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.

How to Trust and Verify at Scale

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Ric Asselstine, CEO and founder of Geeq, a blockchain platform services firm. Ric discusses how to scale a business and the importance of trust in both people and data.

Ric Asselstine, CEO of Geeq | Photo Credit: Geeq

Why Geeq? 

Induced serendipity. A few years ago, I had been searching for a scalable blockchain solution to integrate with Terepac, a full-stack internet-of-things (IoT) technology. I read a paper called “Blockchain and the Economics of Crypto-tokens and Initial Coin Offerings” by Dr. John Conley, a Vanderbilt Economics professor, following his sabbatical from Microsoft. It turns out he had been thinking about a better approach to blockchain validation. We connected immediately. When I read John’s article, I immediately thought how bright he was and how easily he pulled simplicity out of vast complexity; most of all, I loved his sense of humour. I always look forward to reading the footnotes in his papers; like crackerjacks, he hides good things at the bottom. We’ve since developed a profound trust in one another. These days, I bring the bus, John brings the tech.

Together, we’ve created an affordable multi-blockchain platform secured by our Proof of Honesty protocol™ (PoH) ideal for protecting highly valuable enterprise data. 

How would someone go about using Geeq? 

By definition, blockchain allegedly guarantees that a particular action took place. Unlike other blockchain technologies, Geeq’s PoH truly provides that assurance.  Geeq supports all usual use cases for blockchain, including but not limited to:

– Smart cities

– Document management

– Supply chains

– Insurance 

– Micro-commerce (i.e. financial transactions involving very tiny sums of money, typically online).  

The actual use cases are limited pretty well only by the imagination. It feels like the dawn of the internet. 

By marrying our proprietary technology to a business model, we’re unleashing a new way to communicate, interact and transact at scale. The platform will manage billions, even trillions of transactions, enough for a smart city with all of its IoT devices.  No other blockchain platform comes close to that level of scale and trustworthiness, despite attempts at decentralized micropayments for several years. Our validation engine, PoH, seeks to enable the next era of decentralized business and will power a public blockchain platform, much like a car engine does. Not usually seen, but that which provides the power.

Why is trust so important?

Trust is the foundation of everything whether it’s a personal or business relationship. Our team endeavours to reinstate confidence in our fast-moving, fragmented world.  Despite the astounding evolution powered by the internet continues, trust continues to erode. Geeq is partly a response to that phenomenon, and we are working as quickly as we can.

What is the #1 lesson you’ve learned about leading the way in blockchain?

Persistence. Stick-with-it-ness. If you believe in something, or someone, you find a way to see it through.

What tool do you use every day to guarantee success at scale? 

I’ve developed a sense-making lens to focus my efforts comprised of 7 C’s: Code + Customers + Community + Compliance Creates a new Category of Commerce.  Without this organizing metaphor, it would be pretty tough to maintain focus on the pillars needed to succeed.  When I put these glasses on, things clear up pretty quickly and I’m more readily able to steer the ship.

When it’s all said and done, what do you hope Geeq to have achieved?

To be a thread that helps weave the world together.

Geeq is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Real techies paintball in tutus

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Vivian Lim, CEO of Beaze, a platform that provides continuous lead flow for service providers. She discusses tactics on succeeding as a visible minority, a mother and an entrepreneur in technology.

Vivian Lim, Co-Founder & CEO of Beaze

So, Why Beaze?

I’m a huge fan of entrepreneurs and their courage to strike out on their own. I enjoy building solutions that help people save time on the things they loath, so they can spend more time with the people they love. Time is the one commodity you can’t buy, so it’s essential to spend it wisely. 

Ever since I was little, my parents instilled in me the importance of controlling my destiny. Building your own company is one way of doing that. I want to be a significant part of helping others succeed if and when they decide to head down that path. An idea is only as useful as the team that executes that idea. Having paid my dues on my journey through tech, I sincerely appreciate all the intricate details accomplished by the front-line making incredible things work. Smart people are everywhere, but those who can find creative solutions and compromises in a business landscape full of obstacles are the hardest to find and retain. Beaze aspires to make this search both easy and enjoyable. 

How did you break into B2B?

I spent most of my career in enterprise, including at Microsoft and AWS. However, my last stint at Google in brand advertising was the most intriguing space I had ever seen in my career.  I had the privilege of working with Fortune 100 companies and travelled the world to see what it takes to establish and maintain a brand presence. 

