Dusting for Digital Fingerprints: The Art of Forensics

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Steve Simpson, founder of S2 Forensics, a digital forensics consultancy. He shares his secrets on how to protect your business forensically.

Digital Forensics Can Save Your Business

Why S2 Forensics?

I love to solve puzzles, and technology only makes it more fun; court cases are just another kind of mystery. You can tell a story of what a person did, where they went, and the keywords for which they were searching. People take lots of photos – selfies, photos of friends, landscapes, or any number of things.  Some even take pictures of themselves at a crime. Images have the potential to provide metadata regarding the time, date, or geo-location, indicating that they could have witnessed something or participated somehow. Evidence found on devices can exonerate or convict a person, whether the case is civil or criminal.

S2 Forensics offers the best digital forensics and computer technology support available to litigators, corporations, and government agencies. We offer a cybersecurity element that goes beyond computers or cell phones. Many of our non-technical clients want to know the nuts and bolts literally and figuratively, of the technologies they work with daily.  We put in whatever extra work is needed to explain these complex technical concepts.

Every litigation case is intriguing. It’s about helping lawyers understand technology so they can best present the case in a courtroom environment. We discuss tactics on specific examinations, testimony on the witness stand, and cross-examination of the opposing witness. We review the evidence and provide contrasting interpretations without violating people’s civil rights. It’s often about how and where we discover information that makes that evidence admissible. For example, some peer-to-peer (P2P) shared folders don’t need a warrant to be searched; if, however, a particular file is removed from the P2P shared folder, law enforcement may require a search warrant for the file.  A digital forensic analyst needs technical and legal background knowledge to do forensics right in addition to specialized skills and tools. 

What can businesses do to protect themselves?

Keep all hard drives. When a person leaves a company, the company should replace the hard drive and store the hard drive away. The hard drive may contain critical information and evidence of misuse of corporate resources. The hard drive should be kept or given to a digital forensic professional who will take a forensic image and complete a comprehensive hard drive analysis.  The hard drive mustn’t be recycled or used by another employee.  The replacement cost of a new hard drive is about $100 per 1TB of disk space.  This cost is minimal compared to the cost of litigation that may occur after someone leaves. 

If a business suspects someone internally of misconduct, any evidence you collect that may be used in legal action against a current or former employee must be collected and stored in a manner that will hold up in a court of law.  For example, a previous client had agreed to allow an employee to perform a particular project remotely.  The company issued the employee a computer with specific software expecting the employee to develop a business application.  After making zero progress on the application after several weeks, the company collected the laptop and terminated the employee.  The employee later came back to sue the company for wrongful termination.  The company requested a complete forensic analysis of the terminated employee’s computer.  The evidence on the computer showed that the former employee was using the corporate computer for hacking websites and harassing and extorting women he found on various dating websites.  After being confronted with evidence, the former employee dropped his case. 

In divorce cases, spouses often sue for child custody. Often both spouses have joint access to devices. Forensically, it’s possible to determine infidelity or other inappropriate behavior like cyberbullying, harassment, active involvement in child pornography, etc.  Using the correct tools and methods, this type of data can be uncovered and used to help make the best decisions for all involved.  While the act of searching for data may seem trivial, it requires specialized skills and tools to find the data that will stand up in court. 

What’s your #1 learning in cyber forensics to date? 

Each device stores data differently. From the outside, devices may look similar, but internally, they are as different as night and day internally. Let’s take storage media as an example; traditional computer storage technology is about 70 years old.  Because of how an operating system stores data on magnetic media, deleted data may continue to reside on the hard drive disk for an indefinite.  In contrast, solid state storage technology may not hold deleted data near as long due to garbage collection and wear leveling processes.  These processes, along with other differences between solid-state storage and magnetic media storage technologies, significantly impact the amount of deleted data that may be accessible on different devices.  Access to this deleted data may make or break any given case. 

What’s an indispensable tool you couldn’t live without?

I’m a big fan of open-source tools suited for Windows and Android devices. Many of these tools are developed by digital forensic enthusiasts and improved by digital forensic practitioners.  However, commercial and proprietary tools (those requiring paid licensing) are also important.  A professional digital forensic analyst usually has access to both types of devices.  I will usually use one to acquire or analyze evidence and use the other to verify my findings and conclusions.  I will not present my findings and conclusions for a case until both the open-source and commercial tools agree on the evidence.

What’s your philosophy?

Be hungry for learning. Technology is constantly changing, advancing, and widening its reach. I enroll in classes in my free time to better understand concepts. I found that with a strong work ethic and an ability to internalize information quickly, it’s easier to stay up to date.  Many tool vendors provide fee-based training that is usually top-notch.  Many YouTube videos offer tutorials on how to use various software tools and demonstrate evidence collection and analysis techniques.  Many excellent books can be found in college and university libraries or purchased online at a reasonable cost.    

How do you give back to the community? Why is that important?

