The Next 10 Things Small Business Owners Should Do For Social Media Success

10 Actionable Social Media Tips for Small Business Owners

Social media is a tricky business. It seems so simple on the face of it and you may have launched your business profiles thinking that everything would take off if you only started posting. Sadly, that is rarely the case and many small business owners have hit their head against the wall trying to make headway, without any real results.

Don’t worry, it isn’t nearly as mysterious as you may be fearing. While social media has a tendency to change and adapt to new trends and features, not to mention shift with the way that users themselves choose to use it, there are some actionable social media tips that you can put into play right this second to begin seeing results.

Actionable Social Media Tips

Hire a Social Media Manager

This may seem like trite advice but it is actually a really good strategy. Not to run your social media campaigns, but to teach you how to do it. Here is what you do: put out an ad for a temporary social media manager.

Set the contract for as long as your budget allows and specify that part of the job will be setting up a campaign and showing you how to continue it once the contract ends. Watch the steps carefully because that is how you will learn.

Use a Productive Social Media Scheduling Solution

Yes, you need to be there interacting with your social media community on a regular basis, but there’s other work to be done too! You cannot quit everything and just socialize (especially if you cannot afford to hire a social media manager just yet).

So what you do? Scheduling social media updates is the answer. You can even schedule social media updates 6 or 12 months ahead: Think about holidays, for example! You’ll be busy but you need your social media account to remain active, so use the slower seasons to schedule social media updates for the holidays.

There are a few solid social media scheduling solutions out there.

Get a More Comprehensive Dashboard

Once you are ready to launch your campaigns, you will want a solid dashboard where you can schedule posts, watch analytics, etc. There are plenty of options right now for a social media dashboard. I’m currently using Cyfe.

Set Smaller Goals and Build From There

When you are talking about a big business it is good to look at long term goals and then set milestones and plans to meet them. For small businesses that don’t have an entire marketing team and millions in the budget on hand, making smaller goals and focusing on those is a far better idea.

Set little milestones to work on and monitor your progress. For example, instead of saying, “I will have 10,000 followers by the end of the year on Instagram” try “I will grow by at least 100 followers per month.” If you overshoot it, hey… good for you.

Go To Where Your Customers Are

Guess what? The platform you chooses matters… a lot. Facebook, for example, is popular with people over the age of 30, particularly those over the age of 40. But if your target audience is under 25 you have next to no chance of reaching them there. They are almost entirely on Instagram and Snapchat.

The same goes for Twitter, which is becoming more a home of influencers than normal users. Where are the highest concentration of women? Pinterest. Where can you launch potentially viral content? Reddit. The list goes well beyond the basics and if you don’t know where your audience is hanging out then you won’t be able to reach them.

Quality Over Quantity (But Quantity, Too)

Striking a balance here can be really hard. On one hand, you want to be able to post often enough that your profile grows. But on the other, crappy content is still crappy content.

If you are just churning out useless posts like inspirational quotes or jokes, especially if you don’t have a fair amount of original content, you are nothing more than a glorified bot account. You may have noticed the best brand social media sites out there are the ones that manage to really engage with their customers. So post often, post consistently, but only post good stuff.

Don’t Get Too Bogged Down In Analytics

Analytics are helpful and most brands use them in order to measure their progress and results, while coming up with new campaigns using that data. They are great to have. But they are also not everything.

The truth is that unless you are a well versed social media mogul, you probably aren’t going to understand the majority of the figures analytics give you. The important ones are the more basic: growth over time and how it correlates with strategies in play at each peak. You may also be able to learn more about your demographic, such as when they are most active.

Learn the Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle is simple: for every 100 percent of your content, 80 percent should be engagement, 20 percent should be promotional.

See? Easy. I won’t even bother going further into it.

Think Visually

Another no brainer, visual content is pretty much the only way to go. It won’t make up all of what you post, but it should make up most of it.

Posts with visual media are more likely to be shared, commented on, saved and reach viral status. All of these are things you want, so invest most of your time in visual forms of social content.

Get Involved In the Community

This is one of the best things you can do. You are a local small business. You have ties to the community where you operate. So start getting involved: go to festivals, reach out to local news, engage with people via geolocation, get involved in local charities.

Have some actionable social media tips for small businesses looking to get into the game? Let us know in the comments!

