Cardano founder Charles Hoskinson anticipates a future version of the internet that relies on new methods of authentication.
Data breaches have become so common in recent years that it is now difficult to keep up with the daily stream of news about user information being stolen.
Due to the frequency, most of the public and news outlets focus on only the most damaging breaches containing the most sensitive personal identifying information, routinely ignoring the more common hacks that leak usernames and passwords for basic website accounts.
Yet with most people reusing passwords for different accounts, these hacks are equally as dangerous, forcing experts to consider what can be done to shift the paradigm.
While a number of different options have emerged, Ethereum co-founder Charles Hoskinson said in an interview that blockchain was the key to a passwordless future for the internet.
“It’s crazy the creativity people have when trying to defraud consumers. The technology that we have in society is very malleable because it was built for accessibility. It was built for rapid growth and it was built as an open infrastructure. But it wasn’t built for security,” Hoskinson said.
“What you can do with blockchain is start having authentication where you don’t have to have a username or password but it’s much more secure and you don’t have to reuse a password across every website, so if a hacker gets access to that, they won’t have that.”
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Hoskinson has become a leader in the blockchain space, co-founding Ethereum with Vitalik Buterin and others before moving on to creating a crypto company called IOHK and a blockchain project called Cardano.
The core principles of blockchain, he explained, can be applied to anything and can be useful for a variety of things, including authentication.
“Right now, we have this problem with authentication. If you go to a bar and ask for a beer, you give them your license to prove age. But the issue is that they don’t just get proof that you’re 21, they get your name, actual age, address, organ donor and more,” he said.
“We have these imprecise identity and authentication systems where to establish a fact, whether it be age or paying taxes, you have to collect a lot more information than you need just because of the medium of how it’s done. So many companies become data warehouses as a consequence of that mandate and they end up storing huge amounts of information about people. If they get hacked, that information gets leaked.”
Blockchain proponents have spent years figuring out a unified place to store credentials while also finding ways to prove facts about people by only revealing the minimum amount of information necessary.
“We can use zero knowledge cryptography and these things to say: ‘Hey, you’re over the age of 21. I won’t know how old you are but I can get proof you’re over 21. I can know you live in New York but not get your address,” he added.
“That’s much better for consumers and for the merchant. Better for the consumer because they know their data won’t be leaked and better for the merchant because they don’t have to be a data warehouse and store all that information about their customers. It’s a liability for them. They don’t make any money from it or perversely, they do make money by selling that data, but in both cases that’s suboptimal for us all.”
Hoskinson highlighted that this effort to find new avenues for authentication is part of what keeps him excited about the industry he works in.
“Access control is done through public key crypto. You have an open ledger that everyone can see and it has a property called inclusive accountability so we can all check it and verify it,” he said.
“There is something intrinsically good about changing that paradigm a bit. It allows us to have cool stuff like a password-free internet and proofs that get you to a point where you give a minimum amount of information necessary but you still are able to prove the things the merchant needs to know.”
Although blockchain has been touted for its security benefits, it is not perfect. There have been multiple instances of cryptocurrency exchanges being hacked or breached, with millions stolen.
Hoskinson said that throughout his eight years working in the cryptocurrency space, he has seen “egregious” conduct where exchanges handling billions of dollars would be outsourcing custody and software development to low-cost firms.
There was also a lack of regulation for cryptocurrency exchanges at the start, allowing poorly built infrastructures to gain popularity and then flame out, he said.
“This is an example where regulation tends to help. There were no standards and not strong regulation on the exchanges, so there was not an incentive for them to focus on inconvenient and expensive but necessary things. When you’re running a startup, it’s all about how to grow, make more money and move faster,” he said.
“Thats OK when your product is a social network, but it’s not good when your product is something that holds other peoples’ money or has a lot of control over their privacy and safety. That’s why the medical and financial industry is highly regulated.”
He also noted that the materialization of private industry standards was helping keep bad actors in check.
Hoskinson compared it to the medical industry, where doctors need to be board certified in a specific field in order to have access to things like malpractice insurance or hospital privileges. Over the next five to 10 years, Hoskinson expects the industry to clean itself up through mergers, acquisitions, and more stringent community standards.
He also expects there to be fewer hacks and even less hacks that can permanently cripple exchanges the way they did in the last decade.
“What we build is not about making a bank slightly more efficient or slightly more secure. It’s about asking what’s a fairer, universal way of doing things. Three billion people are excluded from the world financial system. They’re unbanked. The way the system operates, there is no financial incentive to bring them in. But these are human beings just like me. They have hopes and dreams,” Hoskinson said.
“Blockchain is all about the brokering of trust, information and facts amongst people who don’t trust each other but have to for a market to work.”
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Practical Ecommerce is an independent, family-owned, online magazine in Traverse City, Michigan, U.S. We are not affiliated with any e-commerce service, platform, or provider. Our mission is to publish authoritative articles, commentary, webinars, and podcasts to help online merchants.
How I maintain mental and physical health (to grow my business)
Managing a fast-growing ecommerce business is not for the faint of heart.
