We need smarter people to outsmart cybersecurity threats

More often than not, human error is the most frequent cause of cybersecurity incidents. Unintentional user mistakes, omissions, and carelessness invite issues into workplace and home systems at an ever-increasing pace.

But one former white hat hacker-turned-cybersecurity expert has a people-focused solution. North Wonders founder Terry Ziemniak develops holistic programs to better educate and inform users on ways to detect and respond to cybersecurity threats.

Terry led information security initiatives for two enterprise organizations over a 25-year career in cybersecurity. He knows from experience that companies spend a lot of money on hardware and software, yet they are still getting hacked.

His customer-based research into the root of the problem verified that companies simply lack the necessary focus on the people aspect.

Said Terry, “People continue to fall for social engineering scams and bad links. So we get practical and personal in helping them understand the basics. Once you understand how to protect your kids’ photos or your bank account, then you develop 24×7 mindfulness. When people become safer members of the internet as a whole, they are better about protecting assets at work.”

Utilizing newsletters, presentations and customizable programming, North Wonders provides relevant content, actionable information and most importantly, measurable results. Desired behaviors and habits are introduced and reinforced via non-technical insight on the impact of current threats as both consumers and employees.

Since opening in late 2017, Terry has been working with companies to train employees on the front line of these attacks. North Wonders builds in metrics and executes on whatever particular risk the client requests, providing valued insight on the effectiveness of the training.

While currently focused on small- to medium-sized organizations, Terry has customized programming for a large financial institution that wanted to drill down on customer identity theft, for example. North Wonders’ service is also appropriate for channel/partner networks, IT service companies and Human Resource organizations. Terry also sees opportunity to co-brand content with client companies.

But, he points out, North Wonders is foremost a program, not a library of content.

“It is all about having regular touchpoints with users so we can engage them. We want to educate and empower users,” he said. “We want to get them to where they can detect bad actors—no matter what type of attack is used.”

North Wonder’s people focus certainly appears to be the missing link in cybersecurity effectiveness. A recent report by IBM cited human error as a contributing factor in 95 percent of all cyber security incidents.

So Terry is optimistic and enthusiastic about the potential ahead for the company. He speaks highly of the UNC Charlotte Ventureprise program which helped him with customer discovery and market analysis. That experience validated that companies believe their technology and overall security is good, but they acknowledge the people issue remains a big problem.

Terry also speaks highly of the support available within the Charlotte entrepreneurial community. Participating in Ventureprise, along with a recent presentation at One Million Cups Charlotte, fuels his belief that being tied into the local community is an important factor in driving success.

Said Terry, “I spent 20 years in Chicago. I don’t think I would have attempted or been as successful in Chicago. Not that they don’t have a good support system there, but the Charlotte entrepreneur ecosystem seems well organized. The success of my business will be based on my leveraging the many levels of support here.”

That said, every entrepreneur knows there will be challenges. For Terry, it is a matter of focus.

In the past month, there have been so many opportunities coming my way. I have to make a very conscious, methodical decision every day to stay focused on the markets I want to target first. Everyone says this is a great idea and a need, and we have very good conversations. But in some cases, I have to put their ideas on a back burner for a few months.”

Still, he is a believer in feedback and listening to the customer. He knows that the best way to embed his people-centered approach is to help people understand how security threats affect them personally.

Building a stronger, better educated community of users who can detect and respond to cybersecurity threats starts with changing user behavior. Terry recognizes that introducing effective awareness programs is the best way to reduce human error.

After all, society has been dealing with fraudsters for a long time. Educated, engaged and empowered users are the best protection against this latest iteration of crime.


Keeping it Real with Real Estate Investing

As an entrepreneur educated and experienced in both Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Sai Mudigonda looks at the world with an eye toward solving problems. To an engineer like Sai, questioning a problem and seeking answers often points to the obvious – so obvious that the problem may not register to the untrained eye.

