Value vs Values

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Data rights is a constantly recurring topic in our daily lives, although it remains an esoteric one. We know it’s an important issue to consider with serious personal pitfalls, but it’s difficult to fully understand or care about the implications of data privacy given the general busyness of our lives.

For example, the Equifax hack exposed sensitive information from over 150MM US citizens, including names, social security numbers, dates of birth, home addresses, and more. Then there is the Yahoo hack to consider: The hackers were in the system for over 18 months, and sensitive information had been exposed from over 500MM users representing a total of over 3BN accounts. Yet the public response did not match the gravity of the situation and what it represented. We’re talking about the most protected data you can own: your identity.


People seem to place little value in such information, in spite of its importance. Why is that? The answer is surprisingly simple: the way we best understand value is by actually experiencing it ourselves.

This got me thinking about what I like to call: the dilemma of value vs values.

Experienced Value vs. Value Not Experienced

When we are able to tangibly experience the value something gives us, we cling to it more tightly. For example, we tend to highly value our social media profiles. They provide value to us by allowing us to connect with friends, family, and people around the world, to share our thoughts and be a part of a global conversation. Most go even deeper, providing authentication across the web and even access to quick and easy payment for goods and services.

With that in mind, imagine that our social media accounts were compromised, and we were no longer capable of accessing our own profiles. It’s no exaggeration to say that people would freak out, because something of great personal value has been taken away.

Does this mean that social media is more valuable than our social security numbers, bank account details or purchase data? Most people would instinctively answer no, but in everyday life, it is difficult to attribute value to those things unless they experience the value first-hand on a regular basis. There is something ethereal about these, yet they definitely are valuable enough to be stolen and some certainly can wreak havoc in our lives when in the hands of those with nefarious intent. As the systems converge, our credit cards are increasingly becoming linked to these profile – so the honeypot is certainly getting sweeter.

Objectively, our private information holds much more sway over our lives than social media does, but social media is instantly accessible and gives users a feeling of instant gratification. We can see its effect on our daily lives, and as a result we attribute more value to it on a regular basis. With other types of information, we don’t experience it in this same way. Not everyone looks at their bank account or checks their credit score every day, making it harder to connect with the value it provides.

By way of extreme example: there are unfortunate people in jail today who are the victims of identity theft and that can’t afford bail or decent legal representation. They get stuck in the system, and their life circumstances are such that they cannot easily (or in any reasonable time frame) be released. These people have had the value of their identity stolen out from under them.

It’s evident we need to take the security and value of our data a lot more seriously in the ever-advancing digital world.

Holding Value Accountable with Strong Values

Consider the example of purchase data — many companies offer value by promising to keep that data secure and use it to drive better shopping experiences. However, other times, they may sell the information to third-parties.

The core issue with this, is that often, it doesn’t make your data valuable to you… it is primarily providing commercial value to others. There is a famous saying: “When something is free, you are the product”. This sort of underhanded method that companies employ sometimes to make profits, certainly should go against the grain of any reasonable person’s values. When this happens, it becomes increasingly evident that the so-called “value” that companies claim to provide is entirely an hollow promise.

Giving something value is the first step, but when value is provided, it is necessary to back it up with strong values. As a society and as individuals, we have guidelines (generally achieved by social consensus) for the way we go about our lives.

We tend to align ourselves with beliefs and ideals: our values. If something has value, but doesn’t support our core values, it’s foundations are built on rot. Look at companies like Uber and Airbnb, who have damaged communities and people with their business practices. This demonstrates a negligence in caring for values, and has led to public controversy and loss of trust in these companies. In light of this, the shine of value they once provided has waned.

Value and Values Working Together

The typical consumer, knows that they should care more about values-based propositions, but their lives in this day and age are extremely busy. People won’t stop and notice an issue until a big blowout happens.

The process of values and value is a two-way street, and ideally, businesses poised for longevity should rise to the occasion and build strong values into their business model, while still focusing on providing something valuable to their customers.

Businesses know that they should provide value to consumers, but the true key for success is to merge value with strong values. Even charities, which are values-based instead of value-based, find ways to provide tangible value to consumers in order to achieve that balance.

Omaze pairs charitable giving with a chance to win various experiences with famous individuals. You could enter to win a chance to be interviewed by Trevor Noah on the Daily Show set, or join Hillary Clinton for a Broadway play, among the many other offerings that are meant to encourage promoting strong values while providing significant value.

The Shopin Difference

As we continue to move forward in our data-driven world, the concept of value vs. values will need to be more closely addressed, and the conversation should focus on how we can prevent data from being stolen and abused whilst still being leverageable to drive the consumer’s best experiences.

