There's currently around $200 billion of bitcoin floating around in people's digital wallets. For many of their owners, those bitcoins have proved to be a valuable asset. They're happy to leave them to rise in value and build up their wealth. For others though, those giant piles of coins are exactly what they're supposed to be: a currency that they want to exchange for goods and services.
But businesses are reluctant to accept them. In July last year, Bloomberg reported that just three of the Internet's top 500 retailers were willing to accept the cryptocurrency. The biggest reason is clear enough. When the payment you take for a product can lose as much as a quarter of its value within a week, pricing becomes difficult. A seller that paid $80 for a product and sold it online for $100 in bitcoin could find that he has only $75 a week later--and no business at all not long afterwards. On the other hand, they could find that they've earned an additional 10 percent the day after the sale with no extra effort.
While those fluctuations are exciting, business owners tend to want stability. They want to be sure that the payments they receive for their goods and services cover their costs and deliver a reliable profit. It's the only way that they can stay in business.
So how can you take advantage of the availability of billions of dollars of a new currency without leaving yourself vulnerable to the currency's volatility? How can your business join the cryptocurrency world and accept bitcoin risk-free?
There are options and smart businesses are making good use of them. In 2013, a man in Florida called a Lamborghini dealership in Newport County, CA and asked if he could buy a Tesla from them using bitcoin. Other dealers had already turned him down, he said. The dealership was cautious. The car cost $103,000. But the company didn't want to reject a sale so it accepted the payment using Bitpay. The buyer paid 91.4 bitcoins and the seller received the money in dollars. According to CNN, news of the sale prompted ten more potential buyers to call the dealership.
Bitpay still allows businesses to accept payments while receiving fiat. Users of bitcoin transfer their payments using the company's payment platform. The firm locks in an exchange rate and delivers fiat to the seller's bank account. Companies can advertise to wealthy bitcoin owners and accept their payments without exposing themselves to the coin's volatility.
A number of other companies now offer a similar service. CoinGate extends the acceptance to more than 40 different kinds of altcoins with instant conversion to euros or dollars.
These tools, and more are surfacing, allow business to accept bitcoins risk-free. They can also allow businesses to receive their payments in bitcoin. While that brings back the risk, it's worth noting that if the Newport Beach car dealer had kept the bitcoin, he would have sold that Tesla for around $1.5 million in today's money. Some risks might well be worth taking.
My dad was dying of cancer. I had a year to prepare for the inevitable, but when he passed away, it still hit me like a ton of bricks. I was an only child and very close to my father my entire life.
I began waking up in the middle of the night with my heart racing and my thoughts drifting to dark places. What the heck was going on? This had never happened to me before!
I was losing sleep. My relationships were affected. One of my top clients fired me after I showed up completely unprepared for a meeting.
I was simply going through the motions in life just trying just to get by minute to minute. My ego got in the way of my seeking help. I began to think I was going nuts.
Weeks went by and then a few months of living like this. I finally realized I needed help when I had a panic attack while playing tennis with my buddies at the club. Tennis is a lifelong passion of mine, but that day all I wanted to do was get out of there. I didn't know where I wanted to go, but I had to leave. So, I told my buddies that I was feeling nauseous. It wasn't a complete lie.
I knew then that I needed help. My life was crumbling, and I couldn't put the pieces back together by myself. I checked my ego and sought help. Ever since my dad died eight years ago, anxiety has been something I've had to battle every day.
The first thing to realize when you get anxiety or depression is that you're not alone. There are 40 million Americans who have some form of anxiety disorder. I didn't realize this, and I was beginning to label myself as a freak, lunatic, or worse.
To beat anxiety, you need a plan. While I'm not an expert, I can share what's worked for me to win against stress and not let it consume me.
1) Daily exercise is a must.
Exercise is a critical step towards being a healthy person. So naturally, it works wonders towards beating anxiety.
One of the things for me is that when a panic attack hits, my thoughts go down a negative spiral that is tough to reverse. I find that exercise forces my body to have a different thought pattern. In other words, sitting around with my thoughts makes my anxiety much worse. I need to get out and get my body moving to release the excess tension that anxiety brings on, and that would work for you, too.