I’ve been teaching at the college and university level since 2015.  I currently teach computer, mobile, and network forensics classes at Highline College, Central Washington University, and the University of Virginia.  Through both my professional and teaching career, I’ve aspired to help teach people the beauty and complexity of technology while also helping them understand how impactful it can be in their everyday life. While you can’t master forensics in 13 weeks, you can at least appreciate the field and continue to develop a mastery of the technology throughout your career.

To date, most of my clients have been lawyers and particularly criminal defense lawyers. As a result, some of the cases I work on can present me with a moral dilemma.  However, my job is not to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence – that is the job of lawyers, judges, and juries.  My job is to uncover the evidence found on a computer device, determine how the evidence might have gotten there, and present my findings for use in a court of law.

What inspires you to keep going?

I’m fascinated with digital forensic technologies and how to use the technology to uncover information and develop a timeline of events.  Each case is different and might require a different and unique approach.  I find helping both my client and society very rewarding.

When all is said and done, what do you hope for S2 to achieve?

At the end of each case, I want to ensure that justice is grounded in data fairly.

S2 Forensics is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Beaze Featured on DojoLive!

Our CEO, Vivian Lim, has been invited to guest-speak at DojoLive on September 22, 2020. Each week, DojoLive brings together a broad roster of technology luminaries, business and thought leaders from a wide range of software companies and startups. Vivian will be discussing how to grow your client base during COVID (including how to avoid excessive 1:1 video meetings).

Update (September 22, 2020): Here’s the interview entitled “Networking During COVID: Don’t Leave Money on the Table“. Special thanks to Carlos Ponce and Tullio Siragusa of DojoLive for hosting!

The zen of self-employment through franchising

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business leaders are changing the service landscape. Today we’re speaking with Jeff Levy, franchisee and business coach at The Entrepreneur’s Source (TES), a resource network for people who want to own their own franchise business. He shares his secrets about how to achieve lifestyle and income zen through self-employment and franchises, even through COVID-19.

Jeff Levy, Business Coach at The Entrepreneur's Source (ES). Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace for franchises.
Jeff Levy, Business Coach at The Entrepreneur’s Source (TES) | Photo Credit: Jeff Levy

Why The Entrepreneur’s Source (TES)?

TES helps people who want to own their own business, but don’t know how to start. We are not in the “brokerage” category; our main objective is not to sell companies or franchises. We focus on our clients and their respective lifestyle dreams. Based on our clients’ objectives, albeit income, lifestyle, wealth or equity, we coach them on how to evaluate specific franchise business options and how to start operations. I am very proud to have personally helped over 350 people start businesses during my 18 years as a coach.

Many of the people that I work with are out of a job for one reason or another. Perhaps they wanted to change, or were discriminated against, or were downsized.  Often I get to work with young couples disenchanted with a lifestyle associated with corporate America. What binds my clients together is that they are looking for a safe place to learn and explore small business ownership.

It’s enjoyable and rewarding for me to help people launch a business; I love building meaningful relationships with these individuals and sharing their excitement!

What’s the best go-to industry for franchises?

There isn’t one, but our most active franchise categories tend to be in health and beauty, such as hair salons and gymnasiums. It all depends on the person and what they are trying to accomplish. One franchise can be the perfect fit for one person but a terrible fit for another. You need to think about what you’re good at, what kind of hours you want to work, and what type of income and equity goals you want to make before you can choose a path. The experience of my coaching usually lasts 2-6 months and may or may not result in a franchise award.

What kind of businesses have you helped launch?

It’s a comprehensive spectrum as franchising covers over 80 industries and is always expanding with new concepts. Recent franchise placements this year include coin-operated laundries, outdoor lighting, remote IT managed services and a variety of senior care businesses.  Typically, my clients choose a company that they would never have thought of themselves. There is no perfect business; there are only businesses that, through your hard work and vision, can be made great for your own lifestyle needs. When asked, what is an excellent franchise, it ultimately depends on what is right for the individual.

What is something everyone should know about client acquisition?

People need to be respectful and thankful for those that send referrals. My client acquisition strategy comes from being a substantial contributor to the business community including the Small Business Administration (SBA), SCORE, and the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC). I’ve lectured on a variety of topics that help guide others to make an informed jump into business.

For me, I’ve learned that each client is thinking of making a significant life change – I learned that I need to give those people every possible effort to support them in that endeavor. “Never sell, always coach” which has helped me become a better listener.

What have you learned about franchises that you wish you had known when you first started?

It is better to have a predictable, successful business that supported my life goals than it was to dream about controlling my fate but never doing anything about it. Franchising, and the experience of learning and exploring options, can be life-changing.

What’s the #1 mistake you see franchises owners make? 

It usually takes more than one thing to undermine or fail at a franchise business. If I were to name one, it would be when a person does not become a student and follower of the franchise system in which they invested. Learning new things can be uncomfortable. The solution, look to the people who have successfully developed and own franchises in the same system. Follow what they did and only try to improve once you have mastered the basics.

What’s your mantra?

