All posts in “Entrepreneurship”

Trending Storylines Hone LinkedIn’s Relevance

LinkedIn on Wednesday began rolling out Trending Storylines, a feature that offers curated feeds of the most interesting developing stories in a member’s industry.

Storylines are personalized for members through a combination of algorithms and the choices of LinkedIn’s editorial team.

The feeds may include perspectives from relevant influencers and news sources, as well as individuals in the member’s LinkedIn network. Each Storyline will have its own hashtag, so other members can join the conversation.

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Still in the works is a feature that will allow members to follow people and topics they discover within Storylines.

Storylines “will give LinkedIn users greater insight into the trends, issues and challenges that move the needle for their business associates, enabling them to make smarter decisions about their interactions,” said Joyson Cherian, SVP at W2 Communications.

“The introduction of Trending Storylines … seems like a logical move as [LinkedIn positions itself as a one-stop shop for business professionals,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Trending Storylines is on members’ mobile home screens under the Trending tab, and at the top right of the desktop’s homepage.

The feature will be rolled out to LinkedIn members in other countries soon.

How Storylines Are Assembled

The editorial team adds new entries for a Storyline name, image and description in a store in Espresso, LinkedIn’s online, distributed, fault-tolerant NoSQL database.

The store contains additional metadata that LinkedIn’s algorithms use to stay on top of new developments in the Storyline.

The team then searches for and tags relevant LinkedIn content, and files it in another Espresso store. The tags are propagated automatically to LinkedIn’s different search indices using its real-time change data capture system, Databus.

LinkedIn’s algorithms update Storylines in real time as new content is published.

How Content Is Selected

Content must meet four criteria for inclusion in a Storyline:

  • It must be relevant to the story;
  • It must be fresh;
  • It must add to the overall quality of a member’s feed experience; and
  • It must be personalized to the member; therefore, content from the member’s network is favored over content from other sources.

“Right now, LinkedIn is a content firehose, and it’s hard to filter out the content you want,” noted Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“This might help throttle down the flood,” he suggested.

However, it also might filter out content that is important “but doesn’t pass the smell test of the algorithms that LinkedIn will use,” Jude told the E-Commerce Times.

The Problem With Curated News

Algorithms’ nose for news may not be accurate, as Facebook found out last year, when it tried to control the explosion of fake news in its Trending Topics section after getting rid of its human editors.

LinkedIn’s Storylines feature is similar to Facebook’s Trending Topics, and because “any kind of automated or human-imposed management of content is a form of censorship, this will undoubtedly tick off some people and will exclude content that many people want,” Frost’s Jude suggested.

The idea behind Storylines is good, but “it’s a question of execution and how good the algorithms are,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“If the feeds are accurate and continue functioning as a business-oriented service, the concept will pull people in,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

With Trending Storylines, said Enderle, LinkedIn’s management is “focusing on making LinkedIn what it aimed to be — a business-focused service offering sales opportunities.”

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

Geeks on a Plane Africa kicks off as 500 Startups eyes tech for the continent and beyond

500 Startups’ frontier and emerging markets travel series ― Geeks on a Plane ― kicks off its first Africa tour this week. The 12-day trip will make stops in Nigeria (Lagos), Ghana (Accra) and South Africa (Johannesburg and Cape Town).

“We’ve done about 10 investments in sub-Saharan Africa,” said 500 Startups’ founding partner Dave McClure ― such as Nigerian HR platform TalentBase and South Africa’s SweepSouth ― originated as applicants through 500’s seed program. “We’re not announcing a new fund at the current time, but are planning on doing more investment in Africa. Whether that’s 5, 10, or 20 startups a year, we’ll have to see.”

McClure, who kicked off the Geeks trip Monday in Lagos, did not rule out a dedicated Africa micro-fund, noting a decision could be made within the next 12-24 months.

“Part of the exercise is trying to figure out what geographies we’d be investing in… the legal structures, other investors, and understanding, not just the companies, but what the overall ecosystem looks like and how we’d fit in to that,” he said.

The current Geeks Africa tour agenda appears tailored to those aims. The trip’s partners and participants number many, such as regional host USAID, Microsoft and the MEST incubator. The Lagos portion kicked off with a panel briefing on Nigeria’s startup ecosystem at IBM Labs led by TechCabal’s Bankole Oluwafemi. 500 Startups joined Seedstars Lagos for a startup pitch battle with local ventures judged by McClure, Seedstars country manager Tunde Akinnuwa and Omidyar Networks investment head, Scott Wu.

