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!

3 ways to sustain a healthy sales pipeline as a service provider

In times like COVID, it can be super challenging to meet and connect with new customers. About 72% of Beaze customers found remote work to be incredibly disruptive to new business development. Below are some ways you can boost your sales pipeline volume and targeting:

Photo Credit: Charles Deluvio

1. Consider government contracts: Did you know that the US government obligates $960B in service contracts each year? There is a huge pool of opportunities across verticals including but not limited to construction, technology, wholesale, marketing, finance and staffing. Best of all, there are contracts available in all US states and these are often multi-year contracts. Beaze offers direct and real-time access to these opportunities including the exact point of contact who manages these projects. 

2. Connect with private-sector businesses outside of your network: While it’s true that word-of-mouth and referrals can be the most effective leads, these are only effective if you have a well-established network. Those who are starting cold or who are shifting their offerings are often not privy to the latest and greatest vendor contracts. Beaze connects vendors to opportunities across state lines in multiple verticals including marketing, advertising, sales, technology, property management, manufacturing and more. Best of all, Beaze does this 24/7, 365 days a year, even while you sleep. It’s great to wake up to a full pipeline.

3. Reciprocate! Refer business to win business: Businesses are 43% more likely to receive new opportunities from partners who remember you. Beaze makes it easy to refer off-target leads to colleagues and friends ensuring that you’re top of mind when interesting opportunities come around that are truly in your usual swimlane. After all, why leave money on the table?

How has your business been coping throughout COVID? We’d love to hear your comments below.

Why outsourcing services is easier than you think

Have you ever wanted so badly to have someone else take care of certain business problems but didn’t know who to turn to?

Have you ever outsourced work to a third-party vendor only to deeply regret it?

Over the last year, Beaze interviewed hundreds of businesses who failed to successfully outsource specialized managed services over the long-term. We discovered that the average amount of time to find and secure a vendor is 43 days; it’s akin to flushing $12K down the drain. It’s no wonder people just stick with who and what they know.

Keep reading to find out the 5 main reasons why firms aren’t able to achieve the kind of successful, long-term relationships with the service vendors they hope for and 4 ways on how you can avoid these traps.

Why outsourcing services can be easier than you might think | Beaze, a B2B vendor procurement marketplace
Photo Credit: Lauris Rozentals & GLK Creative Studio

1. Finding appropriate service providers worth considering. When business owners are finally willing to consider outsider help, over 68% don’t even know where to start looking for specialized help outside of their personal network. Businesses frequently rely on word-of-mouth to find experts in the appropriate fields and would often fall back on search engine results hoping to at least get contact information of service providers. Unfortunately, the recommended vendors they contact are often way out of their price range, don’t have the capacity to take on new work or are a poor cultural fit. Many customers emphasize the uniqueness of their corporate culture and complain about how incumbent vendors often disregard internal processes and pre-existing tools. It often takes at least 1 week or more just to find a starter set of vendors to consider.

2. Vetting providers for their alleged core competencies: While 93% of businesses would opt for word-of-mouth, they would still want to kick the tires on these vendors by comparing at least 2 or 3 in tandem just to be sure that the niche expertise is indeed there. These customers often rely on Google or LinkedIn searches to find alternative service providers. Over 72% of customers admit they lack either the necessary subject matter expertise to make an informed decision or bandwidth to determine whether the solution pitched is going to get the job done. Often, they cannot determine whether the price quoted is reasonable for the value to be extracted and so they are often sticker-shocked. If this happens to be their first search, they would not have any appropriate baseline by which to compare the quote received. Waiting for numerous quotes could take weeks, simply due to the amount of coordination and back-and-forth required to get to an official bid from repetitive questioning. Customers don’t know what questions to ask to even begin a meaningful screening process. As well, onboarding providers in a quick and efficient way. When service providers were engaged, 68% encountered a steep learning curve related to the internal corporate culture. This internal baggage was not really perceived during the bidding process and so would often blindside service providers.

3. Vetting providers for their ability to provide high-quality customer service. Communication responsiveness is the #2 concern with customers; any company failing to communicate within 48 hours is generally disqualified from consideration. After all, the customer could be hiring the vendor on behalf of a secondary customer. Reputation is everything and so the hiring party has much to lose. Having valid use cases is another key requirement for customers. They need to know you can do the job. Many SMB service providers do not have communication service-level agreements, i.e. deadlines by which they need to respond or resolve issues. 