“You can get everything in life you want if you help others get what they want” per Dale Carnegie. Franchising is a wonderous area to explore because, with proper coaching, you can learn a significant amount about a business model before making the jump.

How do you give back to the community and why is that so important?

Through luck or circumstance, I have had the good fortune of varied and productive life experience in business. My experiences include buying and selling companies, partnerships, raising capital, taking a company public and of course, franchises. I feel like it’s my responsibility to coach, mentor and teach what I have learned. I was recently Chairman Of the Board at the SU Entrepreneurship Center, currently Chairman Of the Board of the Bellevue Business Roundtable and a past President of The Executive Network of Seattle. I taught entrepreneurship at Seattle Central College for three years based on a book I co-authored; the class is still ongoing. I also teach at King County library systems and several affiliates of the SBA. Whew. I’m grateful to have accumulated a lot of practical experience that can be shared and save my clients from making mistakes.

Any advice for business owners or potential business owners during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic?

New owners need to make sure they have a robust financial plan with enough capital to extend the runway through and beyond the current crisis. As long as we have our health, this pandemic (like any other challenge) will end. Even though we have had a late start in some areas of the country, the local government in Washington continues to amaze us. On the plus side, people are at home with more time to contemplate, so now is the time for researching and planning if you’re thinking about starting a business. 

A new business owner has to have a vision and a belief in a brighter future and enough of a financial runway. Existing owners may be challenged if they haven’t planned for contingencies such as this. Fortunately, some wonderful federal programs emerging that will help existing business owners weather the storm. Owners should get a hold of an SBA affiliate, such as a SCORE counsellor, immediately to better understand what programs are available to help them over the next 3-6 months. I’ve been a volunteer mentor there for years, and I still learn a great deal from other mentors who bring their own industry experience.

When all is said and done, what do you hope for TES to achieve?

To leave a legacy in the business community that creates many jobs and financial security for all.

The Entrepreneur’s Source is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Washington State COVID Measures & Relief for Small Business

Beaze is wholly committed to the support of small to medium-sized businesses.

Below are the latest set of small business coronavirus (COVID-19) relief resources recently published by the State of WA. We’ll continue to publish updates as they become available across the US.

Small Business Administration

COVID loans – https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources

Economic Injury Disaster Loanshttps://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/

WA Department of Revenue (DOR)

Business Relief During COVID-19 Pandemic – https://dor.wa.gov/about/business-relief-during-covid-19-pandemic

WA Tax Relief – https://dor.wa.gov/taxrelief 

WA Department of Health (DOH) – https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus

WA Employment Security Department (ESD) 

Unemployment Benefits https://esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19

Paid Family and Medical Leave program https://paidleave.wa.gov/

Layoff Assistance https://www.esd.wa.gov/newsroom/layoffassistance

WA Insurance Commissioner

www.insurance.wa.gov

WA Department of Commerce

Emergency Housing Grant – https://www.commerce.wa.gov/serving-communities/homelessness/

Helping the homeless is cool; A-Rod and Russell Wilson are pitching in too.

3-minute read

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Krishnan Iyer, CEO of Humanize Homelessness, a non-profit that tackles homelessness alongside business owners. He’s even got Alex Rodriguez and Russell Wilson backing him via their company, TruFusion.

Krishnan Iyer, CEO of Humanize Homelessness | Photo Credit: Humanize Homelessness. Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement marketplace.
Krishnan Iyer, CEO of Humanize Homelessness | Photo Credit: Humanize Homelessness

So, why Humanize Homelessness (HH)?

I spent 15 years at Microsoft; while I learned a lot and helped enterprises, I didn’t want to wait until retirement to have an impact on my community. I wanted to do something more meaningful, and that’s when I turned to this non-profit. 

How did you break into the non-profit space?

The universe was giving me multiple signs that played into this decision. Mostly, however, I saw a steady rise in the number of people panhandling on the East Side. Unlike other places in the world, we have good water, good roads and good opportunities. Later, I realized that many of us in the community were taking these virtues for granted. As an Asian person, I observe other Asians being generous and compassionate with their own blood-related families and friends. The only difference is how big is that circle and whether the community at large is included. I really would love for the rest of the Asian community to do the right thing and more importantly, be seen as doing the right thing. Many are looking to help the homeless; I just wanted to make it easy. That’s HH’s mission.

Who inspired you to keep going in this charitable direction?

My mom. Her ability to adapt to a new environment, be open to learning a new way of life, and to selflessly contribute to our family and community is amazing. For example, it’s a hugely disruptive thing to move to the US from India in your 60s; most parents won’t do that. Through her actions, she taught me that the durability of happiness in one’s life comes from helping others, not oneself.

Tell us about how you give back and why that’s so important?

Our organization has several programs.

