June 27, 2016 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Mobile App Development Studio and Digital Product Development Agency for Startups and Major Brands
CEO & Co-Founder
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – June 27, 2016
CEOCFO: Mr. Chen, what is the idea behind Fisherman Labs?
Mr. Chen: Our co-founder, Charles Hu and I started the company together and we were working on an app ourselves in the Southern California region that was kind of a Yelp for events or an events discovery platform. We both had some money from previous jobs and were researching different agencies in Los Angeles and found that there was a huge hole in Los Angeles and the Southern California region. Almost all of the development shops that we talked to were either run by people that had run ad agencies or had been in marketing in the past, but with no care for an engineering centric development shop. Both of us have strong computer backgrounds. We just realized that there was this huge hole in Southern California. There was this boom in the app economy and that was a few years ago. Ever since then we have been one of the fastest growing development shops in the US. We have published more iPhone and Android apps than almost any company in Southern California. We have been expanding extremely quickly. However, the basic premise is that we are an app development shop that focuses on the highest quality engineering and we feel that high quality products speak for themselves. It was started by engineers and run by engineers. That is a quick summary.
CEOCFO: What do you understand about developing apps that most people miss?
Mr. Chen: Making apps is an extremely complex process. Let’s start out with just testing. Even within testing there are multiple types of testing. You have what we call black box testing, which means going through and making sure you manually test every single action. Then you have something called regression testing, which means going back and making sure that every single previous function that was not touched is still tested, because every change can affect something in the past. Then you have something called test driven development, which is building tests in your code. Therefore, just something as simple as testing an app is so complicated that most people just gloss over it. There are times we don’t have the budget to have as much testing as possible but most development shops don’t have any dedicated QA engineers. When you have thousands and thousands of lines of code there is a high probability that something could go wrong very easily and it often does. That is just a simple example. However, when you talk about app development, the difference between a successful and a non successful app usually has to do with your process. Therefore, we are always trying to take our process and get better with it. How do we improve our testing? How do we improve our communications with our clients? How do we make sure that our developers are moving at an efficient pace while maintaining the quality? How do we create a design process so that our developers have the designs exactly when they need them? There are a lot of different moving parts and we need a good process. When people hire agencies they should be asking are they doing this for the first time? Do they have a set process that they are using? What process are they using? What apps and websites have they made in the past and what references can they give? Those are good questions to be asking. We made a lot of mistakes in the past and I’m a fan of lean manufacturing where you are constantly trying to make improvements and asking yourself how you can get better.
CEOCFO: How do you work with your clients throughout the process? What is their level of input? Is it a collaborative effort or do you prefer to develop and make a presentation of the app?
Mr. Chen: We usually like when there is a lot of collaboration. We want them to see exactly what is going on during the process. We use something called agile development, which is a format of development where you are constantly are iterating and testing so you are constantly seeing the progression of the app during the development process. It is very different than traditional development where you pay someone and at the end of maybe six months you get a final product and you look at it. It is very iterative. Therefore, you are getting billed every single week and you are seeing how the product progresses. We would really like to get as much feedback as possible. In terms of actual design, I would say that it really varies. There are some Fortune 500 companies that we work with where they just hand us the designs and they say, “we want this built.” Sometimes those designs are pretty good and we don’t need to do that much with them. Then there are times when a client comes to us and says, “I do not really know what I want here, this is my general idea, can you guys work with this?” Then we work on the product for 3-6 weeks and do some design sprints and test that. There are variations, but as long as we are getting constant feedback I think that is the most important part.
CEOCFO: What is new in the app world?
Mr. Chen: There are many things that are changing. There have been statistics that came out recently that have shown how people are using less and less apps over the course of the last couple of years. This is what I call “app fatigue.” When we first started we worked with NBC on a movie app. We are seeing less and less of those, because people are realizing that app development is very expensive. You are, in general, only going to work on an app if it is a platform. You are not really going to make a single use app. That is because there are so many apps out there has been a lot of fatigue in the amount of apps that people are willing to download. I think the statistic is that more than eighty percent of people’s time is spent on less than three apps. Therefore, you have hundreds and hundreds of apps and many of them are not even being downloaded or if they are being downloaded they are maybe being used only once and then they are deleted. People are just tired of the amount of stuff that is out there. Therefore, what we have found is that that is really going to change the ecosystem a lot. Many times in the past people would just make an app for everything. If they have a movie coming out they make an app for it. If they have whatever it is they make an app for it. We are just really finding out that was not very effective. Because people are tired of the amount of apps out there, apps are transitioning to higher quality and lower quantity. They must be platform-changing types of products. Take examples from Facebook messenger which is becoming a platform for messaging, or Uber which is a platform for all types of logistics. Apps have moved in that direction and as new technologies are coming out they are kind of disrupting the app ecosystem a little bit. Now, you are looking at virtual reality, augmented reality, and AI being the next frontier of technology. Many people think that much of development is moving towards this. Even within our own company we have focused a lot more on VR and AR, whereas in the past we were just pretty much a mobile app development shop. However, that is changing very quickly. Also, Apple is going through some issues right now where, internationally, Android is dominating that ecosystem. Since Steve Jobs passed away there really has not been a lot of innovation in the Apple ecosystem. Therefore, I think there is some nervousness there as well, like what is Apple going to do to innovate. That is because it takes sometimes years for engineers to learn a new platform and things change so quickly that you really have to be prepared. We are always thinking, “What is next?” because we have to be prepared for the environment to change quickly.