“I was taking my son around to different after school activities and started observing that there were a number of real estate properties becoming available, perhaps due to bankruptcy or just going out of business,” said Sai. “I started analyzing the details and saw that it was mostly due to the global boom in e-commerce. There was so much real estate already suddenly irrelevant in the market. And I thought, ‘I think I should do something about this.’”

Sai first explored establishing contracts with small business owners to take over the existing real estate spaces large entities were vacating. But the process would drag on.

After a brainstorming session with a friend and fellow engineer and a licensed real estate agent, Sai honed in on the idea that the transaction could be more like a cooperative where multiple “owners” could invest in a real estate property.

“The idea of having a real estate company was really about wanting to see how the real estate deal closing could be expedited. Generally, it takes a long time to close and during that time, the real estate investment is illiquid [meaning not enough cash flow to meet debts]. If someone has a $5 Million property, they cannot just walk away if they need money,” he said.

That thought process led Sai to realize there weren’t many options for non-accredited investors to invest in real estate. To be an accredited investor in the U.S. market requires having a net worth of at least $1 Million, without counting your primary residence, or a minimum $200,000 annual income for each of the previous two years, among other stipulations.

But Sai knew that the passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act in 2012 eased securities regulations and opened the potential of online crowdfunding for real estate investment. He realized that Blockchain, today’s highly-secure distributed computing system, would enable a faster, more efficient means to facilitate such a real estate crowdfunding initiative.

That’s where his new platform, Real Bit$, comes in. The Real Bit$ prototype is similar to any other crowdfunding campaign except that the investment goes into ownership of a real estate property on offer. And it is built on Blockchain.

Said Sai, “Right now, bitcoin and cryptocurrency get all the attention when you hear about Blockchain. But bitcoin is just one currency. There are millions of dollars changing hands in the crypto market right now. When that market goes bust, there will be many people holding crypto that has little value. The idea is to promote that economic value by diverting your funds into physical, tangible assets, such as crowdfunded real estate.”

He added, “For the Millennial market, in particular, this is an appealing way to get into real estate investing. Millennials don’t do real estate, Baby Boomers invest in real estate. But Millennials do crowdfunding and they do crypto. The idea of Real Bit$ is to give the Millennial a taste of the real estate industry through a channel that is already known to them.”

Another aspect of the appeal for Millennials is the opportunity to assist areas devastated by natural disasters. Sai aims to help rebuild these areas by focusing investments on building energy-efficient, sustainable, near Net-Zero, carbon neutral homes so devastated communities can become self-reliant, resilient and environmentally-friendly.

Putting his prior entrepreneurial, corporate and engineering expertise to work has inspired Sai to pursue the Real Bit$ platform.  He recently presented at 1 Million Cups Charlotte’s think tank gathering, which welcomes startup presenters from concept through their first three years. Sai welcomes the additional feedback.

“The past six months have been a huge learning curve and there is still more to learn. Being an entrepreneur, you realize very quickly that it’s not a cake walk. But there are numerous opportunities to learn. And I want to leave a legacy that makes this world a little better if I can.”


Learn to love your blog again

(L to R: Jerry Nairne, Josh Silverman, JR Getches, Morgan Malino)

What do you do when writing content is a chore and the experts you need are busy with their “real” jobs? As the head of IT for a law firm, JR Getches knew that frequently-updated, fresh, keyword-rich content would drive search engine optimization (SEO) and web rankings. He knew those rankings were the goldmine behind building awareness with potential clients. But JR needed more content.

So when the managing partner of the firm assigned each lawyer to write 500 words, just once per week, JR thought that reasonable request to help their website rankings skyrocket would be an easy one for staff to fulfill. But then the lawyers didn’t produce. Like many business owners, they were just too busy.  

JR started thinking about content automation as a means to help writers stay on top of their topics. He figured there must be a way to automate story writing so the lawyers – or any business or content owner – could focus more on editing and style.