When I don't exercise regularly, I find that my anxiety becomes more challenging to control.
2) Seek help from your doctor.
If you have anxiety problems, working with a trained medical professional is a must.
They can help you develop a customized plan for overcoming anxiety. The medications I've been prescribed by my doctors have helped me tremendously. I went months without seeking help and trying to beat it on my own without medication. I thought antidepressants were only for crazy people. Don't be judgmental of yourself and others like I was.
Check your ego and go to the doctor.
3) See a professional counselor.
Your doctor will be able to recommend a counselor for you to see. I eventually saw a professional grief counselor after my dad passed away. It helped me to understand my feelings, and how I can better deal with them.
Counselors can help you deal with the root cause of your anxiety, and overcome what's causing you to feel the way you are.
4) Develop a support group.
To win against anxiety, you need a support group of friends and family you can talk to about it. Never keep it inside, as I did!
Seek out people who are understanding and non-judgmental. Maybe you have a friend or relative who's been through it, too?
Consider joining a few anxiety-support groups on Facebook. They are full of people who are fighting every day to beat anxiety and will. Yes they are strangers, but you will be surprised at how helpful talking with other people who have gone through what you're dealing with can help you.
Always remember: You're not alone! Anxiety wants us to feel that way. Don't let it!
And, she said she feels sorry for the woman in the video, who was later identified in news reports and who has reportedly been put on leave from her job in state government as a result of the incident.
"I kind of feel bad for this lady. I don't know her story, she doesn't know mine. It might have been a misunderstanding. I was sharing [the video] for family members, and it started going crazy," the passenger who shot the video, Marissa Rundell, told me.
Rundell, 19, said she had been traveling with her eight-month-old son to visit her brother in Brooklyn, and was returning home on a Delta Airlines flight from JFK to Syracuse on Feb. 6.
Her entire interaction with the woman in the video, identified in other news reports at Susan Peirez, lasted no more than two minutes.
"Before the video [starts], she was the last person on the fight," Rundell said, "and she came back and started swearing about being in the back of the plane. I said, please don't use that language in front of my son, and she didn't even recognize I was there. She started swearing again."
Rundell said she asked the woman again not to talk like that in front of her son, and that the woman replied, "Shut up and shove it."
At that point a flight attendant stepped in, and Rundell started recording on her phone.
The woman later identified as Peirez is shown in the video saying that she works for the governor, and warning the flight attendant that she "might not have a job tomorrow."
In its aftermath, Peirez was reportedly put on leave from her $95,000-a-year job at the N.Y. State Council on the Arts. (I've reached out to Peirez via Facebook for comment; here's my contact form in case she reads this and didn't get that message.)
As for the video, Rundell said: "I posted it before we even took off. I thought, my family's going to want to see this. By the time we landed my entire family had seen it."
Three days passed without much comment, but on Feb. 9, she said she started to hear from strangers--both Facebook users who'd seen it shared, and eventually reporters.
"I don't [often] post really anything," on Facebook, Rundell added. "This was a one-time thing and it happened. ... I totally was caught off guard with everyone who has been watching it. I didn't even realize that many people could see what I was posting."
One can only imagine how much freelancers need to fret over finances.
Show me the money
Companies such as Everlance hope to ease this burden by making it easier for freelancers to deduct travel expenses from taxes. The company's app uses your phone's GPS to determine when you're driving and calculate car trip mileage. You can label which trips are business-related to generate tax-ready reports. Plenty of side gig apps such as Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, Wag, GrubHub, and Postmates all require a lot of driving.
CEO Alex Marlantes got the idea after receiving a 1099 tax form for a summer-long Uber gig. Marlantes and co-founder Gabriel Garza were surprised that they couldn't find any suitable solutions to help freelancers with money problems.
"We were extremely confident that we were on to something here," said Garza. "It was evident that there was a clear problem without any solutions available [for freelancers]."