The “Back On Your Feet” program uses yoga, meditation and breathing techniques learned directly from the Krishnamacharya Yoga school to help people approach stressful situations with a calm, mindful approach. Rather than suppress or ignore feelings, we teach others to observe and note them resulting in better mental focus and physical well-being. HH will be partnering with TruFusion (a high-end fitness club) and WeWork at Lincoln Square to fundraise in early 2020. TruFusion is graciously donating their space to HH and the donors, while WeWork provides marketing. TruFusion’s owners, Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) and Alex Rodriguez (Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees), are funnelling 100% of proceeds through HH for King County homeless shelters programs.

Alex Rodriguez (TruFusion, center) and Jennifer Lopez with the family. Photo credit: Alex Rodriguez. Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement marketplace.
Alex Rodriguez (TruFusion, center) and Jennifer Lopez with the family. Photo credit: Alex Rodriguez

The “Meet a Recruiter” program helps both the homeless as well as employers establish a mutual understanding on what it takes to help transition homeless folks into more permanent and regular employment. Our partner Pro Sports Club (a state-of-the-art wellness center) has engaged their recruiting team with HH to implement our “Trauma-Informed Employment” playbooks on facilitating a transition into employment. For example, say an unhoused victim who was accustomed to being violated regularly (like through physical assault) physically bumps into a fellow co-worker accidentally at the office; she may respond more strongly than expected at a workplace and be subsequently fired for a seeming overreaction. A trauma-informed employer will understand and offer more constructive support. We’re thrilled that their CEO, Dick Knight, has taken a real interest in being a great neighbor in the community and becoming an HH champion.

Russell Wilson (TruFusion, Right) & Ciara | Photo Credit: Instagram Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement marketplace.
Russell Wilson (TruFusion, Right) & Ciara | Photo Credit: Instagram

The “Know Your Neighbor” program addresses changing people’s perception about those without homes. Often, when people see unhoused folks, they presume them to be a problem or a project that needs work; they portray them as an alcoholic, having a communicable disease and being a general burden on society, rather than a living, breathing person with feelings and intelligence. When people give, there typically is an inherent power imbalance between givers and receivers that we are not aware of.

Would you accept underwear from a stranger if they offered to you for free? Probably not, but if you had no choice, you’d likely feel pretty bad accepting it. A giver is in a position of control since they have the resources; the recipient sometimes may not be in a position to say no and so will begrudgingly accept that gift. The recipient avoids displeasing the donor for fear of not having any gift at all in the future. We help break barriers by treating the homeless like valued members of the community and accepting them as they are. We celebrate community festivals like Christmas, Diwali and Chinese New Year with them instead of around or away from them but also in a secular way. 

Pro Sports Club. Photo Credit: Redtri

Once, during Purim (a Jewish holiday), a rabbi and his volunteers came to a family day center Bethlehem shelter to explain the origins of this festival. There was a homeless man, pacing back and forth nervously much to the chagrin of petrified shelter attendants. It turns out he was a veteran who defended our country and just wanted to ask a clarifying question. People were so scared and defensive about him being dangerous that it never occurred to them that he just wanted to ask an innocuous yet relevant question. It’s clear that we need to have more understanding with this share of people who have lived through some pretty horrifying circumstances.

What words of wisdom can you share?

Understanding the difference between urgent versus important. In the for-profit space, it’s easier to decide what’s important and have the support to focus on it. In a non-profit, urgent things like addressing health or injury will popup and will derail important initiatives, which is the RIGHT call. 

Develop patience when working with the non-profits: It’s important to exercise patience and flexibility in helping organizations that are under-resourced and overstretched. 

Be open to all kinds of opinions around homelessness: It’s equally, if not more important, to realize that social issues like homelessness can be polarizing. Some folks have preconceived notions about victims of homelessness that they are in this state because they did drugs or didn’t work hard. Often, life circumstances aren’t so black and white. 

Having realistic expectations about what non-profits can do. Asking people to solve hard problems with little to no money is a real challenge. We ask that the world be more understanding about non-profits who aren’t moving the needle as fast or as significantly as for-profit initiatives and encourage rather than chastise those who are willing to offer their superpowers at a deep discount.

How many champions do you have in the community?

Too many to count but not enough to accomplish everything we want. 🙂

Seriously though, we’re honored and privileged to have the support of folks like:

Waggener Edstrom (the same PR firm as Microsoft)

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich Rosati

– Paccar

King County Council establishing a social responsibility recognition program;

Bellevue City Council who is helping us deduplicate and coordinate efforts across other homeless initiatives;

Shelters around the area (incl. Congregation for the Homeless, Sophia Way, Friends of Youth, Acres of Diamond) who are helping us to identify gaps in our programs so we can address pressing issues.

What are some indispensable tools you can’t live without?

Tech-wise, we live on the full Microsoft Office 365 stack as well as Azure. Process-wise, we’ve brought enterprise best practices like standups, prioritization, objectives and key results (OKRs) to track progress. Non-profits need even more structure and direction than for-profit businesses since our resources are even more constrained.

What’s it like being a working parent?