With his tech background, JR knew his idea would need to be an algorithmic-rich system that took care of formatting and extracting the labor-intensive stuff, like which keywords and format will get the attention of the narrow and ever-changing definition of what search engine computers rank highest. And it had to be customizable and simple to use.

And that’s why he built Zaphne.

As a business owner, it is really hard to come up with an hour every day to write content. That’s why so many good-intention blogs are abandoned. Zaphne automates the research and revision parts of blogging, helps business owners stay focused on building organic web traffic, and increases productivity. They don’t have to write content themselves or wait for someone to come along and write it for them,” said Josh Silverman, CFO for Zaphne and one member of the entrepreneurial company’s tech-experienced, four-person team.

Josh is bullish on the opportunity ahead for Zaphne because of the productivity it gives back to business owners. He is also enthusiastic about the team.

Zaphne’s content engine unlocks SEO strategies organically, and gives business owners the low cost tool they need to compete with the big firms who are churning out content with a staff of writers,” he said. “It solves a real problem for millions of web site owners.”

So how does it work, exactly? Zaphne combines automation with a proprietary algorithm that searches the web for relevant information and then creates keyword-rich, original content based on the topic you choose.  The content includes pictures and videos, keywords and links to source articles, and is considered original content by search engines.  Never duplicated for anyone else, each Zaphne post can be completely computer written, or can be easily edited in about five minutes to fit your style – a far cry from the hour it takes an average person to construct a blog themselves.

Officially launched last year, Zaphne has already garnered positive feedback and live use via its integration with WordPress and its inclusion in the WordPress repository. A blogless version is coming soon. Josh says the Charleston, SC Company has been flying under the radar on purpose, but the search for feedback continues.

“Hearing both positive and constructive responses has been invaluable in the development of Zaphne. For example, the idea to have a blogless version came from a banker who liked the idea of being a content expert, but doesn’t have a blog,” he said. “We also hear folks coming up with other ways to integrate this service with their software or media platform, or another way to think about using our automated content. We can’t put a price tag on that kind of feedback.”

He added, “The software is built and the core tech works great, so now we are focused on making adaptation easier for end users. The core technology doesn’t change, just where and how we deliver what Zaphne constructs. Getting into WordPress is a big step for any software. They have 75 million users worldwide. But we are already working other integration points to take this large scale. We’re building on our one-to-many approach.”

By focusing their attention on automating the mundane parts of blogging, Zaphne helps business owners and marketing professionals express themselves without the investment of time it typically takes to research, compose and format original content. 

With Zaphne, they can learn to love their blog again.


Resolve the pain points of home renovation? Problem solved.

“I’ve always had a side business going, even as a kid. Most kids have a lemonade stand. I was selling blueberries by the roadside at 10 or 11 years old. So the entrepreneurial mindset got into my blood early and has just always been there.

But I am a solution provider more so than an entrepreneur. That’s what really gets me motivated – finding solutions to problems. That’s why I went into IT. But my side business for years has been fixing and flipping houses and mobile homes,” said John Daoust, co-founder of Contractor’s Edge, a comprehensive service for both contractors and homeowners that aims to make the process of remodeling a pleasant and secure experience.

The Army and Navy veteran (yes, both!) knows a thing or two about the pain points of securing multiple contractors and being a homeowner looking to finish a needed repair or major renovation project. He and his business partner, Ed Longstrom, each have first-hand war stories and success stories to tell about working within the home improvement industry.

Before launching their signature product, Renescrow™, John and Ed conducted market surveys and field interviews to explore what contractors, homeowners and even governmental agencies involved in natural disasters find lacking or challenging in the contractor relationship or business process.

The contractor industry is not cutting edge. It’s old school. There are lots of good contractors out there but often they are not necessarily good businessmen. Contractor’s Edge includes tools to make it easier and more efficient to conduct business, like electronic quotes, invoices, customer tracking, and integration with DocuSign for getting signatures. It is a lot better than relying on a quote written on the back of a napkin or a piece of blank paper. That still happens.

