Posts tagged Startup

Startup 101: 9 Ways To Get Honest Feedback From Your Team

Guest author Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.

The ideal manager is someone who solves problems before they reach the CEO. Sometimes, though, communicating honestly about business problems is important, especially if a lower manager isn’t sure how to handle a specific situation.

If you’re a leaders who suspects you aren’t hearing everything you should, perhaps tweaking your approach to communication with colleagues is the way to go. I asked nine entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to share the No. 1 question that founders and CEOs can use to get honest feedback. Their best answers are below.

What’s The One Thing You’d Change About Your Job?

Asking your team leads the number-one thing they could change about their job will typically make them unveil valuable insight into what’s really happening. This can peel back the covers to problems in the business and allow you to address the underlying issues to their answer.

Mark Cenicola,

If You Were Me, What Would You Change Tomorrow?

Honest feedback can be hard for employees to share when they feel insecure or weary. An easy solve is to reframe the question so an employee is answered by using “I” phrases instead of “you” phrases.

Instead of giving a backseat driver observation, “You don’t care about the customers” or “Jane doesn’t come into work on time,” the employee is able to put themselves in the driver’s seat to be the agent of change. By asking them what they would change, they are empowered to answer with “I would…” statements such as, “I would gift the customers with a discount after each large purchase” or “I would set up a clock-in system.”

This also gives an actionable opportunity for management to agree with the idea and have that employee lead the charge on it, thus fostering both honest feedback and change!

Kim Kaupe, ZinePak

What’s The Most Tedious Thing About Your Job?

This question allows you to walk a day in their shoes, and find out whether they’re really paying attention to the job or simply just going through the motions. The answer that they give will give you insight into their character, and the environment that is most conducive to their productivity. Working together, you will be able to minimize the “tedious” tasks, and maximize of the most profitable ones.

If the most tedious part of the job is also the most profitable, speaking to your leaders about this fact will allow them to see the bigger picture, and not just feel like another cog in the system.

Cody McLain, SupportNinja

Where Do You See This Company Next Year?

To be more specific, ask them where they seem themselves in this company next year. The answer you get will show you, as a leader, the ‘path’ you have laid out to your team leads. If that path or vision isn’t where you see the company going, then you need to communicate more.

Show them where you want to take this company and how their honest feedback will get them there. If the team lead has a clear path to success, they will give you honest feedback because you’re all headed to the same place.

Keep this type of communication going and it will build a rapport with your team leads. They’ll know and see how that their honesty leads to improvement. You will become a better owner and leader, with a more cohesive team.

Kyle Clayton, Set Jet

What Is Your Biggest Challenge?

The key here is to lead by example. Be very candid about your own problems and shortcomings. Let employees see that you are human and also struggle. When you face challenges, recruit help, develop creative solutions, and quickly bounce back with a resolution. Employees are more likely to seek assistance if leaders do the same.

This lead by example approach, coupled with open communication, will create an environment in which it’s encouraged to ask for assistance, and acceptable to not have all the answers. Ask employees what is and isn’t working, and what their biggest challenge is. These questions are crucial when trying to make every team run as efficiently as possible. When employees detail their challenges, show them you value that feedback by making it a priority to fix them.

Dusty Wunderlich, Bristlecone Holdings

Why Are You Facing These Challenges?

Many leaders ask their team members “what” they are struggling with. By doing this, you’re putting your team member in a tough spot. “Do I complain or do I keep quiet?” Instead, always ask, “Why?” For example, instead of asking, “What issues are you facing in your project?,” ask, “Why are you facing challenges in your project?”

This subtly redirects perceived blame away from the person and lets them separate themselves from the issue at hand. It frees their mind to think objectively about the issue without fear of being the person who complains about issues. By asking “why,” you’ve become a partner in finding a solution, and the team member will speak more openly with you.

Adam Roozen, Echidna

How Can I Help You Be More Successful?

A lot of people don’t want to give you bad news, but they love to offer new ideas. Don’t make your question about asking about negative things, because most people won’t tell you the hard facts.

Instead, focus on the positive and update your angle accordingly. Instead of asking about the problems they’re having, ask them for advice on how to improve. Whatever you do, don’t implicate them for the failure (unless they are actually the failure, but that’s up for you to judge). The best route is to empower them first and foremost, and to give them a chance to say what they really think. That might actually take you in the right direction.