The Ghana leg touches down for the Enterprise Africa Summit on entrepreneurship and innovation in Accra. The Geeks South Africa segment includes meetings with VC funds and Accelerators, such as 10XE and Edge Growth.

This first Geeks Africa trek follows an uptick in global investment and Silicon Valley attention toward the continent over the last year-plus. Pan-African e-commerce startup Jumia became the continent’s first unicorn in 2016 when it surpassed $1 billion in market value in a $326 million Goldman-backed funding round.

Notable tech names Netflix, eBay, Uber and IBM expanded on the continent last year. Y Combinator visited Lagos in 2016 and accepted several African startups into its program. And Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg put a spotlight on the continent’s tech scene with his tour of hubs and startups in Nigeria and Kenya last September.

500 Startups’ McClure said the seed fund will “look to target straightforward business models” in its future Africa investments, “with a heavy emphasis on consumer-focused commerce…B2B productivity tools, SaaS, fintech, education, healthcare, real-estate, and jobs and recruiting.”

During and after the Geeks Africa trip, McClure also noted 500 Startups’ focus on ventures that can scale on and off the continent. “We’re definitely interested in local market opportunities in places measured at 50-100 million people or more ― Nigeria, South Africa, East Africa overall. But we’ve also seen people going after global markets from Africa. That’s something we are on the lookout for. Smart people are everywhere,” he said.

Featured Image: Allan Baxter/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Walmart Launches ‘Store No. 8’ E-Commerce Venture

Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart eCommerce U.S., on Tuesday discussed the company’s plans to launch a new venture, called “Store No. 8,” which will operate as a Silicon Valley incubator for new online stores.

The incubator will focus on startups engaged in machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and augmented reality.

Lore unveiled the plans at the annual Shoptalk conference in Las Vegas.

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The move reflects Walmart’s ambition to catch up to Amazon in the e-commerce retail space. Lore took the helm of Walmart’s e-commerce business after Walmart acquired, the company he cofounded.

More Walmart acquisitions are in the works, he said, as the company accelerates its expansion in the online arena.

Established Distribution Network

Walmart intends to take advantage of its already strong presence in brick-and-mortar locations, which can serve both as traditional showrooms for customers and as distribution centers for online shoppers who want to find clickable discounts and pick up purchases from a reliable distribution center that is close to their neighborhoods.

“Walmart does a pretty good job of enabling online sales for its retail inventory,” said Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“Where it falls short is enabling a retail ecosystem where many companies can sell goods and services under their umbrella,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Amazon has put together an enormous technical and intellectual property base to support and extract revenue from such an online marketplace, while Walmart has fallen short in that regard, Jude added.

Walmart currently operates almost 11,700 retail units globally, including 4,672 in the U.S. alone. It also operates in more than 6,300 in overseas markets. In addition, it runs 660 Sam’s Club warehouse locations.

Walmart’s Shopping Spree

Lore’s announcement followed several months of strategic acquisitions by Walmart. It has added a number of online apparel retailers to its growing Walmart online ecosystem, allowing them to retain their own brand identities and human talent, with the goal of building on existing customer relationships.

“These are small, but they are telling and they’re tactical,” noted Charlie O’Shea, lead retail analyst at Moody’s.

“Walmart starts to pick things off in subsegments of retail and bolt them on,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Walmart earlier this year acquired ShoeBuy for US$70 million. Founded in 1999, it was one of the first retailers to sell shoes on the Web.

Although Shoebuy continues to operate under its own brand — with CEO Mike Sorabella, his top executives and 200 employees remaining in place at its existing headquarters — it now is part of the Walmart retail e-commerce business.

Walmart next acquired Moosejaw, an outdoor apparel and sporting goods retailer, for $51 million. Considered one of the leading online stores in the category, it operates 10 physical locations.

Under that agreement, Moosejaw CEO Eoin Comerford, his executive team and the company’s 350 employees became part of Walmart’s e-commerce retail operation, but continue to operate under their own brand at the same locations.

Walmart’s most recent acquisition, ModCloth, brought one of the leading online specialty retailers of women’s apparel and accessories to the retailing chain.