That’s when it hit me. If you knew that BILLIONS of dollars spent annually on advertising came from 2% of the world’s companies and that each of them spent millions every month on ads, do you honestly think any small business owner could successfully compete? I have so many friends and acquaintances who were small business owners and struggled with bootstrapping sales. While all of them were brilliant at their specialties, they weren’t necessarily as well versed in sales, marketing and advertising. Some went belly up within a few months from lack of market presence, and it was a crushing moment for them, both financially and emotionally. I never want anyone to feel that kind of failure.

What’s your philosophy?

Those who can should. Don’t let anything stop you.

I plan and prioritize religiously. It’s important to know why you’re doing something and what the payout will be. If it’s not going to produce a big return, maybe it’s not worth doing. To get primed each day, I wake up at 5:30am and go for a jog. It’s so much easier to get stuff done in the quiet moments of the morning before the rest of the world catches up; it’s my meditation.

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

I support 22q research at UC Davis. In 2015, I lost my son to Tetrology of Fallot and DiGeorge syndrome, both rare diseases caused by a congenital heart defect from erroneous deletions on the 22nd chromosome.  I donate every year in memory of my son and all families who have been affected by 22q11.2 deletions. I was elated to hear about Jimmy Kimmel’s son who had received a successful surgical intervention. Unfortunately, my youngest daughter also has a heart defect, albeit a less severe one, and I’m thankful every day that she’s doing well. 

Dr. Tony J. Simon and the UC team are clinically addressing children’s social interactions with these disorders. In past donation years, I’ve asked them to consider gene injection therapy in utero to prevent kids from being born with the deletions entirely. I might need to wait a few years before they can embark on such a challenge.

What does success look like to you?

Enabling every family to live comfortably. Both of my parents came from lower working-class backgrounds. My parents paid for two grandparents and five siblings to emigrate to the US and raised three daughters. I consider myself very fortunate to have had parents willing to sacrifice so much so we could have such opportunity. Today, my family includes the folks at Beaze. As a team, we celebrate milestones together because enabling sales for every small business owner is merely hard work. So, to keep things interesting this past November, we went skydiving. This quarter, we’re thinking of going paintballing while wearing tutus and bee wings. It’s a COVID-friendly activity with social distancing built-in.

#battlefairy | Photo credit: Jacob Miller

What words of wisdom can you share?

1. Dream big. Every great accomplishment started as a seemingly impossible dream. 

2. Persevere. Everything can and will go wrong. Life is not fair and that’s ok. Two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward.  

3. Prove them wrong. The best payback is to live an amazing life.

Who inspires you?

There are so many great examples out there, like Anne Wojcicki from 23andMe; she’s a genomics pioneer! Among other accomplishments, her team helped to develop safer, less invasive prenatal sequencing that do not pose risks to developing fetuses. Then, there are upstarts like Elon Musk. I love how he simply doesn’t recognize commonly defined limits, and his punny humor slays me every time. 

What’s it like being a woman in technology?

It’s hard being a woman and a visible minority in technology. At conferences, I’m often mistaken as the help. The world continues to judge women of color more harshly, so it’s critical to over-prepare for everything to the Nth degree. People tend to see us as less competent than our male peers who might be at the same or lower competence level. The hardest criticism comes from other moms who think working moms favor careers over kids. 

Every working woman out in the world is an ambassador for every little girl wanting a shot at success. We have to bring our A++ game (because, you know, A is an Asian F :P). I look forward to the day half of all CEOs are working moms, and everyone considers this normal. 

What’s it like being a working parent?

It’s all about balance and multitasking. In French, we say “au fur et à mesure”. I trim the proverbial fat whenever possible and do the things that give me the most satisfaction. Presenting in a boardroom and attending my kids’ end-of-year performance are not mutually exclusive. My daughters need to know that they can have both a career and a family. I’m thankfully home a lot more these days and not just because of COVID. I help the kids with homework in between video conferences with clients. We’re all more confident and happy when we’re together. 

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

I’d love for Beaze to enable more IPOs than any other company on earth. Bill Gates, I’m coming for you.

Those who don’t jump will never fly

3-minute read

“Beaze: Meet the Team” is a series on the team building out Beaze, a platform that provides continuous lead generation for service providers. Today, we’re chatting with Peter Alexandre, our Director of Business Development, on how to succeed while busting bias.

Peter Alexandre, Director of Business Development. Photo Credit: Beaze
Peter Alexandre, dual Gold Medalist for Long Jump and High Jump in the 1996 Canadian Championship. Photo Credit: Beaze

So, Why Beaze?