CEOCFO: How do companies find you? Are you known in the industry?
Mr. Chen: I think that being known is a problem for any company, whether in the services industry or the product industry. That is always the challenge. For us, we try to just look at all the funnels. Historically speaking, our company has always grown through word of mouth and through referrals. Therefore, we try to do really, really good work and launch an app that gets a lot of downloads. Our hope is that people ask, who made that? And then through that process we get recommended. Therefore, that is defiantly the primary way that people have found out about us. Now, we have gotten to a certain size at 25 plus people where we cannot just rely on word of mouth. Word of mouth can drive a lot of business, but at the end of the day you need outbound and inbound sales as you start expanding. With that being said, we just look at where people are looking. People are obviously looking at Google. Many people search Los Angeles app development or Los Angeles web development or Los Angeles virtual reality development or what have you. Therefore, thinking through it, how do we make ourselves available on those? When people are searching can they find us? People are also looking on social media. They look for commentaries like blogs. We just started really thinking through a content strategy, which is something that many different companies, whether you are a product or services business has to think about, “What is my content strategy? How do I put out content that is interesting that people want to consume?” And then through that process find out more about your product or service. We just started blogging. I am starting to write for a bunch of different publications. I am speaking at conferences much more too. Therefore, we are focused much more this year on generating inbound and outbound traffic. Then, outside of previous leads it would just kind of be word of mouth, such as more organic traffic or organic marketing.
CEOCFO: When you are speaking with a prospective client are you able to present the company so that someone understands the difference, such as the depth and quality you offer or is that somewhat of a struggle as well?
Mr. Chen: I do not think that has actually been that hard for us. We have a very, very high success rate after we start talking with clients because usually the difference in quality is clear. Our bigger challenge is getting in front of people. We have a pitch deck. It is about forty five pages that walks through our entire process. It shows historical projects that we have worked on. When we first started out there were some agencies that were started by, again, ad agency guys or sales people. There were some agencies that were started by college students and some of them were very talented developers and very talented ad guys. However, when we started going through the actual engineering process it was very easy to differentiate ourselves from a process standpoint.
CEOCFO: Is US based an important factor for many of your clients?
Mr. Chen: I think that for some people it still is. I would say the largest development agencies that I know of are generally US based. There are many considerations for why some people do care about US. Sometimes when you are raising venture funding you have venture capitalists that ask about whether you outsource any development, so that is a consideration. There is intellectual property risk when you are working with outsourcing, because there is less international law around. Intellectual property is not as strong as it is in the US. Therefore, if you sign something with someone in India or someone in China it is going to be very hard to hold them to that signature. We have international offices and it’s something that we are aware of. Some clients do not care at all and focus more on finding the best quality, no matter where the engineers are located. Our philosophy is just to hire the best engineer, no matter where they reside. However, there are some specifics where some people do care and we have to take that into account.
CEOCFO: How do you put together trends, ease of use and security? How do you put the pieces together?
Mr. Chen: In our process we usually start off with something called a mood board, where we put together all the different types of apps that we think our clients like or that are similar in the space. Then we all basically try to build a prototype as fast as possible. We will spend anywhere from three to six weeks building out a quick prototype that we can test. Then, we will actually interview a set of customers; it could be five, it could be ten that are there target customers. They could be teens. They could be the elderly for a healthcare provider. We try and understand their behaviors and where they get confused. After we go through that process that is when we really start to dive into the development. There is a decent amount of research that goes into it, so it is more quantifiable rather than just something with a feel to it. In addition, we want to test before we just start development. That is because once we start development that is when it starts getting expensive.
CEOCFO: Why choose Fisherman Labs?
