Is Blockchain Truly Decentralized?

How the people in power behind Bitcoin are threatening its growth.
Is Blockchain Truly Decentralized?

Decentralization — the notion that we can build a platform that requires no trusted third party intermediary — is a key aspect of blockchain technology. It’s driving the current gold rush in blockchain space. Investors are pouring money into the ecosystem through ICOs and angel investments as entrepreneurs hope to build “decentralized” versions of everything: money (Bitcoin), file storage (FileCoin), identity (SecureKey), supply chain (Viant) — the list goes on and on.

Why is decentralization important to you? Because it makes the products and services you consume more secure. Data on a blockchain network is distributed and encrypted, making it much harder to hack. Imagine if there was a decentralized version of credit reporting, where your information was encrypted and distributed across multiple places instead of a single location. This would make it much harder to perform the next Equifax hack.

But how decentralized is blockchain technology? Not very, if we look at the Bitcoin scaling debate of 2017.

Bitcoin is currently the largest blockchain in existence. Perhaps the most decentralized blockchain in existence, Bitcoin has almost 10,000 nodes running its protocol, making it all but impossible for a bad actor to take control of the blockchain. But Bitcoin has a scaling problem. Currently, the network can process roughly seven transactions per second. By comparison, Visa can process roughly 50,000 transactions per second (it’s everywhere you want to be).

The scaling problem is solvable, but in the community, there’s a heated and sometimes vitriolic disagreement on how to do so. Without going into great detail into the technical nuances between competing options (which would be a blog post on its own), there are essentially two camps:

  • Bitcoin miners — These are the people who bring all the hashpower to Bitcoin’s blockchain, validating transactions and leveling security. A sizeable portion of hashpower influence comes from a small group of large mining operators, most notably Bitmain. They want to see larger block sizes to scale the network. Currently, Bitcoin blocks are limited to 1mb and it’s creating a bottleneck.
  • Bitcoin core developers — These people build and maintain the Bitcoin protocol. They argue larger block sizes should only be created if a consensus of nodes on the network asks for it. And they worry that a small group of large mining operations shouldn’t be allowed to “change the rules” in a network built on decentralization.

To be clear, I’m loosely defining these two camps. In any crowdsourced community, there are individuals within these groups who might not align with these positions, but this is essentially how the debate has shaped up. A compromise was offered by the Digital Currency Group at Consensus 2017 called SegWit2x. (You can learn more about this compromise here.)

Here’s the problem: SegWit2x didn’t happen. The upgrade was called off in November 2017 due to lack of consensus among the participating nodes. And so the scaling problem continues.

The way I see it, two concentrated groups were controlling the debate and ultimately the future of the Bitcoin network. And unfortunately, the lack of agreement has led to a tribal mentality, similar to our American political system, where groups talk past each other while everyone suffers. How is that decentralized?

Let’s put this in a larger context. According to Rod Collins, our Director of Innovation, digital transformation is a social revolution as much as it is a technological one. Blockchain technology has the chance to fundamentally change how we operate — our businesses, our governments, and our communities. But we’ll never get there if centralized groups within the network prohibit its growth through lack of agreement. The irony here is that blockchain, the technology, is built on computer algorithms that rely on a consensus of computers on the network to agree. But blockchain, the social movement, suffers from a lack of consensus on how to move forward, at least in regard to Bitcoin.

Perhaps Bitcoin and other blockchain networks can learn from their ancestors — the open source movement — on how to generate a consensus from a loose-knit group of community participants. If we don’t get there, the dream of decentralization will never become a reality.

Chad Hahn
Contributor
Optimity Advisors, Inc.
Chad Hahn is a partner overseeing the digital & technology practice at Optimity Advisors. He is an entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in strategy, business development, operations, and technology, and has started and sold two successful service businesses. He has a strong background in software engineering and enterprise architecture, with deep expertise in both traditional and emerging technologies.
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Chad Hahn
Optimity Advisors, Inc.
Chad Hahn is a partner overseeing the digital & technology practice at Optimity Advisors. He is an entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in strategy, business development, operations, and technology, and has started and sold two successful service businesses. He has a strong background in software engineering and enterprise architecture, with deep expertise in both traditional and emerging technologies.