As a Haïtian, I, like many others, face a world full of inequality and prejudice. When people think of my country, they think of it as a dangerous, impoverished nation. They don’t see a country that once produced 80% of France’s external income, nor do they see a society that raised the first successful slave rebellion against Napoléon, leading to its independence. They don’t see people ready and willing to do what’s necessary to succeed.

I believe in a world where more people excel based on their potential and capabilities and have equal access to opportunity. I want to be part of a company that democratizes wealth generation.

The average annual household income in Haïti is roughly $450 USD PER YEAR (or $1.23 per day) or the cost of an iPad. A Haïti-based web developer could easily earn that in a week creating an online storefront for a mom and pop chocolate boutique in Belgium; that shop would be simultaneously getting an incredible discount compared to the average market price for web development based Europe, usually around $5-10K USD. The positive impact of this change could be life-changing for all.

Peter Alexandre, Director of Business Development at Beaze. Photo Credit: Beaze

What’s your philosophy when it comes to tech?

We need to focus on helping each other. Technology is simply a tool to leverage the amount of partnership you can maintain while still being helpful to one another; it helps us automate away the repetitive tasks that drain our motivation and resources. Technology doesn’t replace our inherent human impulse to want to connect. We get so much more done when we collaborate, and vendors can be an essential part of a business’s success.

How should businesses go about choosing vendors?

Find an ethical vendor who asks and answers the right questions. As best said by Albert Einstein, “If I only had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Solutions can be amazingly inexpensive and straightforward when you’ve got the right measures of success and an open mind on how to get there.

Back when virtual machines (VMs) like Docker weren’t yet the norm, I remember saving a client ~$1M. A government agency considered buying a new license to replace their current server as its hardware was aging out and took over a week to recover when it failed. I realized VMware could virtualize away this old mainframe and proceeded to exceed all expectations. It was faster than the old system, no longer dependent on obsolete hardware and even recovered in a manner of minutes. 

If this client had engaged a less honorable vendor, they might have just given the client what they wanted at face value resulting in a $1M+ billable. Instead, I gave them a long-term solution that shockingly cost them only $10K total (1% of the original cost) and that had future scalability in mind. It’s better to play the long game and earn customer trust.

Beaze intrinsically enables customers to ask the right questions from an almost endless supply of subject-matter experts. Customers can then receive more relevant and competitively valued bids in record time. 

What’s your secret to closing deals and partnerships?

Remember that customers are human, regardless of the way you interact with them. You must fulfill their emotional needs more than anything else; this means eliminating stressors (like those caused by bias, selection and repetition), then focusing on a solution in terms that they appreciate and understand. 

Beaze does this by driving the entire negotiation towards achieving a specific end goal quickly and efficiently based on merit, not aesthetics. 

How can someone deliver if they’re dealing with bias as a visible minority? 

Perform extraordinarily well. That way, people will forget about any preconceived stereotype and instead associate you with overshadowing success. While it doesn’t feel fair to be constantly held to such a high standard, it’s the situation we’ve inherited. 

Once, I had a particular sales goal at Cisco to achieve. While most of my non-minority peers would have been happy with attaining $250K in sales within a year (well within their target quota), I went the extra mile to reach $2.5M single-handedly. The entire business group was stunned because they never expected me to succeed because of my appearance. I never want my kids to think that mediocrity is ok.

In sports, success is driven by beating the records of our predecessors. Winning the Canadian Championship in track and field gave me a great sense of accomplishment and appreciation for world-class talent; it established the foundation of character necessary for me to push myself when competing alongside international business leaders. 

Customers expect a lot from their partners, and they should. You need the best talent to get ahead. Beaze allows everyone to succeed based on what vendors can do for you right now, and it evens out the playing field, so everyone gets a fair chance.

How does being a parent affect your work? 

Kids get straight to the point; they don’t carry the same baggage as adults and don’t have a filter. It’s a constant reminder to eliminate the noise and to focus on what’s important right now. 

Kids also very adaptable. My daughters’ ability and willingness to learn makes me realize that I can always go further and do more for my community.

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

I mentor several kids from different countries including Brazil and Haïti. I give them guidance on technology career paths so they can fast track their careers. It’s so rewarding to help propel them forward; I wish I had options like this when I was just getting started.

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

I want people to be valued for their skills rather than their origin or appearance.

Making Life Events Clearer through the Prism (of Experience)

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re speaking with Peter Tran, CEO of PrismTech Inc., a business-to-consumer (B2C) schedule aggregation SaaS platform. Peter discusses the importance of personalization as a driver of success from product design to team building.

Peter Tran, founder of PrismTech | Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace for consumer businesses
Peter Tran, founder of PrismTech | Photo Credit: PrismTech

Why Prism?