Freelancers can save $540 in taxes for every 1,000 miles they travel. According to the their site, the average user deducts $6,500 each year. That's a ton of moula.
Everlance boasts a whopping 300 million registered users and records over one million miles & expenses every day -- it's available for both iOS and Android (free version tracks up to 20 trips per month and premium has a $5 monthly cost).
I could tell from his look that he had no clue what I was talking about.
I said, "Look. That department is not performing as well as you had hoped, but do you know why that is? Have you given them everything they need to be successful? Have you clearly articulated the goals and objectives? Because if you haven't then they are just like a hamster on a wheel, no matter how fast, how hard, or how long they work they are not going to be successful."
Too many managers shoot first and ask questions later, or they will sack people and look to replace them with new staff. But if the underlying issues are not resolved, then this is the same as blaming the hamster on the wheel for not making progress. And buying a bigger, faster stronger hamster isn't going to fix it.
As a leader, the first thing you need to do is to check that you have done your job properly. That you have set your teams up for success, that you have ensured that they have the required skills and resources. Otherwise, they will have no chance of success, and then their failure is actually yours.
As we started to examine what were the underlying issues that the department was having, sure enough, they were not of their own making. They were not involved in the estimation process and were constantly being given projects that were impossible to achieve.
By making changes to the estimation processing, and involving the manager in the sign-off process, allowed the department to see positive results for their hard work.
The easy option would have been to assume that the team was not working hard enough, that they were not committed enough and to demand they put in more effort. But without checking to see whether the team had been set up for success, or understanding what the real issues were it could and then making the right changes, any increased effort would have been wasted. The team would have just ended up exhausted, frustrated and demotivated.
Sometimes it's the wheel that needs fixing and not the hamster, but too many managers shoot the hamster first before asking the right questions.
Oh boy. Debt. That nasty four-letter word nobody likes. I'll go out on a limb and say there are a couple of very good reasons to go into debt as an entrepreneur and, if you are ever going to grow and scale your company, then debt is often the easiest way to do it.
First things first, though - we have to get our vocabulary right. When you're dealing with "good" debt - the sort of stuff that can build your business and make you money, its often more comforting to call it "leverage" and smile as you say it. What's more important, that leverage can be critical to taking your small company and making it into a big company ... the kind we like to call a Great, Growing Company.
Here's four scenarios where having some leverage might be just the ticket to success...
· Increasing and developing product lines. Everyone loves how Daymond John started FUBU with $40, a sewing machine, and a desire to build something great, but $40 isn't going to get you very far. If you could bump that into $40,000, how many more products can you create? How many more relationships can you foster? How much more can you ship? The leverage from loans and capital can give you the tools you need when the business plan is solid and you simply need to get bigger. Don't be afraid of leverage if it's helping you move ideas into income-producing production.
· Increased marketing. Imagine you have a great product sitting on the shelves and you just need to get the word out about it. Again, here's an example of a perfect time to take on some debt to buy the advertising that will, inevitably pay for the debt. The key is this - the money from the debt is being used to generate the income to repay the debt and generate more income. As in our previous example, leverage is being used simply to "kick-start" the sales process. This is a good place for that leverage.
· Credit line management. At a certain point, you'll have grown your company large enough to develop lines of credit - essentially a revolving source of funding based on the total value set by the company and the institution. The good news is that this is debt that is only as large as what you need. A million-dollar line of credit might only need to provide $30,000, but you'll have the option of another $970,000. Pay off the $30K and you're back to a million in potential leverage.
· Hiring. It's no surprise that if you can't pay folks, you won't have folks (or at least not a team worth having), so taking on some debt to ensure you can train your team and pay them while you ramp up production and distribution may be a critical step in company growth.
There's something else, though, when it comes to leverage, and that's the psychological aspect of debt. Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, discussed the idea of how a general should proceed if he was caught on "deadly ground" - where the likelihood of defeat was high and the options for retreat were low - and his advice was simple - order the soldiers to smash their cooking pots and engage in the battle. The idea? Simple - they know they must win or they will die. Taking on debt in your business to actively grow your business could be a catalytic event in your business' growth. You'll find yourself working harder, looking for the advantages for growth and expansion that you might never have looked at if you were comfortable and simply resting on your ... shall we say ... assets.