As parents, we can’t do everything. Thankfully, our kids see and appreciate the challenges we undertake. They also understand the cost of living and that things like education and comfort don’t come easily. They see what hard work looks like, and it incentivizes them to work outside and help out at home, whether it is bussing tables, doing laundry or simply cleaning their own rooms. 

I’m so grateful to have such a supportive spouse. We both work and we tag-team the home duties together, whether it’s for the kids or for our ageing parents. Just this month, my wife’s dad turned 80; she went back to India while I watched the kids at home and took video conferences remotely. I love how we’re both able to take care of our businesses and still be a family. We live in times where both spouses need to work together and support each other in finding meaning, contribution and value while dealing with the challenge of raising children and supporting our elders.

When all is said and done, what do you hope for HH to achieve?

For everyone to treat each other with the respect they deserve.

Humanize Homelessness is a preferred partner on Beaze Beta.

Business: Keeping it in the family

2-minute read

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with David and Jennifer Pfahert, CEOs of Silent Stream Media, a video production agency, on how great family values translate to great business practices.

David & Jennifer Pfahlert of Silent Stream Media. Photo Credit: Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement marketplace
From left to right: David & Jennifer Pfahlert of Silent Stream Media. Photo Credit: Beaze

So, why Silent Stream Media?

David: Media is in my blood. My grandfather started his own illustration company, where my father was the director, and my uncle was one of the graphic artists. I had my hand in all avenues of media content. Both my grandfather and father had taught me the business ropes while my uncle guided me with his vast artistic knowledge. What I have seen with raising my children is that they don’t teach you how to be entrepreneurs in school. They inform you mainly how to work for someone else. You don’t get “out of the box” ideas or experience even only remotely what it takes to own your own business. You need drive and passion as well as continually evolving with the times.

Jennifer: My passion has been with the interworkings of a social/psychological aspects of media and how it connects and tells a story with the community. At university, I worked three jobs and went to classes and managed to stay in touch with my friends and family by documenting my life on social media. With this stream of using many technologic devices, I can start conversations, let my family know what I’m up to and keeping up with the latest trends.    

Who inspired you?

David: My mom. She managed a household while obtaining a master’s degree and working. She’s now retired as a Microsoft executive. I look up to my mom and hope that one day I could look back and achieve just as much as her.   

What is your biggest claim to fame?

David: I had started multiple businesses, including one in audio engineering where I had the pleasure of working with celebrities such as Incubus, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Tori Amos. Working with such high profile clients meant managing a super strict schedule and high expectations.

What is your secret to success as a working couple?

David: Listen, divide and conquer based on our mutual strengths. She works on social media and engagements, and I focus on the design and fresh content. 

Jennifer: Being present and not focusing on financial gain. If your heart is in the right place, then everything will fall into place. The universe will provide what you need, and that will provide intention.  

What important lesson would you want others to take away?

David: It doesn’t matter where you’re currently at, what matters is that you’ve started. Make sure you’re 110% passionate about what you’re doing and that you can do it 16 hours a day.  

Jennifer: Teamwork and preparation are also essential in managing your business. You need to know who to call before things go south and have your resources lined up (from plan A to Z). Partners should include your local chamber of commerce, banks, insurance and legal. You never know what life is going to throw at you. We also partner with talented folks like LogoUNLTD.com and Qivugraphics.com; they’re both amazing at creating luxe marketing swag which is a must-have in our line of business. 

What non-profits do you back up and why is it important?

David: Having two dogs of our own, we support a non-profit called Homeward Pet in Woodinville. In 2018, they adopted out 1,754 cats and dogs and that number historically grows exponentially every year. In the past, we had a rescue of our own and have found Homeward Pet in-line to our beliefs. We had the opportunity to help this organization by doing an event for them and raising funds to sponsor dogs and also helped in finding current adopters.  

When all is said and done, what do you hope for Silent Stream Media to achieve?  

Jennifer: We want to foster connections between real people and businesses. We’ll keep making marketing solutions accessible to all local businesses, not just big brand corporations through education, creation and coaching.

Silent Stream Media is a preferred partner on Beaze Beta.

I found my name-sake through tech

3-minute read

Beaze: Meet the Team” is a series on the team building out Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace that replaces traditional advertising. Today, we’re chatting with Andre Makram, our Chief Technology Officer (CTO), on survival tactics for parents in startups.

Andre Makram, Chief Technology Officer of Beaze (a B2B vendor procurement marketplace).
Andre Makram, Chief Technology Officer of Beaze. Photo Credit: Beaze

So, why Beaze?

I believe in the idea. Why should customer outreach be hard or expensive or only for the elite? 

It seems unfair that business goes straight to companies that have money rather than companies that provide the most value. Historically, the ideas that made it big challenged the current way in which we do things and were relevant to the time. Right now, privacy is a huge issue everywhere. Sales costs continue to rise because of the monopolies that individual large ad companies control. Small companies who need help with areas outside of their standard expertise should not be taken advantage of, especially when costs are high and time is scarce. 