Consumers struggle with scheduling and often use upwards of 4 apps in an attempt to reconcile conflicts. Most technology provides access to scheduling individual events, yet we have to manage those events to stay in sync with our friends and families. What if there was a single platform that will allow you to stay connected to everyone regardless of the preferred scheduler without the pain of time-consuming reconciliation? 

Prism is a real-time interactive schedule manager that aggregates multiple calendar apps. Just as a prism takes in a spectrum of color and combines it into a single white light, we take in a broad range of communication platforms and consolidate them into a single source of truth. We marry your social, professional, and personal schedule into a single silo of information. Instead of digging around for info on whether you’re going to miss out on events, you can make the most out of your life.

How did you come up with this idea?

I observed my friends nearly miss their daughter’s long-awaited volleyball tournament due to scheduling misfires. It would have killed them to miss such a critical event despite having spent multiple days frustratingly trying to balance both of their work schedules with her academic and extracurricular activities. 

The truth is that many people struggle with schedule management; frankly, paper calendars just don’t cut it anymore. 

How have you built your fantastic team?

As the founder of this company, it’s my mission to make sure that we find the best talent. Our company culture is driven by:

Trustworthiness. The truth is, it’s not always about performance, even though the whole world puts a track record at the top of the list. The longevity of the relationship that you have with a team member is driven by trust. It’s this type of longevity (or lack thereof) that makes or breaks a startup. You need to ask yourself, ‘Should we trust this person when we’re in a bind?’ because as a founder, you’re going to find yourself in a lot of binds. 

Passion. It’s not an easy thing to work on a startup. You’re not getting paid what you could, but you’re working on a dream. You need team members who believe in your product. It’s impossible to think of new designs or innovative approaches if you hate your job, and anyone who doesn’t have a genuine passion will end up hating their job at some point.

Furthermore, we have an open-door policy with all of our executives. Any employees can reach out to anyone at any time for assistance.

Having a supportive human resources (HR) structure built around addressing disruptive life events (such as COVID) and continued career growth helps to minimize office politics (which we all know can easily destroy the social fabric of the company). For example, if John Doe starts at the company today, John will be a different person in 3 months; we have to find out what it will take to make John successful in this ever-changing environment. Great companies take the time to understand their employees as individuals and nurture that relationship at the highest level of culture building. 

What have been your top learnings around scheduling?

Build to unify, not segregate. Many applications are selfishly designed to only cater to the host and not the consumer. For example, Vietnam is creating Gapo, an alternative to Facebook. If some people like Gapo and still want to remain on Facebook, either they or their friends or both will have to spend more time jumping between these two apps to access information. Prism conforms to what people consider comfortable and convenient; we innovate by unifying simultaneous access to both applications.

Scheduling cannot be successful in a vacuum; it implicitly requires scenarios around sharing and accessibility. 

Who have been the biggest fans of Prism? 

We have many customers who have been our advocates; two, in particular, come to mind.

Manhattan Walking Tour has a presence in 3 different states. When their customers book a tour guide, they stress out spending too much time looking for information than enjoying the tour itself. These customers are showing us that traditional scheduling tools in the market today offer too many limitations and are causing indecisiveness, cognitive dissonance, and mental stress. Their feedback was instrumental in introducing new features like image sharing and event discussion to Prism.

True Buddha Foundation is fully transitioning all of its internal and external operations over to Prism. They have thousands of chapters all over the world, with over 5 million followers. Their current processes have limitations, which is causing a gap in communications and impacting their ability to organize their events more effectively.

How does Prism give back to the community? What impact have you had to date?

Recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a lot of small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMB) impacted negatively all over the world. We recognized how important these businesses are and those who are struggling daily trying to make ends meet. 

PrismTech is happy to announce that we will provide every single SMB with credits to advertise on our platform at no cost. We want to help businesses gain the right exposure to bounce back post-quarantine.  

When everything is said and done, what do you hope for Prism to achieve? 

Create seamless, meaningful connections between consumers and the brands, products, and companies they love. 

PrismTech is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Successful moonshots are more common than you think

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re speaking with Francisco Navarro, co-founder and CEO of LunarByte, a software development consultancy. Francisco shares his secret to launching and landing big new ideas.

Francisco Navarro, CEO of LunarByte. Photo credit: LunarBytes

Why LunarByte?

