A reflection on Influence

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Influencing Others

You’ve probably heard me talk for a while now about influencing others and the difference between leadership, influence and role models — and why we need all three.

There is a big conversation about the ability of people to influence others and it always comes down to the emotional connection.

Leadership is about uniting everybody to the cause. Management is all about nurturing the individual for the good of the cause. But being a role model, you might never meet any of these people, but when somebody sees you they relate to you. The see themselves in you and they aspire to that.

In light of the article on Celebrity CEOs that recently came out outlining findings from recent research, I would argue that there is so much more to influence than that. Celebrity is completely different from business. In business, we need leaders, managers and role models to unite everyone to the cause.

A book that resonates greatly with me regarding the way we influence other is The Influential Mind by Tali Sharot. 

Sharot explains that attempting to convince other people of your opinion or cause is ineffective. Trying to change another person’s opinion does not align with the way our human mind operates.

The 7 key points from the book are summarised well by Kevin Duncan below:

Priors. Does evidence change beliefs? No. Data doesn’t persuade people.
Emotion. Stories, plots and characters stick in the mind and persuade more than anything rational.
Incentives. Should you scare people into action? No. “Employees must wash their hands” doesn’t work. Immediate positive feedback does.
Agency. You obtain power by letting go. “It’s your responsibility to water this plant” is stronger than “We will water the plants for you.”
Curiosity. What do people really want to know? People are more likely to listen to pre-flight safety briefings that are funny and optimistic.
State. What happens to minds under threat? Stress and intimidation change the way we process information. Usually, that means playing it safe, but sometimes it leads to unexpected risk-taking.
Others. Be careful of too much social learning – the circumstances of others may not suit you.”

I will dive further into detail about Sharot’s book in a later blog but in the meantime, when it comes to influencing others, it’s important for us to remember that trying to convince another is futile.

You can never actually shift someone else’s view if they’ve made up their mind. The only thing we can do is sit in somebody else’s shoes and talk to a shared sense of purpose and beliefs. It is about connecting people emotionally to the story.

What story are you telling?

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JPMorgan involved 75 banks to test blockchain payments

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75 banks, including Societe Generate and Santander will trial the Interbank Information Network (INN) based on the blockchain Quorum from the financial giant JPMorgan. JPMorgan announced about the launch of the project in October 2017. INN’s aim is to accelerate interbank payments and allow the founders to transparently exchange their information. The Australian ANZ and […]
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Google to allow cryptocurrency exchanges to advertise in Japan and U.S.

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Google, a famous tech giant, announced the company’s update in its advertising policy concerning financial products and services. According to the new rules, Google will allow to advertise the services of cryptocurrency exchanges in Japan and the USA. This information is published on the company’s website. However, only certified firms are going to receive the […]
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Coinbase defined the enlisting rules for new cryptocurrencies

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The most popular American cryptoplatform Coinbase has published its official rules for adding new tokens and developed a tool which will accept applications from different cryptocurrencies to be enlisted on the exchange. Today we’re announcing a new listing process that will allow us to rapidly add most digital assets that meets our standards and are […]
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UX Design Insights from 4 Women in Tech

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Want to know what it takes to make it in UX design? We recently asked four awesome women in UX about their own experiences in carving out a career in this exciting field. They offered a refreshingly honest and insightful look into the world of UX, with each taking a unique journey to get to where they are now.

UX design, or user experience design, is all about taking a customer on a journey through a given medium — be it audio-visual, an interaction with an AI, or navigating a web page. It’s about invoking feelings from a user, and creating targeted stories for brands. It’s about unleashing your creativity to realise tangible, measurable results.

What led Sharni Allen, Luisa Lombardo, Bettina Marson and Hannah Heffernan into a career in UX? What were their personal hurdles along the way? And what tips do they have for girls (and guys) looking at a future in UX design?

Let’s find out what leading women in UX Design have to say.

Sharni Allen — UX Designer & Service Designer, Freelance

Sharni Allen is a former Academy Xi instructor who currently freelances as a leading UX and service designer.

She describes herself as a ‘UX generalist’ who is comfortable facilitating client workshops as well as creating user journeys and wireframes. Sharni has worked as a UX lead at agencies such as whiteGREY and Webling Interactive.

What’s your background, and how did you get into UX design?

I had worked my way up through the digital production ranks for over 10 years, culminating in an executive producer role where I was overseeing large scale digital transformation projects.

About six years ago I started to see a shift in the marketplace — businesses were demanding more expertise from agencies in user-centred design. They not only wanted to see the research behind our solutions, they wanted to be involved in the process.

Coming from a traditional waterfall background, the opportunity to work in a more lean and agile way with multidisciplinary teams who were producing results backed by actual research and testing was too good to pass up. I took the skills I had already refined as a producer, such as personas, empathy maps and wire-framing, and put myself on the market as a UX architect. The rest is history.

What did you study to get into UX?

I did a Bachelor of Multimedia back in the days when we were still burning CDs and designing websites in 256-colour palettes. The foundations of user-centred design have not changed; the Nielsen Norman Group were the industry leaders back then, and are still at the top of the reading list of every UX practitioner around the world.

My years in digital production gave me a lot of experience in researching and developing the artefacts required for problem definition and solutions. The other soft skills I needed to succeed came naturally; confidence in public speaking, backing up my decisions when challenged, collaboration and empathy.

What are the biggest hurdles you’ve found in adapting to the world of UX design?

Getting client buy-in on the process and committing the required amount of time to work collaboratively. Enthusiasm is always high at the start of the project discovery. But continuing through the research, empathy and ideation phases of a project can require an incredible commitment of time from client stakeholders, who may become more hands off and ‘trust us’ — we’re the experts, aren’t we?

Decisions can’t be made in silos. There needs to be a consensus on decisions made continuously through the project. Ensuring your decision-makers (product owners, SMEs, etc.) are taken on the journey with you is critical to project success.

What do you wish you knew when you started? What would you do differently if you had your time again?

I’d buy more Bitcoin! But seriously, taking a step back from the digital tools available and putting things up on a wall is the best way to start every single day. Having a project Kanban (Agile tool) and a daily stand up with the team can raise problems early and often. It fosters team spirit and and an understanding of the project as a whole, rather than the small piece each team member may be working on.

Any tips for people interested in pursuing a career in UX design?

The hard skills can be taught, the soft skills must be learned.

The UX business is not for the shy or timid. It is all about the user — getting out there and talking to the audience, empathising with their needs and wants and then presenting back your findings is a big part of the job. You may be questioned by those who demand answers, challenged by those who don’t believe your findings, and proved completely wrong about your assumptions. UX is a learning exercise in itself, and without those lessons we can’t learn from the mistakes of the past and deliver useful products and services.