To me, streamlining all of these labor-intensive processes simultaneously and making business tools and data accessible to all is a big deal that will change the world. The only way to evolve is to automate away all the repetitive tasks so that you can focus on building innovation. Without a sound basis, you’re stuck doing the same boring stuff day in and day out. Automation is addictive; I’m happy to get my fix on with Beaze.

How did you break into technology?

When I got my first video game, FIFA98 by Electronic Arts on PC. On the first day, I played for 10 hours straight and could have gone longer but then my parents banned me from playing during school days. Technology has never been so cool or fun.

But, more oddly, technology brought my family back together. 

Back in the 1960s, during the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Egyptian army conscripted my dad. His best friend, who was Jewish, had to leave Egypt at the time and so they lost touch. The army assigned my father to radar technology due to his engineering background. He wanted to stay as far away from the violence for fear of injuring or killing his friend. My dad felt so bad at the time because he didn’t know what had happened to his friend. He decided to name me after him, Andre. More than 40 years later, Facebook became a thing, and he and my dad finally reconnected through the platform. 

This moment cemented the importance of connecting people to me. I realized then and there that bringing people together would be the most important thing I could ever do.

What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on?

I helped figure out an innovative way to read data at warp speeds and high demand volume regardless of data writing time. This was critical because we were servicing millions of customers who would be doing a lot of concurrent reading. My team and I were awarded a patent for this innovative approach. We were harnessing the power of storing data in a non-relational database and pushing around new concepts about eventual consistency. 

What’s your philosophy?

I always want to do better than the day before. It’s human nature to want to improve. If you stop, you’ll go extinct. I’ve since learned to manage my time better and go with the flow. Requirements change constantly and you have to just roll with it. Part of the fun and challenge of engineering is the tradeoff between overhauling and designing from scratch versus tweaking an existing design and possibly acquiring technical debt.

When something doesn’t feel right in my gut, I pay close attention to it. Things need to make sense to you in order for you to be bought in and subsequently succeed.

What tools do you use to succeed?

The internet. Sorry, was that answer too broadband? 😀

Seriously though, Spotify. Music changes my mood, it allows me to release stress and regain focus. It’s a big part of my daily routine.

As well, I do only one task a time so I can be 100% engaged. Humans were not meant to multi-task (unless you’re Xabi Alonso).

Don't multitask. Photo Credit: Xabi Alonso
Multitasking done right? | Photo Credit: Xabi Alonso

What words of wisdom can you share?

1. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Incremental progress is better than nothing. 

2. Always have a backout plan. This means having a way to reverse course, especially when you’re doing something risky. I’ve seen so many smart people paint themselves into a corner. 

3. Fail fast. You need to know when something is wrong ASAP.

4. Go for the option that is the easiest to maintain when you have multiple equivalent or similar options.

Who inspires you?

In technology, Elon Musk. He had a vision and executed it without compromise. Because he set the bar so high, the engineers had to throw away all convention out the window and had to start from a totally different place.

In life, both of my grandmas. They were both not allowed to go to upper-level education. Since they weren’t allowed, they did it themselves through self-study (and then even went on to home-schooled me in French among other subjects). Not going to school didn’t stop them from learning what they wanted to learn. 

What’s it like being a working parent?

It taught me how to deal with non-predictability and how to prioritize. Just last weekend, I was trying to finish some work on the weekend and my kids kept interrupting me every 15 minutes. To deal with them, I gave them my full and undivided attention in exchange for 2 full hours of heads-down time. It also taught me to manage my time better since I don’t have time to do everything.

I’ve also built out a play date network, both through friends and through extended communities like the YMCA. This allows me to meaningfully spend time with my kids and for my kids to keep having fun in a safe, educational environment with trusted friends and partners when I’m busy. It literally takes a village to raise smart kiddos. 

Tell us about how you give back and why that’s so important?

I support the Washington State Arboretum. It’s a favorite spot of mine, they house plants and treats unique to this area that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. I’ve taken my kids and parents there many times and I want it to be just as nice for the next generation. The local staff weren’t sufficiently resourced to maintain the grounds. Last year, a group of us picked up all the garbage and mulched the area to prevent invasive weeds from growing. 

When all is said and done, what do you hope for Beaze to achieve?

I want a customer to tell us that they can’t think of a time when Beaze didn’t exist.

Startup Mode Requires Fists of Fury

2-minute read

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Raise Your Media, a digital marketing agency that focuses on brands. This diverse power couple, Dominika and Marcus Thompson, discuss survival tactics when pursuing your own startup.

Dominika and Marcus Thompson of Raise Your Media. Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement marketplace.

Left to Right: Dominika and Marcus Thompson of Raise Your Media. Photo Credit: Beaze

So, Why Raise your Media?  

Dominika: A while back, my sisters and I were already involved in the media production, sales and marketing of several theatre and dance projects in Poland, Israel and Japan. Earlier in my career, I was in marketing, sales, and management for consumer goods. I specialized in working with small businesses developing relationships and making sure that marketing solutions worked on the retail customer level. Starting a small business-oriented marketing agency was a natural progression for us. 