I’ve picked up a few practices over the last decade to keep my mental and physical health while scaling FringeSport.
Family and friends
The first and most important is my support structure. My wife, my kids, and my family are critical for my mental health. There’s the old saying, “If momma ain’t happy, no one is happy.” I found that to be true: If my wife and children aren’t happy, I’m not very happy at work. Then everyone suffers. Employees don’t get the leadership they need. I don’t perform as I should. It’s all bad.
So, while focusing on my family is the right thing to do, it also helps me become a better entrepreneur.
My friends also provide invaluable support. I need to commiserate with trusted buddies and blow off steam. They understand, to some extent, what I’m going through.
I’m a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a non-profit with a mission to “Engage leading entrepreneurs to learn and grow.” EO has been amazing in creating a support structure of friends and peers.
If my wife and children aren’t happy, I’m not very happy at work.
My next weapon is avoiding negativity. I used to think that people who couldn’t accept criticism or bad news were weak. Now I realize that it’s an emotional energy drain.
To be sure, I try to know what people are saying about my company or me. But I don’t take it too seriously. Otherwise, I’ll fixate on the negativity, which impacts my headspace — my productivity, leadership, and even happiness.
I’m now almost pathological about avoiding negativity and negative people.
My next weapon in maintaining mental health is near and dear to my heart: exercise!
I work out almost every day. Almost every morning. I ride my bike, use my rowing machine, or walk with my wife. It helps me start the day on the right foot (so to speak). I jump out of bed and look forward to the activity.
I also try to log everything that I eat. I’m using an app called Noom. I’ve also used MyFitnessPal.
I tend to eat more mindfully when I record it. Plus, with healthier food and less junk, I tend to have a better headspace and better physical condition.
I also protect my sleep. I do this is with an Oura ring, a sleep and activity tracker on my finger, like a wedding ring. I monitor my sleep with the ring, and I look at the app almost every day.
I try to improve my sleep and make sure that I’m getting enough of it. I used to feel guilty about this. But now I realize that an adequate amount of sleep makes me more productive and more effective at work. Sleep is critical for my mental well-being.
Another helpful practice is a consistent daily routine. I try to get in a groove and keep it going. When I look at unproductive periods in my life, something had knocked me out of routine.
My routine sets me free.
I’ve recently picked up journaling. Almost every morning I write in my journal. I have just three prompts:
- What am I grateful for?
- What would make today great?
- I am and I can.
Addressing my gratitude and a few tasks to complete keeps me focused.
Another helpful practice is a consistent, daily routine.
My final tactic in maintaining mental health has taken me 40 years to learn: releasing guilt. I used to feel guilty about not doing this or that or failing in some manner.
Now I just let it go.
I even journal about my guilt. Sometimes I cup my hands, place the guilt on my hands, and blow on it until the universe takes it.
The long haul
Scaling an ecommerce business is tough work. It’s harder if you don’t take care of your mental and physical well-being.
I’m a human. I hope to perform for the long haul. These days, I think I’m doing all right.
Prime Day Uncertainty a Dilemma for Amazon Sellers
By Jack M. Germain
Jul 2, 2020 4:00 AM PT
One of the e-tail world’s most pressing questions is: When will Amazon have its Prime Day sale this year?
Perhaps a better question is: Will Prime Day happen at all?
Amazon so far is not telling. Though usually reliable insider sources hinted that it may occur sometime in September.
Amazon canceled Prime Day, which is traditionally scheduled for July, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — when consumers were locked down in their homes and most stores and businesses were shuttered, or trying to function with in-person skeleton crews and support staff working from home.
If Prime Day 2020 takes place in the fall, the biggest deal days of the e-commerce industry could happen within several weeks of each other. You know the other ones: Black Friday on Nov. 27 and Cyber Monday on Nov. 30.
Amazon Sellers in a Quandary
SupplyKick provides consultation and strategy services to Amazon sellers — and is a top 500 seller on Amazon with hundreds of category-leading brands. It posted a 170 percent growth rate over the past three years and has appeared on the Inc. 5000 list for three years running. The company recently hit a US$100M in sales milestone, Vanessa Ruminski, VP of partnerships for SupplyKick, told the E-Commerce Times.
For SupplyKick’s brand partners, Prime Day uncertainty could mean they will be forced to choose between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and only participate in one or the other. That might be these sellers only way to balance deep discounts and still make sure their offers are compelling.
This means fewer opportunities for discounts for consumers. For SupplyKick’s brand partners and other allied merchants, choosing the right shopping bonanza may win or lose the battle for financial recovery, according to Chris Palmer, CEO and founder of SupplyKick.
“We’ve seen substantial increases and decreases among brands on our platform. It all depends on the needs of the suddenly home bound workers,” Palmer told the E-Commerce Times about the sales volumes they’ve experienced.
Sales Ebb and Flow
One of SupplyKick’s partner brands makes party supplies. Right after COVID-19 accelerated in March, that partner company’s sales were down by 90 percent due to the loss of large gatherings and graduations.
Other brands had product sales go through the roof. One brand sells gaming chairs that makes really comfortable seats, noted Palmer, to show the range of disparity.