But we also serve the homeowner. Often times, the contractor asks for a big down payment which is touted as being needed to order materials. A huge benefit of Renescrow is the homeowner can put that down payment and future payments in a secure escrow account that the contractor can draw from with approval, or the funds can be sent directly to the cabinet maker or whomever is the third-party materials provider. It will 100 percent eliminate contractor payment fraud! With this solution, the homeowner can’t be taken for the down payment with the contractor never to return. Unfortunately, that happens.”

Renescrow truly differentiates Contractor’s Edge, providing an answer to a major pain point in the industry. Contractor fraud or fear of it isn’t going away. John points to a survey of 2,000 residents of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina which indicated a full 40 percent of those surveyed experienced some sort of contractor fraud during renovations! And there are many other surveys or anecdotal experiences out there with similar cringe-worthy reports.

John hopes Renescrow becomes such a common brand that it becomes a synonym for contractor guarantees, just like Kleenex came to be the name for all tissues. With Renescrow, the homeowner is protected, but so is the contractor.

“Renescrow becomes a tool for the contractor to assure the homeowner up front because they can legitimately say that the money goes only to the intended party or purpose. And they don’t have to chase the check from the homeowner who may claim they don’t have the funds after the job gets started.”

The financial aspect of the Renescrow service is managed via a partnership with Payoneer, a leading, certified online money transfer service which also handles such brands as Airbnb, Amazon and UPS.

Thanks to Ed’s web and integration expertise, coupled with John’s marketing and people-skills, Contractor’s Edge already has more than 1,200 customers and 1,500 successful projects under its belt. But they continue to refine and define their approach to market.

That’s why the two Upstate New Yorkers who met and established the company three years ago in Greenville, SC continue to take their pitch on the road.

Because that’s what you do when you’re motivated to find solutions to problems.


Tech exec turned VC bets on entrepreneur motivations

“I was already CEO of a software startup when the idea of GetApp came up. We were developing a software encryption technology that was pioneering blockchain. I knew we were too early in the market, but there was interest from innovative prospects. My main issue was distribution.

The traditional software distribution channels didn’t work for innovative solutions. Established VARs [value-added resellers] or distributors would not be interested and my prospects were not using them anyway to source new solutions. I realized that this issue would increase because the number of SaaS [software-as-a-service] products and SMB clients would grow exponentially thanks to easy access to the cloud infrastructure and development platform. A new platform was needed to match our offer and demand.”

French-native Christophe Primault turned his intuitive market insight into a successful company which he sold to Gartner in 2015, six years after launch. Today, he is a part-time venture capitalist keeping an eye out for the next high-opportunity B2B technology startup. Getting to this point was a journey that many entrepreneurs dream of, but few realize.

Leaving a successful corporate career, Christophe was ready for a lifestyle change. He moved from high-stress London to the Barcelona seaside. While beautiful Barcelona offered the lifestyle he desired, there were few corporate opportunities. Barcelona did, however, have an embryonic entrepreneurial community.

Still, embracing a full-on startup opportunity is not without its challenges.

“The biggest challenge was to adapt to the startup rules. Even if you have big responsibilities in a corporate environment, it won’t prepare you for startup reality. In a big company, you can rely on the brand, on business inertia, on colleagues from all the different functions needed to run a business. When you start a company for the first time, you are on your own.

Fortunately, I started the business with a very complementary partner. Although he was in a similar situation, at least each of us only had half of the things to learn and we had someone to talk to. I don’t think I could have succeeded without the right business partner.”

Christophe attributes their success, in part, to robust execution by two business partners who understood how to complement each other and successfully hire a strong core team.

“My main strength was the ability to read the market. I did some research to understand how the SaaS market would shape up in the near future and talked to many industry actors to validate my assumptions. Once it was clear that the opportunity was there and it was the right time to build the startup, the next key success factor was execution. This is where my business partner brought a lot of strength to the picture.”

While there are often-told stories of serial entrepreneurs entering the market with the idea to sell and exit, Christophe took a more hybrid approach.