If you have attended a tech event or any event in which people are networking, you have most definitely encountered some of these mistakes, you may even be guilty of a few of them. I know I am.
Over the years, like many entrepreneurs, I have attended hundreds of tech events and conferences. Only in the past 24-48 months, can I say that I have truly leveraged these networking opportunities to build and amplify my business. Prior to that, I was doing it all wrong, with many of the points below sounding a bit too familiar.
Let's just jump right in.
1. Talking Someone's Ear Off
If someone calls you over to make an introduction at an event, let's say to an investor, that is an opportunity to connect, not an opportunity to chew off the ear of that investor for 30 minutes. Say hi, connect, state your elevator pitch, exchange business cards perhaps, and ask if it would be ok to send over more info.
If you stand there talking for 30 minutes, a few things will happen.
First of all you will bore the person.
Second, you will make things awkward because they want to go on to the next person. Or eat lunch. Or go home. Or get a drink. But they can't because you won't stop talking.
Third, the person who introduced you is literally just standing there. Bored. Awkward. And worst of all, they are instantly regretting introducing you. You stole their spotlight. You made them look bad. You missed the opportunity and ruined your chances not only with the investor or whoever you were being introduced to, but also the chances of the person who connected you, ever doing so again.
Be concise, straight to the point, and move on.
2. Pitching Like a Robot
Speaking of pitching, don't be robotic and rehearsed. Don't recite your pitch as if you're reading it off a paper. "We are revolutionizing X." "We are disrupting Y."
It is transparent when you just repeat your pitch over and over. Be personal. Be authentic. Mix it up. Be spontaneous.
People are better at picking up on this kind of thing than you might think and repeating the same sentence over and over is ineffective and even insulting.
3. Beating Around the Bush
If you want something from the person you are speaking to, state it. In the beginning. Be transparent and straight forward. Same is true for email. If you stand there pitching, and at the end of your monologue, the individual is not sure what to do with all the information you just gave them, that is both awkward and ineffective.
"I have an idea. I'd love your feedback." "I have a startup. I want you to write about us" (Not a recommended sentence.) "I have a question. I'd love to grab a cup of coffee. "
State up front what the ask is and you might just get what you want.
4. Failing on the Follow-Up
If you pitched someone at an event, chances are you are not the only one who pitched that person. Remember that. When following up the next day, say something for context. "I'm the guy who made the joke about the WiFi." "I'm the person you met by the entrance who grew up with your cousin."
When you do send a follow up email, give the context of your meeting at the event. Give the context of your email. I have gotten a follow up to an event that was an email with 500 words and no ask; no context, and no explanation of why I was getting it. I had no idea what to do with it. I literally replied "Is there something specific I can help with or was that for an FYI?"
Want something? Say it. Up front. Be concise and transparent. Don't send a long email without giving the recipient a reason to read it.
"Hi Michael, we spoke yesterday about you giving me some advice about x. Here is more info."
"Hi Michelle, as mentioned, I'd love to meet some investors. Here is additional info about my venture."
5. Non-Stop Name-Dropping
We all name drop. It's a thing. It creates common ground, it establishes credibility.
If you spend most of the meeting name-dropping or listing your accomplishments when really, all you want to do is ask for some help, that help will never come. The person is thinking "Why are you telling me how great you are if you want my help? You seem to be doing just fine without me."
Validate yourself for a few seconds, then move on.
6. Enough About You
Start every meeting with "Tell me about you." Or "What are your bottlenecks?" Or "Tell me some more about your focus nowadays."
If you absolutely must start the meeting talking about yourself, then make sure to ask one of those questions a few minutes in.
People have a short attention span for others who only talk about themselves. On the flip side, just like you like talking about yourself, the person you are speaking to also wants to tell you about themselves. Allow them to do that, Draw them in.
Those are some guidelines for networking during and following the event.
Networking is an art. Following up is a science. Do it right or don't do it at all.