[“Source-smallbiztrends”]a

ZipRecruiter and Square Partner to Help Small Businesses Find Job Candidates

ZipRecruiter and Square Partner to Help Small Businesses Find Job Candidates

Job application aggregator ZipRecruiter and digital payment solution Square (NYSE: SQ) have formed a new partnership which will help small businesses find candidates for job openings.

Under this partnership, ZipRecruiter will be the first and only hiring service in Square’s App Marketplace. The integration is going to give the 225,000 active Square customers, many small businesses, access to the talent available in ZipRecruiter.

Finding the right person for the job is no easy task, and for small businesses, it is even more difficult. When ZipRecruiter formed a similar partnership with Facebook earlier this year, Facebook’s Product Manager for Jobs, Gaurav Dosi, told TechCrunch, “40 percent of US small businesses report that filling jobs was more difficult than they expected, which is challenging when you consider that these small businesses also employ nearly half of the country’s workforce.”

The Integration of ZipRecruiter and Square

Small businesses already using Square or its App Marketplace can now log-on and post an opening to find candidates.

In a post on the ZipRecruiter blog, Director of Marketing PPartnerships Keren Zemer writes, “The App Marketplace is a convenient place where hundreds of thousands of active Square invoice sellers can find trusted and popular business apps endorsed by Square to help with their everyday operational needs.”

As the first and only hiring service to be featured in Square’s App Marketplace, ZipRecruiter will be able to take advantage of the already engaged user base using Square hardware and software. ZipRecruiter brings its technology, including hiring tools for small businesses, to the relationship.

For businesses not familiar with ZipRecruiter, the app will be available for free with a four-day trial. This will let business owners get familiar with the platform, and if they find a candidate within the four days even better, because it will be free.

Benefit for Small Business

Large organizations have HR departments to find the right candidates. For most small businesses, an HR department is not even an option. This partnership is going to help small companies find local help with a simplified process for employees and employers alike.

[“Source-smallbiztrends”]

5 Personal Finance Hacks to Help You Invest

Image result for 5 Personal Finance Hacks to Help You Invest

In this video, Entrepreneur Network partner Phil Town gives five hacks you can use to pay off debt, avoid fees and save for the future. His first piece of advice is to use a zero-interest credit card to pay off your debt. That way, you aren’t accruing more debt over time.

Next, Town advises that you should make bi-weekly payments on your debt, rather than monthly, and that you should pay more than the minimum on your debt for at least the first few years.

Click play to learn more financial tricks from Phil Town.

Related: 5 Great Money Habits That Will Set Your Kids Up for Financial Success

Entrepreneur Network is a premium video network providing entertainment, education and inspiration from successful entrepreneurs and thought leaders. We provide expertise and opportunities to accelerate brand growth and effectively monetize video and audio content distributed across all digital platforms for the business genre.

EN is partnered with hundreds of top YouTube channels in the business vertical. Watch video from our network partners on demand on Amazon Fire, Roku, Apple TV and the Entrepreneur App available on iOS and Android devices.

Click here to become a part of this growing video network.

[“Source-entrepreneur”]

The best of 2017 in personal finance advice

In 2004, my daughter, who was 9 at the time, gave me a Christmas present that I shall treasure for the rest of my life.

Olivia created “Yo Mamma: Sayings from My Momma,” a book of all the things I would repeat to her and her siblings. As you might imagine, most of the sayings were about money.

Here are two of my favorite quotes that made it into the book.

— “Do you have a job?” (I started saying this as soon as the kids started talking and asking for stuff.)

— “Do you have money to pay for that?” (A standard question when she tried to put something in the shopping cart.)

I smile every time I pull her book from my bookshelf.

So, with Olivia’s book in mind, I thought I’d pull five of my quotes over the past year that resonated with readers.

— “If debt were a person, I’d slap it.” I said this in a column about good debt versus bad debt. I hate all debt. As I wrote, I know my views are extreme, almost un-American, in a nation that relies so heavily personally and politically on borrowing. But when it comes to money, what you tell yourself matters. When we use positive adjectives to describe debt, we minimize the financial bondage it creates.

— “Empathy does not equal endorsement.” In April, I recommended for the Color of Money Book Club an essay by novelist and former Washington Post book critic William McPherson. McPherson died this past spring and I thought the essay “Falling (You can read it at http://bit.ly/Falling_essay) was a powerful look at how this once privileged person ended up poor because of a series of bad decisions.

“Life is about choices,” one reader wrote. “One does not ‘fall into poverty.’ One walks into it with open arms.”