4. Maintaining a productive and cordial relationship: A remarkable 42% of customers listed cultural sensitivity as being a major concern. Many found their vendors to be eventually disrespectful of the work being done by the customer’s company which led to significant strains in the relationship. 

5. Avoiding spam: In 2019 alone, US businesses spent over $20B in overhead costs caused by unwanted solicitation. This comes in the form of automated calls, email spam, cold outreach and physical mailers tossed in the recycling bin. Firms spend 11% of their work time trying to avoid these forms of communication from outside vendors and wish they could do away with them altogether.

As you can see, searching for and vetting vendors fatigues the best of us; the above challenges boil down to the following five reasons we’re all very familiar with:

  • Customers don’t know who to ask;
  • Customers don’t know where to find the right vendors;
  • Contacted vendors are too busy to respond;
  • Contacted vendors turn out to be way out of budget;
  • Contacted vendors turn out to be less than honest about their capabilities;

Fortunately, Beaze changes the service landscape in a multitude of time and cost-saving ways that benefit both customers and service providers:

1. Queuing up worthy providers who are ready to respond: Beaze requires that prospective vendors respond within 24 hours of being invited to a lead. Those that fail to meet that requirement are kicked out of consideration and immediately backfilled with another set who is ready and primed to go.

2. Having a panel of subject matter expert vendors figure out the problem space: Beaze experts narrow down the problem space in layman terms that are verifiable and comparable using suggested discussion topics collected through machine learning. Vendors are able to submit key use cases to demonstrate their capabilities in driving true return-on-investment (ROI). These use cases illustrate communication style, competency and cultural sensitivities.

3. Automatically replenishing the prospective vendor pool whenever they prove themselves unworthy: Beaze has a broad network of vendors who are ready and able jump into a conversation mid-stream and keep the conversation on track towards the conclusion; so, even when previous vendors drop out (either of their own volition or forcibly by the customer), ready and eager providers can be introduced getting themselves easily caught up.

4. Providing comparable bids with clear value propositions and price: Beaze enables providers to submit meaningful bids to address your specific project concerns in quantifiable terms so you know what you’ll receive as an outcome.

Customers on Beaze are able to find, vet and hire vendors in under 7 days (an 83% improvement). Imagine what you could do with that extra time and energy.

How do you tackle vendor procurement? We’d love to hear your comments below.

No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care

3-minute read

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we are chatting with Paul O’Beirne, CEO of Orca HR Solutions, a firm that helps companies build great teams and leaders. He shares his secrets (still used by leaders like Satya Nadella) on how empathy drives success.

Paul O’Beirne, Founder of Orca HR Solutions | Photo Credit: Orca HR Solutions. Beaze, an HR vendor procurement marketplace
Paul O’Beirne, Founder of Orca HR Solutions | Photo Credit: Orca HR Solutions

Why Orca HR Solutions?

We’re passionate about improving organization productivity, especially when the business landscape is changing dramatically, whether it’s due to organic growth or drastic changes due to the impact of COVID. We support organizations to fully appreciate their individual team members as whole persons, including their work and home lives. Our research-backed methodology deepens our clients’ understanding of human behavior and its impact on workplace culture and performance. Improving empathy is critical to effective and impactful leadership because employees need to feel that their employers care. To learn empathy, you first have to be open to learning about yourself. By giving teams a better self-awareness of areas, including emotional intelligence, we help them communicate more effectively and grow more successfully.

Our team comprises former leaders from Microsoft, Amazon, Space Between and Trover (acquired by Expedia). We’ve gone through the same types of challenges as our customers and bring best-of-breed practices surrounding behavioural insight to hundreds of leaders and team members. These empathic insights have improved productivity to thousands of people within their organizations. We pride ourselves on driving acuity, actualization and awesomeness for our clients.

My 25-year Microsoft career started in Ireland during its startup phase as the HR Manager, which I grew from 11 people to 1600. I later transferred to the US to support Microsoft’s senior leaders, including Satya Nadella (then GM of Business Solutions Development), Bob Herbold (former Chief Operating Officer), Craig Mundie (former Chief Technology Officer), Orlando Ayala (former President of Sales), initially with global accountability for 5000 people across 16 different divisions. I realized many people and organizations often don’t know what they don’t know, such as how demonstrable caring can positively and hugely impact employee engagement.  Simply raising awareness of possibilities that could lay ahead for them could help them be more effective than they ever thought possible. Exposure to these experiences motivated and prepared me for the work we do today.

