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How to Develop a Business Growth Strategy

 

How to Develop a Business Growth Strategy
There are many ways to guide a business through a period of expansion.

  

Turning a small business into a big one is never easy.
The statistics are grim. Research suggests that only one-tenth of 1 percent of companies will ever reach $250 million in annual revenue. An even more microscopic group, just 0.036 percent, will reach $1 billion in annual sales.

In other words, most businesses start small and stay there.

But if that's not good enough for you—or if you recognize that staying small doesn't necessarily guarantee your business's survival— there are examples of companies out there that have successfully made the transition from start-up to small business to fully thriving large business.

That's the premise behind the search Keith McFarland, an entrepreneur and former Inc. 500 CEO, undertook in writing his book, The Breakthrough Company. "There have always been lots of books out there on how to run a big company," says McFarland, who now runs his own consulting business, McFarland Partners based in Salt Lake City. "But I couldn't find one about how to maintain fast growth over the long-term. So I studied the companies who had done it to learn their lessons." What follows are some of the lessons McFarland learned from his study of the breakthrough companies and how they can help you create a growth strategy of your own.

Developing a Growth Strategy: Intensive Growth

Part of getting from A to B, then, is to put together a growth strategy that, McFarland says, "brings you the most results from the least amount of risk and effort." Growth strategies resemble a kind of ladder, where lower-level rungs present less risk but maybe less quick-growth impact. The bottom line for small businesses, especially start-ups, is to focus on those strategies that are at the lowest rungs of the ladder and then gradually move your way up as needed. As you go about developing your growth strategy, you should first consider the lower rungs of what are known as Intensive Growth Strategies. Each new rung brings more opportunities for fast growth, but also more risk. They are:

Market Penetration.
The least risky growth strategy for any business is to simply sell more of its current product to its current customers—a strategy perfected by large consumer goods companies, says McFarland. Think of how you might buy a six-pack of beverages, then a 12-pack, and then a case. "You can't even buy toilet paper in anything less that a 24-roll pack these days," McFarland jokes. Finding new ways for your customers to use your product—like turning baking soda into a deodorizer for your refrigerator—is another form of market penetration.

Market Development.
The next rung up the ladder is to devise a way to sell more of your current product to an adjacent market—offering your product or service to customers in another city or state, for example. McFarland points out that many of the great fast-growing companies of the past few decades relied on Market Development as their main growth strategy. For example, Express Personnel (now called Express Employment Professionals), a staffing business that began in Oklahoma City quickly opened offices around the country via a franchising model. Eventually, the company offered employment staffing services in some 588 different locations, and the company became the fifth-largest staffing business in the U.S.

Alternative Channels.
This growth strategy involves pursuing customers in a different way such as, for example, selling your products online. When Apple added its retail division, it was also adopting an Alternative Channel strategy. Using the Internet as a means for your customers to access your products or services in a new way, such as by adopting a rental model or software as a service, is another Alternative Channel strategy.

Product Development.
A classic strategy, it involves developing new products to sell to your existing customers as well as to new ones. If you have a choice, you would ideally like to sell your new products to existing customers. That's because selling products to your existing customers is far less risky than "having to learn a new product and market at the same time," McFarland says.

New Products for New Customers. 
Sometimes, market conditions dictate that you must create new products for new customers, as Polaris, the recreational vehicle manufacturer in Minneapolis found out. For years, the company produced only snowmobiles. Then, after several mild winters, the company was in dire straits. Fortunately, it developed a wildly successful series of four-wheel all-terrain vehicles, opening up an entirely new market. Similarly, Apple pulled off this strategy when it introduced the iPod. What made the iPod such a breakthrough product was that it could be sold alone, independent of an Apple computer, but, at the same time, it also helped expose more new customers to the computers Apple offered. McFarland says the iPhone has had a similar impact; once customers began to enjoy the look and feel of the product's interface, they opened themselves up to buying other Apple products.

If you choose to follow one of the Intensive Growth Strategies, you should ideally take only one step up the ladder at a time, since each step brings risk, uncertainty, and effort. The rub is that sometimes, the market forces you to take action as a means of self-preservation, as it did with Polaris. Sometimes, you have no choice but to take more risk, says McFarland.

Developing a Growth Strategy: Integrative Growth Strategies

If you've exhausted all steps along the Intensive Growth Strategy path, you can then consider growth through acquisition or Integrative Growth Strategies. The problem is that some 75 percent of all acquisitions fail to deliver on the value or efficiencies that were predicted for them. In some cases, a merger can end in total disaster, as in the case of the AOL-Time Warner deal. Nevertheless, there are three viable alternatives when it comes to an implementing an Integrative Growth Strategy. They are:

Horizontal.
This growth strategy would involve buying a competing business or businesses. Employing such a strategy not only adds to your company's growth, it also eliminates another barrier standing in your way of future growth—namely, a real or potential competitor. McFarland says that many of breakthrough companies such as Paychex, the payroll processing company, and Intuit, the maker of personal and small business tax and accounting software, acquired key competitors over the years as both a shortcut to product development and as a way to increase their share of the market.

Backward.
A backward integrative growth strategy would involve buying one of your suppliers as a way to better control your supply chain. Doing so could help you to develop new products faster and potentially more cheaply. For instance, Fastenal, a company based in Winona, Minnesota that sells nuts and bolts (among other things), made the decision to acquire several tools and die makers as a way to introduce custom part manufacturing capabilities to its larger clients.

 Forward.
Acquisitions can also be focused on buying component companies that are part of your distribution chain. For instance, if you were a garment manufacturer like Chicos, which is based in Fort Myers, Florida, you could begin buying up retail stores as a means to pushing your product at the expense of your competition.

Developing a Growth Strategy: Diversification

Another category of growth strategies that was popular in the 1950s and 1960s and is used far less often today is something called diversification where you grow your company by buying another company that is completely unrelated to your business. Massive conglomerates such as General Electric are essentially holding companies for a diverse range of businesses based solely on their financial performance. That's how GE could have a nuclear power division, a railcar manufacturing division and a financial services division all under the letterhead of a single company. This kind of growth strategy tends to be fraught with risk and problems, says McFarland, and is rarely considered viable these days.