Andy Karuza, SpotSurvey

How Is Your Team’s Morale?

Team leads may be more willing to be honest with their feedback if they are sharing their own outlook and opinion on the moral of their team. Asking “How is your team’s moral lately?” takes the focus off of their own feelings and possible problems and instead allows them to reflect on the team that they work with and what they have been seeing lately.

Team leaders can then give feedback on how each team member has been working and feeling in the work environment, which will give more insight into possible problems or concerns within your business.

Miles Jennings,

What Keeps You Awake At Night?

I find that this question always elicits a team member’s deepest concerns about the business. It also is disarming because it is not necessarily asking directly about what they are having a problem with, rather asks them to reflect on the business as a whole. Oftentimes, the concerns that they raise are not even directly about their area of the business but overall big-picture areas that they think we need to address as a company.

Douglas Baldasare, ChargeItSpot

Lead photo by Lake Crimson

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11 Things To Remember When Your Startup Tackles A New Market

Guest author Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.

Getting customers in the door is a challenge that all entrepreneurs face. But even if you’ve been successful with one business model to date, targeting a new customer base—whether through expansion or a new venture—can feel like starting all over again.

To save you time and money, I asked several YEC entrepreneurs what one thing they’d prioritize above everything else when expanding an existing model to target a new customer base. Their best answers are below.

Customer Feedback

When expanding your existing model, it is imperative that you intensely and actively listen to your new customer base. Things that you might have assumed as a constant when moving into the field may not be.

It is essential in the first few days and months you are asking questions in as many ways and forms that you can to gather all potential feedback. Analyzing this feedback and adjusting your position quickly will help minimize glitches and potholes that you may have fallen into had you not been a vigilant listener. 

Overlooking your end user, whether B2B or B2C, is the mistake that will come back to hurt you in hours spent, dollars wasted, or misdirected effort down the road.

Kim Kaupe, ZinePak

Potential Partnerships

Before I step into another customer base, I do my research. I first look to my own partnerships and affiliations and try to determine if I know anyone who has experience in that direct customer base, and then I either call, email or ask them to lunch. I want to get every detail of their experience from the good and the bad.

That becomes my biggest learning tool to plan my strategy. From there, if I have partnerships that bridge the gap between my old and new customer base, I try to make that publicly apparent.

I believe customers enjoy this kind of synchronicity, and it’s almost as if their favorite brands are humanized to them and are “friends” for lack of a better word. If they already believe in your peer’s product, they’ll trust their word in recommending yours.

Rob Fulton, Exponential Black

Review Site Research

Make sure you do appropriate market research. Check Amazon or similar sites that list your product category to see what people are saying about products that are already in the industry, the problems/issues they have with those products, and what they like.

Also, check to see whether people are actually purchasing the product. Amazon and/or Yelp reviews are a great place to do this kind of market research.

Kevin Henrikson, Acompli (now Outlook iOS/Android @ Microsoft)

The Competition

You should never overlook your competitors and the total addressable market size. It’s critical to understand how strong your competitors are—what they’re doing well, what they’re not doing well, how you can differentiate yourself and how big the market is. You should never assume that you’re going to be dramatically bigger than the current market leader.

Luke Skurman,

Your Current Clients

The current users/customers of your product have already instilled their trust in your brand. Make sure to not alienate them during this change because they are the customers you have already worked to create. While you are expanding, be sure to not isolate your original business model.

Jayna Cooke, EVENTup

Potential Rebranding

When it comes to expanding your existing model to a new customer base, be open to the idea that you may need to rework your branding to best message your new audience. It can be a challenge as an organization to change your aesthetic identity or tone, but sometimes it is an important change to make in order to succeed in a new market.

As you go through the process of evaluating whether you need to adjust your existing brand, make sure to conduct interviews with your new target market customers so that you have a holistic understanding of their needs and preferences. This will help you make critical branding decisions as you expand successfully.

Doreen Bloch, Poshly

Redefining The Need

You have to spend more time and effort reaching a new customer base than you do reaching your current customer base. People often think that it’s a simple matter of changing their marketing to target a new group, but they often forget that the effort needed to reach their initial market was huge.

Think of the first marketing you did to get your business launched. It isn’t going to take as much effort as that because you probably have some brand recognition already. However, you’re still going to have to define the need for your product all over again.