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22 Best Invoicing Software for Startup

25 Best Invoicing Software for Startups

Whether you’re a startup or a freelancer, you need a good invoicing app that simplifies the invoicing process that saves you time and money. There are plenty of invoicing software options available today that allow you to easily send out personalized invoices. Also to make sure you get paid on time, without losing track of the payments that you are owed.

We scoured the web to find the best of the best invoicing app for you.  We looked for an app that, first and foremost, lets you make an invoice more quickly than you could in your word processor and ideally lets you get paid online or mobile.

When testing apps, we also considered pricing and usability, and we looked for apps with either unique or extensive features; those that do something no other app offers or handle everything from invoicing to accounting to project management and estimation.

Here are the 23 best invoicing apps you can try today.

1 Intuit Quickbooks

QuickBooks is a simple web-based accounting software package developed and marketed by Intuit. QuickBooks products are geared mainly toward small and medium-sized businesses and offer on-premises accounting applications as well as cloud-based versions that accept business payments, manage and pay bills, and payroll functions. We use Quickbooks for our company, it’s a great app.

2 Xero

Founded in 2006 in New Zealand, Xero is one of the fastest growing software as service companies globally. A beautiful cloud-based accounting app connects all of your staff anytime, anywhere, on any device. Give your staff access to the areas they need to do their job. And invite your advisor to collaborate with you on your business in real-time. Xero backs up your data and protects it with multiple layers of security including industry-standard data encryption and secure data centers.

3 FreshBooks

A cloud-based small business accounting software that enables you to quickly send invoices, track time, manage receipts, expenses, and accept credit cards. FreshBooks is simple and intuitive, so you’ll spend less time on paperwork and wow your clients with how professional your invoices look. One of the things we love is that FreshBooks integrates with lots of apps you already use to make running your business a breeze, here’s the list.

4 Bill.com

Bill.com is a US-based accounting software system, provided as a software as a service (SaaS) that integrates with accounting and banking systems. It enables you to easily get invoiced electronically, or drag, drop and enter bills yourself. And, send ACH Payments, or we can mail paper checks to vendors & contractors for you.

5 Chargify

Chargify is a web-based billing software for all of your Recurring Billing needs. Chargify manages billing for thousands of businesses and supports a wide range of billing scenarios from B2B to B2C. While the common business segments include SaaS, subscription boxes, agencies, consultants, and Web hosting, Chargify can handle any industry need that requires recurring billing.

6 Square

Square is a cohesive commerce ecosystem that helps sellers start, run, and grow their business. Square combines sophisticated software with affordable hardware to enable sellers to turn mobile and computing devices into powerful payment and point-of-sale solutions. Its tools help sellers make informed business decisions through the use of analytics and reporting. Sellers can manage orders, inventory, locations, and employees; engage customers and grow their sales, and gain access to business loans.

7 Wave

Wave is a company that provides a suite of financial services and online software for small businesses. Wave is headquartered in the Leslieville neighborhood in Toronto, Canada. Wave enables you to get paid on time, every time. You can set up recurring invoices and automatic credit card payments for your repeat customers and stop chasing payments. And, enables you to switch between automatic and manual billing whenever you want. Pretty cool feature.

8 Quaderno

Quaderno manages sales tax, VAT, and GST for you, automatically. It handles thousands of receipts every month from businesses of all sizes, all around the world. What’s cool about Quaderno is that it automatically calculate the correct tax amount for each customer and their location. And, Quaderno sends automatic receipts after every payment. Issue credit notes with every refund. Comply with local rules everywhere, including the US, Canada, Australia, and the entire EU.

9 Simple Invoices

Simple Invoices is the easiest way for freelancers to send invoices and get paid on time. Simple Invoices enables you to accept credit cards and PayPal payments in seconds. Freelancer friendly, try it.