Developing a Growth Strategy: How Will You Grow?

Growth strategies are never pursued in a vacuum, and being willing to change course in response to feedback from the market is as important as implementing a strategy in a single-minded way. Too often, companies take a year to develop a strategy and, by the time they're ready to implement it, the market has changed on them, says McFarland. That's why, when putting together a growth strategy, he advises companies to think in just 90 chunks, a process he calls Rapid Enterprise Design. Sometimes the best approach is to take it one rung at a time.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

What is The Future of Cryptocurrency?

What is The Future of Cryptocurrency?

  

Bitcoin is experiencing high volatility

Currently, Bitcoin is experiencing high volatility that it maybe caused by the recent SEC impediment to create the first bitcoin ETF, or exchange traded fund.Some people in the crypto community were confident about the U.S. Securities and exchange commission positive decision that this hope drove the price, allowing bitcoin to reach its new all time highs.

Then, the SEC announcement about its decision to reject the Winklevoss’ proposal affected the bitcoin and other digital currencies market, but – after a first drop – the greatest part of the digital currencies are currently experiencing new highs.Right now, Ether, or the cryptocurrency that fuels the Ethereum blockchain, reached its new all time high with a price of $40 at present time.

That said, leaving aside the price-related matters, the SEC decision opened another important question: can bitcoin and other digital currencies survive without any approval by institutions? Is it true – as said by Bank of Canada – that it cannot reach a massive diffusion without any formal regulation?

Where will crypto be in the future?

Of course, I don’t have a crystal ball, but for me Bitcoin – with capital B, or the technology behind it: the blockchain – will have a prosperous future.Its importance goes far beyond bitcoin and payment transactions as this is just one – and the most banal – of its application.

Davide Menegaldo, COO at Helperbit, said:

I would imagine this scenario: in the future financial instruments linked to bitcoin will be finally approved. High finance will invest into the cryptocurrency (more than the 300M expected for the bitcoin ETF approval). I’m thinking about 5-10 times the current price. Bitcoin will not necessarily be used as a method of payment (it depends also on how the size block / Segregated witness / LN matter will proceed or will not), but primarily it will be used as a store of value. However, there will be much more competition as a payment method because some banks could issue their own crypto currency, while the current ones will remain a handful. Ethereum will consolidate as the second most important infrastructure, and 99% of ICO tokens will have any value”

Ethereum future

The same thing happens with the Ethereum blockchain. Ether is only one of its possible applications, so people could not use ether as a method of direct payment, but the main important revolution brought by Ethereum are the so-called smart contracts and we will hear a lot about them in the next future.Smart contracts, in fact, allow a huge possibility of applications. They are computer protocols that have the main purpose of executing the terms of a contract in order to satisfy common contractual conditions without the need of trusted intermediaries.

This way, smart contracts can be used as the deepest layer of any kind of application development and not just to set payment-related transactions.According to Leonardo Pedretti (Ethereum Italia and Etherevolution), in five years from now, Ethereum will be the undiscussed leader as the main platform to be used for development and smart contract execution:

Users will use Ethereum even without knowing it. The same thing happens today when you download an app, without knowing deeply the technology used behind it,” explained us Pedretti.

Dash and Zcash

Everyday we experience the birth of a new digital currency, but only a few will survive in the next future, as said by our friends above.Two of those crypto might be Dash and Zcash (ZEC) that recently experienced new higher prices.At present time, Dash and Zcash have respectively a value of $100 and $70. Of course, their monetary values mean nothing in terms of what will happen in future, but we can say that they are showing a high interest.

Also, Zcash provides a revolutionary cryptocurrency that is fully anonymous, so the data showed on the blockchain doesn’t provide any info about the amount or the people involved in the transaction. This feature may could be vital for Zcash future because no other digital currency – together with Monero (XMR) – allows this kind of complete anonymity and privacy.

Today Monero ($123) reached the fourth place according to its market capitalization ($255.773.115), right after bitcoin, ether and dash. Created back in 2014, it soon doubled – and then quadrupled – its price. This renewed interested in the Monero currency might be caused by the low bitcoin scalability. In fact, it is faster and with lower fees than bitcoin.

This means that if the scalability-related issue of bitcoin won’t be solved soon (Hard-fork scenario), altcoins will increase their value, popularity and market cap, so they will be more used to as a payment gateway, while bitcoin will be more and more exploited as a store of value. But this only if the block size debate won’t be solved soon…Of course, as I said, we can only do speculations and predictions as we don’t really know what can happen next, but according to me Bitcoin and blockchains will be never forgotten and will be more and more used in the next five years.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Some of the Largest Cryptocurrency Premines in History

Some of the Largest Cryptocurrency Premines in History

Premining CryptoCurrencies

There have been several dozen premined cryptocurrencies throughout the past few years. Not all of these projects amounted to much, although some of them successfully gained some traction in one way or another. Below are some currencies with significant premines, although not all of them used this concept for nefarious purposes.

 Gulden

                                                 

It has to be said, the Gulden project had a 10% premine reserved for development, marketing, and other miscellaneous expenses. With a premine of 10% – 170 million coins out of a total 1.68 billion – there is some reason for concern. Despite the premine, however, Gulden – ticker NLG – has managed to gain some traction in the real world, although its success is limited to The Netherlands. Gulden is still under active development to this very day, according to their bitcoin talk thread. Gulden has a US$8.655m market cap with 342,46 million NLG in circulation

FuelCoin

                                                       

FuelCoin is a fully premined coin for redistribution. The bitcoin talk thread mentions how the 50 million coins were held by a trusted third-party for a fair distribution. 10 million of those coins were used for charity donations, the remaining 40 million coins were to be used for marketing efforts. Fullcoin also maintains a 2% annual inflation through its proof-of-stake system. It appears Fuelcoin is no longer actively developed, even though the currency still has a US$272,000 market cap with over 100 million coins in circulation.