Many people feel that there shouldn’t be a government safety net for the irresponsible. They only want to help the poor they deem worthy of assistance. But that’s a dangerous means test. It leaves no room for people to make mistakes. And we are all fallible. Advocating for government supported anti-poverty programs doesn’t mean you absolve people of personal responsibility.

What do we as a society owe the poor? We owe them empathy. We owe them a safety net that gives them a chance to get back on their feet — and maybe even survive.

— “When it comes to helping your young adult to successfully launch — and stay in flight — there’s no place like home.” A lot of young adults are moving back in with their parents, often because they are saddled with student loans.

“More young people today live in their parents’ home than in any other arrangement,” according to the Census Bureau.

Is this a good thing?

It’s not a bad thing necessarily. I encourage young adults who have burdensome debt to move home if they can. Instead of paying rent they can attack the debt.

You may think that living at home is a failure to launch or that it delays the all-important lesson of learning to be independent. But we should remove the stigma of young adults returning home as a financial embarrassment. It is not, especially if parents allowed or encouraged a student to attend a college that necessitated some heavy borrowing.

— “Sales are bait, and you have to keep in mind that you never save when you spend.”

One of my new favorite books is “Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter” by Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler. It’s a brilliant and accessible look at behavioral economics. Ariely and Kreisler agree with me that consumers are too driven by a discount and that can lead to some bad decision making.

— “Should you invest in bitcoins for retirement? Only if you think riding a roller coaster without a safety harness is a good idea.”

I wrote this in response to questions from some readers on whether they should buy bitcoin, an electronic currency that has skyrocketed, causing people to ignore caution.

As I told folks, if you can afford to lose every penny you invest and not miss any sleep over the loss, go ahead and invest in bitcoin. However, if you have a regular job, a mortgage, kids to put through college, credit card debt, a pitiful emergency fund and a lackluster retirement account, don’t even think about buying bitcoin. The currency may be virtual, but the investment risk is very real.

Tell me your favorite financial quote, one that may help you do better with your money in 2018. Send me an email to colorofmoney@washpost.com. I love quotations, which are a shorthand way to remember some important life lessons.

[“Source-washingtonpost”]

10 Ideas for Communicating With Target Customers, Team Members and More

Communication is an incredibly important part of running a successful business. You need to be able to effectively communicate with your target customers and the members of your own team. But doing so requires a lot of skill and strategy.

This week, members of our small business community share tips for targeting your ideal customer, creating effective communication in the workplace and more.

Read on for a full list of valuable resources.

Use These Questions to Target Your Ideal Customer

In order to target your ideal customers, you first need to find out who he or she is. In this post, Brittany Taylor of See Britt Write shares a long list of 80 questions you can use to find out who your target customers are.

Create Effective Communication in the Workplace

If you want your business to succeed, you need to make sure that your team can work well together. And to do that, you need to create a system of effective communication in the workplace. Kelly Riggs of Business LockerRoom discusses the importance of effective communication at work, along with some tips for creating such an environment.

Make People Fall in Love With Your Online Store

Running an ecommerce business means you have to convince customers to fall in love with your store if you want them to shop with you again and again. Vanhishikha Bhargava of Exit Bee includes some tips for doing just that. And BizSugar members also share their input on the post here.

Make the Most of Marketing Automation

There are so many different services and processes out there today to help make your marketing tasks easier. But marketing automation isn’t a magic solution. Stacy Jackson of Jackson Marketing Services sharessome tips to ensure that your marketing automation actually increases the effectiveness of your overall marketing plan.

Add These Must Haves to Your About Page

Your about page is an important part of your website because it tells visitors and potential customers who you are and why they should want to work with you. This post by Crystal Rice of PixelSmith includes three must-haves to include on your about page for contractors, but most of the points are relevant to other industries as well.

Get Over These Self Publishing Obstacles

People come up with all kinds of excuses for not writing or publishing their own books. But self publishing is now easier than ever, thanks to platforms like Amazon Direct Publishing. Vinay Kachhara of Aha!NOW shares some reasons why you should get over those obstacles. And members of the BizSugar community also discuss the post here.

Check Out This Guide to Local SEO

When marketing a local business, it’s important that you make it as easy as possible for local customers to find you via search engines. If you’re starting a local business or just want to improve your local SEO strategy, check out this guide to local SEO by Chris Babajide on WP Site Updates.