Luisa Lombardo — Product Designer, hipages

Luisa Lombardo is currently engaged as a product designer at hipages, a revolutionary Australian home improvement marketplace.

Luisa made her start as a graphic designer in Sydney, before enjoying adventure and career-growth in the UK, and finally returning home as a senior. A switch to UX design came next, as it offered a fresh professional challenge while reinvigorating her passion for design.

What’s your background, and how did you get into UX design?

My background was in graphic design, where I focused on branding, advertising and print. Although I loved this space, I felt I needed a new challenge in my career and saw an opportunity to improve my skill set and move into UX design.

What did you study to get into UX?

Most of my UX learning has been on the job with hands-on experience. I have been very fortunate to work with some great UX designers who have been great mentors for me. I also completed a digital design program at Tractor Design School (now sadly closed) to help me make the transition.

What are the biggest hurdles you’ve found in adapting to the world of UX design?

Having the confidence to get into UX sooner! It’s always daunting making that first big leap in changing careers and starting from the beginning.

What do you wish you knew when you started? What would you do differently if you had your time again?

I wish I knew that my skills as a graphic designer would give me a great foundation in the UX world. It has made the change easier than I thought.

Any tips for people interested in pursuing a career in UX design?

Never stop learning. Read UX articles from sites like Medium and Muzli. I like to start my day by reading the latest blog post and getting inspired by the work that others are doing. Also get out there and meet people in the UX community. Having contacts in the industry is a great way to build your career.

Bettina Marson — UX Specialist, Telstra

Bettina Marson is a multidisciplinary creative. An award-winning artist and writer, she has more recently put her talents to work in the field of UX.

Bettina is currently a UX & UI designer in the digital products & services department at Telstra, working in customer success management in the rapid delivery automation team.

What’s your background, and how did you get into UX design?

I’ve always been attracted to creative pursuits and technology. Initially I studied a Bachelor of Game Design, which led to a career working as a concept artist and environment designer. During that time I cultivated an interest in working closer with technologies to improve the lives of other people — both creating engaging experiences and solving real world problems.

This led me to enroll in my master’s degree to fine-tune my focus and pursue user experience and interaction design as a career.

What did you study to get into UX?

I studied a Master of Interaction Design at Monash University. During my studies I created interactive prototypes and user experiences for use in the health, education, communication and lifestyle industries, which I found to be incredibly rewarding.

What are the biggest hurdles you’ve found in adapting to the world of UX design?

With the rate that technology is being developed and adopted, one of the greatest challenges I’ve found is that you need to not only be knowledgeable in UX practices, but also in the latest technologies and their limitations.

What do you wish you knew when you started? What would you do differently if you had your time again?

When you think of user experience design, you immediately think of interfaces and excellent customer service. User experience design is more diverse than that; we live in a world with many different technologies that allow for many different kinds user experiences, such as virtual reality and voice-based interaction as seen in products like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home.

User experience is not purely visual, and we must remember that people interact with technology in different ways. It’s important to not only keep up to date with the rapidly changing world of technology, but to ensure that the experiences you are creating are inclusive, intuitive and a delight to use.

Any tips for people interested in pursuing a career in UX design?

If you’re interested in this rewarding and challenging field, I definitely recommend attending a workshop or meet-up to find out first-hand what it’s like to work as a UX specialist. There are also many fantastic online resources to upskill in UX design if you’re looking to bring user-centric practices into your existing work.

Hannah Heffernan — Product Designer, Canva

Hannah Heffernan loves to create, and has managed to make a successful career out of this passion.

During a stint in Berlin she also obtained a taste for startup life. And where better to be a startup loving creative than Australia’s billion dollar startup baby, Canva.

What’s your background, and how did you get into UX design?

I started out in advertising agencies, working first as a illustrator and designer, then as an art director. I came to UX while living in Berlin five years ago. My limited German didn’t get me far in traditional agencies, but the tech and startup scene was really strong. That’s where the demand was, plus tech tends to look further for talent so naturally the teams are very international and English becomes the default for everyone. My first role was as a real generalist in a small start-up. This is where I got the bug for designing for products.

What did you study to get into UX?

Like many of us, I didn’t. I studied communication design and majored in illustration. My illustration background has definitely helped me design products.

What are the biggest hurdles you’ve found in adapting to the world of UX design?

I made the shift to UX with a new job in a new company after maternity leave. That was a hurdle in itself!

I found the biggest challenge was shifting from designing intuitively to having to inform my decisions with data. Design has always been emotive for me, and I guess my decision making is pretty gut-feel as well. Having the discipline to make more objective decisions and validating my hunches has taken practice. It is still something I have to practice!

What do you wish you knew when you started? What would you do differently if you had your time again?

I wish I knew that I already had all the skills, I just needed to apply them differently! Art direction and designing for advertising is about distilling an idea down to its simplest form, empathising with consumers and getting to the heart of what they’re trying to achieve in their lives and how your product can help them. To me, this is UX. Just the output is different.

As women, we’re often not very good at selling how awesome we are! If I could go back to before those first terrifying UX role interviews, I’d practice being a better salesperson! It felt like this new scary industry that I knew nothing about, but I actually had 10 years of really relevant experience. My thinking was that I had to find a company willing to give me a break, but they actually would have been lucky to have me!

Any tips for people interested in pursuing a career in UX design?

If you already work in a creative field, or have any problem-solving element to what you do now, you’re probably already doing some UX! Find opportunities to apply tried and true UX methodologies and processes to projects you’re working on now. Then, when you make the leap to a UX role, you’ll already have the tools to get going.

Is it time you made your start in the world of user experience design, just like these trailblazing women in UX? Check out The Martec’s other UX articles The Future of a Career in UX or The Pros and Cons of Bootcamps for UX Designers for more info.


UX Design Insights from 4 Women in Tech was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Stop Trying To Hustle Your Way To High Growth

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Building successful products isn’t about hustle or luck — use science and empathy instead

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You work hard to build your product, but somehow it feels like the success you dream of is always just out of reach. You’re doing everything the experts say you should, but it’s still not enough.

You talk to users, but their feedback doesn’t always make sense. And when you build what they ask for, they don’t use it.

If only users knew what they really wanted, you’d have gotten it to them already.

You share exciting ideas with your team, trying to steer the ship and anticipating that your team will be excited to build out what you’ve asked for. Instead, they question your every move.

If only others were as passionate about this product as you are, you’d be shipping everything you envision, on time and under budget.

Nonetheless, you ship as often as you can, because you’ve heard advice like Reid Hoffman’s that if you’re not embarrassed by your first version, you’ve launched too late. But then you show what you’ve shipped to people and they tear it apart, telling you about all the mistakes.