Wouldn’t a long-running career at Microsoft be considered a reasonably elite endeavor, not accessible or applicable to most firms?

Perhaps, but I didn’t start there. I’ve worked in a pretty humbling variety of roles, including hospitality, retail, farming, and industrial. I can remember as a child of 7 the excitement and pride of spending my weekends delivering milk and bread across the community. Throughout high school and college, I supported myself by picking grapes in the vineyards of France, washing dishes on a cruise ship in Germany and cleaning hospitals in Chicago. 

These experiences exposed me to people from all walks of life; they made me realize how important every role is to the success of an organization. It honed my skills of building relationships, developing a strong work ethic and empathy for others that serve our clients well.

What is the most common mistake most companies make when it comes to HR?

Selecting the right talent. Honestly, selection starts well before the interview. In our global knowledge economy, the only real source of competitive advantage lies in recruiting and developing the best talent. As the famous management author Jim Collins notes, “Leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who’. They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.

We help our clients get people in the “right seats.” The first step is to align the key stakeholders on the roles, key competencies, motivators, responsibilities and expected outcomes of the job. Only then do we evaluate the candidate against the requirements of the role and company culture. This approach reduces the cost for the company by reducing the amount of time to hire and decreasing the cost of turnover due to poor role fit.  Using the assessments as part of the on-boarding process also can help leaders have a great empathic understanding of a new team member’s strengths, opportunities and preferred behaviors.

What lessons have you since learned in HR that you wish you had learned sooner in your career? 

1. Create the conditions for people to discover and own the solution (rather than telling people what to do). It’s better to teach people how to fish than fishing for them; this can be done through empathetic listening, powerful questions, creating a shared reality and alignment on accountability.

2. Be more mindful. Just a few easy tweaks can help your team stay focused on objectives, execute better and celebrate notable achievements, not to mention breed positivity. For example, I like to recap each Friday by reflecting on what my “key wins” were for that week and what my main priorities are for the coming week. Before each meeting, our team participates in a short 1-2 minute mindfulness breathing exercise. After the meeting, we do a gratitude check-out. 

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Vulnerability is the root of authentic social connection. Many of us who are high achievers are reluctant to ask for help and can see it as a weakness if we do. Recognizing your weaknesses and bringing in complementary skills will help accelerate your business. Once identified, it’s easier to determine the next milestone in your continuing development.

Who are your biggest fans?

Our clients. We’ve had the privilege of supporting the folks at Nordstrom, Avalara, Aptio, Premera, and even larger firms like Microsoft and Micron Technologies. Most of our growth has come from organic referrals and partners. Because of the impact of our engagements and assessments on the effectiveness of leadership and increased productivity of teams, we’ve received numerous referrals from both internal and external clients.

How do you give back to the community?

Two organizations I have been personally involved with are Neural Education (NE) and the American Cancer Society (ACS). 

NE brings brain-based teaching into schools, and I currently serve on their Board of Directors, helping them build their business.  NE is about using a neural lens to positively affect our education deficiencies. We accomplish this by giving teachers tools and practices that align with how the brain works according to scientific research which affects how children learn.

When the founder, Kieran O’Mahony, and I met, we immediately found a common passion. Kieran and his entire life’s work have been developing these brain-based educational programs. NE is focused on preparing teachers to bring these empathic principles into the classroom. We have been holding many workshops in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. We’ve impacted 40,000 teachers and 1 million students across the US. The plan is to take the initiative globally. Recently, we’ve started working with schools in Africa and India. 

ACS initiatives are dear to my heart. I lost my mother to cancer and have many friends who are survivors. A colleague had asked if I would serve as a Pink Ambassador and I couldn’t have been more delighted or honored to help. I dressed in pink for a whole month to raise awareness. We were able to collect $4000 and a few laughs. The members of ACS are an incredibly caring group who have great empathy for people and their families who have been impacted by Cancer. 

Paul O'Beirne as Pink Ambassador | Photo Credit: Orca HR Solutions. Beaze, an HR vendor procurement marketplace.
Paul O’Beirne as Pink Ambassador | Photo Credit: Orca HR Solutions

When all is said and done, what do you hope to accomplish with Orca HR Solutions?

We want to enable everyone to create their most desirable, impactful future.

Orca HR Solutions is a preferred partner on Beaze.

Building towards loftier goals means having deeper foundations

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Valerie Thiel, founder of SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC, a Seattle-based architecture firm. She shares her secrets on driving design innovation for the most critical stages of life as a woman leader.