“I am not a serial entrepreneur but I was also not interested in building and holding a company forever. I would more describe myself as a one-off opportunist. I saw an opportunity and decided to take a chance at it. There is no shame in acting this way, in fact I believe we should stop glorifying so-called serial entrepreneurs who go and stop with businesses.

Very few of us are able to do that. Those who can are truly talented people and I admire them but I have also seen many painful situations of people losing everything. The human cost of that is very sad and scary. Novice entrepreneurs should know that it is okay to start a business with the intent of reselling it in a few years and that there is a lot room between unicorns, lifestyle businesses and failures.”

Christophe also offers keen insight on the funding process, acknowledging that what worked for him may or may not work for others. GetApp was primarily bootstrapped, raising a small external round to make an acquisition.

“We had the opportunity to raise a large round with a Silicon Valley VC but we decided that we would turn it down and grow the business until we had an opportunity to make a good exit. Retrospectively, it was the right choice for us due to our motivations. But I understand and respect that many other entrepreneurs would have never turned down such amazing opportunity to be an ever bigger company.

There are some side benefits in having a good professional investor on board. They force you to have a clean legal and financial house, which is critical to grow your company in a healthy way but also to sell, especially if your buyer is listed on a US stock exchange. They also help you make the critical decisions.”

In his role with Elaia Partners, Christophe is resolute about fully understanding the real motivations of the entrepreneurs he supports.

“I have seen a bit of gaming between entrepreneurs and some VCs. I don’t think it is healthy. With frank and honest discussions about real motivations, it prevents stressing the situation with unnecessary misalignment. There are sufficient real stressful issues to deal with at a startup!”

Christophe knows. He hedged a bet on Barcelona for work/life balance and it is now one of the fastest growing startup scenes in Europe. And he hedged a bet on the precise market timing that helped grow a successful tech business.

So if you are a B2B tech startup interested in launching in Spain, you might want to look up Christophe. Odds are, you wouldn’t want to bet against him.


This founder looks to disrupt brokerage

“As a teenager being raised by a single mom, I realized the influential power of money. We didn’t always have it and I was drawn to how it works, how it influences culture and, of course, how it could impact what I did in life. When I dropped out of school at 16, it struck me that I really needed to understand money. Without a diploma, people won’t hire you, so you have to always look out for business opportunity. I read everything I could about finance and later became a business journalist.”

That determination to improve his lot in life has served Canadian Julien Brault well. In addition to a notable journalistic career, he founded a publishing venture in Montreal aimed at self-learning and also worked for a venture capital fund focused on fintech. He notes Michael Bloomberg as a source of business inspiration.

But when Julien was writing about other business startups as a journalist, he longed to find the right opportunity to venture back into entrepreneurship himself. Today, he applies his life-long learning quest to being a business founder.

“I think information is power. I have always been a self-learner and a huge reader. Some entrepreneurs can use their phone to learn so much. And there are very smart entrepreneurs that learn best by talking to people. And that is important. But many entrepreneurs, like myself, have a natural propensity to read a lot – books, market reports. Entrepreneurs need more information than the average person. With Hardbacon, I get to apply that learning and experience what I wrote so much about.”

Hardbacon is Julien’s latest venture. It is the culmination of his lifelong interest in money, learning, and helping those who do not fully understand money’s ability to change the trajectory of their lives.

So what is Hardbacon? It is an app-based, decision-making resource aimed at disrupting brokerage. Hardbacon makes investing easy for everyone. The name derives from an old cliché referring to money as bacon – and the fact that money is often hard-earned.

In its initial entry-to-market form, Hardbacon is neither a brokerage/financial advisor telling you how to manage your money nor a robo-advisory making decisions for you. Ultimately, Hardbacon provides all the financial data you need to make your own financial decisions. It analyzes your portfolio and provides related educational insight.