Modcloth is known for offering a diverse range of apparel for different body sizes and lifestyles, and for promoting a positive body image.

As with the other acquistions, ModCloth CEO Matthew Kaness, his top executives and the retailer’s 300-plus workers will continue to operate under the same brand and at the same locations as before.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain’s New York Business and The New York Times.

ProsperWorks Adds In-App Comms to its Google CRM Solution

ProsperWorks, which provides CRM for Google’s G Suite business tools, last week announced the addition of in-app cloud communications functionality.

ProsperWorks Adds In-App Comms to its Google CRM Solution

The new features are available through a custom integration with RingCentral, which provides enterprise cloud communications and collaboration solutions.

The integration lets users make, receive and log calls without leaving the CRM solution. It provides them with information such as callers’ contact details, past interactions and deal status, and it eliminates the need to take manual notes.

Users also get activity and goal reports.

“The analytics a company can glean from call activity can be indicative of deal closure probability, customer interest, service issues and other factors,” noted Cindy Zhou, a principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“The challenge with CRM has been a lack of data entered,” she told CRM Buyer.

Prosperworks CRM

Users with active RingCentral Office accounts can log calls and corresponding notes in ProsperWorks through voicemail.

“These new functionalities were an incredibly important focus to implement,” said ProsperWorks CEO Jon Lee.

“At the end of the day, we have a simple mission, which is to help businesses sell more efficiently,” he told CRM Buyer. “The ability to make and receive calls and log notes from directly within our CRM delivers immediate value to the user in terms of productivity and efficiency.”

The integration “is a logical next step to provide greater customer value and increase usage of ProsperWorks’ CRM solution,” observed Constellation’s Zhou.

Other cloud-based communications providers already have or are developing, call activity integration into CRM, including 8×8’s Virtual Office for Salesforce, she noted.

Who Gets to Play

The integration is available to users who have a premium or enterprise RingCentral office account or are on the ProsperWorks business plan.

It doesn’t need any other software installation. It runs within ProsperWorks and integrates seamlessly with a RingCentral desk phone or desktop app.

“VoIP and mail integration are two key areas that help sales automation players drive increased sales productivity — more time selling — while increasing the fidelity and detail of information captured in CRM systems,” said Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus Research.

“We find sales people that spend more than 8 percent of their time entering data in CRM are not optimizing their time for actually selling,” she told CRM Buyer. “This integration will help bring them to optimal.”

Major CRM solution providers like Salesforce offer VoIP integrations through third-party plugins and marketplaces, ProsperWorks’ Lee said, but “these options are simply bolted on, poorly designed, and require installation and setup.”

This is also true for other CRM solutions that have tried to integrate with Google’s G Suite, he said, noting that ProsperWorks’ integrations “are truly native in that they were built from the ground up to integrate with G Suite — and now RingCentral.”

The Opportunity for ProsperWorks

Salesforce, Microsoft and Oracle dominate the more-than-US$20 billion CRM market, but “the modern workforce is changing,” Lee remarked, and “these giants are slow to adapt.”

ProsperWorks therefore sees “a tremendous opportunity to capture a significant market share over the next few years, especially with small to mid-market businesses,” he said.

These companies “just don’t have the time, resources or budget to implement and maintain larger, more complex CRM systems, and they’re already making the switch to collaborative productivity software like G Suite,” Lee noted.

Burgeoning Competition

Insightly, Solve, Zoho, Agile and Salesflare are some of the other companies offering CRM solutions for G Suite.

“A number of emerging CRM players have taken advantage of the economies of cloud to deliver cost-effective CRM solutions for sales, marketing and service,” Nucleus’ Wettemann observed.

It’s possible that other players will jump on the G Suite bandwagon, as the apps’ popularity with businesses has increased, but “we’ve already got a major head start in regards to our experience and our close working relationship with Google,” said Lee. “In fact, we’re officially recommended and used by Google.”

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

Intelligence-Driven Supply Chain Resilience

It may not be apparent to all observers, but information security practices are undergoing a transformation. For at least a decade, environments have been becoming less perimeter-centric: Gone are the good old days when in-line controls protected the trusted, safe interior from the “wild west” of the outside.

As environments become more complex and externalized, the traditional “perimeter” loses meaning. Moreover, as attackers themselves become more sophisticated, security teams increasingly need to expect that the internal environment is compromised already.