If only you had waited until it matched your vision, your product would market itself because you’d have users telling everyone how much they love it.

You read articles and listen to podcasts to try to learn what you’re missing, and all you end up with is a feeling that you’re drowning in advice and other people’s success stories. Everyone else seems to be getting it right.

When will you start seeing results from all this hard work?

You’re starting to wonder if all of these stories you hear are lies. It’s not working for you like it worked for them. But you keep going, because you’re not a quitter. The day-to-day life is hard, but you’re not afraid of hard work.

It will all pay off when you finally launch that big feature that will drive the hockey stick growth, right?

Just writing about this is making me feel stressed — because I’ve been there.

Ten years ago, I lived this life as part of the team at an early-stage startup. We were creative and passionate. We were working hard, sustained by our vision and the success stories around us. We were willing to sacrifice for our dream, living on a small budget and forgoing the salaries we could have earned elsewhere, believing that we needed to take the chance that it would pay off. And it could have — the vision was great. So great, in fact, that you probably would recognize a product that’s successful today that does more or less what we envisioned a decade ago.

Even all these years later, that story is painful to talk about. Long story short, we never quite reached product-market fit. After several years of hard work, I moved on to a product management career, developing products for other people’s startups. Over the years as a product manager at scaling startups, I’ve learned so much that I wish I knew a decade ago. With over a dozen successful product launches under my belt, I can now say confidently:

Launching products doesn’t have to be such a grind.

Imagine that you launch your product in under 3 months, generating rave reviews from your target users. They love that it solves a real problem for them and excitedly ask you for more. And the things they ask for are exactly what you expected them to want next — things that you’re already working on. These users are happy to give you feedback on your prototypes and you confidently develop a plan to get you from this phase to your vision. A year later, your key metrics are 10x higher than where you started, and you are excitedly growing your product and team as everyone keeps moving passionately towards your vision.

Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?

Well I want to tell you that it’s not out of reach. I’ve lived that dream several times, with a mobile health messaging platform, with a UX redesign and replatforming for MediaMath’s ad-tech platform, and with Shutterstock Editor (a design tool for nondesigners to create professional designs).

So what’s the secret? Is it just luck? For some companies — companies that do it once but struggle to do it again — maybe it is. But for those of us, founders and product leaders who have launched successful new products again and again, it’s not luck, it’s science — product science.

Why You Should Apply Science to Your Product Process

Product science is a repeatable, science-based approach to building high-growth products in an uncertain world. It combines user science (the application of psychological and behavior science principles to understand and predict user behavior) with lean and agile development practices, modern management principles, and intentional culture setting to build innovative products and top product teams.

The world’s top tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix use the principles of product science to disrupt behemoth markets and change the world, forever. These tech giants hire those with experience in disciplines like user research, behavior design, data science, product management, and growth marketing, and they use these skills to develop evidence-based product strategies, which lead to the products that we use everyday.

Ten years of working in tech in both survive-or-die and scaling situations has taught me how to build products that people love, and now I’m on a mission to teach it to everyone who wants to launch successful products. Let’s use product science to solve people’s problems, and advance your vision, together.

Will you join me?

I’ve guided everyone from product managers and designers to C-level executives, from startups like Plectica and the Lean Startup Company to public companies like Shutterstock and Weight Watchers, to refine their vision for a product and develop a better strategy together.

And now I’m teaching others how to do it, too. Here are two ways to join in:

Join me at my next Data-Driven Product Decisions Workshop for a hands on look at how to decide which product opportunities are worth pursuing.

Many thanks to Jessica Schimm for her help in editing this article.

Originally published at H2R Product Science.


Stop Trying To Hustle Your Way To High Growth was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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You Don’t Need a Diversified Crypto Portfolio: Here’s Why

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Apart from a few outlier situations, the top cryptocurrencies are very closely correlated with Bitcoin; as a result, the idea of diversifying a portfolio to spread risk is really only a myth in my opinion. This article examines the correlation between cryptocurrency prices to explain my reasoning.

There’s a lot of misinformation, rumors, and just plain incorrect information out there about cryptocurrency. In fact, I think one of the most misleading labels in the cryptocurrency market is this idea of Bitcoin dominance, which is represented as Bitcoin’s percentage ownership of the entire market cap of cryptocurrency. You can find it on legitimate websites like CoinMarketCap, and while it’s a fair idea, I think the label it’s given creates a misconception about how the cryptocurrency market works. Simply put, Bitcoin Dominance is calculated as:

On September 23, 2018, CoinMarketCap reported Bitcoin’s dominance to be 51.3% because it has a total market cap of $115.7 billion, while the Total Market Cap is $225.5 billion. 115.7/225.5 = 0.513, or 51.3%.

But that number couldn’t be further from the truth. Bitcoin’s actual dominance extends much deeper into the entire market — any cryptocurrency trader can confirm this from watching Bitcoin historically make or break their entire portfolio.

Really strong positive correlation between Bitcoin and three major cryptocurrencies; Data Source: www.coingecko.com

I ran some correlation comparisons to see exactly how much of a hold BTC commands. Litecoin, Ethereum, and Ripple all showed signs of extremely strong correlation with Bitcoin prices between 2016 and 2018.

Normally when comparing the correlation between two items, any number between 0.7 to 1.0 indicates a strong positive correlation; in other words, between those two numbers, it’s a really strong likelihood that you have a powerful relationship between the two. With a positive, powerful relationship (which we call positive correlation), when the number of one item goes up, the other one goes up, and vice versa.

That being said, Bitcoin’s price correlation was 0.954 for Litecoin, 0.916 for Ethereum, and 0.836 for Ripple between 2016 and 2018. Litecoin and Ethereum are both trade-able cryptocurrencies on Coinbase, which is arguably the largest fiat-to-crypto direct exchange in existence right now, which can account for the strong correlation with Bitcoin prices — everyone cashes in and cashes out at the same time.

Data Source: www.coingecko.com

Ripple is an interesting representative case for altcoins that exist outside of the realm of direct fiat-to-crypto exchanging, as it can only be found on exchanges that have not historically accepted fiat. This means that users have to go through an extra step of moving Bitcoin from a place like Coinbase into an exchange like Binance.

From a purely psychological perspective, that extra step may indicate a much stronger desire to actually purchase Ripple than the other two. For example, on Coinbase, you might think, “Sure, I’ll put some into Ethereum and Litecoin too, why not?” but because Ripple isn’t on Coinbase, you wouldn’t buy any of it — unless you actually wanted to. Then you’d have to learn how to move your funds out of Coinbase into an exchange that trades Ripple.