Julien and his co-founders raised 68,000$ [CND] via crowdsourcing before the first line of code was ever written. With its early disruptor potential, Hardbacon has garnered the attention of Fintech and its intended target market of 25-45 year-old investors. More than 7,000 subscribe to the Hardbacon newsletter. The app recently launched across Canada.

“Hardbacon is geared toward the young, working professional who is starting to look forward and wants more control in starting and managing their portfolio. It automates a lot of the work portfolio managers and advisors do behind the scenes, so everyone gets the same advantages and has the same information to achieve their dream.

I discovered early in life that the poor pay more fees. When they don’t have enough money, they die poor and their children are poor. We want to democratize financial information and change the brokerage game, just like the travel industry did when ticket information became more readily comparable. We want users to be in the driver’s seat.”

Staying true to the vision of access for all, the monthly fee for the subscription-based service is very low. Because, as Julien points out, the real ‘why’ behind Hardbacon is about empowering people to change their social status.

Just like he did.




This software makes life easier for event managers

“We have event managers tell us they couldn’t do their job without GateStaff. We build software that actually makes people giddy for their jobs! And if you can make people happy in the hospitality industry while they are serving other people, you’ve got a win!”

Robert Reddick and his co-founders at Gate Staff, Inc., the company behind the GateStaff software, should know. Between them, they have more than 20 years of experience in the festival, music venue and sports arena marketplace ­– and they are putting that experience to work on the latest version.

GateStaff is a software-as-a-service [SaaS]-based application that enables easy, mobile check-in and management of the very large volunteer teams that it takes to smoothly run sports and music festival events. It has already been used at over 8,000 events, including at an NFL stadium and a pro-Golf tournament.

A quarter of a million people have successfully used GateStaff to check into work. Robert sees that – and the ongoing positive feedback from event managers – as a sign that they have carved out a highly-desirable niche.

“There is a lot of existing software within the HR technology marketplace, particularly in the time and attendance space. But while it is a busy category overall, there isn’t much in the festival and volunteer management subset. The few legacy providers are primarily out of Europe and their offers are very expensive and cumbersome. We saw an opportunity to simplify the volunteer hiring and check-in process and provide a much better user experience.”

Robert and the team are now working on the next generation of GateStaff, aiming for expansion of their offer across the United States and perhaps beyond. They had been randomly adding features one-off as clients requested them, but now want to offer a robust platform with customizable, oft-requested solutions to common issues event managers face.

“For example, we know that some States – or countries for that matter – have different regulations regarding things like employee break time and other requirements that event managers struggle with documenting. While we can add a line of code to address that for one client, we want to get to the point where all of the dynamic regulations are already pre-loaded and will meet each client’s specific need with minimal training.”

Easy-to-implement training and easy-to-use software are critical requirements for the end-user, and the reason behind GateStaff’s success thus far, according to Robert.

“One manager who used our application for the first time was almost in tears because of how simple it was to do. She had spent days compiling staff information before and now she could do all that reporting by basically pushing one button. It’s like that out there. Out in the environment, the managers are struggling with basic requests.

With GateStaff, we are able to provide relief to the people who are hiring and the people who use it. We help resolve field management challenges, and provide a good and positive experience for the volunteers who use the software. Both parties really like being able to send and receive notifications about their work schedule. When you are a temporary worker, it is just awesome to get an email asking you to work and confirming the details!”

Thanks to his extensive development and entrepreneurial experience, Robert knows that keeping GateStaff elegant, simple, and reliable is important. It is something that is always top-of-mind.

“Experimentation is part of this team’s lifeblood. So doing this isn’t a leap of faith as much as it is a measured opportunity. The software business is a very dynamic target and sitting still is a bad thing. In fact, I believe it is a bigger risk to not do anything, especially in the middle of today’s AI [artificial intelligence] environment. Sitting still isn’t an option.”

After all, Gate Staff plans to check-in to even more opportunity and success!