It’s really hard for most companies to create delightful products on a shoestring budget. Our unique methodology and team of talented software developers facilitate the launch of big ideas so that early founders can succeed. We identify the most important features of a product or idea, create a viable plan for success, and then we execute on that plan. We’ve found that in Seattle, it’s hard for fresh startups to hire experienced developers without the high salaries other companies can provide. Founders can’t compete with the deep wallets of the big tech companies to hire talent to work for their company. We solved that problem by building a Software Engineering Consultancy so now, founders only have to pay on a project basis and they get the benefit of a team of the most competent engineers.

Before LunarByte, my co-founder, Ben Daschel, and I were both software engineers at large independent companies (Starbucks and Azuqua/Okta, respectively). While well-run, these companies aren’t always able to accommodate the pursuit of their engineers’ independent ideas. Both of our employers were becoming increasingly mired in bureaucracy. While we can appreciate the structure and that bureaucracy brings to organizations, as eager engineers, this heavy-handed process really hurt our productivity and general motivation. Sometimes projects (that we worked on for months on end) were suddenly cut for no reason; other times, we had to cater an army of people just to receive approval before moving forward. Like a vulcan mindmeld over beers, we thought, ‘Why not just build the change we want to see?’. We decided to build our own company with a firm commitment against bloated processes. At the time, we were holding bottles of Blue Moon in hand. Translating the word “moon” to spanish (luna), we decided to start our own company and named it LunarByte. We are thrilled to tackle inefficient software engineering head on so that founders can focus on succeeding in their respective businesses.

A Vulcan Mind Meld, “Star Trek” | Photo Credit: Viacom

How tough was it going from corporate to a startup?

Really tough. First and foremost, we have much smaller budgets. The other big difficulty is just making a name for yourself. It’s tough to establish yourself as a player in software consultancy, and that’s where coming from an established network helps a ton. We’ve started to receive referrals, and we hope that in a few years from now we’ll be a big player in this industry. We’re starting to get some larger projects now, and everyone on the team loves incubating new, fresh ideas and launching them; however, we’re all very technical so we don’t do much UX or marketing. Despite just starting out, our customers (including Dollar Flight Club, Pre-Flight Mitigator, The Counter Veil, and When I Leave) can speak to the high calibre of work we produce, and they all come back for more. 

What’s the secret on how to do more with less?

1. Build the right product: From the technical side, usually anything can get done. You probably have the resources to build all kinds of new infrastructure. Nothing is worse than building a product that doesn’t solve a problem. You can ask a client every day “Is this what you asked for?” but the truth is, sometimes the thing that they ask you for isn’t exactly what needs to be built. Instead, we like to focus on the ‘why’ the product needs to be built and what problem it intends to solve. This reasoned approach prevents the message from being lost in translation.

2. Stay in sync: It’s critical to have a tight relationship with clients because projects and their directions change course at the drop of a hat. We like using Slack because it allows for flat (as opposed to hierarchal) communication. This significantly reduces the odds of “playing broken telephone”. The biggest challenge is that we’re working with less – we have smaller budgets and less wiggle room. But this means we’ve learned how to be ultra-efficient. We also get to have closer relationships with our clients. We’re all on slack together so that we can be on the same page – We don’t work for 3 months and then ask, ‘Is this what you asked for?’

It’s also been so rewarding to help launch new ideas – every member of our team is excited about what we’re working on because we see why founders are asking what they’re asking for. When a client comes back to us and says, ‘Hey that stuff you built? I took it to a convention and now I have 500 users.” – that’s the stuff that keeps us motivated and you don’t really find that in a corporate environment.

What is something everyone should know about building a product?

The ‘Why’ matters. You might be working on a project and at the end you’re like, ‘Wait, why did we do this? Was it worth it?’ If you can’t answer the former, or, if the answer to the latter is “no”, you’re not providing value to your customers. This lack of reasoning can kill a company. The right software consultancy can solicit the right requirements.

How do you give back to the community? 

I’m a first-generation Mexican immigrant from parents who worked on farms. I was the first one in my family to attend college, so I have a deep desire to help others with humble beginnings. We’re proud to be working with Storytellers for Change. They do a lot of work to promote diversity and inclusion from high school through to university across the nation. We’re always looking for impactful clients to be working with and better ways to support equity when it comes to hiring.

When it’s all said and done, what do you hope LunarByte to have achieved?

Create a great space for innovation where companies can gather and launch big ideas.

LunarByte is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Awarded State Contracts – March 2020 Update

Hello Beaze Beta Program Participants!

Below are the awarded state service contracts for March 2020. Please sign into the Beaze Beta Portal for more details.