Kumar Arora, Aroridex

Perspective From Other Fields

The typical approach to market research is simply looking at customer trends in your field and asking your existing customers about what they’d like to see next. Instead of pigeonholing yourself, try to gain perspective by reading about or getting exposed to other companies outside your field. Learn from their experiences in targeting new customer bases and innovate solutions from there.

Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep

Thorough Market Analysis

You need to determine whether there is truly a need by conducting a thorough market study and gathering data. You should not make this determination based on a gut feeling.

A market study can uncover specific challenges you might face, so you can anticipate those and shape your product and campaigns appropriately. A market study should identify competitors and explore why they are not fully meeting the needs of customers. You can use this information to come up with a plan to distinguish your business from the competition.

Jyot Singh, RTS Labs

Strategic Messaging

Make sure you are purposeful with your messaging about how this new product or vertical will weave in with your existing products. Whether you want it to be totally separate or integrated somehow with your existing product or service, there needs to be purpose around that messaging.

Expanding with a new product provides you with an opportunity to excite existing customers about your growth trajectory and ability to innovate. However, if not positioned properly, your approach could be perceived as scattered, or as if your other products aren’t working.

Zach Robbins, Leadnomics

Changes In Sales And Service

Don’t overlook the challenges associated with pivoting a sales force and customer service team. You’ve hired specific people and trained them to sell to and work with a certain customer base. If you’re changing the model, you should consider that, in addition to updating your sales pitch, product differentiators and pricing to resonate with a new segment, you also may need to make adjustments to your sales and service recruiting strategies and training processes.

Ben Rubenstein, Yodle

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10 Things To Know Before Your Startup Does A Crowdfunding

Guest author Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.

Crowdfunding is all the rage these days, and it makes sense. There are many potential benefits, such as the prospect of developing an enthusiastic base of early adopters before there’s even a product for them to hold.

But it’s not as straightforward as it seems, and your success will depend greatly on your execution and your industry. To help improve your chances of a successful campaign, I asked 10 founders from YEC what everyone should know before trying to crowdfund a new technology product.

It’s A Lot Of Work

It’s just as much work to crowdfund a new product as it is to launch a new product. It’s basically the same thing. If you get a huge splash, you’ll have a chance. You’re also pushing people to someone else’s website, so don’t expect them to come back to your personal one. It’s hard to gauge whether it’s better to just do it on your own site!

Peter Daisyme, Host

Your Own Money Is Important

You need your own capital in there so it doesn’t ever say “$0.” If you already have a couple grand in the fund you will look much more like you have support from others, even if it’s the first hour of the account’s existence.

Jon Cline, Rokit SEO

There Will Be Questions

Before people buy into anything, they need full transparency about your product. Make sure that you have all your bases covered by outlining your business plan, explaining the progress of manufacturing and development and showing exactly how the money will be used every step of the way.

Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep

Offer A Consumer Product

With very few exceptions, the only really successful crowdfunding campaigns for technology products are for those products a consumer can buy and use. If the people crowdfunding your campaign can’t use your technology, forego crowdfunding in favor of another form of financing.

Avery Fisher, Remedify

Make People Care

You need to be able to demonstrate what real problems your new tech product is solving using everyday lingo. Make sure your pitch connects with your audience and illustrates how your technology will improve their lives or the lives of others. You need to convince them to care about the success of your product.

Stephen Ufford, Trulioo

File A Provisional Patent

Things can get hairy really quickly if you don’t put in a provisional patent application to protect your idea. While it’s not a patent, it sets a date for the “creation of the idea” and can protect you later on when you invest the money to buy a real patent.

Early on, people near you may try to say the idea is theirs. If they file a provisional patent without you demonstrating a significant amount of progress with the concept—including a fully working prototype and publicity—you could run into problems.

Andy Karuza, SpotSurvey

Crowdfunding Is Marketing

You need to know that your product can get funding through other sources. Crowdfunding is (at least right now) more of a marketing strategy than a fundraising strategy—it’s a way to take pre-orders, provided you can reach a large audience—if you haven’t validated your concept to the point that you know you can get it off the ground without a crowdfunding campaign.

Once you have a good product in hand, you can plan a serious marketing push that leverages your crowdfunding campaign to get your product in front of the widest audience possible.

Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting

Build Momentum With Pre-Orders

Momentum is key in crowdfunding! Momentum gets you noticed, gets you featured and ultimately gets you funded.

We launched a new product on Kickstarter with a goal of $75,000. Through family, friends, neighbors and co-workers we had a little over half of that number already spoken for before going live. So when the campaign started, we were out of the gates quickly and that momentum got us featured by Kickstarter and gave us great fodder for social and news channels.

Within a couple days we’d reached our goal and by campaigns end we were over 200 percent of the funding number. We created a shared document with our stakeholders and everyone reached out to people they felt comfortable asking and we collected names, emails and commitments. We then emailed them when it went live to remind them.

Andrew Howlett, Rain

Know What Customers Want and Need Right Now

Before launching a new technology product and searching for crowd funding, do extensive research on the product’s target market. What is this market’s current financial situation? How are they feeling about their present situation? What technology are they currently using and what complaints do they have about it? What are their perspectives on existing technology products and brands?

All of these topics must be analyzed before presenting your idea to a large audience that may be funding your product. They will back up your faith in your brand and will make it clear as to why the world needs your new tech product.

Miles Jennings,

Know What It’ll Take To Ship

Before considering setting up a crowdfunding campaign for a product, an ethical company needs to have a very good idea of the resources required and realistic timelines to successfully ship the product.

A brand is based on trust, and you only have one shot at a first impression. Crowdfunded products that ship months or years late erode the trust of their consumer base, and also general trust in crowdfunding platforms.

Crowdfunding shouldn’t be used to judge consumer demand — that’s what market research is for. Be honest; be ethical; be realistic. Do the work up front to understand what it takes to ship, and be very confident that you can ship your product on time and exceed expectations.

Scott Sundvor, 6SensorLabs

Lead photo by Karen Eliot

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10 Things to Consider Before Your Startup Acquires a Competitor

Guest author Scott Gerber is founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.

Let’s face it: acquisitions are stressful. From audits and fine print to non-competes and company culture, there are many details to navigate before either making an acquisition or being acquired. Add your competitor into the mix, and things can get complicated.

To make sure you’re making the right decision when you acquire a competitor, I asked 10 entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) what one piece of advice they would give an entrepreneur in this situation.

Have A Narrowly Defined Non-Compete Provision

We have helped with dozens of acquisitions, and one of the biggest issues is whether the seller will be prohibited from participating in competing ventures. If you are looking to acquire a competitor, pay particular attention not only to the duration and geographic scope of the non-compete restrictions, but also the definition of a “competing venture.”

The very last thing you want to do is to provide the jet fuel for your competitor’s next venture, particularly if that new venture will hurt the business you just acquired.

Doug Bend, Bend Law Group

Don’t Be Afraid To Listen

I have only acquired one competitor in the past. When I approached the subject with them, we sat down at a table. I asked him if he’d be interested in selling and just listened. I literally asked 2-3 questions in 2-3 hours. I just listened and he told me everything I needed to know to be able to get the best price possible.

Being able to sit and listen is hard. Ask a question and wait for their answer. Don’t be afraid of silence. After I asked that question, he took almost 2 minutes to answer (silence). I learned some things that I would have never known had I been asking tons of questions.

Peter Daisyme, Host

Do Your Due Diligence

Assuming that you’re already in tentative agreement, make sure that you have a very good understanding of the competitor’s financial position (accounting records should be prepared in accordance with GAAP), tangible and intangible assets, corporate governance, contracts covering business partnerships, legal records and founder agreements, plus HR documentation.

David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

Do A Technology Audit

Before acquiring a competitor, or any company for that matter, make sure to do a comprehensive technology audit to make sure that the technical know-how and assets will indeed be transferrable and easy to integrate with your existing technology. This audit usually comes as part of a due diligence process after you sign preliminary paperwork, so make sure to really dive into the details and ask all the technical questions upfront so there is no ambiguity over the value it will bring after the acquisition is complete.

Doreen Bloch, Poshly

Ask Yourself, “Will It Help My User Base?”

Your revenue comes from your users, period. Does acquiring the competitor whose business you’re considering buying actually help them? Does it deliver value to them? The last thing you want to do is alienate or confuse your existing client base.