10 Cushion

With Cushion, you can send invoices to clients by either downloading a PDF, copying a link, or sending an email directly from Cushion. On the surface, Cushion can generate and track invoices, but underneath, it can do so much more; like saving tax rates, so when you click to enter an amount, a helper will appear with a list of your saved tax rates. And, Cushion uses dates to track your invoices and visualize them in the schedule graph. Slick!

11 Zipbooks

ZipBooks is free accounting software that sends invoices, tracks time and expenses, integrates with your bank & lets you process credit cards. Simple, beautiful, and powerful, ZipBooks gives you the tools and intelligence to take your business to the next level.

Zipbooks enables you to customize your invoices according to your needs by adding your logo, specific colors, and contact info. Stay up to date by keeping track of customer payment and invoice history, overdue balances, and taxes collected. See when your customer has opened an invoice, and prepare and view receipts.

12 Accounteer

Accounteer is a cloud-based accounting platform for small businesses. It enables you to create invoices, track expenses and follow up on their finances with ease. Accounteer integrates with external services like banks, e-invoicing platforms, and e-commerce. You can quickly create sales invoices and offers with ease. With a few simple clicks, you can create your documents and send them digitally to your contacts reducing both time and cost. Using Accounteer out of the box reports you can easily track your receivables and make sure you get paid in time.

13 FreeAgent

FreeAgent is cloud-based accounting software targeted at freelancers, micro businesses and their accountants. FreeAgent lets you set up recurring invoices that can send themselves automatically, and nudge those pesky late-paying clients with automated reminders. It’s hands-free invoicing!

14 Due

Due has helped thousands of companies and freelancers get paid faster and increase their cash flow while offering a professional, branded approach to payment requests. Due also offers a wide range of payment options, including eCash, eChecks, and ACH, and domestic and international credit card process, as well as a digital wallet to store payment information and funds.

15 And Co

And Co is a company that develops and markets services as products for small businesses and freelancers. You can create an invoice in 20 seconds or less. AND CO automatically creates invoices based on your projects and contracts, alerts you of their payment and more.  Slick app!

16 Hello Bonsai

Bonsai is an online freelancing platform that helps companies and independent talent invoice better and faster. Bonsai enables you to create and customize invoices in seconds or generate them automatically from any proposal, contract or time sheet – this will save a ton of time. Try it today.

17 BallPark

Ballpark’s estimates and invoices help you streamline your process and make it easier for clients to pay you for your work. Ballpark enables you to create detailed estimates and send them to your clients for approval. Ballpark lets you know when clients have accepted or rejected your estimates so you can get to work.

18 Invoice2Go

Invoice2Go is a simple mobile and web app for invoicing, expense-tracking, and reporting tool for micro and small business owners. Say goodbye to hours of digging through files and boxes for receipts. Simply snap a photo to safely store it. You’ll thank yourself at tax time when you can export all of your expenses in seconds.

19 Momenteo

Momenteo is a cloud-based app that allows freelancers to easily manage their clients, invoices, expenses & travels while having a clear portrait of their financial health. It’s a fairly simple app to use – Invoicing is a streamlined 4 steps process: Prepare, Design, Send, Follow-up. Add your work done to an invoice, customize it to your tastes, send it to your client, add some payments.

20 Harvest

With Harvest, you can easily and quickly create invoices, customize logos, and invoice in different currencies. What’s great about Harvest is that it integrates with QuickBooks Online or Xero – it automatically copies all of your invoices over to them. Great for freelancers and young startups.

21 Invoicera

Invoicera is a cloud-based invoicing application with unparalleled features for various customer types, flexibility, scalability and flexible licensing powering more than 2M+ users and over 25 Enterprises generating more than 200M+ invoices each year. Invoicera comes with a range of features to manage a business effectively and efficiently. Here are 5 great features I like:

  • Easily convert purchase orders into invoices
  • Invoices are hyperlinked to the original sale and purchase in inventory module
  • Receive invoices and estimates from your vendors in one dashboard for hassle-free account payable management
  • Track invoice status in real time
  • Automate late fee and payment reminders to get paid quicker

22 OneUp

OneUp is an excellent online accounting software to run your startup.  OneUp is flexible, allow you to quickly create invoices from Quotes, enter Invoices by hand, or enter Sales Orders to fulfill customer POs. If your business uses Square Register, you can even connect to OneUp and your transactions will automatically appear in OneUp. When your invoice is ready, use OneUp’s built in the email system to put it directly in your customer’s inbox. I like the beautiful UX on the dashboard layout.