Most apps that I see that get a request for proposal, almost all of them do
not make it to the app store at the end of the day. Many people are cost
conscious and for good reason. You should be cost conscious. However, they
are spending thousands and thousands of dollars on apps that will never make
to the app store. I think that people do not realize how difficult it is to
actually take something from an idea and then executing and making that into
a product. It seems like almost anyone can do it. However, just looking at
the statistics and it is very clear that if you go with a provider that does
not have the expertise of that type of process there is a high likelihood
that the app will never make it to the app store. Half of our work comes
from clients who have had nightmare stories with other providers. Therefore,
not only will it be a bad quality product; it will not even ever go live.
Therefore, I would just recommend that everyone do their research. I could
talk about how great we are, but at the end of the day we believe in our
process. We believe that we have great engineers and great designers, but
customers need to do their research. Just looking at statistics, with what I
talked about with the trends of where mobile development is moving, there is
really not a huge incentive in creating an app that is low quality and just
serves a single purpose. We are really seeing less and less of that and
people are just not wasting money on something that is just very low use.
Therefore, we are seeing, again, higher quality apps, less apps and very few
apps actually making it into the app store. We feel like in that ecosystem
we are going to be top of the line and the proof is in the pudding. What we
try to say when we talk to any client is what they should be asking any kind
of service provider that they are considering, “show me what you have
actually built and show me the apps that you have actually put into the app
store.” That is because, again, it is so hard to actually put something out
from idea to execution to actually publishing to the app store. Therefore, I
could talk about process for a long, long time, but at the end of the day
the proof is in the product. What have you actually produced at the end of
the day? We have put out some of the highest quality apps that we have seen
Helping Students Lower the Cost of College and Start With Less Risk - Helping Colleges Attract New, Successful Students
CEO & Founder
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – June 27, 2016
CEOCFO: Mr. Smith, according to your site, Straighterline offers the solution to the cost of college. Would you explain how?
Mr. Smith: We offer students an affordable and convenient way to earn college credit. Students can start college by completing their general education courses with us, such as Psych 101, Econ 101, College Algebra or English Composition, ultimately earning a significant amount of college credit for their degree. We start with a free trial and then charge $99 a month so students can take courses more affordably and with less risk than they could in a typical college environment. Once a student finishes, we have agreements with more than 100 accredited colleges where we guarantee credit transfer. In addition, students might get credit for courses if they aren’t enrolled in a Straighterline partner college. Our over 60 online courses have been recommended for credit by the American Council of Education (ACE) and will be considered by more than 2,000 other colleges and universities for transfer.
CEOCFO: What are the most important features for the students?
Mr. Smith: Completing college is hard. Most students have complicating factors. They might work, have family obligations, have kids, be part-time, be older or have health issues. These students value flexibility, don’t want to pay for services they don’t need, and are price sensitive. Straighterline was designed to be more flexible, more affordable and let students start college with zero or minimal financial risk. Let’s face it; starting college is a high-risk decision. The number of students who start, but do not complete, a degree is over 40% and can be worse at many individual colleges. No student expects to be unsuccessful when they start, and yet many end up with no degree and a lot of debt, which is the worst possible outcome. Starting with a free trial, moving to subscription pricing that students can start or pause anytime and then enrolling in college after proving success yields much higher success rates for the students and the colleges where they transfer.
CEOCFO: How do you make the courses interesting, easy to navigate but with all the right information available?
Mr. Smith: We start with all the elements that one finds in a typical college course. We choose the best courseware from the best known providers in higher education. Currently, we use courseware from providers such as McGraw Hill, Acrobatiq, Rosetta Stone and others. We have on-demand live tutoring services from Smarthinking, a service that provides live tutoring up to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to hundreds of colleges. We have student advisors who answer non-academic questions, such as questions about exam proctoring, billing, credit transfer, technology, anti-plagiarism and more. On top of that, we employ the same sorts of student experience improvement practices that you would find in the software industry. For instance, we will do A/B testing for any change in the student experience such as trying courseware from a new provider or increasing student support services. Changes that yield increased course completion rates and student satisfaction are immediately incorporated into the student experience.
CEOCFO: What is the competitive landscape?
Mr. Smith: Today, the barriers to building an online course are really low. Whether you are a college or a non-college, an individual or a company, there is no restriction on who can build an online course. However, the barriers to creating meaning for that online course are high. For instance, does the course count for academic credit? Does it have value to an employer? Companies that can create online courses that have credentialing value are the ones that will be successful. At Straighterline, we’ve created courses that transfer into colleges. We’ve created courses that are lower priced than what a college might charge, but carry the same academic credit. This is distinctive in the space. No other online education company has built the kind of college credit network that we offer, creating convenient low-cost pathways into traditional higher education.
CEOCFO: How are you able to get that network up and running?