Create a Call to Action That People Actually Click

So you’ve added a call to action on your website, but it’s not getting any results. There can be several reasons why your CTA isn’t getting the results you hoped for. This post by Nicole Dieker on KlientBoost includes some potential problems your call to action may have, along with ways to fix them. BizSugar members also share thoughts on the post here.

Keep Both Your Body and Your Biz in Shape

To have sustainable success in business, you also need to take care of your own health. And since January is a popular time for people to renew their health goals, this post by Nellie Akalp of CorpNet includes some tips for keeping both your body and your business in shape.

Don’t Be Fooled by Prior Business Models

When you’re running a startup, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a business model will work simply because it has worked in the past. But that isn’t a great strategy, as this post by Martin Zwilling on Startup Professionals Musings points out. You can also see discussion about the post in the BizSugar community.

If you’d like to suggest your favorite small business content to be considered for an upcoming community article, please send your news tips to:  sbtips@gmail.com.

[“Source-smallbiztrends”]

Bankruptcy code: Baby-steps towards recovery of bad loans

Image result for Bankruptcy code: Baby-steps towards recovery of bad loans
Challenges ahead: All eyes are on banks to see if they will take the plunge and accept the haircuts

Bargain-hunters on the prowl for big assets, but huge haircuts hang over banks

A lot of hope is pinned on the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) to provide the much-needed cure to all the ills in the banking system.

Year 2017 was eventful when it came to taking the initial steps in loan recovery. The Reserve Bank of India’s first list of 12 large defaulters — who in aggregate owed ₹2.6 lakh crore to the banking system — has been able to draw the attention of buyers, including global investment funds. These 12 accounts constituted 25 per cent of the gross non-performing assets (NPAs) in the banking system.

The reason for excitement among buyers for the assets referred to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) is not far to see. They hope to bag great bargains, as India goes about setting its stressed assets house in order. The idea is to get hold of good assets at a fraction of the costs of building new ones. Aiding the buyers in this quest has been a controversial government decision to keep out existing promoters from bidding for the stressed assets. The silver lining is that the existing promoters could bid if they repay the dues to the banking system, which is a tough ask.

According to a recent Motilal Oswal Securities report, tightening the eligibility norms in bidding for stressed assets might lead to higher haircuts for banks in the short run. However, in the long run, it would prevent the re-entry of wilful defaulters in the system and promote transparency, it added.

Interested buyers

From London-based Arcelor Mittal, Korea’s POSCO, Blackstone, TPG Capital to domestic biggies like the Tata Group, Mumbai-based Shapoorji Pallonji Group, Ajay Piramal-controlled Piramal Enterprises and Sajjan Jindal’s JSW Steel, there is now a good line-up of interested buyers for the stressed assets/companies referred to the NCLT under the insolvency process.

In India, the total outstanding amount for top 50 stressed borrowers, funded by scheduled commercial banks, stood at ₹3,72,379 crore as on September 30, 2017, according to the RBI.

Banks’ haircuts

The main issue is how are banks going to play the insolvency game. Rather than holding on to stressed assets in their balance sheets, will they be ready to take big haircuts? The grapevine in the market is that many prospective buyers are looking for an average 50 per cent haircut in large cases. All eyes are on banks to see if they would take the plunge and accept the haircuts.

Of course, the buyers’ response has been good only for large corporates. There are few takers for small and medium companies.

Going by the recent case of resolution at Murli Industries, banks had to settle for as high as 75 per cent haircut, which is not a happy situation for the lenders.

However, Pawan Agrawal, Chief Analytical Officer, Crisil, felt that the quantum of haircuts were more a function of specific cases. High haircuts may be reflective of lower economic value and viability of the businesses being referred, rather than it being a reflection of the IBC process, Agrawal said. “In future, once the resolution process is initiated early, the haircuts are expected to be lower,” he said. Tarun Bhatia, Managing Director, Kroll, a global risk consulting firm, said that ultimately recovery for the banks will be market determined and “we anticipate meaningful write-offs”.

He said these are early days for the IBC and one needs to see how many accounts achieve meaningful resolution or successful liquidation.

Meanwhile, the Motilal report highlights that haircut at 70 per cent of net stressed loans can impact net worth of lenders by 37-100 per cent. Private banks are better placed than PSU banks in terms of capital availability to absorb such potential losses. However, the government’s recapitalisation plan will enable the PSU banks to make necessary provisions towards such assets, according to the report.