Find out how ZestFinance uses machine learning technology to help companies make accurate credit decisions.

 

Founder, Editor-in-Chief
LAStartups.com, Schmoozd.com
A native Angeleno. John studied engineering at UCLA; founded Schmoozd, an offline social tech networking event in LA with 30,000 subs; ran a startup accelerator (StartEngine). Worked for several major brands like Toyota, DIRECTV, Hitachi, and Raytheon. A mentor at LMU Entrepreneur School. And advises a dozen local LA startups building amazing tech in various industries; also invested in some.
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LAStartups.com, Schmoozd.com
A native Angeleno. John studied engineering at UCLA; founded Schmoozd, an offline social tech networking event in LA with 30,000 subs; ran a startup accelerator (StartEngine). Worked for several major brands like Toyota, DIRECTV, Hitachi, and Raytheon. A mentor at LMU Entrepreneur School. And advises a dozen local LA startups building amazing tech in various industries; also invested in some.

6 Easy Steps to Optimizing Your Voice Search – And Why It’s Important

6 Easy Steps to Optimizing Your Voice Search - And Why It's Important

Interacting with artificial intelligence may still seem like an idea from science fiction, but several companies have turned that idea into reality sparking the need to know how to optimize for voice search.

Is voice search really that important?

Yes, because it’s revealed something about us … we really, really like it.

When people have questions, they turn to the web for answers. If you want to learn more about a restaurant, the weather, or the score from last night’s game, you’ll probably turn to the web for the answer in most cases. It’s fast, efficient, and you can access it with your phone.

With voice search, you don’t even need your phone.

So, what does this mean for business owners?

Similar to the way you performed search engine optimization to align your website with the keyword your target customers use, you now need to understand how to optimize for voice search. Today, we’re taking a closer look at this process as well as why it’s important.

How Popular Is Voice Search?

The statistics on voice search definitely shows that it has become a lot more popular, and it will become even more prevalent in the future.

  • Compared to 2008 voice search stats, search queries on Google voice search has increased 35 times by 2016.
  • 4 out of 10 adults now use voice search at least once a day.
  • About a quarter of young adults (ages 16 to 24) use voice search on their mobile devices.
  • By 2016, 20% of searches on an Android app in the US were by voice search.

More and more people are using it. It’s just a fact of life, and it’s a practice that’s bound to increase in the future. It’s been predicted that by 2020, fully half of all searches will be by voice. Desktop users are using voice search more, and home automation and Internet devices are increasingly voice activated.

Top Reasons Why More People are Using Voice Search

There are several good reasons why more people are using voice search instead of typing in keywords into a search bar. One survey discovered the top reasons for resorting to voice search over keyboard tapping:

  • Voice search is great when you’re eyes or hands are otherwise busy at something else. In many cases, this “something else” means driving. But it can apply to many other types of activities and situations. You can be doing chores at home, such as vacuuming or watching TV. You can be working out in the gym. So when your hands are busy, this means you can’t type in the words in the search bar. When you’re watching something else, you can’t see what you’re typing. In both cases, voice search makes more sense.
  • Others use voice search because they appreciate the faster results. Think about it: how much faster is it for people to talk, compared to typing in the keywords? People can type about 40 words a minute, but they can speak up to 150 words per minute. Google can start its search much earlier with voice search.
  • Some people use voice search because it’s easier. In many situations, it can be difficult to type in the words. This is certainly true when you’re on the go. Others aren’t yet well-versed in tapping the right letters on a smartphone screen.
  • For some, it’s about the cool and fun factor. Kids and teens just think it’s a cool way to use Google. But quite a few senior citizens are enthralled by the technology as well. It’s just so Star Trek.
  • Voice search is also a good way to avoid using confusing menus. This is especially true for apps that allow for voice search.