Startcoin

                                                        

Startcoin is the second project to be linked to Max Keiser, who is quite a popular figure among cryptocurrency enthusiasts. Unfortunately, Startcoin also came with a 50% premine, which immediately raised a red flag. Despite developing the StartJOIN platform – which uses StartCoin – the currency never amounted to much. It is anything but surprising to see Startcoin’s market cap drop to US$164,488 with over 45 million START in circulation.

Auroracoin

                                                 

When Auroracoin was first introduced, a lot of people seemed to be on board with the idea. The cryptocurrency is designed to serve as a new currency for anyone living in Iceland. Its 50% premine was distributed through an airdrop in 2014, which put AUR into the hands of every Iceland resident. Even though most recipients decided to sell their Auroroacoin right away, the currency still holds some value today. Its market cap sits at US$1.244 million, with 8,658,439 AUR in circulation.

Curecoin

                                                  curecoin logo

Curecoin is a very different project from the rest, as it is an effective reward for protein-folding. This process is used to aid scientists in researching cures for diseases and other illnesses. A total of 28,692,524.32 coins will be in circulation, of which 23,226,284.65 were premined. These coins are distributed to all participants, regardless of the mining hardware used. Close to 95% of all coins are issued to folders, whereas the rest of the funds are used for project development donations and developers. Curecoin has a market cap of US$1,485,223 with 26,431,310 CURE in circulation.

 Paycoin

                                                  

Perhaps the biggest scam coin of all time is Paycoin. It is not surprising to find out Paycoin also had a significant premine, as 12 million coins were kept in control of the developers. Considering there were only 12.5 million XPY to be issued at it speak, it was evident this project would not get very far. Paycoin was involved in many different controversies and eventually turned into a complete scam. Despite this rocky history, the currency still has a US$28,176 market cap with 11,671,263 XPY in circulation, quite surprising to say the least.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Bill Gates: Bitcoin Is ‘Better Than Currency’

Bill Gates:
Bitcoin Is 'Better Than Currency'

After long remaining mostly mum on Bitcoin, Microsoft’s legendary co-founder Bill Gates has spoken. At the Sibos 2014 financial-services industry conference in Boston, America's richest man just threw his weight behind the controversial crypto cash. Well, at least as a low-cost payments solution. At the event, when asked about Bitcoin’s potential to ease the cost of payment transactions for moving money from one place to another Gates waxed mostly positively about the virtual money.

“Bitcoin is exciting because it shows how cheap it can be,” he told Erik Schatzker during a Bloomberg TV’s Smart Street show interview yesterday. “Bitcoin is better than a currency in that you don’t have to be physically in the same place and, of course, for large transactions, currency can get pretty inconvenient.”

Gates again reiterated his stance on cryptocurrencies when he delivered the event’s closing keynote address, in which he stated that, in the future, financial transactions will eventually “be digital, universal and almost free.” While he seems relatively bullish on how inexpensive transacting in Bitcoin can be, Gates isn’t singing the praises of its anonymity. The billionaire alluded in an oblique, somewhat rambling fashion to some of the more nefarious anonymous users associated with Bitcoin.

“The customers we’re talking about aren’t trying to be anonymous,” he told Schatzker. “They’re willing to be known, so Bitcoin technology is key and you can add to it or you could build a similar technology where there’s enough attribution where people feel comfortable that this is nothing to do with terrorism or any type of money laundering.” The last time Gates publicly commented on Bitcoin was last February, the day Bitcoin currency conversions debuted on Microsoft’s Bing search engine when he skirted questions about Microsoft’s stance on the cryptocurrency and subsequent others during a lively Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session.

Instead of answering Bitcoin-related queries head on, Gates shifted the focus to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-backed Vodaphone M-pesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer and microfinancing service in Kenya. Gates said that his organization is “involved in digital money, but unlike Bitcoin, it would not be anonymous digital money.” He went on to predict that “digital money will catch on in India and parts of Africa and help the poorest a lot” over the next five years. Now that Gates is officially Microsoft’s technical advisor, perhaps he’ll make a push for Microsoft to accept Bitcoin (or another virtual money) as a form of payment and/or weave cryptocurrency into the company’s nascent “Zero-Effort” mobile payments initiative. Only time will tell.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Blockchain Without Bitcoin: Big Banking Babble

Blockchain Without Bitcoin:
Big Banking Babble

  If the blockchain were made of keychains, it would look like this.

Blockchain Without Bitcoin?

There has been a recent change in the mainstream narrative surrounding bitcoin. The message is shifting; what was once a story about get-rich-quick imaginary gold or hacker criminals is turning into a story about banks and regulations. The new story is more widespread and more positive. Bitcoin is slowly becoming part of everyday conversation, although bitcoin itself is often downplayed.

dollar-726884_1920

Bitcoin has found new support in the mainstream media, mostly couched in praise for its underlying blockchain technology. From Nasdaq and Blythe Masters to The Economist, finance giants are realizing the value of what bitcoin’s blockchain accomplishes in terms of network security and trustless record-keeping. As a result, bitcoin coverage in the mainstream press is normalizing.

The Talking Points

There are three main themes to the new mainstream message around bitcoin:

  1. Blockchain is important; forget about bitcoin.
  2. Banks must harness blockchain technology.
  3. Blockchain technology is far too dangerous for regular people.

One recent example that hits all these points comes from this IBM advertorial piece in Forbes. In this article, IBM researcher Arvind Krishna presents his argument for the importance of blockchain technology and its transformative power. The piece hits the first talking point very overtly, giving bitcoin a cursory mention before saying that the “blockchain is the more interesting phenomenon.” It differentiates the blockchain from bitcoin and then disparages bitcoin.

For the second talking point, the piece offers a few examples for the use of blockchain technology — such as smart contracts and document verification. These are use cases that bitcoin currently serves, but all the examples take place between companies or banks. Not once in the IBM article are individuals using blockchain technology by or for themselves. Talking point number three is found in what was cut from the original version of the article, posted to IBM’s Smarter Planet blog, which was two paragraphs longer. These words from Krishna’s original blog post did not make it into the paid Forbes piece:

“To understand the potential of blockchain, consider how global business is typically transacted today. Say a sheep farm in rural Sweden wants to pay a supplier of sheering equipment in New Zealand. The two businesses use different banks, logistics companies, and currencies, and they might also be subject to different government and industry regulators. So their seemingly simple transaction is actually a lengthy chain of interactions between a number of banks, intermediaries, and auditors. Each party maintains its own systems of record. The result is a complex, inefficient process that’s costly and time consuming.