Mr. Smith: On the one hand, colleges are reluctant to create low-cost pathways into themselves. If they are charging for Accounting 101 and we have an Accounting 101 course, they are more interested in having students take their course. On the other hand, colleges spend money to attract students. They have large marketing budgets that vary depending on the type of college. The students that come to us need a place to go and the place to go becomes a college with whom we work -- thereby growing the college’s enrollment with students that are very likely to persist to a degree.
CEOCFO: Are there courses that have not gotten the traction would expect?
Mr. Smith: Not really. We have focused on building and offering general education courses to students. General education courses represent about a third of all enrollments in higher education, so you do not need a big catalog to have a big footprint in the space. We are not interested in growing a comprehensive catalog of higher-level courses or awarding degrees. We just want to focus on these early college courses that students take and transfer in large numbers, and are roughly the same across schools. For example, Psych 101 does not vary much from school to school nor does Econ 101 or College Algebra. These are the kinds of courses we focus on.
CEOCFO: Are there instructors involved?
CEOCFO: How do you reach out to potential students?
Mr. Smith: Since we were one of the first to offer low-cost pathways into college, we are well represented on search engines. Further, we’ve built up trust among employers, colleges and students such that students are often referred to us as a way to prepare students for reentry back to the college.
CEOCFO: What has changed from your initial concept?
CEOCFO: Do you help students choose which courses they should take?
Mr. Smith: Students can easily navigate and pick the courses they need directly from our site. Every college’s equivalency charts are clearly listed. With some partners, we narrow that selection even further, down to a subset of courses required for a specific program at a school or corporation. In these cases, when a student is referred to us, we can track the referral and be very specific about which courses a student should select.
CEOCFO: Would you tell us about textbooks and e-textbooks?
Mr. Smith: Some, but not all, of our courses require textbooks. Students can conveniently buy e-textbooks through us, and we make it easy for students to get used books elsewhere. We have made a deliberate decision not to use the newest textbooks because used books keep prices down for students. In time we will likely eliminate separate textbook purchases. I expect this to happen throughout higher ed in the next five years or so.
CEOCFO: How many courses do students typically take?
Mr. Smith: We fulfill a wide variety of student needs. Some students are trying to reduce the cost and reduce the time to a degree as much as possible. These students might take up to 20 courses. Some students just need a couple of courses to fill curriculum holes at other colleges. Some need to fulfill pre-requisites prior to enrollment elsewhere. Also, because we let students cancel at any time and they can pick-up where they left off, we are able to match our learning schedule to the complicated lifestyles led by most adult students.
We also get some students that start with us because we’re a low-risk way to start. These students might realize they bit off more than they can chew and then stop. Rather than take out student debt or use taxpayer funds to start at an expensive college and then drop out, a student will have tested the waters with us without assuming significant financial risk. For these students, not completing a course – but stopping quickly and with little financial penalty – is a terrific outcome.
CEOCFO: Are people taking courses because they interested in the topic?
Mr. Smith: I think there are other opportunities out there for students who are just sampling courses. We are focused on students seeking a degree, and we’ve built our courses accordingly. We bundle a wide range of services together to create courses as good or better than those offered by colleges. We have proctors, we have tutoring, and we have support services to help students succeed. We work with the highest quality content providers and publishers. We focus on students that are learning with a purpose rather than those who are experimenting.
CEOCFO: How is business?
Mr. Smith: Business is good. The economics of this industry are on our side. One of the statistics that best justifies our business is that 93% of colleges charge the same or more for online courses than for face-to-face -- which is crazy because online courses have none of the expensive infrastructure of a face-to-face course. Over time, you are going to see students selecting lower-priced courses over more expensive options, and transferring them. We are positioned for our students to do just that.
CEOCFO: Why is Straighterline an important company?
Mr. Smith: Tuition rose four times the rate of inflation over the past thirty years. Median family asset values dropped by one-third in the last ten. The ROI to a college degree relative to a high school degree is increasing. That puts Americans – particularly middle and lower class Americans -- in a pickle. If you have something that is more expensive, more necessary with less ability to pay, the result is $1.3 trillion dollars of student debt. We’re fixing this problem. Straighterline helps students get the degrees they need by providing an affordable and convenient way to earn college credit, and ultimately helps to diminish overall debt for individuals.
Marketplace for Late-Stage Private Company Shares – Matching Shareholders Seeking Liquidity with Qualified Investors Seeking Alternative Investments
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – June 27, 2016
“Companies are staying private longer and a lot of the value creation that used to occur after going public is now happening pre-IPO. If you are a long-term investor, the kind of person that wants to buy and hold an investment for ten or twenty years, then you could be really limiting yourself if you are only looking at public market equity.”- Atish Davda
CEOCFO: Mr. Davda, would you tell us about EquityZen?