How to Optimize for Voice Search

So now that you know that people are using voice search more frequently, you have to adjust your website to accommodate this new trend. It took too long for some brands and websites to factor in the rising popularity of mobile search in the past, and they paid for it with reduced traffic. Now your website has to account for voice search if you want to take SEO seriously.

So what should you do? Here are some ways you can improve your website so that you can accommodate the needs of people who use voice search:

1 Update your local listings

In many cases, people use voice search to find info regarding brick and mortar establishments. So you need to make sure that your local listings are set up properly and they’re accurate. Put in your business information and pick your categories wisely. Your information should also be consistent with all the listings they appear in.

2 Use natural language keywords

The most common keywords used in voicemail will usually be in the form of long tail keywords and natural questions. You have to optimize your site for those kinds of questions.

3 Have a Q&A section

This is an effective way to have natural questions in your content. At the same time, you can provide the answers right away. It’s best if you don’t limit your Q&A to just your FAQ section. You may want to have your blog posts contain this kind of format. In fact, you can put them on your product pages as well. You have to build your content around questions that people might post on voice search.

4 Optimize for mobile

While it’s true that voice search is even becoming popular for desktop PC, the fact remains that voice search is more often done on smartphones. This means you need to make sure your website looks great on such a small screen. It should also feature navigation features that work best for smartphone touchscreens. Don’t put in links and buttons too close together.

5 Boos your website speed

Many voice search users are on the go. They’re also mobile Internet users, and these people are notoriously impatient. About 40% of all mobile users wait only 3 seconds before they abandon a website. So if it takes more than a few seconds for your landing screen to load, people are just going to tap the back button and try another website instead.

 6 Make your content scannable

Most of the time, people won’t bother to read long articles on their smartphones. They’ve posted a question on their search, and they want to get the answer quickly. So use visual info if possible. For text, you need large fonts for headlines, simple sentences, and short paragraphs.

It’s imperative that you don’t miss the boat on voice search. You have to accept that more and more people are using this to find the website and data they need, and you have to optimize your website accordingly.

 

Founder, Editor-in-Chief
LAStartups.com, Schmoozd.com
A native Angeleno. John studied engineering at UCLA; founded Schmoozd, an offline social tech networking event in LA with 30,000 subs; ran a startup accelerator (StartEngine). Worked for several major brands like Toyota, DIRECTV, Hitachi, and Raytheon. A mentor at LMU Entrepreneur School. And advises a dozen local LA startups building amazing tech in various industries; also invested in some.
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LAStartups.com, Schmoozd.com
A native Angeleno. John studied engineering at UCLA; founded Schmoozd, an offline social tech networking event in LA with 30,000 subs; ran a startup accelerator (StartEngine). Worked for several major brands like Toyota, DIRECTV, Hitachi, and Raytheon. A mentor at LMU Entrepreneur School. And advises a dozen local LA startups building amazing tech in various industries; also invested in some.

6 Simple Steps to Making a Mobile-Focused Website

6 Simple Steps to Making a Mobile-Focused Website

You’ll need a different mindset if your website is primarily designed for mobile users.

It’s funny when you think about it, but there was a time when websites weren’t really designed for smartphone screens. They were designed for the much larger monitors of desktop PCs. Of course, when you shrink those web pages you can hardly read and see anything, which became a problem when mobile Internet surfing became more popular. So the more farsighted website owners created their websites for PCs, and then they tried to have a different version for smartphones.

Nowadays, most serious websites have both a PC and a mobile version. In fact, more websites are actually being built for mobile surfing first, before a desktop PC version is created. That’s because more people are going online using the smartphones rather than their desktop PCs.

So how do you build a website that’s more focused on serving the needs of mobile visitors? Here are a few tips that can start you on your way:

1. Strip Your Pages Down

When you’re determined to build a website that’s actually geared for smartphone users, you can’t use overly complex webpages. You have to simply your web pages instead.

There are good reasons for this. One, with a small screen to work with you don’t want to overwhelm the user with too many details. A simple layout works much better so they know what to do. Two, with too many complex elements it’ll take too long for a web page to load, and we all know how impatient mobile surfers are. If it takes more than 3 seconds to load a page, chances are good they’ll press the back button and try another website.