  • March 2, 2020 – $250K – CA State – Salesforce Implementation (#916283)
  • March 2, 2020 – $732K – WA State – Park Development (#002248)
  • March 3, 2020 – $2M – WA State – Translation Services (#590041)
  • March 16, 2020 – $10K – CA State – Custodial Services (#737108)
  • March 16, 2020 – $11K – CA State – Custodial Services (#829645)
  • March 16, 2020 – $1.8M – CA State – Cloud Data Warehousing (#729163)
  • March 17, 2020 – $154K – CA State – Furniture and Storage (#982721)
  • March 17, 2020 – $1.5M – CA State – Medical Equipment Wholesale (#769026)
  • March 17, 2020 – $4K – CA State – Concrete (#719263)
  • March 17, 2020 – $50K – CA State – Batteries Wholesale (#761827)
  • March 17, 2020 – $4K – CA State – Training Services (#726126)
  • March 18, 2020 – $117K – CA State – Technology Analysis (#387697)
  • March 18, 2020 – $1.5M – CA State – Technology Services (#287691)
  • March 18, 2020 – $17.8K – CA State – Software and Support Plan (#749455)
  • March 18, 2020 – $132K – CA State – Hardware Wholesale (#879602)
  • March 18, 2020 – $34K – CA State – Software Support Services (#876293)
  • March 18, 2020 – $406K – CA State – Hardware Wholesale (#828151)
  • March 18, 2020 – $700K – CA State – Telecom Hardware and Integration (#332219)
  • March 18, 2020 – $1.5M – CA State – Environmental Study (#927323)
  • March 19, 2020 – $80K – CA State – Battery wholesale (#462731)

Beauty is in the eye of the person who can buy it

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Niccolò Filippo Veneri Savoia, CEO of Look Lateral, a financial blockchain ecosystem that authenticates, values, and acquires art in real-time. He shares his secrets on building wealth through art as an asset class, possibly even through COVID-19.

Niccolò Filippo Veneri Savoia, CEO of Look Lateral. Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace.
Niccolò Filippo Veneri Savoia, CEO of Look Lateral. Photo Credit: Look Lateral

Why Look Lateral?

In 2012, I had wanted to replace the artwork in my kitchen, so I went online to see what I could find, and I found almost nothing. When I did, I couldn’t be sure I would be getting the real thing or a counterfeit. I spoke with 300 gallery owners, and only 50% of them had a website, never mind e-commerce. There was no easy way to purchase top-quality authenticated international art online. At the time, the renowned art critic, journalist and my mother, Mariagrazia Savoia, spearheaded Look Lateral as a magazine for art, design, and fashion. When I became CEO in 2013, I decided to push the company towards e-commerce in a way that guarantees art provenance, and this meant creating a hyper-curated marketplace for art leveraging blockchain. 

Art is not only one of the most critical aspects of each nation’s history; rather, it also represents an essential asset class. There are $1.75 trillion art assets; this market is likely to grow to $2.2 trillion within three years. However, the market size is only 60 billion, and the transactions always involve the same few people. There is a considerable gap between the art market and the rest of the world.

What are the barriers to the art market and how does Look Lateral overcome them? 

Currently, there are three: lack of transparency, illiquidity, and lack of accessibility. Look Lateral addresses these problems by creating an ecosystem that identifies, documents ownership, and creates a market share for every art piece in question.  Our system tackles these issues in four ways:

1) Item identification: Our proprietary adhesive label, which is easily and safely applied to the back of a work of art or directly onto its certificate of authenticity. It is reliable and thin; it can’t be transferred to a different work of art, and it can’t be replicated or cloned. Every tag is unique. It’s crazy that this doesn’t exist right now. 

2) Provenance (i.e. a well-documented record of ownership). We record important information and opinions of the artwork to our blockchain, and we have a reward mechanism to incentivize players to record these things. We record if the artworks are in museums, record exhibitions, experts, the conditions of artwork, and so on.

3) Price indexing: This minimizes pricing error. Our methodology creates the index to price the artwork based on transactional data.

4) Fractional Marketplace of Art (FIMART): Our marketplace supports the trading of art assets, whether it is a fraction of the artwork or financial derivatives or the whole piece. Only artworks that are tagged, have information on ownership in our databases, and are priced by us may be listed in our marketplace. A centralized trading platform like this increases the number of potential buyers and increases the liquidity of the art market.

How can people maintain their wealth through art as an asset class?

According to experts such as those from Le Commerce, art represents a stable investment asset that offers an average annual return of 4.6% even during times of instability such as during political unrest or viral crises. This is especially true if there were art derivatives, art indexes and art lending. 

If you look at Deloitte and other reports, 10% of art owners would need a loan using art as collateral. These art owners include the top 1000 museums in the world, the top 1000 galleries, foundations, institutions, corporations, governments, etc. These entities are stable and solvent. There is a potential market of at least $175 billion.