Mr. Davda: EquityZen is effectively a stock exchange for private company shares. We are talking about companies that are mature businesses or household names: late-stage, venture backed, growth equity companies – but they have not quite hit the stage where they are ready for a public offering. During this pre-IPO period, oftentimes, employees and early investors will require some access to liquidity and will want to sell a little bit of their stake. EquityZen helps facilitate this sale by matching shareholders with investors interested in purchasing private company stock. EquityZen also works to get company approval before any transaction goes through.
CEOCFO: How have people done this without EquityZen?
Mr. Davda: The private market has, almost by definition, been around a lot longer than the public market – it is over 150 years old. However, in the last fifty years, there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of capital flowing into private companies. There was an earlier attempt at a marketplace and it thrived for about four years before Facebook went public. When Facebook was in its nascent days, but still growing as a business, there was a lot of investment interest. Brokers would approach shareholders with offers of five dollars a share – the proposition of getting a little bit of cash to pay off student loans or buy a house or prepare for the birth of a child was enticing. After Facebook went public, the market effectively evaporated – there were not that many private companies out there. Today, we are operating in an environment with over a thousand private companies that are over $100 million in enterprise value. EquityZen specifically works with about forty of the larger issuers within the U.S., most of whom are above a billion dollars in market capitalization.
CEOCFO: How do you reach out to investors and companies that might be
looking for investment?
CEOCFO: What would be the downside for a company?
Mr. Davda: In these transactions, money is flowing to the shareholders – not to the company’s balance sheet – so company management may be inclined to ask what is in it for them. Before EquityZen, the process was a major headache for the company – it involves tons of paperwork and proper adherence to regulatory guidelines, which can lead to costly legal bills. EquityZen does everything in its power to take this burden off of the company – we have the the regulatory approvals, certifications and licenses to conduct the transactions above board. We also provide companies with the technology to monitor the entire transaction from A-Z, not only while its happening, but in perpetuity. Take a company that previously worked with EquityZen and is getting ready to file for an IPO. If the SEC or IRS has any questions regarding the transaction, the company can log on to EquityZen to access an entire audit report.
CEOCFO: How are you reaching out to the buyers?
Mr. Davda: To deploy capital on EquityZen’s platform, buyers have to be accredited investors or above. The SEC has strict guidelines around this since private companies tend to be relatively illiquid investments. The good news is many sophisticated investors have already recognized the trend towards private market value creation and have an appetite for these types of investments. Still, there are plenty of sophisticated public market investors sitting on the sidelines, waiting for companies to go public, which is becoming an increasingly large missed opportunity as companies stay private for longer. Twenty years ago, Amazon went public as a four-year-old company at $400 million in enterprise value. Today, we have companies like Pinterest and Palantir and Uber that are private, around a decade old and well over $10 billion in enterprise value. To get in front of the more-traditional public market investors, we create information pages for many companies. If you go on Google and search EquityZen and Uber or EquityZen and DropBox, you will be able to access a wealth of information. Accredited investors who sign up for our platform can follow names that interest them, and can choose to invest in those companies at some point in the future.
CEOCFO: What is your business model?
Mr. Davda: We collect a fee for the match we make on our marketplace – so, a fee from the seller and a fee from the buyer. We do not charge the issuer or the company. Rather, we actually provide them access to free tools they can use to transact with ease and access all relevant documentation later on.
CEOCFO: Was it easy to put the platform together?
Mr. Davda: No, I would not say it was easy. The biggest challenge we faced was not just building technology, but building technology securely and faithfully to earn the trust of both sides of the marketplace. Because we are a financial technology firm, we work in a highly regulated space. We had to spend a lot of time, effort and dollars to ensure that not only our business was sound, but also that our technology was completely secure, with state-of-the-art encryption. At the end of the day, we are talking about people’s livelihoods.
CEOCFO: What has changed in your approach over time?
CEOCFO: Millennium Press recently announced that EquityZen is available through them. Is that a typical relationship for you?
Mr. Davda: The Millennium Trust relationship is a fantastic one. They manage many self-directed IRAs for individuals. The idea is, rather than being relegated to investing in the few mutual funds or ETFs that a lot of IRA platforms offer, Millennium Trust allows sophisticated investors to put retirement savings into alternative assets. If you think about it, this is money you are not going to touch until you are in your sixties. If you are twenty years away from that, and investing in alternatives anyway (which have a longer-term risk profile), it makes sense to do it through your IRA. We have partnerships not only with Millennium Trust but also with other large trust management firms like Pensco and Intrust.
CEOCFO: What should our readers remember about EquityZen?