At Shopin, we are dedicated to accomplishing a unique path to strike that balance, providing you value from your purchase data, all the while backing it up with strong values.

We aim to bring forth a paradigm shift in protecting customer purchase data employing blockchain encryption and approach. This approach focuses on keeping the data out of the hands of retailers and companies that preyed on that information before, using it for their own gain or failing to keep it safe whilst making it more useful and accurate than ever before. That is our foundation of Shopin’s core values: that your purchase data will not be taken advantage of, and provide the best experiences.

Simultaneously, that same data will not simply sit there functionally useless. We intend to provide value to your data by driving the most personalized shopping experience to date, safely utilizing purchase data, visual AI, and user preferences to enhance the shopping experience. I encourage readers to look at Shopin’s website and explore the ways we deliver value back to your data.

Achieving a balance between value vs. values can be a great challenge for businesses and entrepreneurs, but it is one worth overcoming. As we continue toward the future, it is encumbered upon us to always be on the lookout for ways that we can align our ideas with strong values, while working to give true value to consumers.

You Sunk My “Battleship”… and Other Thoughts on Business Strategy

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Competition is a natural part of life. You find it everywhere, from the board games you play casually with friends to the businesses that compete neck and neck with each other for greater success. Whether you are playing a game or running a business, the basic path for success remains the same: you need a clear and strong strategy to steer a steady course.

Lately, I’ve been considering one of my favorite childhood games: Battleship, and pondering about how its strategy parallels the business world. At its core, Battleship is a game in which you have to fail over and over before you win. Battleship fundamentally requires a systematic strategy of trial and error in order to find your opponent’s ships. After hitting a ship for the first time, it’s fairly easy to hit the rest of it and sink it, because you begin to see the shape of success.

Entrepreneurship shares similar traits. You can make educated guesses or accurate predictions when you’re strategizing, but there is never a 100 percent guarantee for success. This is what makes it so crucial to be meticulous and plan ahead. In Battleship, you want to actively discern where your opponent has placed their pieces. It’s essential to be ready to readjust your plan if necessary, to course correct yourself if you find that certain areas of attack are simply not working.

Battleship shows entrepreneurs that it’s going to take some time to get your bearings — it’s nearly impossible to do everything right the first time when starting a business, just like it’s nearly impossible that you’ll go a whole game of Battleship without missing at all. You can’t reasonably expect either scenario to happen, so understanding the trial and error approach will better equip you to pick yourself back up from failure in order to keep moving forward and eventually find the shape of success.

In any game, and with any business, you are playing to win. Strategy and competition is zero-sum: there are a limited amount of resources to be had by each participant. You either work to boost your own resources above your opponent or try and deplete your opponent’s resources — this is true in Battleship (and in Monopoly or Settlers of Catan or any other strategy game) and this is also certainly true in business.

Bill Gross TED talk – The single biggest reason why start-ups succeed @Bill_Gross

This is why it’s important to have a well-thought-out strategy and be prepared to change it as necessary. If you’re playing against someone by relying on chance and luck rather than a well-thought-out strategy, you’re way worse off because the game is a two-sided equation: your opponent is certainly not going to simply hope for the best, they are going to do everything in their power to win, and that means trying to find a strategic way to beat you and win.

Battleship is unexpectedly also an exercise in listening. The game is particularly fascinating in that it requires open and honest communication between opposing players. When one player calls out a grid number, the other person must declare whether their opponent has hit or missed a ship. Once a ship has been sunk, the opposing player must say so to their opponent. Business strategy decisions have very clear responses — investors, consumers, employees and partners, the general public all have an opinion — but you have to be listening for it. Are you open to accept the feedback?

When you pay attention to the response, you begin to understand where strengths rise and weaknesses lie veiled. If your product isn’t being well-received, listening will likely reveal vital information that could affect your strategy. Of course, you have to know how to listen. You have to have the right tools. Perhaps you’ve been marketing to the wrong target audience, or you should have been focusing on one of your product’s features over others. In the way that your Battleship opponent tells you if your decision was right or wrong, there are many who will also keep you informed and aware of what’s working and what’s not in your business. Have you surrounded yourself with advisors and colleagues that can help you circumnavigate these experiences in an effortless and easy manner?

When approached with the right mindset, Battleship is fun no matter if you win or lose. What matters the most is the process, and learning from the process as much as you can creates the enjoyment that many feel while competing.

There’s so much value in playing the game itself, and the lessons you gain while doing so are what lead to future success. Winning a game is accompanied with a short-lived burst of elation… but the lessons and small wins along the way to the big win will provide a path to a lifetime of successes. 