In a related vein, ask yourself if the competitor’s users will be loyal to your company, or if you’ll lose them as well. You can always build up the flow of business again, but an acquisition that makes you lose months or years of accumulated goodwill from your existing and new customer base might have a much higher cost than just the money you pay for the other company.

Dave Nevogt,

Consider All Of The Details

You need to evaluate the pros and cons of the acquisition. You also need to assess how many acquisitions in your space have been successful and added real value to the company’s bottom line.

There are several factors to consider: corporate cultures, technology platforms, integration process and timeline. Why am I considering this specific acquisition and is this something that I can do cheaper and easier in-house?

You also need to consider employee attrition (both physical and mental). Even if acquired employees are subject to lock-up agreements and contracts, this does not preclude them from mentally checking out.

Joseph DiTomaso, AllTheRooms

Trust Your Advisors

Acquiring a competitor is sexy. You immediately become the big fish. Because it’s such an exciting time, the details of the deal often are ignored. Getting the opinions of outsiders and looking at the facts can help temper your emotions. Trust your advisors, and do twice the due diligence you think is necessary.

Matthew Moisan, Moisan Legal

Look At The Motives

Determine the real reason the company is for sale. That might be that the founder made so much money that he wants to retire and spend time with his family, but often that is not the case. People sugarcoat the facts, and it’s often not until too late that you discover a fatal flaw. A customer list alone is not reason enough to acquire, whereas trade secrets, IP and exceptional talent are.

Gideon Kimbrell, InList

Stick to the Cold Hard Facts

Entrepreneurs are very sensitive about their business. They may not necessarily lie, but they will always tell the best version of the truth. Do not listen to stories or relationships, and stick to the cold hard facts. 

Make sure to have a third-party independent auditor go through the books. Meet with employees to get a good feel for the operation. Do not have confirmation bias and believe what you are told without the facts to verify.

Adam Stillman, SparkReel

Look For A Good Culture Fit

Make sure there is a culture fit and that everyone is on the same page. Even if you acquire the company for its product or its customers, the success of the acquisition will ultimately come down to how well the two teams merge together. Before making any final agreements, talk about what the future will look like, get both executive teams on board with the vision and make sure this attitude trickles down to all employees.

Ben Rubenstein, Yodle

Photo by Daniel Oines

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SEO For Startup Companies: How One Tech Company Nailed It – Business 2 Community

Business 2 Community
SEO For Startup Companies: How One Tech Company Nailed It
Business 2 Community
You create demand in social media, but you capture demand and steal market share via SEO and your website. Yet even to this day big companies and tech companies often overlook SEO fundamentals. No matter how innovative or a disruptive a new …
Is SEO or PPC Right for Your Business? Ask Yourself These 3 QuestionsHuffington Post
Three ways to tie SEO to revenue for your companyCrain’s Cleveland Business (blog)
3 Up-and-Coming SEO Trends for 2015Tech Cocktail –iMedia Connection (blog) –Khaleej Times
all 15 news articles »

View full post on SEO – Google News

PayPal’s Startup Guys Have Seized The Company’s Reins

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, PayPal announced it plans to roll out tap-to-pay NFC payments in the UK and Australia this summer, and has acquired a company which developed a rival group’s retail payments service.

But the real news, ReadWrite has learned, is a reorganization by Dan Schulman, the company’s new president, who will become CEO after the payments company spins off from eBay. Schulman has elevated two executives, Hill Ferguson and Bill Ready, to posts running the company’s consumer and merchant businesses respectively.

Significantly, Ferguson and Ready are both executives who joined PayPal in recent years through acquisitions of startups. Ferguson, previously PayPal’s chief product officer, worked at Zong, a mobile-payments company, and Ready ran Braintree, which PayPal acquired in 2014.

Braintree specialized in a fast-growing category of merchants—Web and mobile-app developers. Increasingly, though, large retailers are interested in the same kind of services Braintree and PayPal has provided to app developers. 

PayPal Acquires Again In Mobile Payments

That’s part of the reason why PayPal announced Monday that it was acquiring Paydiant, a Massachusetts-based software developer which has developed mobile wallets for Subway and Teeter Harris, among other retailers, as well as for MCX, the retailer group which includes Walmart and Best Buy.

The Paydiant buy immediately poses a problem for Ready to solve: Can he woo MCX’s large retailers, who want to lower the fees they currently pay to payment processors like PayPal?