But what if all the parties from the farmer to the supplier to their respective banks participated in a system using blockchain technology? The entire process could be handled within a single, transparent system shared among all parties, minimizing the potential for human error or malfeasance. And the entire process could probably be completed in minutes rather than days.”

These two paragraphs tell a story of slow, inefficient financial transactions and institutions, and how the blockchain can do a better job than those institutions. In terms of narrative, there’s not a big leap between sheep farm and sheep farmer, and by the end of the example, you wonder why they need a bank at all.

Pay no Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Banks and other financial institutions do recognize the value of the bitcoin blockchain, as evidenced by the bitcoin projects backed by three major credit card networks, not to mention Nasdaq. Banks also know that they desperately need to improve their electronic security. But once some understanding of Bitcoin’s potential begins to come into view, banks want to divert attention from it. On one hand, it’s embarrassing that the blockchain innovation did not come from them. On the other hand, they want to be the ones at center stage, and that’s difficult since they spent a long time saying how stupid bitcoin was.

The banks see what bitcoin’s blockchain accomplishes in terms of network security and trusted record-keeping. But they are in the uncomfortable position of having mocked this thing they now find useful. They want to keep it for themselves; at the very least, they don’t want to be left behind. Banks want to know how Bitcoin can cut their costs, but they are not interested in actually becoming faster or cheaper or more open. They want to charge high fees. They want a 2-day float. They want to be in possession of your money.

The message is all about banks doing damage control. It is not about disintermediation or disruption; it is about services you can be charged for. The open secret, the fact that the message tries to obscure, is that people don’t need banks to use bitcoin. Bitcoin’s primary advantage is not to do some things faster or more reliable than a centralized trusted third party, it is to do those things without a third party. Bitcoin empowers individuals to take their finances into their own hands. The revolution will not be centralized.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Bitcoin holds above $1,000 as traders fret about the cryptocurrency’s potential ‘fork’

Bitcoin holds above $1,000 as traders fret about the cryptocurrency’s potential ‘fork’

 

Technology behind the CyrptoCurrency

Bitcoin has had a rough ride in the past few days after hitting record highs, then dipping below $1,000 and now just holding steady, as traders ponder the future of the underlying technology behind the CyrptoCurrency. On March 10, bitcoin hit a high of $1,325.81, but dipped to around $944 on Saturday. The price has recovered somewhat and was trading at around $1,049.20 at the time of publication. The recent volatility is due to a number of factors:

  • The rejection by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of an exchange-traded fund (ETF) proposed by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss
  • Chinese authorities forcing bitcoin exchanges to halt withdrawals of the virtual currency
  • Concern of the future of the underlying technology of bitcoin

This last point refers to a potential bitcoin "fork" which would result in the emergence of two cryptocurrencies – one known as Bitcoin and one known as Bitcoin Unlimited.

   Mock physical bitcoins arranged on a table.

Is bitcoin in a bubble right now?

In the last seven days, 54.7 percent of trades on one major exchange called Bitfinex have been to sell bitcoin. The other 45.3 percent have been to buy. At the same time, from bitcoin's all-time high on March 10 to midday on March 23, the number of short positions on the Bitfinex exchange were up 18.9 percent, hitting levels not seen since February 17. Short positions refer to people betting against a price rise in bitcoin.

Jason Hamilton, a bitcoin trader in the U.S., told CNBC that the long-term supporting trend line for bitcoin is around $735, and that bitcoin is in a bubble right now. He said that a potential upcoming fork, as well as the rejection of the ETF and tighter regulation in China, is the reason he is shorting the digital currency. "All these reasons are the catalysts it needs for the bubble to burst and the long term trend line to be revisited," Hamilton told CNBC by a private Twitter message.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Forget Bitcoin. The Blockchain Could Reveal What’s True Today and Tomorrow

Forget Bitcoin. The Blockchain Could Reveal What’s True Today and Tomorrow

 

What’s True Today and Tomorrow

As far back as the 1880s, people stood on the curb outside the New York Stock Exchange taking bets on political elections, and newspapers would report the odds as a way of predicting the results at the polls. In the years since economists refined the concept, and more recently, prediction markets have tapped into the wisdom of the crowds via the internet, forecasting everything from presidential races to sporting events to stock prices. The concept took a hit in 2012 when a major site shut down amid financial irregularities and pressure from US regulators. But Silicon Valley hasn’t given up on the idea. It now sees a new way of building markets that predict the future: the blockchain.

The blockchain is the global ledger that securely records transactions for the bitcoin digital currency, operating outside the control of any central authority. But so many startups and online communities are now applying the same concept to all sorts of other applications. For Joey Krug, the openness of a blockchain could deliver far more powerful prediction markets than ever before, spreading them to a much larger number of people, while keeping regulators at bay. Krug is one of the young technologists behind Augur, a San Francisco nonprofit working to build a service atop the Ethereum blockchain where anyone can launch or join these markets. “It doesn’t care where you’re from,” says Krug, a 21-year-old Thiel Fellow. “All kinds of people can trade together that weren’t able to trade before.”

Thanks to the counterintuitive dynamics that drive prediction markets, this could eventually create more specific and accurate predictions—an antidote to media pundits and pollsters who bear a little cost for getting their forecasts wrong. “You put your money where your mouth is,” says Andrew Miller, a computer scientist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who specializes in cryptocurrencies. But like so many other technologists, financial traders, and other freethinkers working to create strangely fascinating new services atop the blockchain idea, Krug is looking even further ahead. He believes Augur, which is still under beta test, can eventually feed real-world truths into any other online application.