Likewise, entrepreneurs can find fulfillment in their business endeavors whether they are successful or not in securing that “BIG FINAL WIN” at the end of the race, as long as they are fully invested in the process and are open and willing to learn from the experience. Without working through the process, entrepreneurs can never hope to find success in their future or experience the true joy of competing in business strategy.

Remember when you studied maths or science? The majority of the points were gained in showing how you achieved your final solution, not in the provision of the final solution itself. You could even score marks just in getting some of the steps right, even if the final solution was erroneous.

Challenges and competitions are healthy for entrepreneurs. They drive us to be deeply involved in process-based outcomes instead of the false positives of seeming “big wins”. Keeping in mind that it’s all a game of Battleship or similar offers that meaningful series of regular rewards that help keep us on track and stay motivated. They also ensure that even if the final goal you set out to achieve is not fully met, you’re left with a wealth of riches from each successful milestone.

Control Your Data Before It Controls You

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In today’s society, information is power. It holds a great influence over us, yet we often go about our days blissfully unaware of the vulnerability of the standard infrastructure. In spite of the many prominent data hacks in recent history, such as the events involving Equifax and Cambridge Analytica, the controversy surrounding them has subsided in the public forum, and many people have moved on seemingly disregarding any possible threat to their own livelihood.

Such security being compromised is a more concerning threat than something as simple as personal information being used for targeted ads, although this does not change the concerning nature of how individual data is used to gain influence over a person. Personal identifying information (pii) is disseminated all the time, through purchase data and many other forms of private information sent out into the world and used by others to shape our experiences.

One proposed idea to combat this lack of control over our data is the creation of a data privacy bill of rights that gives pii other data ownership back into the rightful hands of consumers. Regulations like this would be a step in the right direction, although it is perhaps even more important to consider the distinction between owning pii and other such data as opposed to controlling how it is utilized.

This process does not simply end at owning and controlling our online data. As has been famously quoted many times in history, with great power comes great responsibility. In the modern age, it would be virtually impossible to attempt to keep all of our data private, considering it is an integral part of managing and enhancing our day-to-day lives; personal profiling of our shopping experiences, social media, banking/financial information becomes more and more essential to interacting with exponential advances of modern technology.

Finn Lützow-Holm Myrstad TED talk – How tech companies deceive you into giving up your data and privacy @finnmyrstad

The fight to protect data and provide oversight to infrastructure to the benefit of users has been “a losing game” — data is continually generated and monitored as we use the internet, make purchases, sign up for websites and so forth. When it comes to controlling our data, this proves a difficult challenge to overcome, as there is only so much that legislation can do to ease the pressures of the overwhelming demand of such data consumption which has become increasingly available for purchase by major conglomerates. As more data is created and assimilated, the responsibility for it also becomes greater, and the thought of controlling our data becomes less accessible and appealing to the general public.

The scale of the subject makes the notion of controlling it an amorphous and ethereal concept that can be difficult to comprehend. It is for this reason that individuals on a broad scale have aversions staying current to the advances in technology and learning how to control their data, despite the importance of doing so. To be fair, there isn’t much tangible value our data can offer to the consumer directly in its current state, despite its massive value to the adtech and commercial economy. Paradoxically it has enough value to be hacked, but not enough perceived and actualized value to the consumer themselves. Furthermore, people live busy lives and it’s hard to prioritize something that has a value that is so occulted and difficult to comprehend, instead feel adequately protected by regulations such as the GDPR.

A survey by Martech Today shows that a significant portion of consumers have expressed a desire for greater control over data, although the societal standards surrounding individual data control tells a different story. How many times have you skipped over a private policy agreement, or ignored terms and conditions? Most everyone has done it. Research by Deloitte confirms this, revealing that over 90 percent of consumers accept terms and conditions without reading them. It is practically second nature for people to willingly hand over their data and let others assume responsibility for it. We must work to change this mentality to encourage individuals to take charge of their own data by proper incentive, and that path may be finally giving data tangible value back to individuals.

The Wall Street Journal – GDPR: What Is It and How Might It Affect You?

As we begin to seek control and responsibility of our own data, there is a clear requirement for the creation of a holistic data ecosystem that provides personal value to our information. The differences in experience are subtle but can provide a monumental change in security and optimal use. In the situations where a retailer uses data to provide recommendations vs times that a consumer chooses to share their own data with specific businesses, the outcome is virtually the same: a person will have their data provide them with a personalized shopping experience that benefits them. The vital difference is that in the second case, a consumer is also compensated and can be at less risk of their data being stolen or abused when the incentive to maintain users is created by limiting accessibility to PII (Personal Identifiable Information), forcing security measures to be implemented.