Ferguson has a different challenge, which is boosting PayPal’s reach among consumers. While PayPal has a large customer base, there are a host of rival mobile wallets, including Apple Pay and Google Wallet, which recently beefed up its capabilities by buying technology from an erstwhile rival, Softcard.

PayPal is adding NFC capabilities to its PayPal Here mobile card reader, which currently can read swiped cards or newer credit and debit cards with chips. Apple Pay uses NFC. While it accounts for a small percentage of total transactions, the payment service has spurred demand by merchants for NFC-capable card equipment. 

Supporting NFC is just one of many moves PayPal is making to make its payments attractive to consumers and merchants alike. Ferguson and Ready will have their hands full.

Photo courtesy of PayPal

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Weighing the pros and cons of SEO for a startup –
Weighing the pros and cons of SEO for a startup
Most entrepreneurs understand the importance of SEO (search engine optimisation) and how it can lead to business growth. Without a doubt, SEO is important for any business of any size. But the question is — does it make economic sense for a startup to …
Why Google Says Building Links Can Harm Your SEO EffortsForbes
7 SEO Tips To Improve Google Ranking Of Your WebsiteBusiness 2 Community
Local SEO For Franchises Means TeamworkSearch Engine Land
Tech Cocktail –Digital Journal
all 18 news articles »

View full post on SEO – Google News

This Startup Wants To Lock Up Your Collaborations

If security is the first, second and third priority for your business, then does a Vancouver startup have a collaboration suite for you.

Witkit, founded three years ago by serial entrepreneur Sean Merat, aims to offer multiple enterprise software functions—messaging, groups, file-sharing, etc.—under one roof. Most important, it plans to do so securely, by encrypting your data so that neither the company nor anyone else can read it.

Why a suite? Merat said that in the course of running prior companies, he felt overwhelmed by the number of disparate solutions for work collaboration. 

“There were too many solutions,” he said in an interview with ReadWrite. “Stuff like Hipchat, Dropbox, Evernote…. Individually they’re all great, but the problem becomes when you’re trying to juggle too many things.” So together with two co-founders, Sohrab Merat and Ma’en Haq, Merat started Witkit.

Security First

Witkit’s Sean Mirat

This concept isn’t brand new—Huddle, for instance, is also based on an all-in-one functionality. Where Witkit plans to make a name for itself is security—in particular, by encrypting all data on the user end (using a technique the company too-cutely calls “Witcrypt”) and storing it on the Witkit server in protected fashion. 

What that means, a Merat explained in a Witkit press release (no link), is this:

Witcrypt technology ensures that the encryption and decryption of user data is only done on user devices locally. All data that is sent to the Witkit servers is fully encrypted and can only be decrypted by the user’s WitCrypt passphrase.

In his interview with ReadWrite, Merat argued that end-to-end encryption for all functions of a work suite—file sharing, group discussions, calendars, cloud storage, instant messaging, etc.—is Witkit’s main selling point. With all data encrypted, he said, a company or organization could have online group discussions with members from outside that company as well as internal discussion channels without worrying about compromising security. Witkit calls these virtual discussion spaces “kits.”

Locked In A Box

Of course, the drawback of any suite like this one is that you have to be happy with all the components. If you like Witkit’s security and calendar but aren’t crazy about its messaging, you’re still stuck with it. And at this point, it’s impossible to say how Witkit’s individual services stack up.

But Navid Soofi, the founder and president of Qube Film studios in Vancouver, has been using Witkit in a beta form for several months. The security aspect of it has been the primary allure.

“Cyber security has been a very prominent concern in my industry the past few months,” Soofi said in an email interview, making an obvious allusion to the major Sony hack in December. He continued:

My team and I have been actively looking for secure ways to sync files, records, documents and conversations. I can confidently say that Witkit fitted the bill perfectly. Our IT team has gone through the security code that has been made public by Witkit and reassured me that our conversations, contracts and footage would be as secure as keeping everything offline.

Merat said Witkit is in the process of having its code, which it has also posted on Github for public perusal, audited by another company for any vulnerabilities. Witkit has no definite plans for making money quite yet. Right now, all the features and storage will be free. 