There is a structural shift in the way equity markets work in the U.S. We
are big believers that the same shift will occur in other countries as their
economies mature. Currently, its largely sophisticated investors that are
aware of this phenomenon. There are over ten thousand of them from fifteen
countries on our platform that have started to act on the opportunity. Our
mission is to get it in front of the millions of others out there that
currently have not. Companies are staying private longer and a lot of the
value creation that used to occur after going public is now happening
pre-IPO. If you are a long-term investor, the kind of person that wants to
buy and hold an investment for ten or twenty years, then you could be really
limiting yourself if you are only looking at public market equity. e are out
there to try and remind people that they do not need to write a $10 million
check to participate in private market value creation.
The World’s first 100% Free International Payment Processing, which helps Merchants around the Globe to Sell More
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – June 27, 2016
CEOCFO: Ms. Dubinina, what is the vision at Payment.Ninja?
Ms. Dubinina: Payment.Ninja is a solution with a mission to help businesses around the world to sell more, spend less and drive a global economy. We are not just eliminating the fees, we provide totally free card processing – no set-up or monthly fees, no interchange, no nothing.
CEOCFO: What is your business model?
Ms. Dubinina: Our solution for merchants was brightly demonstrated at Finovate. Here’s an example: at the online bike shop a customer completes a purchase of a bike with Payment.Ninja checkout. After that customers usually go to Facebook to tell everybody about it, or just to check the news. So now the customer will see an offer on their Facebook page to buy a helmet for his bike, that will lead him back to the shop. This is the simple model that helps merchants to offer the most relevant goods and sell more. What Payment.Ninja does is analyzes the purchase and then generates and publishes the valuable offers with complimentary goods, showing them on Google, Facebook or any other ad network. And, of course, all the transactions are processed for free.
CEOCFO: Is your solution available today? It would seem for a merchant to resist payment processing for free. Is there any skepticism about your offering?
Ms. Dubinina: We are available today in Europe and will be launching our product within one or two months in the US market. Right now we are gathering merchants to the waiting list on our site http://payment.ninja. There’s no reason for skepticism. We see many free services today that weren’t available for free in the past and that’s our goal – to change the way businesses accept payments with Visa or MasterCard, American Express, Discover or JCB.
CEOCFO: With security such an issue these days, how do you assure the merchants that there is no additional security risk?
Ms. Dubinina: We are really serious about security and protection of our merchants. Payment.Ninja is PCI DSS compliant, and our system is constantly monitored, so all of the transactions are processed in a secure environment. As for the remarketing part, all of the data we process is encrypted, and we never share any personal information of the users.
CEOCFO: How do you find the products that you are offering to the consumers?
Ms. Dubinina: As Payment.Ninja is a payment solution, so it’s important to understand the customers’ preferences. Customers can pay with any credit or debit card, as usual. They can also securely save their card details for future one-click payments, or set the automatic recharges for repeating payments. Merchants can charge their customers in any currency, and if they don’t have a credit card, merchants can also offer them different local payment methods – we are very experienced and always researching what are the best payment options for different countries and regions. The user experience is also in the customers’ native language.
CEOCFO: What was the reception at Finovate?
Ms. Dubinina: Finovate was a great success for Payment.Ninja – we actually had a queue at our stand – people wanted to know more details, and find out how they can adopt the technology to their products, etc. We had many features of the product to show and very limited time to highlight all of them, so we tried to show the most interesting functions in understandable way. In addition, we’re offering our solution as a White Label, so we’ve found many partnership opportunities during the event.
CEOCFO: Are you seeking funding or partnerships?
Ms. Dubinina: Current funding of Payment.Ninja is maintained by co-founders. We are open for meaningful offers from investors that are able to make significant contribution to our product. We’re also open for strategic partnerships and synergies.
CEOCFO:. Why pay attention to Payment.Ninja today?
This is a disruptive product. We’ve found the way to make card payment
processing completely free for merchants globally and we are able to
transform the industry fast and efficiently. It is hard to find a company
that has expertise both in payments, marketing, and data analytics, but
Payment.Ninja team makes our product strong and unique.
Containerization Solutions Helping App Developers and Companies Integrate their Applications and Containers
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – June 27, 2016
“We help companies integrate their application stack into containers.” - Justin Steele
CEOCFO: Mr. Steele, what is the idea behind InfoSiftr?
Mr. Steele: The idea behind InfoSiftr started as a content management solution. We ended up finding a niche market of providing our content solution into growing mobile space and being able to provide backend solutions for those new apps. Many of the apps, even though they look pretty on your phone, require extensive cloud solutions to make them work. In our process we came across containerization as a more effective means of developing software and pushing it out faster to production for our clients. Doing that, we became very well-versed in containerization and later we decided to shift the focus of the company to become experts in containerization of applications. That is what led to the current form of what InfoSiftr is today. We help companies integrate their application stack into containers.
CEOCFO: Would you explain containerization?