Even with an arguably more adamant and determined investor pool, though, Ripple’s correlation with Bitcoin prices between 2016 to 2018 still came out to 0.836.

Skeptics might argue that Bitcoin’s influence over the price of other coins was much stronger before than it is today, but by going back to 2016 I’m unfairly weighing irrelevant historical data to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD — a favorite acronym of the crypto trolls) about altcoins.

But first of all, I’m not here to shit on altcoins. I hold many myself, and I have Ripple. I’m only here to ground you in reality — sure, coins may “moon” at some point, but apart from those outlier incidents, their prices will be directly influenced by Bitcoin.

Second, and more importantly, Bitcoin’s influence over the price of other coins has become stronger today than it was years ago. In the chart below, I’ve created a correlation matrix between some of the top coins in the market today: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Stellar, Litecoin, Monero, and Dash.

In 2016, the correlation of prices between each currency was very loose. In fact, if I recall correctly, you couldn’t even purchase Ripple except through this sketchy website called Gatehub. And I think you had to use fiat to purchase, but because that would be a problem for US citizens, I don’t think my account was ever verified. The details are a bit hazy and a bit of a tangent, but the point is, in 2016, altcoin prices were pretty loosely correlated Bitcoin. Only Litecoin, Monero, and Dash really showed any moderate correlation with Bitcoin. By stock-price standards, one might argue that it is still pretty strongly correlated, but when comparing with the latter years, 0.6–0.7 looks pretty decent.

The Bull Run

2017, which marks the start of the most recent cryptocurrency bull run, pretty much turned every altcoin into a planet with Bitcoin as the giant star in the center. Notice that correlation shot up dramatically, with only Ripple showing some resistance to Bitcoin pricing.

Data Source: www.coingecko.com

Near the end of 2017, Ripple reacted quite dramatically to Bitcoin’s price pump by providing a pump of its own. Ripple, which has an enterprise entity that is establishing strong partnerships with many financial institutions globally, showed some of the strongest resistance to Bitcoin price changes in that year.

Its competitor, Stellar (ironically founded by former founder and CTO of Ripple), also demonstrated resistance — the correlation between those two coins was 0.9, which seems to indicate a universal sentiment across both currencies — e.g., when investors were confident in Ripple, investors were likely to be confident in Stellar as well.

The Market Crash

In 2018, price trends shifted gears as positive market sentiment around cryptocurrency dwindled. Bitcoin prices fell from $17,000 to around $6,600 today, and the impact of this crash could be felt across the entire cryptocurrency market. During this time, correlation between cryptocurrency prices were even strong with the weight of Bitcoin’s price drops pulling everything down with it.

During 2018 (from January to September), correlation to Bitcoin prices never fell under 0.85. Interestingly enough, Litecoin and Ethereum, which demonstrated much stronger correlation with Bitcoin prices during the 2017 bull run, showed the weakest correlations with BTC throughout the crash. Whether or not it also has to do with the fact that they’re both available through Coinbase, or if you believe it’s other reasoning, feel free to elaborate in the comments section of this article.

Outliers

In the 2018 crash, though, while most of the major cryptocurrenies (i.e., the Top 15) demonstrated a very strong correlation with Bitcoin prices (>0.70), EOS showed really strong resistance to the trend.

In 2017, when EOS was first introduced, it demonstrated a much more positive correlation with Bitcoin prices. Its year-long ICO, which started in June 2017 and ended in June 2018, culminated with the launch of its main net. Despite its controversial nature as a cryptocurrency, it is inarguable that the coin has garnered a strong following with over $4 billion generated in its ICO.

In 2018, EOS has been one of the few coins that has managed to remain above its January price. If I had to attribute this pattern to a reason, my wild guess would be that it is at least partly due to a combination of a few Bitcoin bull runs and the year-long nature of the EOS ICO.

With each bull market for Bitcoin in 2017, there was a larger bull market available for EOS as it rolled closer. In April 2018, a major spike occurred yet again, which was uncorrelated with Bitcoin prices, as the ICO date comes closer to meet the end and the EOS main net prepares for launch.

While critics may argue a cult-of-personality, where prices can be attributed to public approval of its leader (Dan Larimer), the cult-of-personality case would be extremely hard to argue considering other cryptocurrencies, like Ethereum and Bitcoin Cash, have leading personalities (Vitalik Buterin and Roger Ver, respectively). And if you examine the Ethereum and Bitcoin Cash correlation, you’d notice that both demonstrate strong correlation with Bitcoin prices. So if you do believe in the cult-of-personality argument, then you would also have to believe that for some reason or another Dan Larimer has a strong cult following than the others.

So What Does This All Mean?

Data is interesting, but as many people warn, it is really only an indicator of past patterns. Especially in this volatile market, there is no guarantee that these correlation patterns will hold a year, a month, or even a day from now.

Some interesting points, though, are that the idea of a diversified cryptocurrency portfolio to spread risk is, in my opinion, a myth. You can certainly diversify for reasons such as interest and trying to potentially maximize the upside, but as the correlation patterns have shown, there isn’t really any less risk in holding other coins, especially since Bitcoin drags it all down. While I haven’t quantified a value for this statement, from eyeballing and personal experience I’ve observed that, often, price drops on Bitcoin actually results in harder drops in altcoins.

With such a strong correlation to Bitcoin prices, anyone not actively investing or day trading cryptocurrencies could have a fairly decent return in relation to a diversified portfolio — especially one diversified in the $1B+ market cap coins. While we have seen an outlier with EOS, because the main net is out now and the blockchain has to deliver on its promise, if the hype doesn’t align with realities, it could become just another Bitcoin-pegged cryptocurrency very quickly.

Where Did I Get My Data?

No, I didn’t pay CoinMarketCap to access all this pricing data. I collected from 2016 to 2018 and I used the CoinGecko API, which is free and contains just as much quality data — way more than I needed to do this analysis.

Contact Me

  • Reach out to me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kennymuli
  • Ask me any questions: https://worth.yt/kenny


You Don’t Need a Diversified Crypto Portfolio: Here’s Why was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Unpacking Upwork’s S-1: Metrics & Lessons for Marketplaces

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The next year looks to be an exciting time for venture-backed marketplaces. A number of companies are expected to IPO in 2019 (Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb), with others (Instacart, Thumbtack, Wag, and Postmates) not far behind. We’ve already seen several marketplaces debut this month, with Farfetch and Eventbrite starting to trade and Upwork pricing its IPO last week.

We’re big fans of the marketplace business model as both consumers and investors, and are excited to see how the public markets react to these IPOs. CRV has partnered with DoorDash, ClassPass, Patreon, Pared, and others, and we’ve seen firsthand the built-in virality, favorable economics, and loyal customer relationships that come with a successful marketplace.