Though there are still many questions hovering over all these big ideas—particularly the bit about real-world truths—they’re gaining momentum. Krug and Augur built their operation with $5.3 million in crowdfunding, and others are exploring similar territory, including a service called Gnosis, another project called Bitcoin Hivemind, and even Microsoft, which now offers an Augur service that would allow businesses to run their own internal prediction markets, much as companies like Google already do.

Forecasting the Future

In theory, the better your information, the bigger the bet you’ll make. Using a blockchain, a service like Augur aims to enhance this dynamic by pushing markets across borders and removing all betting limits, roping in more people and more cash. Without such limits, people like Krug argue, the person with the best information can make their bets, which makes for a more accurate market. “If you have bet limits, you can’t have an informed trader come in and trade with enough capital to move the market and correct it,” says Matt Liston, who helped create Augur and now works on Gnosis.

If enough people stake enough money on enough outcomes, betting their own digital currency that they know what will happen, these markets become a way of predicting the future. But that’s only part of what Augur does. To pay out, prediction markets must know what happened. Did Donald Trump win or did he lose? In a more traditional prediction market, the house decides. But Augur takes a different path. Krug and his colleagues have also used their blockchain to create an engine for recording outcomes once they arrive—a way of inscribing the truth in digital form.

“It’s not just about predicting what is in the future,” Richard Craib, the founder of blockchain hedge fund Numerai, who has invested in Augur. “It’s about knowing what is happening in the present.”

A Blockchain for Facts

Here’s how it works: After one group of people joins a prediction market and bets on an outcome, Augur pays others to identify that outcome—to verify what happened. But it doesn’t just pay them a flat fee. On its blockchain, Augur houses its own cryptocurrency, a digital token that encourages people to get things right. “If you’re not telling the truth, you stand to lose a bunch of money,” Krug says.

Augur calls its digital token the Rep. This cryptocurrency doesn’t let you buy and sell stuff. It tracks your reputation—that is, how often you tell the truth. People bet their Rep tokens that they are indeed telling the truth—reporting the facts as they actually are. If most others agree, the system returns their tokens and pays them in cash. It’s a way of aligning everyone’s aims in the same direction, the sort of arrangement that so often characterizes the new breed of business built atop a blockchain. Because it’s tied to real money, the Rep token ensures that everyone is pulling in the same direction—toward the truth.

Though there are still many questions hovering over all these big ideas—particularly the bit about real-world truths—they’re gaining momentum. Krug and Augur built their operation with $5.3 million in crowdfunding, and others are exploring similar territory, including a service called Gnosis, another project called Bitcoin Hivemind, and even Microsoft, which now offers an Augur service that would allow businesses to run their own internal prediction markets, much as companies like Google already do.

Forecasting the Future

A prediction market is like the stock market, except that you’re not buying stock in companies. You’re buying stock in outcomes. Let’s say Donald Trump is running for president. A prediction market lets you buy “stock” in a Trump win or loss. If your prediction comes true, you get paid. If your prediction proves wrong, you get nothing.

As in the stock market, you can also sell your shares. You aim to buy low and sell high. If enough people participate, the trading price of the stock should indicate the likelihood of an outcome. If a prediction pays out at $1 and Trump’s “stock” is trading at 51 cents, that market predicts a 51 percent chance of a Trump victory. This odds-making reflects the efficient market hypothesis, an idea that won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2013. “Prices capture information,” says Erik Snowberg, an economist and political scientist at the California Institute of Technology. “If you have information that says the price is too low, you buy and the price goes up. If you have information that the price is too high, you sell.”

In theory, the better your information, the bigger the bet you’ll make. Using a blockchain, a service like Augur aims to enhance this dynamic by pushing markets across borders and removing all betting limits, roping in more people and more cash. Without such limits, people like Krug argue, the person with the best information can make their bets, which makes for a more accurate market. “If you have bet limits, you can’t have an informed trader come in and trade with enough capital to move the market and correct it,” says Matt Liston, who helped create Augur and now works on Gnosis.

If enough people stake enough money on enough outcomes, betting their own digital currency that they know what will happen, these markets become a way of predicting the future. But that’s only part of what Augur does. To pay out, prediction markets must know what happened. Did Donald Trump win or did he lose? In a more traditional prediction market, the house decides. But Augur takes a different path. Krug and his colleagues have also used their blockchain to create an engine for recording outcomes once they arrive—a way of inscribing the truth in digital form. “It’s not just about predicting what is in the future,” Richard Craib, the founder of blockchain hedge fund Numerai, who has invested in Augur. “It’s about knowing what is happening in the present.”

A Blockchain for Facts

Here’s how it works: After one group of people joins a prediction market and bets on an outcome, Augur pays others to identify that outcome—to verify what happened. But it doesn’t just pay them a flat fee. On its blockchain, Augur houses its own cryptocurrency, a digital token that encourages people to get things right. “If you’re not telling the truth, you stand to lose a bunch of money,” Krug says.

Augur calls its digital token the Rep. This cryptocurrency doesn’t let you buy and sell stuff. It tracks your reputation—that is, how often you tell the truth. People bet their Rep tokens that they are indeed telling the truth—reporting the facts as they actually are. If most others agree, the system returns their tokens and pays them in cash. It’s a way of aligning everyone’s aims in the same direction, the sort of arrangement that so often characterizes the new breed of business built atop a blockchain. Because it’s tied to real money, the Rep token ensures that everyone is pulling in the same direction—toward the truth. ‘It’s not just about predicting what is in the future. It’s about knowing what is happening in the present.’ Richard Craib

There’s always the risk that the majority will deny the facts, somehow overriding the monetary incentive. Enormous bribes could be a problem, for instance. “There may be cases where you benefit by cheating,” says Miller. “If everyone goes toward the truth, you have an incentive to go along with the truth. But if everyone deviates from the truth, there is an incentive to deviate.” Still, many people seem to have faith in the idea. The Rep now enjoys a $89 million market cap, up from $50 million at the end of February.

Ultimately, Krug hopes to create a service that feeds more than just prediction markets. Augur’s reporting engine, he believes, could serve as the foundation for other applications that rely on real-world data. As he explains, it could help automate any financial contract, from options and derivatives to insurance contracts and credit default swaps. Should you be paid because a company defaulted on its debt? Check the Augur blockchain to see if the company really did.