“That type of product was in high demand for those consumers looking to spend time at home game playing or working from home. In this time period, the eighth most searched product on Amazon was gaming chairs. It was the most demand they had ever seen,” he said about the ironies of remote selling.
What drove that particular product sale? Circumstances of being at home, or the inability to buy from a store something the buyers were going to purchase anyway?
There’s no doubt that with all the shopping malls being closed at this time, traditional brick and mortar outlets were not available. So that was a factor. Another factor was the added time on their hands being stuck at home. Then there was a need to upgrade their home offices.
“So it was a combination of factors, not a one or the other,” Palmer said.
How Does Prime Day Fit In?
The big Amazon sale days — if and when they occur — will fall in the midst of changes in consumer buying patterns and outlets now that things are opening up, noted Palmer.
Retail sales in many states went to zero for a time. So, there is definitely going to be a resurgence in purchasing locally. Still, among consumers is a growing recognition about protecting their health, according to Palmer.
That will mean a resurgence of in-person shopping will be slow and steady. But stores will be open for business, even if how business is done is not the same as it was.
Retail merchants looking to rejuvenate their sales can get a big head start by participating in the Prime Day event. They can also jeopardize gaining a stronger foothold in Amazon’s marketplace if they do not sell on Prime Day, Palmer explained.
“Brick and mortar shops and mall operators that had minimal e-commerce are in overdrive now trying to figure out how to make up for all the lost revenue. How do they adapt to the times knowing there are millions of people who prefer to go to a website instead of a store first?” he reasoned.
New Marketplace Options
The digital ecosystem is now much larger than predicted several months ago. It will only continue to grow moving forward, according to Michael Lagoni, CEO of Stackline. It is more nuanced and complex with the rise of direct-to-consumer.
“The current DTC, e-commerce competitive landscape is going to be completely transformed,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
The Prime Day event is not very notable from the vantage point of third-party vendors, added SupplyKick’s Palmer. It comes down to people looking for deals on certain items.
“But for the normal stuff, I think Amazon is thinking volume sales,” he said.
Fall Prime Day Fallout
E-commerce consumer spending is slower during the summer months compared to other seasons. Prime Day has always been a way to amplify revenue for Amazon and merchants during this slower sales period. For brands, it is a way to unload their spring and summer merchandise to prepare for the next season, according to Ben Parr, co-founder and president of Octane AI.
“Unlike previous years, the summer months have seen higher-than-average e-commerce sales. Amazon’s sales are incredibly strong right now. They do not have enough people to fulfill the supply requests because their sales are so strong,” Parr told the E-Commerce Times.
Amazon deciding to push Prime Day will not break their system or their sales. They already are in great shape without it. But that is not true for potential participants, he countered.
There are categories that will be adversely affected by postponing Prime Day. If you are selling essential products, then you do not need Prime Day because you are already doing well. But if you are in a category not doing well, like travel, then Prime Day may have been really important for you for your revenue, Parr explained.
“The longer Prime Day gets pushed out, the longer these categories will suffer. These non-essential categories are the ones that will continue losing during the pandemic,” Parr predicted.
No Way Back
SupplyKick’s Palmer sees brick and mortar sales as here to stay. But he does not see consumer behavior going back to the way people used to buy.
“The majority of the way people buy things is changing. The curve for adoption to e-commerce sales has got to be structurally altered due to COVID-19,” he insisted.
Palmer also does not think the marketplace is going to go back to the normal way that people shopped before the pandemic. Instead, he sees a huge increase in remote ordering and delivery. For some industries that may become optional. For others, like restaurants, it is going to become mandatory if they want to survive.
“I think people are not that naive to think that they can rely on the same brick and mortar sales level. Take, for instance, the sporting goods stores. They are all actively pursuing an online presence or plan to do so in the short term,” he cited as an example.
Not One Way for All
Not every industry can adapt to a strict following of online first, retail store later, agreed Palmer. But every industry has to adapt.
The fashion industry is a good example, he suggested. People want to see fashion and beauty products up close, and touch them, and try them on.
To that end, he thinks consumers may eventually see a growth in virtual reality apps matched to a stored user profile to assist mimicking an in-store experience.
“We are nowhere near ready for that widespread adoption yet. Before COVID-19 it was maybe five years out. But the rate of innovation now is higher than it was before the pandemic. We are seeing more acceleration taking place,” Palmer said.
Thus, a fall or winter Prime Day sale event may leave too many potential vendors out in the cold. The typical products many vendors would have offered as deals are summer seasonal.
“The change in scheduling for Prime Day may be an issue for some brands who do not have a replacement product for a fall attraction,” he noted. “I can see many of our brand partners not participating in Prime Day as a result. The problem brands face is how to adapt and evolve. They do not want to forget who they are as a brand,” he warned.
On the other hand, the e-commerce marketplace is seeing a huge presence of vendors transitioning from physical storefronts. New entrants are going to take advantage of every chance for sales they can get.
“There are a lot of companies sitting on inventory built up over the pandemic shutdown,” mused Palmer.
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