Marcus: I had many jobs in the customer service industry, from restaurants to retail to real estate. The one thing they had in common was the relationship with the customer. It’s so humbling and yet rewarding to have clients ask for me by name. It’s been an absolute joy connecting with people whether it was interviewing celebrity chefs or attending premier events with clients. I decided a long time ago that working my life away for someone else wasn’t going to cut it anymore. So far, I’ve met all kinds of entrepreneurs with dreams and ambitions beyond my wildest imagination and I find myself equally inspired to reach for the sky. I was already doing the leg work, why not me too?

Who inspires you?  

Dominika: My father is my inspiration. He was a business owner during my childhood and always involved my sister and I. Seeing how that business was a part of the community it spurred me to one day start a business of my own. He allowed me to sell cherries when I was 7 years old and that taught me how to earn money at a young age.

Marcus: Bruce Lee. His desire to leave a legacy and pursuit of perfection inspired him to overcome his limitations daily. He never compromised in the face of discrimination and achieved his dreams/goals one step at a time. Being a minority growing up in the South, I’ve faced my share of discrimination. Knowing what Bruce overcame inspires me to take on all kinds of challenges.

Fist of Fury. Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement marketplace.
Fist of Fury, featuring Bruce Lee. Photo Credit: Golden Harvest

How did you survive the startup phase?

Dominika: When we first started, we were the cliché struggling start-up. We had to get our foot in the door by doing free social media content and management of social media accounts. This stage of our business didn’t produce much revenue; to pay the team and bills, Marcus worked as a real estate agent and other jobs on the side. Now those clients that we did free work for have been our loyal customers with monthly retainers; they’ve also recommended new customers to us. It only took that initial investment on our part, but the payout was worth it.  

Marcus: While first impressions are essential, don’t judge a book by its cover. When people first met Dominika, they greatly underestimated her abilities. People said things like, “What would a person from Poland know about marketing in America.” She understood their apprehensiveness and proceeded to blow them away with her knowledge and experience. She had answers for questions they were going to ask and issues they didn’t know they would ask. She proves doubters wrong all the time. Being confident and doing the prep can go a long way.  

What is your secret to success? 

Marcus: Under-promise and over-deliver. Always put value first, even in small instances, like making your client laugh during a meeting when they’re not having the best day. It all counts and plays a tremendous role in creating a customer journey. 

Dominika: Be genuine about who you are and what your business has to offer because trust is the foundation of a great business relationship. The market grows fast and is extremely competitive. In order to stay successful, you have to constantly invest in your knowledge. 

Any tips for businesses that are looking to market themselves better? 

Dominika: Make your content count; get up-close and personal. For example, a bakery can share photos of their cakes, but after a while, the content gets stale. When you have the sous chef take video and pictures of what it’s like in the bakery and the process, it tells a story about the bakery that illustrates the team dynamics and who they are. This makes for a more organic story, and it’s what people like to hear and see. By creating content revealing who they are it creates a face of the business and can be relatable to everyone. Don’t get caught up in counting your likes on social media platform. You can get that by engaging your team and getting everyone involved. 

At the end of the day, what do you hope for Raise Your Media to achieve? 

Dominika:  I want to help other companies to elevate their brands in a disruptive way, no matter the clients’ budget. 

Marcus: I want us to be a media company for the people. We want to be world-renowned for still being down-to-earth and approachable to any business, big or small.

Raise Your Media is a preferred partner on Beaze Beta.

How to go from writing ringtone apps to getting Series-A funded

3-minute read

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Martin Mao, co-founder and CEO of Chronosphere, a big data monitoring solution targeting large enterprise. He’s taken time out to share how to get Series-A funded and then succeed as a VC-backed entrepreneur.

Martin Mao, CEO of Chronosphere. Photo Credit: Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement platform for service providers.
Martin Mao, CEO of Chronosphere. Photo Credit: Beaze

So, Why Chronosphere?

I was working with my co-founder Rob Skillington at Uber pre-IPO on M3, an open-source distributed metrics platform. We figured out that most platforms available on the market at the time were unable to scale cost-effectively nor reliably. So, we decided to build it ourselves piece-by-piece and we shared it with the world while doing so. From there, we realized that most enterprises are just as demanding as Uber when it comes to metrics and that they needed better monitoring and overall reliability. That was how Chronosphere was born. 

Wait, is that an Aussie accent we detect?

Yeah, I was born in Shanghai but I grew up in Sydney, Australia. Growing up in Australia was great. They have beautiful beaches and walking trails and everyone is so laid back over there. It’s also a very multicultural country, so growing up there teaches you to be accepting and to treat everyone equally.

How did you break into software?

My first foray into software was a high school programming competition. I had no idea how to write code, but my friend did and he needed someone to help him figure out some of the algorithms. He ended up teaching me how to code and we ended up winning a scholarship to study Software Engineering at the local university.