If Augur gains a true scale, other possibilities arise. If, say, Trump’s national security adviser steps down and Augur’s Rep-funded “reporters” verify his resignation, that fact gets burned into a blockchain. Any application can then make use of this digital fact, from Wikipedia to Facebook to Google search results. In an age when fake news bounces around Facebook’s echo chambers and presidential tweets see no difference between online hoaxes and the careful reporting of the New York Times, the possibility of creating a digital market for facts becomes a powerful idea.

Like so many ideas that bubble up from the world of bitcoin, the concepts behind Augur are both strange and perhaps overly optimistic. The instability of the Ethereum tokens that people use to make bets on these markets could undermine their accuracy, says David Rothchild, a researcher at Microsoft. And the Augur reporting engine, lacking a critical mass of participants, remains unproven. But in an age when so many people feel so unsure about not just the future but the facts in the present, such big ideas are at least worth a try.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Enterprise’s technologies that will shake things up in 2017

 Enterprise's technologies that will
shake things up in 2017

Triple-A security, the Internet of Things and AR/VR to make their marks

You think you have your hands full as an IT pro now? Just wait until blockchain, IoT, augmented and virtual reality, and these other technologies really start to take hold in 2017.

The Internet of Things – for real

Yes, yes, we know – it’s one of those long-standing tech industry jokes, like “the year of the Linux desktop” and “Java security.” But 2017 really could be the year that all the hub-bub and hype around the Internet of Things comes home to roost.

The basic concept of connected devices – broadly, things that haven’t historically been connected to the internet suddenly being connected to the internet – is nothing new. The uses to which the technology is now being put, however – smart cars, smart homes, and dramatically simplified industrial management – are potentially groundbreaking in a very “the future is here” sense.

The main problem is security, as it has been since people started thinking about IoT as a concept. There aren’t many commonly accepted standards for IoT devices – though there’s no lack of candidates – and vendors don’t seem to work as hard to make connected devices secure as they do on more traditional endpoints, like laptops and smartphones.

That has big implications for security. Even if a hacked IoT device doesn’t represent much of a threat on its own, it’s simple enough to incorporate it into a vast botnet, which is exactly what the attackers behind the Mirai botnet have been up to lately, exploiting DVRs, surveillance cameras, and other poorly secured IoT devices and making them into a zombie army able to hamstring internet access across the U.S. by attacking domain registration service provider Dyn. It’s a big challenge, according to analyst and Network World contributor Zeus Kerravala.

“[IoT security] requires strengthened network access controls, including real-time application control and visibility, IoT-supported, secure authentication methods such as PPSK, granular device policy enforcement at the edge, and centralized reporting and monitoring tools,” he said, in commenting on a new IoT security offering from Aerohive Networks.

SponsoredPost Sponsored by Honda    

Forrester Research thinks more than half a million IoT devices will be compromised in 2017, which underlines the extreme importance of security. One way or another, IoT will shake up computing in 2017 – either as a key underpinning of a host of new technologies, or the venue for further devastating cyber attacks.

Augmented reality and virtual reality will take off

When the iPad was introduced in 2010, rarely would you see them in the wild—never mind being used for business. Now, iPads and tablets are everywhere. Their use exploded. Prepare for the same thing to happen with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)—with tablets and smartphones as the vehicle. According to IDC, 25% of enterprise IT organizations will be testing augmented reality business applications for use on smartphones by the end of 2017.

“This may sound relatively aggressive, but the conversations I’m having with the industry and some surveys that we’ve run talking to IT decision makers show that there’s a really strong interest around augmented reality,” said Tom Mainelli, program vice president of the devices & AR/VR group at IDC, during a recent webinar, IDC Futurescape: Worldwide Wearables and AR/VR 2017 Predictions. The end game is head-worn AR hardware, such as the Microsoft HoloLens, he said. But for a lot of enterprises, they are going to begin creating apps and back-end processes on devices that consumers and businesses already own.

Pokémon Go gave us a taste of AR, and we’ve seen retailers using AR technology. Walgreens and Toys R Us use an app called Aisle411 that guides customers to products with the store. North Face provides 360-degree videos of outdoor experiences using Oculus Rift in which the actors wear North Face clothing. Audi has a virtual experience that allows you to take a virtual test drive and to virtually see features and options on their cars. And Ashley Furniture will soon have an AR app that helps shoppers see how home furnishings fit into an existing space.

As smartphone technology improves, we will see much better AR experiences, Mainelli said. The first product working toward that is the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, which is based on Google’s Tango technology. It uses three cameras and multiple sensors to see where it is and capture a wide range of measurements to create an enhanced AR experience, he said.

Other AR and VR predictions from IDC:

  • In 2017, retail industry spending on AR/VR hardware, software and services will increase by 145% to more than $1 billion.
    Three out of 10 consumer-facing Fortune 5000 companies will experiment with AR or VR as part of their marketing efforts in 2017.
  • By 2019, 10% of all web-based meetings will include an AR component driving disruption of the $3 billion web conferencing market.

“I really believe augmented reality is going to have the same type of impact on businesses as the PC did all those years ago,” Mainelli said. “And once developers start to figure out what they can do with this technology, business is going to change pretty dramatically. … Eventually, we will end up at a place where augmented reality really is the new way that we interface with devices, digital content, physical objects and with data.”

Triple-A protection coming to world of cyber security

It may be a brave new world in 2017 but it’s also a damn scary one for IT security professionals. Just take a look at some recent Gartner assessments of the security situation:

  • By 2020, 60% of digital businesses will suffer major service failures, due to the inability of IT security teams to manage digital risk.
  • By 2020, 60% of enterprise information security budgets will be allocated for rapid detection and response approaches, which is an increase from less than 30% in 2016.
  • By 2018, 25% of corporate data traffic will flow directly from mobile devices to the cloud, bypassing enterprise security controls.
  • Through 2018, over 50% of IoT device manufacturers will not be able to address threats because of weak authentication practices.