The time is now, and it’s even more compelling because of COVID-19 and the possible next crisis.  Many of those entities will need loans or monetization as soon as possible. And art is even more attractive during a financial and global crisis, as one of the best refuge and safe asset class.

How does art as an investment vehicle help further culture? 

It’s a more scalable way to support museums and galleries. Museums, as an example, are not allowed to sell more than 20% of a given art piece (else they lose their non-profit status and are then categorized as for-profit galleries. During times like coronavirus, many of these establishments could shut down permanently due to enforced government closures if they don’t find alternative ways to monetize their assets within a reasonable timeframe. It would be a real loss if people were no longer able to appreciate the masterpieces of artistic leadership and history.

What drove your passion for art culture?

My father and my mother have always tried to bring me to museums, exhibitions, and openings. Some fond memories as a child include “The Celeste Galleria”  in Palazzo Te, “Phillippe Parreno”  at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and “Tino Siegel”  at the Guggenheim. As my mother was a journalist in fashion and design, I could always “breathe” culture in my everyday life since I was a kid. At that time, I didn’t understand how influential culture was. It was only in retrospect that I realized its significance. Something that has stuck with me throughout the years was “Know the history so you can understand the present and think about the future.”  

How have you built your team?

I started with people I knew, who were in turn, connected to the key industries I was seeking. Then, when I identified the skills that I needed, I tried to add some of the best people in the world for that skill. For example, we have Piers Armstrong, the VP of Marketing at Amazon as our business advisor. As our analytics and finance advisor, we have Antonio Mele, a Professor of Finance at the Swiss Finance Institute based in Lugano (USI), who also spent a decade as Professor of Finance at the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

Who’s been an integral part of growing the business?

We’re big fans of Certilogo (a leader in product authentication), or Artnet (a leader in art sales). We’re elated that they’re working on such an innovative project with us. We also have partners like Orrick, financial institutions and banks who back us with their reputation and stability.

What words of wisdom can you share?

The most important thing is to be resilient. Always find people that don’t believe in you or there will be problems on your journey. Make sure all the people around you will play their role but also advocate value. You will need to test and then stress test every single part of the business. You will need to have people verify the solution you have made. We overcame obstacles and prevailed, and to build something like the ecosystem we have, you need to develop a multilayer product. If you don’t have that, you won’t be able to execute a viable product.  

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

We want LookLateral to be the financial on-ramp to art culture as a prominent asset class, whether it’s paintings, wristwatches or film.

Look Lateral is a preferred partner on Beaze.

’letmein’ is not the worst test password

3-minute read

Beaze: Meet the Team” is a series on the team building out Beaze, a technology vendor procurement marketplace. Today, we’re chatting with Ahmed ElSayed, our Principal Software Developer, on how to drive software innovation.

Ahmed ElSayed, Principal Software Developer of Beaze (a B2B technology vendor procurement marketplace)
Ahmed ElSayed, Principal Software Developer of Beaze. Photo Credit: Beaze

Why Beaze?

For starters, we tackle real business problems with unconventional solutions. But really, my Beaze work family is also my family. We may not be blood-related, but the people I work with are my close friends who keep me grounded, and I want to see us succeed together. I’m both humbled and thrilled to bring my passion for technology to the table. 

How did you break into technology?

Besides tinkering with the family computer running Windows 95, I was a massive fan of video games. However, the names were in English (which I didn’t understand at the time). Having grown up in a predominantly Arabic-speaking country, nobody told me what the actual names of these games were, so I made up my own for them. Like, for example, I somehow dubbed “Donkey Kong” as “The Boy and the Cave” since the main character entered a cave and had to slide under and jump over barrels. I was fascinated by how important hardware technology was in enabling those games to run smoothly.

Donkey Kong, circa 1980’s. Beaze, a B2B technology vendor procurement marketplace.
The original Donkey Kong, circa 1980’s. Photo credit: Nintendo

In college, I knew I liked the problem-solving aspects of engineering and eventually settled on programming despite having enrolled in electronics. While it’s been years since graduation, I still get excited every day about learning new ideas, techniques, patterns, or technologies in the industry/field. Technology is inseparable from communication, which in turn is inseparable from cultural and global impact and change. I love how tech has the power to democratize access to knowledge, science, and education. Its impact on societies, cultures, and individuals is undeniable.

What’s your philosophy?

