We could’ve spent another few days in this area and would have ventured to the north of Bali which is supposed to be amazingly beautiful – some areas have scenic mountainous views and there are a few volcanoes as well. We didn’t have time to do this but certainly will on our next journey to Bali.
Our last few days in Bali were more about experiencing the Bali you see in postcards – tropical paradise. We went to the Nusa Dua region which is on the east coast of Bali’s south end. We stayed at the Westin and I’d recommend it. The Nusa Dua neighborhood is highly commercial, you’ll find many of the shops you see at airports and everyone’s spending money at near the same value you spend in developed economies. This is a major contrast with Ubud and other less commercial areas of Bali, where you’re getting a lot of value for each dollar. This was certainly worth it though as we soaked in the sun, drank on the Westin’s own beach section, and relaxed in the facility’s very well featured spa where we got a decent massage and used the cold, hot, and jet pools as well as the steam room and sauna.
One of the things we did that we should’ve done sooner in our trip was to hire a private driver. This makes all the difference for a few reasons: the driver will take you places and wait until you’re done so you don’t have to wait around for a cab; they know the region and will represent your best interests when interacting with other locals; and, it comes out much cheaper, and less of a pricing hassle, than using cabs. Sometimes cabs are difficult to find, they may not drive as far as you’d like, and also require keeping more cash on hand – which is never a good idea when traveling. My Indonesian friend referred me to several drivers and I settled on a great gentleman we built great rapport with. I recommend you set up a schedule ahead of time with your driver, and settle on a fee for the day or a portion of the day. He or she will take good care of you. Let me know if you’d like contact info and I’ll make the introduction for you.
A couple quick tips:
– Don’t carry too much cash on you…the Bali we visited was very safe (the country’s primary industry is tourism so it behooves everyone to treat tourists with deference and care) – but why risk losing the cash? There are ATMs everywhere and to start a day out in Bali with $200 USD in Indonesian Rupiyah is more than enough. Most shops are cash only. To this point, you should get a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees – those fees add up very fast.
– Hire a driver, particularly for long days when you expect to be doing lots of tourist activities and excursions. The few extra bucks are totally worth the piece of mind.
– Negotiate everything you buy in the streets.
– Take me with you.
Every enterprise, like every person, is on a unique journey. Though, the ultimate goal is usually the same: maximize return on investment. That’s investment in time, money, reputation, etc. — basically, your opportunity cost. I help organizations solve problems that get in the way of earning that return – and for the most part, this has found me working in roles within marketing, policy, research, creative, and technology units.
Throughout my career I have consistently found that growing enterprises inevitably face the “complexity problem.” In order to grow, you have to embrace more complexity in the way business is conducted – failure to manage this complexity creates tremendous uncertainty – which equals nothing more than pure, uncontrolled risk. Continue reading …
First of all, buyers want to see “benefits” before they see “features” – so be careful not to jump into technical stuff before building a business case. This also means you need to prioritize the order in which each benefit appears on your website. Think of your top two buyer personas, the segments that are going to drive 80% of your revenue, and hit their specific pain points with the first benefits you list on your website. Hook them with the highest value problem-solution sets (benefits) and you can always offer a “read more” option for those prospects that are compelled to learn more…frankly, most aren’t. In fact, the priority problem-solution sets should be enough to move the prospect to click on the “get started” or “free trial” button.
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Video is today’s most effective customer education tool. If you’re selling a SaaS product you need to break down product demos into bite-sized screencasts (no longer than 1 minute) that quickly and clearly reveal just how easy, convenient, pain-reducing, and time-saving your product is. No more long-winded 2000s-era comprehensive demos. In fact, no single video should be longer than five minutes unless it’s being stored in a “resources” section – at that point it’s less about marketing and more about customer success. Pro tip: use animated GIFs to bring text to life.
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