2. Plan for Your User’s Needs

Will they be tapping buttons on the web page? If so, you need to make those buttons visible, and they should be large enough so that they can be tapped easily enough. Will they have to input a username and password? If that’s the case, you’ll have to put in a keyboard interface as well. What if they’re looking for a particular section? You may want to feature a clear outline of your site, and a search bar can certainly help.

You have to put yourself in your website user’s shoes. Pretend you’re the user and you need to find something on your website. You’ should then realize what kind of helpful elements you need to put in.

When you’ve designed your web pages, try them out first. You have to know for sure how they would work within a mobile browser.

3. Don’t Forget about Laptops

When you’re designing with a smartphone user in mind, at least you have a touchscreen working for you so your users can simply swipe along the way to navigate your site. But that’s not exactly the case when your mobile user is actually using a laptop. In some instances, they don’t have a mouse either.

What this also means is that you have to plan for various resolutions to make sure your web pages appear at their best. Laptops are often limited to 1024 x 768 resolutions, and that’s what you need to plan for. In fact, check out the various screen sizes of the most popular laptops so you can have a different version for each resolution.

4. Going with Responsive Layouts

Some people would rather opt for a responsive layout, rather than have a different type of website for each type of Internet device. With a responsive design, your website morphs to fit whatever type of resolution your website user is using.

This can be quite convenient for you. You’ll have the same HTML markup that works on all screens. You won’t have to go with specific stylesheets for different types of devices.

Since you’re focused on mobile users first, at least with this approach you take care of the needs of those using smaller screens. Of course, there’s a good chance that you won’t get an optimal look when you’re website visitor is using a desktop browser. But those are bugs that you can fix later. These guys aren’t your top priority after all.

To help you see just how responsive websites can work for different devices, you ought to do some research on the various responsive sites that are currently in operation these days. Just Google for them and you should find them easily enough. You can then cherry-pick the features that you want to appear on your own responsive website.

5. Don’t Forget about the Navigational Requirements

If you’ve been designing websites all this time with a focus on desktop users, then you’re probably more used to people who can just use a mouse to get around a webpage. That’s not going to fly with a mobile website.

For most website designers, the simplest solution here is to just have your page sections cascade down. Your visitors can just swipe downward to see more of your content. You can also have your links appear constantly at the top or at the bottom of the screen so that they can get around your site more easily.

Just don’t go overboard and put in too many links on your navigational menu bar. Just go with the basic root items instead.

6. Set Up Your Images Properly

Dealing with image content can be problematic when you have such a small screen to work with. One solution is to have a set of images solely for small smartphone screens, while you have another set for normal displays. However, you can’t overlook the need for high-resolution images for iPhone retina displays.

Another solution is to set up all your images to contract and then expand up to the maximum point. This can work just as well for desktop users too. Even HTML5 video supports this setup, so it’s convenient.

It does require a different mindset when you’re building a website that’s more focused on mobile users. The old ways won’t work if you’re used to traditional desktop websites. Whatever you do, just don’t forget to give it a test run on your own smartphone first!

Here are 5 Steps You Can Do to Prepare Your Website for Google’s Mobile-First Index

Founder, Editor-in-Chief
LAStartups.com, Schmoozd.com
A native Angeleno. John studied engineering at UCLA; founded Schmoozd, an offline social tech networking event in LA with 30,000 subs; ran a startup accelerator (StartEngine). Worked for several major brands like Toyota, DIRECTV, Hitachi, and Raytheon. A mentor at LMU Entrepreneur School. And advises a dozen local LA startups building amazing tech in various industries; also invested in some.
×
LAStartups.com, Schmoozd.com
A native Angeleno. John studied engineering at UCLA; founded Schmoozd, an offline social tech networking event in LA with 30,000 subs; ran a startup accelerator (StartEngine). Worked for several major brands like Toyota, DIRECTV, Hitachi, and Raytheon. A mentor at LMU Entrepreneur School. And advises a dozen local LA startups building amazing tech in various industries; also invested in some.