To know something, you have to have learned it first. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. One of the most useful technology experiences I had was a very senior coworker who helped review my code change very patiently and taught me how to organize my thoughts when thinking about a problem. It was a reasonably simple session, but I learned a lot by observing him break down a problem and organize my code better to be more readable and concise. I’m most grateful for my school, teachers, authors, and mentors who helped and taught me everything I know.

Child Hill. Beaze, a B2B technology vendor procurement marketplace.
“Child Hill”. Photo Credit: WaitBuyWhy

What are your go-to tools? What’s your secret weapon?

Task serialization is a big one. When there are bugs piling up, it helps a lot to have them all centralized in a tracker like Gitlab Issues. You get a flattened list of tasks that are easy to prioritize, sort and tag. This makes it easy to pick off work items one-by-one. Our team gained a HUGE productivity boost when we switched.

For ideation, nothing beats pen and paper. I like to outline problems and sketch out solutions. It seems counterintuitive for a developer, but it’s true. By breaking down problems into a visual decision or component tree, it’s easier to understand abstract ideas. It works for even the most complex systems, from single sign-on (SSO) logins to a distributed resource assigning and reclamation. 

What lesson do you wish you had learned 10 years earlier in life? 

Take ownership and pride in your work. As a software engineer, I proactively obsess about how customers use my products and I’m always on the lookout to find ways to boost their productivity. At my first job straight out of school, my team would often receive escalations from customers. I used to passively wait until a manager decided if we should work on it, ignore it or pass it along org-wise. Even if I knew how to solve the problem, I didn’t take any initiative. Later, I switched teams to work with a group of downright brilliant engineers. Their sheer passion and determination to make products better no matter what was clear as day. I immediately started looking up to them and trying to learn as much as I could from them. They always worked to produce the absolute best they could not rather than to just “meet the requirements” or satisfy an ask. That mentality encouraged me to reach for the stars in terms of innovation and advancement software-wise and strengthened my resolve to push software engineering as far as I possibly can. 

What does success look like to you? 

I always think of a quote from Einstein: “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple”. 

If I can find a solution that’s both simple and complete, then success feels near. 

If you’ve ever been paged in the dead of night to debug failures in a production environment, you can probably appreciate the mission-critical importance of creating, and combing through debug logs. Once, there was this nestable deployment logger, which allowed software developers to define new scopes for logs. We created an XML serializing technology where the parser managed scope based on the XML tag. However, deployments with 100,000’s of logs bottlenecked because the parser needed to load the entire XML tree to append a node. In short, the cost of appending increased exponentially over time. Switching the implementation for a simple flat text with a simple scope level prefix eliminated the bottleneck and cut the code needed by half. It felt like the perfect combination of pragmatism, performance and reduction in complexity.

How do you keep up with innovation?

I’m curious. As hard as change can be, I honestly enjoy pushing myself to expand and adapt my skills at every opportunity. As Confucius once said: “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm”. Github, blogs, and programming discussion boards are all great places to explore and learn. If you need a running start, it helps to take a class first.

How do you give back to the community and why?

I assist with teaching computer science at a local high school and contribute to programming mailing lists and forums regularly. Helping others learn is both emotionally rewarding as well as instrumental in furthering my understanding. I’m better able to distill and explain these concepts to different audiences. I also used to volunteer at a dog shelter, which is where I found one of my dogs, Jasmine. I would never have found her otherwise, so really, the community is giving back to me too.

When Beaze goes big, what will your biggest claim to fame be?

‘letmein’ is not the worst test password

Vivian, our CEO, wanted to demo our product to some investors and needed a demo turned around quickly. Trying to get it out the door in time for the presentation, I got a functional build out in time and thought it might be useful to have at least a little security against random web traffic. I gave it to her with a silly password ‘letmein’ (since it’s historically common and easy to break). She definitely remembered it, and now she won’t let me forget it either :D.

Awarded State Contracts – February 2020 Update

Hello Beaze Beta Program Participants!

Below are the awarded state service contracts for February 2020. Please sign into the Beaze Beta Portal for more details.

  • February 1, 2020 – $7.9M – WA State – Fresh Produce (#278161)
  • February 1, 2020 – $1.2M – WA State – Auditing Services (#128630)
  • February 6, 2019 – $248K – DE State – HAV Installation & Maintenance Services (#827312)
  • February 7, 2020 – $15K – CA State – Fabric Wholesale Services (#726348)
  • February 19, 2020 – $3M – WA State – Highway Upgrade (#771237)
  • February 28, 2020 – $11.7M – CA State – Software Maintenance Services (#092875)
  • February 29, 2020 – $1.5M – CA State – Enterprise Application Management Services (#440923)