Some visibility

By April 2018, there should be some visibility on how the entire IBC process is moving, said an economy watcher. Metal (mainly steel) and power assets form bulk of the cases referred to the NCLT (45 per cent in the RBI’s two lists taken together). Healthy recovery in these sectors are critical to assess the success of the NCLT route.

One of the many challenges faced in resolution of accounts under IBC is the RBI’s norm of classifying interim debt as standard, which will encourage bankers to go for interim lending in case of operating companies witnessing cash crunch, and thus, help them make a turnaround. Crisil’s Agrawal said that 2018 will be a critical year where one would get to know the effectiveness of the IBC, especially about the key expectation of a time-bound resolution. In particular, progress in resolution of large NPAs referred by banks can materially change the asset quality picture of banking system, according to Agrawal.

“2017 can be considered as an initial phase of implementation of an effective IBC in India. Even as the rules, infrastructure, and skills of Insolvency Resolution Professionals are falling in place, the number of cases initiated under the code have gathered pace. Even in this initial phase, the IBC has restored the much-needed balance between lenders and borrowers,” Agrawal added.

Litmus tests

According to Kroll’s Bhatia, 2018 will be a critical year as IBC will be tested for: i) Can promoters really be kept out despite the recent ordinance disallowing them from participating? ii) Will IBC be as relevant for mid and small accounts? iii) Who will be held accountable for the write-offs. Will the borrower/defaulter be tried for fraud?

“With promoters being kept out, as of now we see only the top 25-50 accounts having meaningful outside interest,” Bhatia said. Pankaj Dutt, Managing Partner, Alexander Hughes, a global executive search firm, said the Indian banking system could have avoided the current NPA mess had public sector banks given enough attention to the ‘risk management’ function and focused on having a chief risk officer at a level next to the board.

[“Source-thehindubusinessline”]

I study human interactions with water bodies

Caesar Bita is an underwater archaeologist.

Dressed in diving gear comprising a wetsuit, mask and flippers, Caesar Bita, 42, plunges into the Indian Ocean off the coast of Malindi.

Sometimes he’s gone for hours while other times, it’s just for a few minutes.

“I am an underwater archaeologist. I research and study human interactions with the sea, lakes and rivers through the study of remains of ships, maritime cultures, shore side facilities, cargo, human remains and submerged landscapes, “ he says.

The Bachelor of anthropology graduate from the University of Nairobi says that being an underwater archeologist was not one of his dreams when he was growing up.

He got into it by chance, but it turned out to be the best move in his career.

“I was working with the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) as a land archaeologist at the Fort Jesus Museum. Having been involved in land archaeological researches, NMK started looking into cultural heritage underwater and that’s how I got into underwater archaeology. I had worked as a land archaeologist for more than nine years. I enjoyed spending time with the Chinese underwater archaeologists and that’s what aroused  my interest in the career. It is worth noting that Kenya is the first sub-Saharan African country to initiate an underwater archaeological expedition,”  he says

The transition meant going back to school so in 2007, so he enrolled for a one-year diploma  in underwater archaeology at the Underwater Archaeology Centre in Beijing, China, before proceeding to the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, between 2012 and 2013 for his Masters in archaeology. Then in 2014, he enrolled for a postgraduate diploma in the  management of heritage and museum collections from the University of Nairobi.

“In total, it took me four years of post-graduate training to be a professional in this field. The course is not offered by Kenyan universities but it is available in many universities in countries such as Egypt, China and Australia,” he offers.

He says those who wish to join the profession must have  a passion for history and the outdoors. In addition, they must  be  highly competent and certified divers.

“To be able to study the submerged shipwrecks, you have to go underwater.  A diver needs to be physically fit and able to work in extreme conditions. The amount of time spent underwater depends on the depth. The deeper down, the less time  taken, the shallower the depth, the more time one can take. This, depends on the amount in your diving tank. As the air in your diving tank depletes, you have to come back to the surface.”

ATTENTION TO DETAIL

He adds that attention to detail is another important necessary characteristic.

“After field work, we spend a lot of time in the office analysing data, writing and publishing reports. It is not diving and having fun in the water all the time. Out in the field our work is guided by the ocean tides. If the tides are okay, we get into the water, whether in the morning or afternoon.”

Caesar says the best part of his job is the adventure that comes with it: being able to make new discoveries either in the field or in the office during artifact or archival analysis.