So what technologies are going to change this scenario back in favor of IT? The new security AAA — automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence — say proponents. When it comes to automation, security platforms will devise and execute controls based on newly detected threats and do it without human intervention. That reduces the time between a compromise and the time the threat is neutralized – reducing the window during which attackers can do damage.

Security analytics engines digest data from network gear and endpoints in search of anomalies that indicate threats. By setting a baseline for normal, these engines spot out of the ordinary behaviors and assess whether they represent malicious activity. By incorporating AI and machine learning this technology will expand its ability to detect anomalies not only in network traffic, but in the behavior of individual machines, users, and combinations of users on particular machines.

As these platforms become more sophisticated and trusted in 2017, they will be able to spot attacks in earlier stages and stop them before they become active breaches. And the big guns are all involved in making this happen: Cisco with its Tetration Analytics platform, IBM with Watson cognitive computing for cyber security; Google/Alphabet with DeepMind lab to name just a few.

Cisco’s Tetration Analytics product is a turnkey package that gathers information from hardware and software sensors and analyzes the information using big data analytics and machine learning. In the security realm, the system sets a baseline for normal network and application behavior and quickly identifies any deviation in communication patterns in real time or uses Tetration’s forensics search engine to look for other security or user behavior analytics.

“The single most important things customers can do to protect the data center is set up a whitelist of who has access to what, but it is one of the most difficult tasks to implement,” said Tom Edsall, a senior vice president and CTO with Cisco. “Tetration lets users set up a whitelist model and policies more quickly and efficiently than they could before.” This capability will address key cyber security challenges and move toward the “self-driving data center” of the future, he said. Cisco promises many new security-related applications will be layered onto Tetration.

Then we have IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which is being unleashed in corporate networks to analyze traffic in search of malware but also learning at the same time via its own experiences and by taking in white papers, threat intelligence and news about cybercrime. So over time, Watson will develop new strategies for finding attacks as they unfold. The Watson for Cybersecurity project is in beta now and likely sometime in 2017 could become a full-fledged cybersecurity service.

Separately, there is governmental research underway that could impact the cyber security world this year as well. For example, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the radical research arm of the of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, wants to build a system of what it calls sensors that can monitor everything from search terms to social media output to look for early warning signs of cyber attacks.

“Cyber-attacks evolve in a phased approach. Detection typically occurs in the later phases of an attack, and analysis often occurs post-mortem to investigate and discover indicators from earlier phases. Observations of earlier attack phases, such as target reconnaissance, planning, and delivery, may enable warning of significant cyber events prior to their most damaging phases,” IARPA wrote in announcing its Cyberattack Automated Unconventional Sensor Environment (CAUSE) program.

“It is expected that the technology developed under the CAUSE Program will have no ‘human in the loop.’ Experts may help develop, train, and improve the solution systems, but they will not manually generate warnings, guide the system, or filter warnings before they are delivered to the [IARPA] Team. The performer produced warnings must be machine-generated and submitted automatically…,

Bullish for blockchain

There’s no shortage of hype around blockchain’s potential to revolutionize transactions. Heading into the new year, some enterprises will put blockchain hype to the test as they start exploring its ability to reduce transaction costs, streamline partner interactions, and accelerate business processes.

Blockchains are distributed public ledgers, lauded for their ability to establish trust in the digital world by way of verifiable transactions and without the need for a middleman. The cryptocurrency bitcoin is the most familiar application. In the financial world, blockchains are expected to disrupt how financial institutions conduct payments and wire transfers, process securities trades, and handle compliance reporting, to name just a few use cases.

Outside of finance, industry watchers cite opportunities for blockchains to play a role in core business functions from the supply chain and manufacturing to legal and health care. When there’s an audit trail required – to track the provenance of finished goods, for example, or to document a real estate title – blockchain networks can be used to create verifiable, tamper-proof records in an encrypted format and without having a central authority.

Enterprise IT leaders “are not so much interested in secure, anonymous public networks like bitcoin but in closed networks that are between specific groups of people, particularly between enterprises that have to interact,” says Roger Kay, founder, and president of market intelligence firm Endpoint Technologies Associates.

In a blockchain, each page in a ledger of transactions forms a block, which is linked via a cryptographic hash to the previous block, and new transactions are authenticated across the distributed network before the next block is formed. “Blocks are always agreed on, and each one has an encrypted representation of everything that happened before, so you can tell it’s authentic. You can’t tamper with the chain at any point,” Kay says. As a trust system, “it essentially eliminates the need for a third-party guarantor.”

That’s not to say blockchain technology is mature, however. “It’s still early days,” Kay warns. Early adopters have launched hundreds of pilot projects, but there’s a long way to go before blockchain hits mainstream adoption. Among the obstacles blockchain deployments face are technical challenges, lack of standards and governance models, shortage of skills, and scalability concerns.

As 2016 closes, vendors continue to devise distributed applications and platforms based on blockchain technology, and venture capital firms continue to pour money into the effort. More than $1.4 billion has been invested in blockchain technology over the past three years, according to an August report by the World Economic Forum (WEF). More than 90 corporations have joined blockchain development consortia, and more than 2,500 patents have been filed. The WEF predicts that by 2017, 80% of banks will initiate projects that involve distributed ledger technology.

For enterprises interested in exploring how they can use blockchain and distributed ledgers, research firm Gartner recommends starting with limited-scope trials that are aimed at specific problems. Enterprises can start to investigate how distributed networks might improve business processes that are constrained by transaction inefficiency and how technology suppliers might be able to help. “The challenge for blockchain users and CIOs is to set appropriate expectations among business leaders,” Gartner writes in its 2017 strategic predictions report. “Plan for a reasonable rollout, failure, and recovery (especially through 2018); develop realistic proof of concept (POC) use cases and be agile from an IT and business perspective to follow the best path to success.”

Machine Learning – the promise of predicting the future

Historically, the challenge for organizations that want to use machine learning and cognitive computing technologies has been that it requires hiring expert data scientists who have spent their careers studying how to crunch data into artificial intelligence algorithms.