Mr. Steele: Containerization is a way to package your applications to move them from your development environment, such as a laptop or desktop, out to a production server environment with relative ease. This greatly speeds up the deployment process verses the older methodologies of doing it using VMs (virtual machines) and service delivery. It also allows for greater density and uses of system resources. That really comes from the fact that containers provide a level of isolation similar to what you get with VMs, but without the need of a hypervisor or needing to have a guest OS running for each virtual machine. In many cases companies are now using containers to get more effective use out of their current infrastructure. Additionally, another benefit of containers is that it allows for faster patch updates for security requirements which greatly enhances security. Today we live in a world where vulnerabilities are really a big threat and being able to squash those vulnerabilities quickly is really done through patch management. This new system of using containers pushes new code in the matter of minutes to hours, versus taking weeks if not longer to do it under the old methodologies.
CEOCFO: What do you understand on a fundamental level to provide a high quality solution?
Mr. Steele: Many people are playing around with and trying to get an idea of what is containerization. Granted it looks relatively simple, but that is the power behind the concept. It is a whole different methodology about how you deploy your applications in your backend or cloud environment. In it we see that just about every business or entity out there that uses some kind of backend or cloud systems will be impacted in the future by this simple idea. It is just the degree of how much impact it will be. If it is a very large corporation, they possibly are going to be retooling of the whole back end system. If it is a small company, maybe not as much, since they are relying more on other providers to provide a lot of their infrastructure. The thing that we understand at a very high level, and Uber had demonstrated this quite clearly by basically reinventing the concept of ride sharing and changing the cab industry across the globe, is that everyone is in the software business. If you do not think you are, it is only a matter of time before someone will teach you that you are, and probably not in a good way. What containers are doing are really increasing that speed of this concept and really helping us to understand that we are truly in an information economy where data and information are the new currencies.
CEOCFO: At what point might a company turn to you? How would you work with them?
Mr. Steele: We deal with many Fortune 500 companies, so I have to be careful how I answer this because many companies now are viewing this as a competitive advantage over their competitors. What we do is help companies with their current infrastructure and their monolithic applications, move them to the new more agile development principals, and break down these large software stacks into very small micro services. Therefore, we help companies go from, “We have absolutely have no understanding of what containers are,” to being able to have their team be fairly well-versed in the technology and actively deploying it and working to re-architect their infrastructure and their applications to better utilize this new technology. We do provide a variety of services, from training, to integration support, to development, to making the applications work in this new environment. We are also working with a variety of partners in our space, such as Docker, Joyent, and other partners to extend their technologies into these companies. We have developed a whole practice around helping companies take advantage of this new exciting area of containerization.
CEOCFO: Does everyone embrace the actual approach or is there still some pushback?
Mr. Steele: Sadly, there are those who reject it or are pushing against it. We say to some of these people, “Look, an asteroid has hit the Yucatán peninsula! You now have to decide, am I a small furry mammal that is going to survive the dust cloud or am I going to go the way of the dinosaur.” The market is going to determine who the winners and losers are in this landscape. If they do not adapt the agile principles and they do not move forward with it, there are competitors who are very much out there, who are hungry and eager. The real concept that we are dealing with here is that we are in the new information economy and information is the currency of the future. Those who can best master it and use it to gain market share or sales more effectively than their competitors will win. That is just economic forces of the efficiencies kicking in here.
We strongly believe containerization is the development process of the future that is available and effective now. Any new technology has its early adopters, the early and later majority and the laggards. We're seeing that now companies are asking a variety of questions and the early adopters have already moved into containerization, as they see agile development as a competitive advantage.
CEOCFO: Would you tell us about the Authorized Repository Management, your latest service?
Mr. Steele: Authorized Repository Management is a concept that we have been doing for awhile. As we have been building up our practice we have come across companies who need help maintaining their base images. The problems that we have when we go on-site and engage with a client is these customers have their own private image repository. We find out that the developers are very good at looking forward at what is the “new”, but as far as going back and doing housekeeping and general updates they tend to not do that. There have been many times we have walked into clients environments and we have found that they are using applications, databases, and other software that is two or three generations old with known vulnerabilities. Therefore, the concept that we have come up with is letting us manage these systems for you so you can focus on developing your new applications. Since we have had companies ask us to do this anyway we figured why not productize this offering and make it as a flat rate service verses an hourly billing, making this offering more attractive for your clients.
CEOCFO: What surprised you as InfoSiftr has grown and evolved?