Developing our own data identities is about controlling our online information instead of having our data purchased and used by others to define us. In the end, it is not simply a matter of controlling our data, but realizing the value of it. Controlling our data is only the first step, and one must answer a fundamental questions: how do we standardize the value of our personal data? How do we create an ecosystem where that value can be leveraged without any of the security concerns of the past? Moving forward with this endeavor, we as a community must find the next steps for data rights and consumer relationships.

Ancient Wisdoms of the Entrepreneur, The Martial Art of Business Leadership, Part 1

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What are the qualities that are found in the leadership roles of the most successful businesses?  These men and women are calm and composed under pressure, capable of handling the high-stakes situations that regularly occupy their work. They are driven and passionate, but tempered, displaying excellent mental fortitude. They are open-minded and constantly learning while also being great mentors. These traits are emblematic of the discipline and virtues of eastern philosophies: the qualities that martial arts instil in the practitioners are that which enable business leaders to thrive.

My lifelong passion for martial arts, most notably Taiji Chaun & Bagua Zuang, has provided me longevity through persistence and consistency by “indomitable spirit.” These are coupled with creative perceptions influenced greatly by the inherent Taoist and Buddhist doctrines. Emblematic of the standards of these studies, the challenges one is forced to overcome are transmuted into valuable lessons that continue to shape my ideologies in a manner that improves my business ventures on a day to day basis.


Maintaining Composure

Martial arts, first and foremost, helps maintain composure and control over your emotions. You are forced to confront your physical, mental, and emotional weaknesses eventually led to overcome them.  In business, letting your emotions rule will inevitably cause you to make critical errors.

Emotional decision-making, when untempered, elicits a negative “fight or flight” response resulting in being reactive and causing us to flee from stress, fear, and failure. Subsequently leading us to make decisions and take actions that provide a false sense of emotional resolution which are generally short-sighted inviting a trojan horse to unforeseen pitfalls. Instead, business leaders must be proactive and responsive; they must find a stillness within themselves and enable an understanding of a situation from every angle in order to assess the best outcome with clear rational discernment.

This sort of responsiveness in martial arts is cultivated through meditation as well as time tested techniques that offer business leaders a path to gain more control over their emotions and make optimal decisions in the face of adversity.


There is NO Failure, Only Feedback

Many startups will rarely acknowledge the positive implications of failure. Ignoring critical analysis often leads to devastating losses. In fact, it is by the pain of failure that one can begin to find new ways to progress and improve.

During my training, I once found myself attempting to master somersaults. I would roll around on the concrete, subjecting my body to the hard surface and trying numerous times to succeed. My speciality at the time, Hung Gar (Tiger style) is an art that toughens the body with external callusing, increasing bone density through microtrauma (iron body) all the while maintaining flexibility. I thought that I could simply keep “taking the damage” until I managed to make it work. But after many attempts, I realized that this strategy wasn’t getting me anywhere.

Eventually, I took a step back and reflected on the task, focusing on subtlety instead of the brute force that I had previously attempted. I realized that the motion of the somersault is all about flexibility and that my toughness was actually working against me. Recognizing my error in balancing my regiment, I changed my strategy based on that realization in order to accomplish my goal.

As an entrepreneur, “taking the arrows” is never the viable option. The thoughtlessness of such a method is particularly noticeable in the realm of business, where simply powering through a situation can wind up being harmful to your business and those within your organization. This just needlessly consumes time and energy. Instead, one must embrace failure and accept that the current methods just aren’t working out. Then you can begin the process of discovering the right path. This is the way of “no failure, only feedback.”


Appreciating Constant Learning

As with all endeavors, the natural progression of each pursuit will eventually lead to hearing (and potentially heeding) the call of leadership.

As an entrepreneur, it is the role of the leadership to guide employees toward the company’s vision, and as a martial arts teacher, it is one’s duty to help pupils embrace the legacy of the arts. A mistake that martial artists can make once they become teachers is neglecting their own training. They forget the necessity of constantly learning and improving themselves, and eventually become stagnant in their studies and spiritual progress. As my master once said, “A teacher who is no longer a student, is no longer fit to be a teacher.”

In your training, you will eventually come up against someone that hits harder,  trains harder and is well prepared to test your skill and resolve. I recall a competition where I fought an opponent with 20 years of boxing experience and 12 years of martial arts experience. The first time he punched me, my whole body shook to my bones and joints. My opponent did not disclose his experience in boxing at all and used his boxing experience to overwhelm me. After the fight, I approached him and asked if I could buy him a drink — Recognizing his talent and wanting to learn more from the exchange. What I was gifted was the realization that while there is always someone out there who has trained longer, harder, with more determination than you, it is the understanding that you must compete with yourself of yesterday every day. As “you are the only constant in your universe.”