This owner wants her clients to be heard and understood

“My story is the plight of the immigrant child. In the beginning of every situation my Mom faced as an immigrant, there was always some form of concern or disappointment or being upset about something that could be resolved by the interpreting function. I quickly noticed, even as a young girl, that her whole demeanor changed when the interpretation happened. She’d literally go from upset to happy.

There were thousands of situations in my youth that had to be dealt with – my mother needed that help and I became her interpreter. Once she learned to speak the language, I had to speak ‘right’ for her. This is the plight of the immigrant. It causes a lot of children to be in an unfair situation. And it happens all over the world. The children just want to play but they become busy helping mom. That personal experience so influenced my life, it became my career.”

Peruvian native Amelia Rodriguez founded Vocalink Global (formerly Vocalink Language Services) more than 20 years ago. She turned her love of language into a much-needed service to help others like herself. But she also grew it into a business-to-business service, meeting the translation needs of corporations doing business around the world.

Starting first as a freelance interpreter, Amelia established her reputation as a Federal Court interpreter. She enjoyed the respect for interpretation work in the courthouse setting, noting it is a very different type of domain. There is a certain challenge in interpreting legal topics, but she also enjoyed that the judges and attorneys knew and appreciated your work.

“Personally, I liked the high stress, high stakes challenge of court work, more so than other interpreting situations. But I soon realized there were others working there who had been at it longer and would always have more experience. That’s when I started looking at how to build a business myself and bring on talented interpreters. I realized there must be translation work out there as well.”

While interpretation is about being a third party liaison for the spoken word, translation services focuses on the written word.

Amelia secured her first major account by attending events with businesses she targeted. That opened the door to the Iams Company while it was still independently-owned. Even then, the pet care and animal nutrition company needed translation services for marketing and sales materials being sent all over the world.

In recent years, Amelia has seen a major shift in the language services industry, driven by technology. Remote video interpreting is coming into vogue, allowing a much more simultaneous interpretation session. But some of the more exciting facets involve changing point-of-service dynamics, the impact of cloud technology and the massive amount of content many large enterprises are trying to manage.

“In the early days, when you needed translation services, you requested whole translation files sent via email. With today’s cloud-based platforms, we no longer need to use the slow email process. Today’s file exchanges are very customizable and include status notifications. You can now have centrally-located files which can be easily accessed with password verification.

That really changes the world for both the client and the translator. You know the status of any piece of work immediately and you can also have a searchable pipeline. For example, we can include data intelligence that will let the client know to reuse already interpreted material that may fit a new project and avoid duplication. There are significant benefits for the customer to have that kind of access and availability.”

That need for access and availability in language services has helped Amelia transform her own immigrant child’s plight into an engaging, state-of-the-art business where every client can be heard and be understood.




Awakening and rejuvenating a sleeper tech

“This is really a Rip Van Winkle story about the rebirth of a proven technology that we’re now making even better! Back in 2007, we were working for a leading manufacturer who was bought out. The new company wasn’t interested in the software tech we developed and had already deployed to about a thousand customers. So it basically went to sleep. We went on with our jobs and other ventures,” said Joe Razum.

Flash forward a decade and suddenly I am asked about that old offering by someone in a totally different industry. So of course, I asked this prospective customer if they would be interested in an update. That was enough spark to pull the team back together. Now, it is like waking up and finding the technology has evolved and it is better than ever!”

Joe’s enthusiasm has been a catalyst behind the awakening of what is now TCO Toolkit, a Software as a Service (SaaS), vendor-neutral total cost of ownership (TCO)/value calculator. The new offering fills a gap in the marketplace to help sourcing leaders determine TCO in a uniform, scalable, and yet customizable way. The original product it evolved from was a Harvard Business Review Best Practice, and Plant Engineering Product of the Year when first introduced and companies clamored for it. Joe is sure the new offering will be even more successful.

That’s because TCO has been identified as the #2 criteria (behind product quality) in strategic sourcing, yet many still use cumbersome methodology, like spreadsheets, to determine this vital component of sourcing success. With its latest updates and cloud-based platform, the easy-to-use TCO Toolkit utilizes a single code for both mobile and PC application.