“Underwater is fascinating. It’s totally amazing to see and experience the different ecosystems and contexts and the old ships that capsized many years ago. Seeing them lying underwater surrounded by marine creatures is simply captivating,” he enthuses.

To find underwater shipwrecks and other related wreckages, Caesar and his team liaises with fishermen, who tell them what they encounter while fishing.  They also look into ancient literature or records that mention ships that got lost many years ago. Occasionally, they also do coastal shorelines surveys. Some of the shipwrecks date back to 1800s.

He says that his primary motivation is to see that underwater heritage is preserved for the future, and that the public appreciates the treasures and hopes that the country will see it as an economic resource.

“We find interesting artifacts under water. In one of the projects in Kilwa, Tanzania, in 2015, we discovered interesting new shipwreck sites with stone anchors. Some of the other exciting projects I have taken part in are the Sino-Kenya underwater archeology in Malindi and Lamu betweem 2010 and 2014 and underwater impact assessment studies along Tudor Creek in Mombasa.”

Although he derives satisfaction from his career, Caesar  notes that it come with some challenges. These include  the risk of attack by dangerous sea creatures, drowning, injury and the possibility of suffering health complications as a result of working underwater.

Regarding employment opportunities, he says  underwater archeology is new in the region and  that there are only a few professionals in the field at the moment.   This means that there are still a lot of opportunities, both locally and internationally.

“Underwater archeology is an unexplored field in the country. Currently, I am the only professional in underwater archeology in the country. I urge the youth to seize the opportunity,” he say,

“Aside from my job, I am passionate about writing. I have published a number of articles  in international professional journals and books. Some of his publications are on maritime and underwater archeology explorations in Kenya. As a family man, I also ensure that I spend a lot of  time with my family

[“Source-timesofindia”]

Trump Says Drug Companies to Unveil Price Cuts in Two Weeks

Image result for Trump Says Drug Companies to Unveil Price Cuts in Two Weeks

Major pharmaceutical companies will announce “voluntary, massive” cuts in drug prices in two weeks, President Donald Trump said Wednesday, without providing details.

“We’re also working very hard at getting the cost of medicine down, and I think people are going to start to see for the first time ever in this country a major drop in the cost of prescription drugs,” Trump said while signing legislation making it easier for terminally ill patients to get access to experimental drugs.

The president said drug company executives, whom he didn’t name, would visit the White House to make the announcement. The White House didn’t respond to a request for further details.

Pharmaceutical companies contacted about Trump’s remarks on price cuts said they were unaware of any such plans.

The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index pared gains after Trump’s comments before recovering. The index closed up 1.4 percent in New York.

Trump announced a plan earlier this month to bring down drug prices in the U.S., though doubts that the proposals would amount to much led pharmaceutical stocks to climb at the time. The president has a habit of promising actions in two weeks and then missing those deadlines.

Read more: In Trump’s White House, everything’s coming in ‘two weeks’

Trump on Wednesday also touted new rules his administration is poised to release that would expand loosely regulated short-term insurance plans and let small firms band together under association health plans to act more like larger employers and buy cheaper health coverage.

“We’re going to have great, inexpensive, really good health care,” Trump said.

Many groups, including insurance companies and patient advocates, have raised concerns that the new rules would raise the cost of coverage for sick patients who need Obamacare coverage and can’t switch to cheaper plans that will offer fewer benefits.

[“Source-bloomberg”]

As Banks Crack Down On Crypto Companies, This Lithuanian Payments Startup Is Booming

Trakai Island Castle, near Vilnius the capital of Lithuania. Credit: Shutterstock.

Banks including Barclays and Bank of America have taken a hardline when it comes to companies in the cryptocurrency sector.

Bank elsewhere is their message.

Last year hundreds of businesses operating crypto marketplaces, exchanges and trading platforms found their accounts suspended or shut down as banks were unable to vet their cash through standard anti-money laundering procedures.

Even India’s Central Bank has announced it will no longer deal with customers dealing in cryptocurrencies, because of the risks involved.

But elsewhere, banks that back crypto are booming.

Banking elsewhere

In Gibraltar, Poland, Bulgaria, Liechtenstein and Lithuania, the crackdown on crypto has been big news for their more liberal banking landscapes.

One Lithuanian payments provider, Mistertango, this morning revealed a 1,300% year-on-year growth in transactions it handles for client businesses.