In recent years, thanks to the proliferation of public cloud computing platforms, that’s changing. Companies like Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft, and IBM have all rolled out cloud-based machine learning platforms. “It’s really lowered the barrier quite a bit,” says Sam Charrington, an analyst, and blogger who tracks the machine learning market, adding that the technology is being democratized for everyday developers to use in their applications.

At its most basic level, machine learning is the process of using data to make predictions of future behavior. Most commonly it’s been used in fraud protection (training computers to detect anomalous behavior) and teaching programs to predict future revenues and customer churn. IBM has trained its Watson platform to create sophisticated chatbots for customer interaction and to help healthcare workers provide better care.

It’s still early days for adoption though a recent study by consultancy Deloitte reported that only 8% of enterprises use machine learning technology today. Allied Market Research predicts the industry is growing at a 33% compound annual growth rate and will reach $13.7 billion by 2020.

“The practice of employing algorithms to parse data, learn from it, and then make a determination … is gathering speed,” reports 451 Researcher Krishna Roy. Consumer adoption of platforms like Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s Siri has seeded this market, but enterprise adoption has been held back by a lack of market education and integration of these systems with existing enterprise platforms. But, she notes that one day this technology could become a “fundamental part of an enterprise's analytics fabric.”

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Companies Focusing on Both Bitcoin and Ethereum Blockchain Development

Companies Focusing on Both Bitcoin and Ethereum Blockchain Development

The Bitcoin BlockChain

Companies and entrepreneurs all over the world are looking at blockchain technology to create new business models. Some of these projects rely on the bitcoin blockchain, whereas others seemingly favor Ethereum. Both distributed ledgers offer quite a few advantages. As a result, various companies and investors are keeping tabs on both horses in the race.

Circle

Ever since Circle started moving away from bitcoin, it was only a matter of time until the company unveiled their new plans. While Circle still uses bitcoin as a “rail” to complete global payments quickly, the team is also working on Ethereum applications. In fact, the company is using Ethereum’s blockchain for their “Spark” venture, as Ethereum’s ledger is the more mature and practical solution. An intriguing decision, although it is worth noting Spark will be interoperable with other blockchains.

Brave

The Brave browser has been well-received by the cryptocurrency community. Its ability to change the ad-viewing experience while surfing the web will have a big impact. Just yesterday, Brave announced they will provide users with an incentive. In fact, the Brave team wants to pay browser users to turn ads back on. While the browser has a bitcoin payment solution to let browser users tip their favorite content creators, this new incentive will see things done differently.

 

A digital token – called Basic Attention Token – will be released later this year. The vast majority of these coins will be sold to investors during an ICO. This new token is Ethereum-based and plays a key role in this new digital advertising platform. The source code for this new platform will be made open source on GitHub later this year.

 Storj

Even though the Storj project was designed to be based on the bitcoin blockchain from day one, it appears the team has changed their mind. In a new announcement, the company explained they are bringing the  Counterparty-based Storj token – known as SJCX – over to the Ethereum blockchain. The reason for this change is not difficult to find: mounting bitcoin transaction fees, delays, and the lack of development provided by the Counterparty platform. Another notch in the belt for Ethereum, that much is certain.

 Factom

The Factom project is quite an intriguing one. The company anchors sensitive data into the bitcoin blockchain, although they are anchoring into Ethereum as well. This dual-pronged approach will guarantee information can be kept safe and secure at all times. Moreover, this goes to show both blockchains have their role to play in the future of distributed ledger-based products and services.

Blockchain Capital

Even though Blockchain Capital is not actively developing applications and projects themselves, they are a key investor in many blockchain-based projects. Blockchain Capital has pumped millions of dollars into bitcoin blockchain-based projects, yet the focus has been divided as of late. The company has become very serious about Ethereum, and they started to deploy half of their fund toward early-stage Ethereum-oriented investments.

Chuck Reynolds
Contributor

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member

Officers Pretend They’re On Walk And Take Elderly Woman With Dementia Home.

Officers Pretend They’re On Walk And Take Elderly Woman With Dementia Home.

By Josh Starling  – Mar 30, 2016

Original article at http://www.inspiremore.com/cops-take-grandma-with-dementia-home/

Every day, 81-year-old Roberta takes a stroll down her driveway and back to her Charles County, Maryland home.  It was business as usual for Roberta last Friday, but instead of stopping at the end of the driveway, she just kept going.

Roberta and her daughter live together, so when the daughter realized her mother had been gone for far too long, she called 911. Her daughter informed officers that her mother had dementia, and was assured they would find her soon. After about 40 minutes, a small team of officers found Roberta walking along a wooded path near her home.

Instead of embarrassing the sweet lady by informing her of her mishap, they pretended to be out for a walk too, hoping to guide her back in the process. And so, Officer Morrison was captured walking hand in hand with his new friend Roberta… gently leading her home.

The Charles Country Sheriff’s Office posted the photo and caption below.

“We often talk about the rewards of police work. On Friday, we captured a moment.

Officers responded to a 911 call from a woman who reported her 81-year-old mother missing. It seems her mother left her house to take her daily walk up and down the driveway, but when she didn’t return, things got a bit scary because the woman’s mother has dementia.

Officers P. DeBoe, C. Caywood, B. Morrison, Sgt. C. Black, and Cpl. C. Clevenger and his K9 partner responded to the scene and began a search of the heavily wooded area.

After 40 minutes, the woman was found.

At first, she seemed confused at the sudden appearance of police officers on the tree-lined trail, and she asked if the officers were out taking a walk too. They quietly replied ‘Yes,’ after all, it was a beautiful day. And then she seemed relieved and told them she had lost her way. ‘No problem,’ said Officer Morrison who then gently took her hand and, along with the other officers walked her back to her house.

Along the way, the officers made small talk with the woman, to make her feel at ease. When asked what the key to a long, healthy life was, the woman replied, ‘Eat good and stay active.’

Officers encounter different situations every day. Some good, some not so good. In this case, a frightening situation for the family ended happily. For that, they were thankful. For us, it’s the rewarding part of policing.”

Here’s to our boys in blue!  Share their gentle heroics today!

Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member