“We can confidently say that we’re not going to charge for what we’re offering today,” Merat said. “The base functionality up to 50GB will always be free.” He said the company would wait to develop a strong user base and develop revenue streams based on their feedback. Witkit has received $5 million in funding so far. 

Lead photo by Anonymous Account; photo of Sean Mirat courtesy of Witkit

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Looking To Share Secret Photos On Facebook? This Startup May Help

One of the big drawbacks to using “secret” or secure messaging is that everyone you want to contact needs to be using the same service. Even when they are, there’s usually no easy way to share something with large numbers of your pals where they’re most likely to see it, in a way that keeps it for-their-eyes-only.

See also: Suddenly, Messages Are Disappearing All Over—On Purpose

You might think that’s a natural tradeoff between security—that is, preventing the wrong people from seeing your texts or photos—and convenience. But Wickr, a service that lets you send secure, self-destructing messages, thinks it has an answer—by letting users post a “fake” photo to Facebook that will lead other Wickr users you trust to the real thing.

Starting today, Wickr users on Apple devices will be able to share self-destructing photos with up to 151 of their closest friends using a feature the service calls Wickr Timed Feed, or WTF—and that acronym probably isn’t an accident—that combines cats, ephemerality, and a little sleight of hand. (Android and desktop versions are in the works.)

WTF, Wickr

At heart, WTF is basically just an ephemeral photo-sharing service that lets users annotate and share snaps that will self-destruct in 24 hours. This is not too different from Snapchat, although Wickr uses security techniques designed to keep the photos from sticking around after they’re supposed to disappear.

What’s new is the way WTF aims to let you post private photo feeds on Facebook so that only your intended recipients can see them. When you share a WTF feed with other Wickr-using friends, it will ask if you want to post it on Facebook. If you do, the service will post a random cat photo instead of what you’re actually sharing. Clicking on that photo will open up Wickr, where the friends you’ve shared with will be able to see the hidden message. Everyone else on Facebook sees only the decoy cat photos.

Here’s Wickr’s promo video of the feature:

Security Hype 101

WTF is a clever way of snaking around the usual security/convenience tradeoff, but it’s not completely foolproof. It also doesn’t quite live up to Wickr’s security hype.

Wickr has claimed the hashtag #stegocat for this campaign, since it considers WTF an example of steganography, an ancient technique in which secret messages are hidden in plain sight. Some modern examples of steganography include hidden pixels in printers which reveal printer serial numbers as well as time and date stamps, digital watermarks used in ebooks, and, of course, Russian spies who were caught hiding secret images in photos.

Wickr Timed Feed, though, isn’t really steganography; the shared images aren’t embedded within the decoy kitty pics. Instead, they just link back to the Wickr app itself. That doesn’t really affect how the service works. But it’s a little unsettling when a service that prides itself on its security chops feels compelled to co-opt a technical security term in a misleading way for marketing purposes.

In a similarly disconcerting fashion, Wickr has long billed itself as a good privacy app for human rights activists working to fight dictators, claims that are difficult to verify. Unlike competitors such as Silent Circle, Open Whisper Systems, and CryptoCat, Wickr uses proprietary cryptography, making it difficult for security experts to assess the quality of its code—or to know if anyone has built secret back doors in it.

Wickr CEO and co-founder Nico Sell says the startup used proprietary code to give itself a commercial head start. She points to four independent security audits the app has passed, as well as Wickr’s large hacker budget and $100,000 bug bounty for anyone who can find vulnerabilities that severely impact users.

Wickr has recently added a feature on its app in which users can verify each other’s identities by reading their personal key codes via video, and is working on revising a white paper properly documenting its security protocols in response to feedback from security experts.

What Facebook Knows

Sell says she got the idea for WTF from her daughter. “I have two kids, and one of them is a teenager, and a couple of years ago, she said, ‘Hey, Mom, I know you don’t approve of Facebook, but I’d love for you to find a way for me to use it safely,’” Sell recalls.

Of course, convincing users that it’s OK to post secret—read, naughty or gossipy or otherwise revealing—photos on Facebook, even disguised as cat photos, could take some doing. Sell argues that Facebook only sees who’s using Wickr, but not what they’re sharing.

“Facebook is only going to own the pictures of the kitty cats,” Sell says. “Their servers will never see your real pictures.” WTF offers one further advantage: It lets Wickr users share with more than ten people at once, sidestepping a limitation in the direct messaging app.