Joining Joe on this entrepreneurial journey are Sanjay Sharma and Brad Trapp, whose operational, architecture and coding expertise were critical to the rejuvenation of the old platform into its latest version. Each member of the team has slightly different motivations.

“Bringing this live again in a new form and format, with new technology is very exciting for me. That’s what got me onboard. I am inspired by the opportunity to come together again as a team, with our experience from the past and yet taking on the new challenges and requirements, and learning how we can improve.” [Sanjay]

“For me, it’s about the freedom being an entrepreneur brings. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial and while that isn’t a guarantee of success, doing this for ourselves is one of the primary ways to be free to control what I do.” [Brad]

“We were tasked with developing the original product to help us sell at a time when American manufacturers were getting a lot of competition from offshore manufacturers. So it was all about helping us retain and bring back work going elsewhere. It really felt like we were working on something important. It is satisfying to do that again, and the economic potential is nice, too.” [Joe]

TCO Toolkit currently has paid subscription users for its Beta offering, so Joe and the team are feeling good about that economic potential. And they have also received valuable insight from mentors at the Technology Incubator of Rock Hill, SC Launch and 1 Million Cups Charlotte.

This Rip Van Winkle story is proving technology can reawaken a sleeping opportunity!




Move over anthropology: Its time for cloud-based bookkeeping

“To me, bookkeeping is simply anthropology for business. I am determined to take what seems like a dirty word [bookkeeping] and turn it into an essential part of business. Great record keeping can show you how everything works, all those details that make your business successful.”

Jessica Myers is a founding partner for Digit Keeper, a cloud-based, California-grown digital bookkeeping service. Jessica approaches her business from the unusual lens of her education in Anthropology, which involves the study of everything a culture or individual does, and why.

“What we do for our small business customers is first determine what they value and what they don’t, and then what can we do to make their life easier. Looking at the detail behind the accounts puzzle really is like the study of anthropology. That resonated for me and is what got me so excited about helping small business owners.”

So how does an anthropologist end up in bookkeeping? Well, that is a study in culture and ‘why’ in itself.

“I graduated in 2009 at the height of the financial crash. Jobs in my major were few and far between. After a side adventure to Montana, I returned to California and began a whirlwind time where I got married, had my daughter and found myself suddenly living as a military mom adjusting through three deployments.

 Frankly, I didn’t adjust well. I went through an identity crisis and eventually realized that being a mom wasn’t enough for me, personally. So when my Dad, a practicing CPA, approached me with this business idea, I saw the enormous potential. I am determined to help it grow.”

That sense of determination wasn’t born through Jessica’s entrepreneurial venture, but rather, is something innate that was cultivated throughout her life, despite periods of adversity.

“My parents taught me a lot about the importance of knowing who you are and where you draw a line in the sand with your core beliefs. Yet, I never understood when people said to ‘know your why.’ As an adult, I finally realized I had already been given the key.

It is about being true to your core. And it is applicable to your business, too. We help our customers get back to business – the core of what they do best. For me personally, that means doing something that I would work on no matter what. Bookkeeping – and growing this business – is that something for me.”

Jessica also supports that core belief by spending precious downtime focused on actions that help her as an entrepreneur. She reads extensively – often two books a week – to learn more about topics that ultimately help her customers even more, like customer service, leadership and even mental capacity.

“Entrepreneurs and small businesses are vital to the American dream. We need to value and support them. That’s why I love this work and see the potential for Digit Keeper to grow on a national scale. We really want the customer to feel we’re there for them. We are simply an extension of their team.” 

And so Jessica, the anthropologist, now works in and on a business that uses the very latest technology to decipher the small business culture. And that helps her answer the ‘why’ behind her customers’ bookkeeping needs. With her husband set to leave the military in just a few months, she is putting it all on the line for her business and her customers.

Yep, true to her core. Again.


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