As a consequence, the emphasis is on detection (locating attackers already in the environment) and response (minimizing the amount of time they can dwell unchecked), rather than on putting all the eggs in the prevention basket and hoping attackers can’t get in.

Extending Situational Awareness

This is why intelligence-driven security approaches that are aware of attacker motivations, tradecraft and methods have been gaining traction. Take, for example, the strategy Lockheed Martin’s “kill chain” paper outlines for understanding attacker activity as part of a systematic campaign, thereby rendering it more difficult to mount.

The company’s own “chain” of events, when disrupted, renders such campaigns ineffective. That is a useful strategy, and one that lends itself well to a highly mutable, complex, and interdependent environment such as those most organizations have in place today.

Alignment of such an approach to internal defenses and control placement is useful, because it allows “orbital” deployment of defenses. That is, instead of a “chain” of layered defenses, it presupposes a 360-degree attack surface where attackers potentially can circumvent many of the controls in place, and each individual countermeasure can fill a dual detective and protective role.

While readily applicable to internal controls, this type of approach is adapted less easily to other types of security — notably, the supply chain. The supply chain can be an area of risk or potential attack for any organization — and, just as a company’s internal environments are becoming more complex, so too are those of its partners, vendors and suppliers.

However, intelligence-driven methods can offer the same advantages to a company’s external support network as they provide in its own environment.

It’s important for a company to understand the threat environment for elements in the supply chain in the same way that it understands its own internal environments. Just as it evaluates its posture from a threat perspective, so also should it extend that analysis to others that could potentially impact it.

In practice, this means making the following determinations: 1) the impact that a compromise of a supplier or partner would have; 2) the motivations and techniques of those that are likely to attack them; and 3) their relative resilience to those attacks.

This assessment must begin with understanding who is in the supply chain and what they do. For an organization of any size, this can take quite a bit of legwork. Therefore, it is advantageous to approach it in a systematic and workmanlike way — for example, by keeping an inventory of who they are, correlated with data you’ve already collected (assessments, business due-diligence, technical tests, and so forth).

This information can extend the “situational awareness” capabilities that a company uses — or are building — for the internal environment to cover critical areas of the supply chain or other areas where a compromise could have cascading impact.

For example, if a company subscribes to an intelligence feed that provides information about indicators of compromise or threat actor information, it can extend its detection capability to the supply chain by linking that information with what it knows of its suppliers and partners.

Depending on the relationship, this process could yield a “heads up” notification, or it could result in an extension of internal countermeasures to cover the points of interaction with that external party.

Information Sharing

As a company gains maturity, the opportunity arises to enlist suppliers as an information source, as well as to leverage investments in intelligence-gathering to assist them. There are two primary challenges with the data collection aspects of intelligence-driven security approaches: first, finding or collecting relevant information; and second, contextualizing that information for specific environments. Surprisingly, folks in a company’s supply chain can help with both.

Suppliers can serve as an early warning mechanism to collect information about the threat environment. Larger organizations in the supply chain, for example, might have access to information that the company does not have. They may subscribe to different information sources, gather data points from other customers in the same industry, or otherwise gain access to valuable insights that can be of direct assistance.

This can help with contextualization. If a number of similar organizations — for example, in the same industry or of similar size — see a similar thing or are being attacked in a similar way, it is directly relevant. Having an open line of communication to learn about patterns from those in a position to observe them can be extremely valuable. In many cases, all it takes is a conversation to make it happen.

Smaller vendors and partners, or those that are less technically sophisticated, might have less to offer in terms of specific information for a company to consume, but they absolutely will benefit from information the company might be able to share with them.

Of course, a company can’t compel its suppliers to make use of the information it provides, but it absolutely can give them the ammunition to do so. It also can look for evidence of responsiveness in the vetting or periodic reassessment it does, and use that information to decide how much to rely on them in the future.

The point is, an intelligence-driven approach not only makes sense for a company’s internal environments, but also can provide value when systematically applied to the supply chain.

It won’t pay off in every case, but a company that extends its efforts to cover the supply chain, in addition to other methods it employs, may realize substantial benefits. Establishing a communication channel to allow information sharing can be time well spent and result in tangible security value.

Ed Moyle is Director of Thought Leadership and Research for ISACA. His extensive background in computer security includes experience in forensics, application penetration testing, information security audit and secure solutions development.