We’re particularly interested in Upwork’s upcoming IPO, due to both to our personal history with the company (Justine wrote her senior thesis at Stanford on Upwork!) and our broader interest in platforms that enable more flexible work. We analyzed the company’s S-1, and we’re excited to share our thoughts on Upwork’s growth path, competitive positioning, and economics compared to other public marketplaces.

If you’re building a marketplace, or have thoughts on the Upwork IPO, please email us at twins@crv.com — we’d love to hear from you! Also, if you’re interested in the IPO but don’t have time to read the full article, head to the “Analysis Summary” at the bottom. We’ve summarized our pros and cons based on the S-1 and our market analysis.

Note: “Over the last year” or “over the last quarter” refers to the year or quarter ended June 30, 2018, as referenced in Upwork’s S-1.

Company Overview

Upwork is the largest freelancer marketplace in the world, formed in 2015 through the merger of Elance (founded in 1999) and oDesk (founded in 2003). The company connects freelancers to businesses and individuals (“clients”) looking for help with tasks ranging from web development to audio transcription. The Upwork platform allows clients to find, hire, manage, and compensate freelancers with more than 5,000 skills across 70 categories.

Much of Upwork’s competitive advantage lies in streamlining each step of this process — the company uses AI to make the discovery and hiring process quicker, has implemented tools (like screenshot monitoring) to assess work frequency and quality, and allows payments through the platform.

Unlike many other gig economy marketplaces, most of the client/freelancer relationships facilitated via Upwork are entirely remote. Upwork believes that its competitive advantage lies not only in aggregating supply and demand but in the years of data the company has collected on client/freelancer matches and outcomes. Upwork feeds this data into machine learning models to more quickly match each client with the ideal freelancer(s).

The company has raised $168 million in venture funding, with Pitchbook estimating a valuation of $700 million for the company’s last round in 2014 (led by Benchmark). Upwork’s freelancer base includes 357,000 active workers across 180 countries, who over the last year generated $1.5 billion in gross services volume (GSV) for more than 475,000 clients.

Deal Terms

Upwork will list on the Nasdaq with the symbol “UPWK”. The most recent regulatory filing indicates that the company will sell 12.27 million shares (including 5.45 million from existing investors) at a price of $10–12 per share. After the IPO, Upwork will have just over 104 million shares outstanding, implying a valuation of $1.04–1.25 billion.

Business & Financial Overview

Upwork has several sources of revenue:

  1. Marketplace transaction fees —Upwork takes a cut of revenue generated by freelancers (varies from 5%-20% based on lifetime billings with a client), and charges clients a processing fee of 2.75% or a flat $25/month. These fees accounted for 88% of the company’s revenue last year.
  2. Premium offerings — Upwork offers premium services to larger clients looking for additional features, including custom reporting and invoicing, compliance services, and access to top talent. Pricing for premium services varies. This revenue is included as marketplace fees in Upwork’s financials.
  3. Managed services — In some cases, Upwork employs freelancers directly (or via a staffing firm) to complete projects for clients. Upwork recognizes this revenue on a gross basis, as the company is entirely responsible for the service. Managed services accounted for 12% of revenue last year.
Upwork does not break out marketplace revenue into Standard and Premium tiers, but 10–15% of quarterly revenue typically comes from managed services as compared to the marketplace.

Because oDesk and Elance merged into Upwork in 2015, the company does not have to provide detailed financials before then. Upwork’s S-1 provided full year data for 2016 and 2017, with quarterly data included for Q3 2016 through Q2 2018. This makes it difficult to get an accurate sense of the company’s growth trends and historical economics.

However, we estimate that Upwork will do $1.8B in GSV and $265M in revenue this year, representing a 25–27% CAGR for both over the past three years. We will deconstruct these metrics as compared to other consumer marketplaces in more detail below — the ~15% take rate (revenue/GSV) is standard, while annual growth is slower than we might expect.

We estimated 2018 revenue and GSV given 1H 2018 numbers, and the fact that in 2017 Upwork made approximately 54% of the year’s revenue in 2H.

The bulk of Upwork’s GSV (80%) comes from a group of ~86,000 core clients, who have each spent more than $5,000 on the platform. They represent only 20% of active clients annually, but comprise 80% of GSV, and have much higher retention (83% for Q2 2018, versus 58% for all clients). This is known as the 80/20 rule, and is standard in marketplace businesses.

Revenue is therefore heavily dependent on two variables: 1) number of clients (more specifically, core clients), and 2) per client spend. Both of these have been reliably (if slowly) increasing for the past two years — core clients grew at a 17% CAGR over the past two years, while client spend retention increased from 85% in late 2016 to 106% in Q3 2016. This means that retained clients are now actually spending more on Upwork in each subsequent quarter.

This is particularly true of clients who are long-term users of the platform — Upwork reports that 50% of GSV in 2017 and 2018 YTD came from clients who had been on Upwork longer than three years. For 2016, 2017, and the first six months of 2018, more than 10% of the company’s revenue was generated by a single client. While not disclosed, this is likely in the managed services portion of the business, as only 2% of GSV was generated by Upwork’s highest billing client.

Upwork’s core clients include clients that have spent more than $5,000 on the platform cumulatively. The average client, as of Q2 2018, that is retained quarter over quarter is now spending more on the platform each quarter (client spend retention of 106%).

Upwork’s quarterly gross margins have averaged 66–68% over the last two years, an improvement over 62% gross margins in 2016. This is largely due to the fact that the company now charges admin and services fees to clients.

EBITDA margins have stayed between 0% and 5% over the past three years, which is slightly below the median of other marketplaces we studied pre-IPO. Upwork’s operating expenses are fairly consistent across categories on an annual basis, and are approximately evenly split between research and development, sales and marketing, and general and administrative expenses.

Upwork has seen EBITDA margins below 5% each year for the past three years, but this is in line with (if slightly below) many pre-IPO marketplaces. The company sees operating expenses that are fairly equally split between R&D, sales & marketing, and G&A.

Marketplace Dynamics

Supply

According to the S-1, Upwork does not “calculate or track freelancer retention metrics in order to manage our business” as there is a surplus of freelancers. 375,000 freelancers completed a project on Upwork over the past year, and the platform sees 10,000 applications from freelancers daily. Here’s what else we know about the freelancers from the company’s S-1:

  • Upwork had 12 million registered freelancers in 2017, implying that only 3% of registered users completed a project during the year.
  • 80% of Upwork freelancers have a college or advanced degree, and 34% have a post-graduate degree.
  • 19% of 2017 GSV was generated by U.S. freelancers (the largest of any country by GSV).
  • Freelancer acquisition cost was not disclosed, but the “vast majority” were acquired at no cost via organic distribution.
A sample set of freelancers in Upwork’s “Writing” category. Freelancers also each have their own profiles with more detailed information, previous customer reviews, and scores on Upwork competency tests for different skills.