Mistertango reported transactions of €1.2 billion ($1.4 billion) on its platform last year, up from €89 million ($103.3 million) in 2016/17.

Credit: Mistertango.

Audrius Ramanauskas, founder of Mistertango.

CEO Audrius Ramanauskas told Forbes that the vast increase was the result of 1,000 crypto marketplace businesses like Coingate, Quoinex and Coinfalcon which had signed up to the service to handle their fiat payments over the last 12 months.

“The last year or so has seen a flurry of banks in the U.S. and the U.K. rushing to ban crypto-related activity for businesses and individuals,” Ramanauskas explained.

Not only is this an overreaction to the potential risks but these banks could indeed be leaving money on the table. The big problem here is a lack of understanding.”

Despite the fears in the mainstream banking sector, Ramanauskas insisted that his company has “exhaustive” KYC (know your customer) and AML (anti-money laundering) checks on all its customers which comply with all of Lithuania’s laws.

Meanwhile, in Gibraltar, the government is in the final stages of passing the world’s first regulations for initial coin offerings, and in Liechtenstein the royal family has been so welcoming to blockchain businesses that companies like Aeternity are flocking to the principality.

“They’re making it really easy to incorporate a cryptocurrency business,” Yanislav Malahov, founder of Aeternity told Forbes earlier this summer.

You can open a company without a bank account, just by using Bitcoin or Ethereum.”

In Ramanauskas’s view, it’s these forward-thinking countries which are set to soar as crypto goes mainstream.

“Acceptance of crypto is not so much a matter of ‘if’ as it is ‘when’. The rise of blockchain technology and the prevalence of cryptocurrency won’t be stifled. It’s the fastest banks and fintechs that will win.”

[“Source-forbes”]

THE CREEPY RISE OF REAL COMPANIES SPAWNING FICTIONAL DESIGN

WIRED/GETTY IMAGES
IN 2011, THE Dutch industrial giant Philips unveiled something it called the Microbial Home. It was a zero-waste, self-sustaining vision of the future, where household appliances ran on food and human waste, powered by a “bio-digester island” that converted food scraps into methane, which in turn powered a range and heated water.

The home was not a prototype of anything Philips actually intended to manufacture. Instead, it came out of the company’s Design Probes program, which was rooted in the discipline of speculative design.

Speculative design is design freed from the constraints of practicality, design intended to change the way we think, about today’s world and tomorrow’s. Its intellectual godparents, Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby, explain that they’re in the business of posing “what if” questions, using design “as a tool to create not only things but ideas.”

Felix Salmon (@felixsalmon) is an Ideas contributor for WIRED. He hosts the Slate Money podcast and the Cause & Effect blog. Previously he was a finance blogger at Reuters and at Condé Nast Portfolio. His WIRED cover story on the Gaussian copula function was later turned into a tattoo.

Often speculative design can envisage terrifying or dystopian futures. If you share Dunne and Raby’s aspiration to “increase the odds of achieving desirable futures,” it’s important to face these possibilities actively. As a result, much of speculative design is deliberately discomfiting. Some of it isn’t: A friendly yet futuristic concept car, like Honda’s sports EV, still falls under speculative design.

At the core of speculative design, however, are unsettling visions, in the tradition of Brave New WorldThe Handmaid’s TaleBlade Runner, or Black Mirror. Speculative dystopia is a tradition that can be traced back 200 years, to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but it’s a tradition limited, mostly, to the world of novels and fiction. Speculative designers work a similar vein but do so in the world of designed objects, be they physical or digital.

So what happens when speculative design goes corporate? When the practice retreats behind the walls and NDAs of giant Silicon Valley companies, it loses its status as a public provocation and becomes instead something much more troubling. At its most disturbing, it’s a way of giving a company’s employees permission to think the unthinkable—to grapple with how omniscient and powerful that corporate entity might become.

All large companies employ designers, who, depending on the industry and the company, often carry great status. Carmakers tend to lionize designers; Apple, too, is a haven for them. And at companies where designers are held in high regard, they are often given a bit more free rein to indulge their imaginations rather than simply creating the next product.

At Google, this free rein, in 2016, resulted in a video entitledThe Selfish Ledger, which was leaked to the Verge earlier this month. As a grad-seminar provocation, it’s really well done, with a professional-sounding voice-over and lots of surprisingly clear explanations of Larmarckian epigenetics. The conceit is that as our lives become increasingly measured and recorded, the “ledger”—the digital record of all our activity—will start to influence not only our own behavior, but that of the entire species. It will become a Lamarckian epigenome: a set of information, not unlike the human gene, which seeks to replicate itself across generations.