Then, back in 2008, near the end of my college studies, Apple finally launched the iPhone in Australia. It was a massive deal to me because I could write an app, publish it and then reach millions of people around the world. It was so different; I decided to write a bunch. One app that was memorable for me was the one I wrote to generate ringtones. It would take a song from iTunes and create a ringtone. Being a poor student, it seemed ridiculous to pay for a song twice (once for the song itself, the second time for a shortened ringtone version).

What was it like getting funded by a VC?

Exhilarating yet terrifying. Rob and I knew we had to do something because of the traction M3 was receiving in open source. The real question was, could we build a real business around open-source technology that didn’t just end up as enterprise support? We wanted to retain our ability to innovate and so wanted to focus on building the perfect product for the needs of many. It took four to five months to complete market research in order to see that there was a genuine gap in the market. We wanted to differentiate ourselves and ensure we delivered a product that enterprises would care about – one that was not only more scalable, performant and reliable, but also more cost-efficient than our competitors.

We ended up with a 60-80 page business plan (which in retrospect was probably overkill). I don’t think many VCs expect such extensive research for an early-stage company, but it was more to convince ourselves we were making a good bet rather than to convince them. We didn’t have the budget to purchase market research, so we were leveraging the research our competitors have published as well as public documentation such as S-1 filings.

We started by raising a small pre-seed round with a few independent angel investors, before raising a Series-A led by Greylock when we needed to expand the team.

How has it been pursuing enterprise customers?

Surprisingly good. Our customers have been quite supportive of the product and company we’re trying to build. They know we’re still early, but the differentiators are valuable enough that they decide to switch over from competitor products. The fact that we have solved the problem before at Uber definitely helps as the customers are not just buying a monitoring product, but also the experience and expertise of the team.

Any key lessons learned up until now?

1. Business plans change. Our original plan doesn’t even closely resemble what we’re doing now. Our financials and projections went out of the window after a month or so of starting. We don’t regret doing it though, it was good to go through the exercise and while we knew the plan would change, all the competitor and market research remains valid.

2. Only talk to VCs when you’re ready. When a few major VC firms first contacted us, we were not prepared and so came off as “rookies”. It’s better to hold off on those conversations until you are ready.

3. Use the time before competitors know about you wisely. Once they understand what you’re doing, they’re going to react, so it’s critical to figure out your differentiators and how your product is going to compete before you announce anything.

Have there been any partners to help you get to where you are today?

Yes, it’s been a very pleasant surprise to see how supportive the tech start-up industry has and continues to be. Some of our best partners have been our pre-seed investors: one has been our primary recruiting resource while others have given valuable insights and advice. 

They have also introduced us to other founders, who have been very helpful as well. Most of these folks are super busy but will take the time to help. Many of them view it as paying it forward for the help they received when they were getting started.

Tell us about how you give back and why that’s so important?

For the last ten years, I’ve been supporting ChildFund Australia. This organization works to reduce poverty for children in developing communities in countries including Uganda and Kenya. When you donate, they distribute those funds to support the whole community surrounding that child. I’ve been sponsoring a boy named Ashiraf since he was six years old. This organization is important because it gives people an opportunity to give back in such a direct way that isn’t as possible with many other organizations.

What words of wisdom can you share?

Fire yourself whenever possible. By this, I mean always prioritize; if any given task is taking up more than 20 hours of your time per week, it’s time to start looking for someone smarter and more suited to that task than you. As an entrepreneur, your to-do list is perpetually growing and you need to constantly shuffle things around knowing that many tasks won’t get the attention it requires. Find the right people to help you so that things don’t just get dropped on the ground. 

Also, make sure you have a great support network. For me, I’m most grateful for my wife, Wendi. I couldn’t possibly be doing a startup without a supportive partner like her. She’s taking care of 3 kids – our firstborn, our pup Pepper and me. 🙂 Because of her, I’m able to survive the entrepreneur life and co-lead the organization’s brilliant team with Rob. 

What’s it like being a working parent?

I’m more sleep-deprived than I’ve ever been before 🙂 It’s tough juggling a start-up and a newborn child because there is even less time and even more things to do, but it’s worth it. Again, it wouldn’t be possible without a great support network and when I’m at home, I prioritize time with my family above all else. 

Being in the internet age, everything we say or do can live on the internet forever as a record of us, a record that our children and grandchildren will use someday to learn more about us. This reminds me to set the best example I can for my son every day. I also want him to see that there are many paths and choices in one’s career and that you don’t have to follow the traditional 9-5 path taken by the majority of people.

When all is said and done, what do you hope for Chronosphere to achieve?

Chronosphere has so much potential – we’ve put together a fantastic team and we’re building game-changing software that has already been proven at the largest scales in the world. I hope we continue to execute and fulfill that potential by delivering products that make an impact on enterprises and help run with greater reliability as they scale up.

Chronosphere is a preferred partner on Beaze Beta.