As with most other “ephemeral” messaging services, it’s also still possible for Wickr users to screencap secret photos or to make permanent copies using another camera. But Sell argues that any ephemeral protection is better than none.

“It’s not usually in the beginning of a relationship where someone is trying to screw you over, right?” she says. “It’s a lot further down the line.” Which makes a kind of sense, although you could also argue that receiving a bunch of short-lived photos from a new romantic partner might just increase the temptation to save them off.

Lead photo by Jessica Keating Photography; other images courtesy of Wickr

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9 Unique Ideas for Onboarding New Startup Hires

Guest author Scott Gerber is founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.

The last thing an employee wants to feel on their first day of work is lost and confused. Each company should have an organized, specific system in place to make the onboarding process go as smoothly as possible.

To learn more about how to make this possible, we polled nine entrepreneurs from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) on unique ways they welcome and orient new hires. Their answers are below.

Have Them Spend Time In Customer Service

Each person in our company spends two to three weeks in customer service and support. We want everyone to be able to jump into this position if needed. This also helps every person in the company know our product and what our real customers are saying. It also helps the C-level executives get to know almost every person in the company and truly understand what they are going through.

In addition, we make every person spend 40 hours a quarter in customer services—even the CEO. This engrains in them that we’re all about our customers.

John Rampton, Host

Hold Informal Second-Round Interviews

Typically when a company employs a multi-tiered interviewing process, they use the second-round to ramp up intensity. I take the opposite approach. During the first interview I ask the typical questions; and then, if I feel the candidate has potential, I invite them out to dinner or happy hour.

I do this for a number of reasons. First of all, my work environment is informal and seeing the person in that context gives me an idea of how they might fit in. Another reason is that a laid-back setting can help lower an applicants defenses and be more open and honest. I’m really not interested in hearing about your biggest weakness (which is inevitably somehow a strength in disguise). I want to hear about your hobbies and quirks and (most importantly) what makes me want to work with you every day?

Brian Honigman,

Hold A Scavenger Hunt

To preserve that “everyone knows each other” vibe our company enjoyed back when we were a smaller team, we’ve developed an in-depth scavenger hunt for new employees that encourages them to meet and talk to other people at the company to find out their interests, hobbies, nicknames and professional functions. It’s helped preserve our company culture as we grow our numbers.

Jeff Fernandez, Grovo Learning

Make Sure There’s A Welcoming Environment

For new hires the most stressful part of a new job is the nerves around all of the unknown and all the “new”: new faces, new programs, new systems. We try to make each individual feel welcome by making their desk on their first day feel like home.

We ready the desk with fun office supplies, write a hand-written welcome note and, depending on the season, have fresh flowers waiting for them on their desk. Making a new hire feel welcomed and appreciated from the moment they arrive sets the tone with how your team will work together moving forward.

Kim Kaupe, Zine Pak

Start With The “Why”

We do our two day onboarding where we teach the strength finders, our core values, and our “why.” We watch TED talks, have a company-wide team-building event and weave in an interactive training. It is very well received.

Darius Mirshahzadeh, Endeavor America Loan Services

Fly Everyone in for a Team Meeting

We spend a couple of days together so they can take part in critical team operations and we can have dinners and drinks together.

Eric Schaumburg,

Hold A Company-Wide Lunch

Whenever we have a new hire, I always buy lunch for the whole team on their first day. Lunch together allows the new person to meet everyone in an informal manner and share a little bit about themselves.

It allows them an opportunity to identify people who they have common interests with and could converse with later. By the end of the day, the newly hired employee feels like they know everyone and the anxiety of meeting new co-workers is gone.

Vladimir Gendelman, Company Folders

Connect Them to Our Core Mission

It’s easy for a new hire to get tunnel vision around learning the tasks of their job, and in doing so, lose sight of where they fit into the vision of the company. During their first week, every new hire—from analysts to customer service—spends an hour with our logistics team packing a product box for shipment.

We do this so they stay connected to our mission and experience what our customers receive after making the decision to use our products.

Shradha Agarwal, ContextMedia

Use LearnCore

Onboarding a new employee can be a long and difficult process. The software LearnCore is great, especially for sales teams. Employees learn faster and can get feedback as well. It’s very efficient.

Adam Stillman, SparkReel

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock

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