Quality of supply (freelancers) is very important for Upwork. Many of the project categories require significant skill, such as mobile development, data science, graphic design, legal, accounting, and many more. Additionally, even for low-skill tasks like data entry and transcription, the freelancer communicates directly with the client and can significantly impact the client’s Upwork experience through communication, professionalism, and timeliness.

Demand

Upwork contracts with clients ranging from individuals to large enterprises. While the company works with 30% of Fortune 500, approximately 80% of GSV is generated by clients with <100 employees. Upwork’s sales efforts are “increasingly targeted” at large enterprises, as they are more likely to establish large recurring contracts. Clients referenced in the S-1 include Microsoft (completed 1,800 projects in under a year), General Electric (completed 100 projects), and Corel Corporation (completes ~150 project per month).

As of 2017, Upwork had 5 million clients, implying that 9.5% of the registered clients completed a project in that year. Geographically, 67% of GSV was generated from U.S. clients, with no other country generating more than 10%. In 2017, 40% of clients worked with freelancers across more than one of Upwork’s 70 skill categories.

The company does not disclose acquisition cost on the client side either, but said that more than 80% of client registrations came from unpaid sources.

Matching

In 2017, median time from posting to hire (which is a match in the Upwork marketplace) was 23 hours. The experience on both sides tends to be positive — NPS for both clients and freelancers was over 60 in both 2017 and the first half of 2018.

Upwork has an unusually large number of freelancers (“sellers”) compared to clients (“buyers”) — most marketplaces see the opposite dynamic. TaskRabbit has an estimated 40x more users than “taskers,” Uber has 20x more monthly riders than drivers, and eBay has 5–7x more buyers than sellers. Upwork, in contrast, has more than twice as many registered sellers (freelancers) than buyers (clients). This has a few implications:

  • Assuming the current freelancer base is of reasonable quality, and the average client isn’t looking to hire a large number of freelancers, Upwork doesn’t need to focus on recruiting more freelancers— the number of clients is the limiting factor for growth.
  • Buyers (clients) have a lot of options for freelancers. If Upwork can provide smart recommendations, this can power a great client experience. However, the company needs to abstract away the complexity of choosing between all of these freelancers.
  • Competition between freelancers will be intense (we previously estimated that only 3% of registered freelancers completed projects last year). We might expect to see the “power sellers” (high frequency and/or high quality) rise to the top, while lower-quality freelancers quickly churn.

Marketplace Comparison

We identified seven public marketplaces that serve as comps for Upwork, all of which IPO’ed in the past six years. The data below is for each company pre-IPO, in order to be comparable with Upwork’s current metrics.

Data points marked with * represent an average over the two years immediately prior to the company’s IPO. This was selected to be comparable with available data for Upwork. N/A refers to data that was not available in the company’s public filings. Total $ raised refers to pre-IPO funding.
  • Growth. Upwork is growing slower than all of the comps in terms of both GSV and revenue. GSV grew 20% last year (average for the comps was 55%), and revenue grew 23% (average for the comps was 60%). No other marketplace dipped below 40% GSV growth or 55% revenue growth.
  • Take rate. Revenue is ~14–15% of GSV for Upwork on a quarterly basis, which is fairly standard for marketplaces. The average for the comps was 19%, and the median was 14%.
  • Marketplace revenue. 86% of Upwork’s revenue last year came from the marketplace, which is similar to comps (average of 80%, median of 85%).
  • EBITDA margin. Upwork’s adjusted EBITDA margin was 3.9% in 2017. This metric varied widely between the comps, though five of the seven companies recorded positive EBITDA. The average of the comps was 4%, and median was 8%.
  • Capital efficiency. We calculated a ratio of capital efficiency for each marketplace, which we measured as the total private capital raised / revenue generated in the year prior to IPO. Upwork’s ratio was 1.21x, slightly higher than the average (0.95x) of the comps.
  • Valuation. We also calculated a ratio of valuation at IPO to the prior year’s GSV and revenue (using the middle of Upwork’s pricing range). Upwork’s valuation ratios are significantly lower than comps — 5.7x revenue and 0.8x GSV, compared to 15.0x and 3.6x averages for comps.

Market Landscape

Market Size

The gig economy is large and growing, as more people look to freelance work to increase job flexibility and diversify income. A study from economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger found that 94% of net new jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were categorized as “alternative work,” which includes freelancers, independent contractors, on-call workers, contract company workers, and temporary agency workers.

An estimated 57.3M people (36% of the population) did freelance work in 2017. The freelance workforce has grown nearly 3x faster than the overall U.S. workforce since 2014, largely due to the fact that many working millennials (47%) are choosing to freelance. If the current rate of growth continues, more than half of the U.S. workforce will freelance by 2027.

From Edelman Insight’s 2017 report on the freelancing market, commissioned by Upwork & Freelancers Union.

In total, freelancers earned $1.4T last year (nearly 30% growth over the prior year), and this number is expected to grow. Freelancers are increasingly higher income — ⅔ of those who left a traditional job to freelance now say they make more than they did before. Businesses are also viewing freelancing more positively — a 2017 survey from Accenture found that 85% of businesses planned to increase their use of freelancers in the next year.

It’s important to note that not all of these freelancers participate in online marketplaces like Upwork. Only 22% of freelancers typically go to online marketplaces to find freelance work — friends & family (43%), professional contacts (38%), and social media (37%) are significantly more popular. However, the percentage of freelancers who have ever found work online has been steadily increasing, from 42% in 2014 to 59% in 2017. 71% say that their percentage of freelance work obtained online increased in the past year.

We’ve primarily focused on freelancers in the U.S., but the value proposition may be even more significant elsewhere. Workers in emerging economies can use platforms like Upwork to access better-paying jobs, as evidenced by the fact that top markets for freelancers include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. In addition, companies worldwide use these platforms to access workers with skill sets not available locally, or to find lower-cost labor.

Competitive Analysis

Upwork competes with other online freelance marketplaces, online job boards, and more traditional recruiting & staffing companies.

  1. Online freelance marketplaces. Upwork is the largest online freelance marketplace by GSV, but faces competition from both generalist marketplaces and category-specific marketplaces. We mapped competitors below — the x-axis indicates the type of tasks on the marketplace, from category-specific (e.g. design only) to broad, while the y-axis indicates whether the platform has vetted freelancers only or is open to all.
  2. Traditional job boards & recruiting firms. Some clients may be choosing between outsourcing tasks via Upwork or hiring a part-time or contract employee. Therefore, Upwork also faces competition from job boards (e.g. Indeed, Monster, ZipRecruiter, Craigslist, LinkedIn Careers), as well as recruiting & staffing providers (e.g. The Adecco Group, Robert Half International, Randstand, Allegis).