Valerie Thiel, founder of SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC | Photo Credit: SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC

Why SAGE?

At the age of 55, I opened Sage Architectural Alliance, a reasonably daring venture leaving steady employment as a working mother. This was after graduating from MIT, 30 years of working in the architectural industry and having kids in my 40’s. I believe that more women and senior-led projects help create a unique working environment with experienced viewpoints. Creating a diverse team helps remove the limitations set by society. The door opens up for so many different outcomes, and so the richer our projects become from planning and spaces, to connections and support.

What’s your design philosophy?

Celebrate life in all of its stages; each stage brings its challenges and beauty.

As a baby boomer, I feel the last stage of life is paramount. My grandparents had died in pretty abysmal nursing facilities. Because of this, I focused on transforming senior living design so that my mother could enjoy more attractive, more enriching options. Many nursing homes have to struggle with the support of limited Medicaid funds.

Senior-focused entrance design @ Foss Home and Village (Seattle, WA)  | Photo Credit: SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC

However, these facilities need warm, welcoming, and elegant main entries and gathering areas, so that family and friends enjoy visitations; these factors are vital to the well-being of families. Just as Starbucks has capitalized on the corner coffee shop, the presence of a bistro-cafe (even with self-serve coffee), is the first step toward creating community vitality. 

Senior-focused cafe-bistro design @ Cristwood Park (Shoreline, WA )| Photo Credit: SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC

Residents come for the coffee but also enjoy comfortable seating, a variety of lighting levels, and lots of people-watching. They’re incentivized to leave their apartments and enjoy hanging out in the commons to connect with other people, and that is a major driver of residents’ health. Even staff retention improves with more aesthetically, pleasing surroundings.

Senior-focused bedroom design @ Columbia Lutheran Home, Seattle, WA | Photo Credit: Chris Roberts Photography 

Do not let limitations set by others withhold you from accomplishing your own goals and aspirations. Women in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s have such different expectations handed upon them compared to when I was their age. Growing up in Bellingham, I had never known any professional woman (let alone what a professional woman in architecture) could accomplish. When I attended the University of Washington, I was the only woman in my engineering classes. For generations, society restricted women by stereotypical gender roles that limited their opportunities and contributions. I experienced this quite a bit within the architectural industry. Working for others, I felt like a backroom technician who had no voice. I needed to express my ideas, and I felt severely repressed working for others. It was as if my male bosses had all the ideas; my role was only to implement them. Starting my firm was the right choice for me.

Who are your biggest advocates?

While most of our clients are non-profits, we focus on finding projects that are mission-driven and will have a positive impact on the community. Some of our favorite architectural projects supported senior citizens. We’ve built numerous senior living residential projects to help both seniors and their families. We’ve also worked with the State of Washington, various community centers and grass-roots community organizations fighting high resident displacement from gentrification. Currently, we’ve started working on homeless and behavioral health projects also.

How do you give back to its community?

Giving back to our community is one of the pillars of SAGE.  We recently sponsored a community event that was aimed at showcasing how fearful high school students were about losing their homes. We prioritize supporting the younger generations in order to help them realize their potential. 

What’s been your greatest life lesson? 

Opportunities may present themselves; while they may not be what you wanted at the time, they may be the most impactful and rewarding.

When I first started the firm, I thought focusing my expertise in senior housing projects alone was the best way to help the community.  Instead, I was able to take elder-care expertise and principles to other vulnerable populations (like to low-income families) which benefited our firm’s architectural outputs and the community even more than my initial efforts with the elderly. Women and minority architectural leaders should be designing more of the affordable housing and shared spaces; the city would achieve more economic balance and diverse self-expression.

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

To inspire and support women and others of diversity to find their voices and pursue their passions.

SAGE Architectural Alliance LLC 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.

Too Lejit to Quit (Designing with Passion, that is)

“Confessions of CEOs” is a series on how business owners are changing the service landscape. Today, we’re chatting with Joshua Thomas, CEO of Lejit Designs, a graphic design and illustration company in Liberty Lake, WA. He shares his secrets on growing his business and the art community at large.

Joshua Thomas, CEO of Lejit Designs (Graphic Design) | Beaze, a vendor procurement marketplace.
Joshua Thomas, CEO of Lejit Designs | Photo Credit: Mercedes Kissinger Smith

So, why Lejit Designs?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved fantasy and comic books, which always had me sketching in a notebook. In college, I studied design and began using programs on my computer and laptop to create animations and graphics. I originally started Lejit Designs as my creative outlet, and fortunately, it has become a great business. I pride myself on reliable communication and passionate design. I think a few things that separate me from other companies are my passion for my craft, my willingness to have honest communication, and my drive to improve my craft consistently.