Business dealings can be repetitive and systematic, but like the complacency of some martial arts instructors, leaders and entrepreneurs should avoid resting on their laurels or assuming that they are handling the situation well enough. “Complacency and familiarity breed weakness and contempt.”

One must always be open-minded, searching for better ways to carry out their visions. It is also vital to nurture the talent of others and allow them to contribute their knowledge and insight and set them up for success. You never know when someone else might have a brilliant idea or a hidden hand that could change one’s perspective and turn the tables in the most crucial of moments.

As I move forward with our team at Shopin and advisory roles, I continually find that the lessons I learn from my training enhance my business endeavors. An entrepreneur should always be searching for ways that other perspectives can positively influence their work, and the passion of the study of the martial arts has opened me up to a multitude of lessons that serve as one of the strongest foundations of effective business strategy and leadership.

It is my most sincere wish that you the reader will benefit from these traditions as I and many others throughout the generations have as well.

Creating a New Federation of Retailers to Protect and Empower Consumers

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The universal shopping profile presents one of the most challenging ideas in the retail industry to date. If accomplished, the ability to consolidate shopping data and increase personalization can create an entirely new way for consumers to shop. Taking that concept one step further and creating a decentralized profile that gives customers control of their own data would further benefit the shopping experience and represent meaningful progress on data rights.

But making this idea a reality is a difficult task; it is a shared effort that requires cooperation from both consumers and retailers. It would also require a facilitator to ensure that the process is handled smoothly and fairly — something my team and I have been working towards at Shopin. By uniting brands to create a new federation of retailers under a single decentralized profile, it is possible to enable this revolutionary step forward in the shopping experience. Such a federation would entail collecting purchase data from a wide variety of retailers in order to fully realize a higher level of personalization for customers and increase growth for the retailers.

Retailers are understandably hesitant to hand over their consumer purchase data. They are concerned that doing so will cause them to lose their edge in retaining customer interest over their competitors. But it is difficult for retailers to utilize the data effectively on their own, and they have infamously had trouble keeping that data secure.

Shopin’s platform can assist retailers by ensuring that data does not get abused or stolen. It also allows businesses to continue using their purchase data, but with the ability to utilize the data in more effective ways. Shopin combines next-gen AI, purchase data, and user preferences to generate accurate recommendations for customers, which in turn will increase sales conversions for retailers at a substantial rate. As an added bonus, customer data is stored on the blockchain, meaning that retailers will be safe from data hacks that compromise their customer relationships.

For consumers, the most obvious benefit to a universal shopping profile is the accessibility. The ability to shop with your favorite brands and stores under a single login would be a convenient change for consumers. In an age where technology is constantly evolving to make people’s lives easier, this level of universality is a highly appealing prospect.

The data collected from retailers is encrypted on the blockchain, leaving the consumers solely in control of their own data. With their purchase data fully secured, consumers can rest easy while enjoying a vastly improved shopping experience. Since the data is based on the blockchain, consumers will also have access to the Shopin token, a cryptocurrency that can be used to shop at participating retailers.

Instead of spending on marketing to reach consumers indirectly, offering Shopin tokens allow retailers to engage with shoppers and reward them for their attention and loyalty. The token also acts as an incentive to customers – they can spend the tokens they receive at their favorite stores, meaning that a retailer’s marketing dollars go directly back to them.

Retailers are always in competition with each other, but the vision for a federation of retailers is one that benefits all parties involved. The reality is that only 7 percent of retailers can recognize their shoppers across multiple channels and devices, and less than 3 out of 100 people will make a purchase after visiting a site. By integrating shopper purchase data into a universal profile platform for their customers, retailers can improve these rates for themselves.

In a sense, this concept takes the opposite approach to the competition-driven market, with retailers instead helping themselves and other retailers grow at the same time, enabling greater successes while providing an unprecedented shopping experience for customers.

It is in the best interest of retailers to form such a federation, and not simply because it will lead to more profits. For businesses that are looking to provide satisfaction and greater trust for their consumers, it is their responsibility to make strides toward stronger data rights.

These days, people are increasingly worried about their lack of control over data, fearing a dystopian future. Through creating a federation of retailers that places data securely on the blockchain, all fears of being controlled by one’s own data will become nonexistent whilst unprecedented value is realized for both sides of the table.