The idea is not particularly far-fetched: Facebook researchers have already successfully tinkered with hundreds of thousands of users’ emotions, and the study of epigenomics has produced significant measurable effects. We construct our environment; our environment constructs us. Given the undeniable and constant effect that Google and Facebook have on our lives and our existence, it’s at least theoretically possible that they could end up altering our genetic makeup.

Google’s video was put together by Nick Foster, the head of design at mysterious Alphabet subsidiary X. Foster is a cofounder of the Near Future Laboratory, a shop that promoted something called “design fiction” at much the same time as Dunne and Raby were thinking about speculative design. The Selfish Ledger is clearly a work of design fiction, and an X spokesperson told The Verge that it was also a work of speculative design:

“We understand if this is disturbing – it is designed to be. This is a thought-experiment by the Design team from years ago that uses a technique known as ‘speculative design’ to explore uncomfortable ideas and concepts in order to provoke discussion and debate. It’s not related to any current or future products.”

It’s notable here that Alphabet is not using Foster’s own “design fiction” language, and instead is using Dunne and Raby’s “speculative design.” The reason, surely, is that speculative design is a respected academic discipline with clearly-understood parameters and a not-entirely-friendly attitude towards the technology industry. Design fiction, in contrast, was built on the idea that fact and fiction frequently swap properties and that by designing something fictional and fanciful, you might be laying the groundwork for something entirely real.

When I asked Dunne what the difference was between speculative design and design fiction, he said that “design fiction tends to focus more on technology-based video scenarios and stays closer to reality….Whereas the kind of speculative design we do tends to focus more on objects for exhibitions that rarely attempt to convince the viewer they are real. They are props for thinking with. Speculative fiction is more critical of the kind of technological narratives put forward by the tech industry.”

Was The Selfish Ledger Foster’s attempt to warn Googlers of the possible dystopian consequences of their actions—an Alphabet version, if you will, of the famous Boz memo at Facebook? Did Foster really want to call his video “The Ugly,” and warn the company he worked for (confidentially, internally) that there was a risk it would go too far?

That’s the impression X is trying to give, when the company talks about the video as a piece of speculative design. But it’s not a Black Mirror episode, it’s not self-evidently horrific, and to many Googlers, it might even be an exciting harbinger of technological possibility. What’s more, the video is not some kind of ancient history, as X’s “from years ago” phrasing might imply: it was created at the end of 2016, right around the time that Donald Trump was being elected president.

The Selfish Ledger, then, is clearly a piece of design fiction more than it is a piece of speculative design. It wasn’t really designed to be disturbing, it just is disturbing. And it’s particularly disturbing by dint of the fact that it was made by Google, in secret, for internal distribution only. Some speculative design thinkers, like Genevieve Bell, are very happy to talk in public and in detail about what they do. She does it now, at Australian National University, and she did it in her previous job, too, when she worked as a vice president at Intel.

X, by contrast, is a mysterious organization which is opaque even to most Googlers. The loss-making Alphabet subsidiary exists precisely to think outlandish thoughts and to turn them into reality: that’s it’s raison d’etre. In that context, The Selfish Ledger looks very much like an aspiration, rather than a warning.

As Dunne says, the use of speculative design within corporations can be a good thing, if it’s used to explore the cultural, ethical or political implications of an idea, and if it’s done in public. “A dystopian vision created by a large tech corporation is going to be more scary than one produced by a small design studio or developed as entertainment for TV,” Dunne says, “especially if it is stripped of context and its purpose is unclear.”

He continues: “As tech companies become more powerful, and as the scale and complexity of their technologies mean there are many more possible unforeseen outcomes and implications, perhaps companies should be obliged to explore and make public any potential implications of the technologies they are developing.”

It’s a very good suggestion. Foster’s video is disturbing, but it’s disturbing mainly because it was kept secret, for internal X use only. Google is too big and too powerful to be trusted to build the future of humanity in a top-secret lab.

It’s time, then, that Alphabet becomes a bit more like Intel during the Genevieve Bell years: It has no choice but to start engaging more with the broader design community and the public at large. If it doesn’t, publics and governments around the world are going to start asking some very pointed questions about what it’s hiding.

[“Source-wired”]