One of Upwork’s biggest sources of value-add is connecting clients and freelancers worldwide, allowing clients to access a larger base of talent (often at a lower price point) than local job boards and staffing firms. Therefore, we focus on online players as Upwork’s most significant competitors.

Fiverr, which reportedly plans to IPO in 2019, is likely Upwork’s largest competitor. More than 25M projects have been completed on the Fiverr platform for 11M+ clients. Anecdotal reviews from clients suggest that Fiverr is more popular for short-term projects, while Upwork is often the platform of choice for ongoing, complex projects with a larger team. This may be a result of Fiverr’s origin as a platform focused on $5 “gigs” (e.g. logo design).

Both Fiverr and Upwork have been criticized for not vetting their freelancers more thoroughly — on both platforms, clients are often inundated with applications from freelancers who are not qualified for the task. This has created an opportunity for smaller platforms that focus on specific tasks and provide access to a heavily-vetted pool of qualified freelancers (e.g. Gigster, Clarity). In response, both Upwork and Fiverr have launched premium products that allow clients to pay for access to a curated pool of freelancers.

Analysis Summary

We’ve aggregated some of the key positives and negatives about Upwork’s financial and competitive positioning pre-IPO, based on our analysis:

Positives

  • Strong macro trends. As described above, the labor market is moving toward freelance work to enable flexibility for workers and cost savings for companies. More freelancers are beginning to look online to market their skills and connect with broader pools of employers, and Upwork is well-positioned to take advantage of this growth. The company is a leading brand and already acquires most freelancers and clients at no cost.
  • Scale and reach. Upwork is the largest online global marketplace for freelancers by GSV, making it the obvious choice for any freelancer or client looking to access the broadest pool of potential matches. The company’s freelancers offer more than 5,000 skills in 70+ categories, a significantly wider reach than most other freelance marketplaces.
  • Data advantage. One significant advantage of Upwork’s scale and tenure is the company’s proprietary dataset on both successful and unsuccessful freelancer/client matches. Upwork’s team runs this data through machine learning algorithms to identify the best matches for a given task and to spot anomalies that may be indicative of fraud or poor performance.
  • Retention and customer satisfaction. One of Upwork’s KPIs is client spend retention, defined as (Client spend in year 2 from cohort A) / (Client spend in year 1 from cohort A)— it’s a measure of whether the company can retain a group of clients over a year and get them to spend more on the platform. Client spend retention has increased from 92% in 2016 to 99% in 2017 and 106% in the six months ended June 30, 2018. Upwork also has an NPS that exceeds 60 for both freelancers and clients.
  • Improving margins. Upwork has proven an ability to increase margins over the past two years — gross margin jumped from 62% in 2016 to 68% in 2017. This increase is largely due to the fact that Upwork successfully implemented payment processing and administration fees for clients while simultaneously increasing client spend retention. The company also has a positive EBITDA margin that is in line with other pre-IPO marketplaces.

Negatives

  • Slow rate of growth. Upwork’s growth is slow compared to other pre-IPO marketplaces. The company’s 20% GSV growth and 23% revenue growth in 2017 are by far the lowest of public marketplaces we analyzed in the year prior to each company’s IPO. While Upwork does not provide detailed financials pre-2015, we do know that the last time annual growth in client spend exceeded 30% was in 2013.
  • Lack of data. It’s difficult to fully evaluate Upwork without more data on the company’s metrics over time, particularly as we try to determine how quickly the company is growing. The S-1 only provides financial & key operating metrics for two years (2016 and 2017). It’s somewhat unusual to only have two years of operating data, especially for a company founded nearly 20 years ago.
  • Freelancer quality control. The S-1 doesn’t disclose concentration of revenue on the freelancer side, so we don’t know if a small group of high-skill freelancers are driving significant activity. However, with more than 10,000 freelancers applying daily, the non-homogenous nature of this pool, and the importance of getting every match right, Upwork needs to be extremely effective in assessing freelancers and controlling quality.
  • Regulation around freelancer status. Worker classification (independent contractor vs. employee) is an increasingly tricky issue, and has a substantial impact on a company’s liabilities regarding taxes, wages, and benefits. If a client using the platform misclassifies a freelancer, Upwork could be held liable. In addition, Upwork also risks misclassifying freelancers employed via its managed services business.
  • Cash cycle issues. Freelancers can collect payments after submitting hourly billings on Sunday, but money from clients is often still in transit at this time. Upwork therefore has to fund any shortage via operating cash. The company holds $31M in cash currently, and covering this shortage has not historically been an issue, but this could become problematic if one or more large clients restricted funds. As the business scales, this cash cycle may also require Upwork to hold a larger cash balance than is optimal.
  • Client concentration, particularly in managed services. Upwork does not disclose how many clients comprise the managed services business, but managed services represent 10–15% of revenue in any given quarter. Given that no client represents more than 2% of GSV, but one client represents more than 10% of revenue (and 100% of managed services GSV is recognized as revenue), we assume that there is at least one substantial managed services client. As with many marketplaces, there is also risk in having 80% of revenue generated by 20% of clients.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to reach out via email (twins@crv.com) or on Twitter (@venturetwins) with thoughts or feedback.

We’d also love your ideas on what to write about next — let us know what you’d like us to cover! You can check out our past articles here.

Thanks to Saar Gur for his help with this article.


Unpacking Upwork’s S-1: Metrics & Lessons for Marketplaces was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Saving money and time with the right tooling (for developers)

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“dollar sign illustration” by Jimi Filipovski on Unsplash

One of the most important part of developer satisfaction is, in my opinion, the development tools and the environment. It’s those exact things we, as developers, spend most of our time with. With the right tools developers will be happier and it will ultimately save money for the company. It might even be thing that developer appreciates in the company and does not want to change to another.

Even most of the things needed to achieve good enough level of tools for your developers costs money, it is quite easy to calculate the time the investment pays itself back — it’s a matter of months. Or even weeks.

Development machine

“shattered monitor on the floor” by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

The most important thing developer needs. Each developer, no matter what kind of software you are doing, should have powerful enough machine to do the work. Also people have different needs what it comes to hardware and accessories: some might want 3 displays, some want to use wheel mouse instead the normal rat and keyboard combination, some might even want a large mousepad and one of those horribly sounding gaming keyboards. Hardware and accessories are not that expensive these days so this might be the cheapest option to start updating your tool set.