What’s your design style?

All of my work is full of color. I love their vibrancy in making ideas truly come to life. In Spokane, there is not a lot of vitality. I am the leader of the Spokane Design Meetup Group, and it’s my goal to foster an art community in Spokane, similar to that in Portland. I want to bring the Spokane creatives together to do one community collaboration project together per month to get everyone involved and working together.

Another element I try to include in my work is whimsicality. In my comics, I like to portray serious adult moments with a whimsical element involved, to appeal to the inner child in all of us. There’s no fun in being too serious. Sometimes everyone is so caught up in what they are doing, and I want to bring the human element back to design and the work that I do.

Doggo Branding by Lejit | Photo Credit: Lejit

How do you stay on top of your work?

The key to managing this company is balancing my creative side with my analytical side. Being able to draw on both helps me stay organized and remember to do the little things like register my trade name and do my taxes, the ‘boring stuff’. I am also big on consistency and maximizing my time. Even when I’m battling a creative block, I go exercise.

What’s fuels your design?

The sheer number of amazing artists and creators around me. I learn so much from all of the different projects that I see others working on, and I consistently attempt to take what I learn from others into my own work. The artists/creators that inspire me the most are probably Cory Schmitz, Freddy Carrasco, Bryce Kho, and Anastasiia Vinchencko. Regardless of which muse, at the end of the day, whenever I see their work, it makes me want to create. Each of them is a master of their craft and understanding them helps instill this drive to one day excel in my art as much as they do in theirs. I want to be the best at what I do, and to me, seeing artists like them pushes me to want to improve with every new project.

What is your mantra?

“Design, made human.” I got into graphic design because I enjoy making things with people and helping them achieve their visions through design. The human aspect of every interaction I have is what gets me up every morning. I don’t want my work to be a transaction; I want it to be a collaborative relationship that works well beyond when the project ends.

Who have been your biggest advocates/partners in business?

The biggest influences and advocates were the owners of Maker & Made, Brittany Stodgell and Millicent Schnebly. They pushed me a lot to start my own graphic design business and were a massive influence on me early on. They sat down with me on multiple occasions and gave me wisdom and advice that I still use today. I’ve always been very thankful for their guidance.

What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?

Wow, that’s the big one *haha*. There are so many things that I would tell the younger me designer if I could. 

1. Always work with a contract. This one will keep you sane and exponentially increase the number of successful transactions you have. In a perfect world, we’d never have to use contracts, and every client would pay. However, every designer has a couple of stories about the times they got stiffed by a client. Contracts mitigate a lot of financial worries because most clients are less likely to jump ship without paying you if they feel contractually obligated to the project. They keep things professional in an industry where a lot of clients have difficulties seeing design as anything more than a hobby. There are a ton of online sources and other physical books on the subject. One of my personal favorites is Business and Legal Forms for Graphic Designers

2. Don’t be afraid to fail. Design in and of itself is a consistent process of failing and course correcting. The road to being a successful designer is not a road paved by genius; it’s a gory one filled with the dead bodies of all your past failures. There isn’t a single designer that looks at their work from a year ago and says that it’s “perfect”. Failing and trying again is the name of the game.

3. Share EVERYTHING. It’s challenging for people to appreciate your designs if you don’t ever show them your work. Don’t be afraid of not having name recognition or not living up to some of your design heroes. Keep designing with passion and showing others; you’ll eventually find your place. 

4. Never be afraid to price yourself what you’re worth. Saying “no” is a pseudo taboo for young designers looking to get their name out in the world, but in my experience, knowing when to say no might allow you to take on that dream client you’ve always wanted. Plus, it saves you from over-stretching yourself.

How do you give back to the community?

My way of giving back to the community is taking over Spokane Design and trying to create a broader design community in the area. We’re starting up a community outreach design project every month. Giving back to the community is critical. The reality is, few of us encounter the same opportunities. I’d love to give back more. I see Spokane Design as an outlet for other up-and-coming designers to grow, improve, and create because I know first hand what it means to have people in your corner rooting for you.

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

To become a premier design firm that helps other designers get their start. I can’t wait to start paying it forward.

Lejit Designs is a preferred partner on Beaze.

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.