Good headphones is also a great way to rise the spirit. Providing good, noice-cancelling headphones for the developers (especially in open offices) can make a huge difference in productivity. Which also means saving of money and time.

Used software

While the hardware is a nice thing, you should also think about the software you are using and providing for developers. Starting from the operating system you should think what is the best option and recommend that for your developers. Of course you do not want to be total tyrant and force everyone to use the exact same OS and tools but good recommendations and pre-configured images get you very far.

It does not make much sense to develop library for a Linux on Windows or other way around. Try to think what is your target platform and come up with the close as possible setup for the local development environment. Different environments might have different kinds of restrictions and bugs so seeing the problems as soon as possible in the development cycle can save even more money.

Software can be costly. Especially some tools that are specializing to do very specific task very well can have huge license fees. Also here you should really listen to developers and their needs. There might be some open-source and/or free tools that they like to use so why not let them do that? Using of software should not be limited as long as it’s legal and done by the rules.

Target hardware

This might be not the case for many projects, but having the actual target hardware to run your software on is very important for the project success. Target hardware can be very costly but using it can prevent the company from humiliation when the first tests in the target start. It allows developers to debug and benchmark their software with the exact hardware it’s supposed to be run at. Especially performance issues are often only seen when the software is actually running on the actual target.

Automated testing on target hardware is also very good idea but can cost a lot of money. Having some test farm with tens, or even hundreds, target hardwares running tests for the software can produce bugs you might not even thought of. And all this before the software hits the stores. Developers and the company is again a bit merrier.

Build times

One of the things many developers spend their time on is building the software (depending of course the size of the project and used language). Of course having good enough hardware for the job is already a start but this can be taken even further. There are tools you can use to speed up your build time locally or by distributing building to multiple machines. Such tools (for example ccache, icecc, distcc and bazel) can save several hours per week for a single developer. Multiplying this number with amount of developers you have.. Well, think about that.

If tools like this are combined with some powerful servers in the same build pool, it can have a massive effect on development speed. Servers cost money but so does people spinning their thumbs and waiting for the builds to finish.

Scripts and dependency managers

“brown snake” by David Clode on Unsplash

To make life easier, developers should really be able to do some scripting. Spending few hours to make a script that helps you build your software and it’s dependencies correctly, or setting up the development environment for new-comers can, if used by many, save hundreds of working hours. If you want to understand this, you should go and observe how many hours a new developer spends time setting up the environment without any setup scripts. Then multiply that by the number of employees you have hired — it can total a huge amount of hours.

Dependency managers is another way to save a lot of time for people setting up their development environments. There are good dependency managers for almost every language such as gradle for Java, conan for C++, bower for JavaScript and composer for PHP. These are just the first ones that came to my mind. Using a dependency manager helps you keep up with your dependencies and also save a lot of time by providing simple way to install necessary dependencies for your module. Combining this with your own build scripts can really make a difference.

In conclusion

After all it’s all about people. Use time to listen developers’ wishes and try to make them happen. Happier developers means more productivity and that means savings. Investing some money in the tools really can pay off, even on short-term, so please at least consider doing it.

About me

I am Heikki Hellgren, Software Expert and technology enthusiast working at Elektrobit Automotive. My interests are in software construction, tools, automatic testing and all the new and cool stuff like AI and autonomous driving. You can follow me on Medium and Twitter. Also you can check out my website for more information.


Saving money and time with the right tooling (for developers) was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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FDA Struggles to Develop “Sugar Added” Labels for Honey and Maple Syrup

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Last February, the Food and Drug Administration released guidance indicating it intends to require honey and maple syrup (as well as some cranberry) products to include “sugar added” labels with their nutritional content information. Concerned that “consumers would not be able to understand the relative significance of these sources of added sugars,” the FDA hopes new sugar added labels will help consumers make healthier choices. As FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb remarked, “We’ve made it our goal to increase consumer awareness of the quantity of added sugars in food products consistent with recent dietary guideline recommendations.”

These new labels follow guidelines established by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans which “Defines ‘added sugars,’ in part, to include sugars that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such. The term includes…sugars from syrups and honey [italics mine].”

If you find the idea of requiring syrups and honey to have “sugar added” labels for containing sugars from syrups and honey confusing or misleading, you are in good company.

Thousands of individuals from various backgrounds warned such labels would “mislead the consumer” and provide “false advertising.” Some hold that requiring sugar added for these products “makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.” Others note that requiring “maple syrup and honey producers to advertise added sugar on their product is to tell them to lie” serves to harm business and consumer relationships. One particularly outspoken critic of the FDA’s efforts is Roger Brown of Slopestyle Maple who remarked, “It’s clear that when applied broadly this is an example of well-intentioned federal regulation that is totally illogical when applied in this context.”

Brown and other detractors have valid reasons to be critical. Honey and maple syrup are almost entirely composed of sugars. Even if producers physically added more sugar or other ingredients to their product, it is unlikely to dramatically change any nutritional content.

More importantly, honey and maple syrup are both composed of multiple forms of sugar. How much of each kind of sugar varies. This makes determining what “pure” honey or maple syrup is an extremely difficult task. As a consequence, picking a regulatory standard to determine where “sugar added” labels are needed will likely provide inaccurate or misleading information. As a consequence, nutritional labels intending to provide consumers with better information may do the opposite.

But poorly constructed nutritional information can also be harmful.

Until recently, food labeling laws in the United States considered foods containing no sucrose (table sugar) to be “sugar-free” and allowed them to be labeled as such. Far from providing valuable nutritional information, consumers began searching for ways to find the “stealth sugars” in what they ate. “Sugar-free” labels are particularly confusing and destructive for diabetics, who need to monitor the sugar they consume carefully. As physician Richard Bernstein, one of the world’s foremost experts in diabetes management notes:

In the recent past, food labeling laws in the United States have permitted products to be called sugar-free if they do not contain common table sugar (sucrose). Such labeling requirements have the effect of allowing manufacturers to perpetuate a myth that sugars that are not sucrose (table sugar) are not sugars, which is nonsense. Still, it fools a lot of people.

But persistent criticism and previous failures have not deterred the FDA. Commissioner Gottlieb recently announced in a news release that, after numerous revisions and reconsiderations over the last seven months, the FDA is “continuing to work on a revised approach.” Ultimately, such efforts have slim chances of helping consumers and a high likelihood of misleading, or even harming, them.

Rather than wasting more time and resources, it may be better for the FDA to discontinue this project. If not, we will end up with the stale outcomes of sweet intentions.

***

Raymond J. March is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Assistant Professor of Economics at San José State University. His research examines the public and private provision and governance of healthcare in the United States, particularly in pharmaceutical markets.

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