Mr. Steele: For a small company like us, riding this crazy train called Docker has been interesting. We went from working with a bunch of small to mid-sized companies on developing their solutions to now we are talking with Fortune 500 types on what their needs are with containers. What surprised me was how fast many large entities across the country are really seriously looking at containerization and looking at adopting it, not just as an initial proof of concept, but how they really take advantage of this to meet corporate objectives long term. That speed of adoption and interest has really surprised me. I have talked to veterans before who rode the wave that came in with VMs and the interest in containers has grown a lot faster that is was for VMs. It took fifteen years for VMs to hit their current state. Within three years there is about a 60% penetration rate of container mind share inside most of the Fortune 1000 companies out there.
CEOCFO: Why choose InfoSiftr?
If you are looking at containerization we
with deep knowledge of developing and implementing container solutions.
Most of our developers are maintainers on the open source project. We also
have a core maintainer who works on our staff, Tianon Gravi. He sits on the
Linux Foundation’s Open Container Initiative (OCI) that was also founded by
Docker to help provide interoperability of containers between different
container technologies that are out there, and he sits on the Technical
Oversight Committee (TOC) for the OCI that is developing the standards for
interoperability. Tianon also sit on the Docker Advisory Board and we are
now looking at doing some things with the new Cloud Native Computing
Foundation (CNCF). That is another Linux Foundation group that was set up by
Google, Switch, Joyent and others, to help develop standards with
infrastructure that support containers. Since we are sitting on the panels
and the groups that help write the standards for containers we get to see
where the trend is going, what Docker itself is morphing into. We have the
inside scoop that many of our competitors just do not have, we can actually
advise clients by saying, “You do not want to implement this because this
new version is going to come out and it is going to change the way that this
workflow would happen, so it is better to set it up for this.” We have a
unique visibility into the future and because of this we have been invited
to many events around the country, from being a training partner to being on
speaker panels. So compared to our competitors, we have visibility into this
new technology that they don’t have and we are now becoming a leading expert
in this space.
Full Service Advertising Agency and Training Company for Federal Government and Corporate Clients Providing Production of Full Length Feature Film and Documentaries, Program Management, Human Resources, Training and Creative Services
Founder & CEO
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – June 27, 2016
“We employ creativity to solve problems and help our clients succeed.” - Catherine Downey
CEOCFO: Ms. Downey, you have a long history in the industry. Would you tell us the focus at CATMEDIA today?
Ms. Downey: We have three pillars. One is our federal division, another is our commercial division, and the third is our entertainment division. For the federal division, we provide creative services and training, human resources and program management to the federal government. Our commercial division is an advertising agency model. Our entertainment division is in the process of producing a full-length feature film and a documentary for our 501c3—HopeLoveCharity, Inc.
CEOCFO: Was it a deliberate strategy to have three divisions or was it more opportunistic?
Ms. Downey: It was very strategic. We are a full-service advertising agency, and we provide those services to the federal government. We wanted to diversify our client base, which is why we developed the advertising agency model for the commercial world. The entertainment division is also very strategic. We are in the process of producing a full-length feature film and a documentary. These are our two projects now; and, in fact, last night, our producer working on the documentary was on a sting. The documentary is about slavery in the form of sex trafficking of minors.
CEOCFO: What are some of the challenges working with the government?
Ms. Downey: The government has a lot more rules and regulations that you have to abide by. The procurement process is much longer. I think those two are the main challenges. The procurement process can be eighteen months to two years.
CEOCFO: Regarding how you create a program for the government, are there many more restrictions in what you are allowed to do with content and style, than on the commercial side?
Ms. Downey: You treat it the way you would treat any other project in that you do a target market analysis. You have to understand the goals and objectives of what your clients are trying to accomplish. You have to approach every project intelligently so that it is successful. This is not B2C where you are targeting a consumer. In B2C, you have a wider range of things that you can do. In B2B or B2G that range is limited because it is a more serious environment. It is really the same process. Our job is to make our clients successful.
CEOCFO: When you are crafting a solution, what might you look at in the creative process that less experienced people do not realize makes a difference?
Ms. Downey: You have to do your research. You have to do a target market analysis and you have to understand your audience completely. You have to understand and set up goals and objectives for the projects. For instance, we were just talking about this yesterday with the documentary about who our target audience is and what are the goals and objectives, what we want to achieve with this and what calls to action do we want for our target audience. We want this to be successful in several ways. We want it to be high quality; we want it to win awards so that we can sell it and then from that money, fund another documentary and give to the cause that we were documenting. All those things are very important.
CEOCFO: What do you look for in your people?
CEOCFO: Can you tell immediately if they have that fire?
Ms. Downey: Sometimes people are good in interviews. You cannot always tell. We use assessments to screen for cognitive ability and job traits, which is important. For instance, if you are hiring accountants to do billing work, you do not want someone who has no attention to detail. You want to be able to understand the job traits needed and then screen the applicants based on the job traits. Internally we look for people that are curious, inclusive, deeply responsible for their work, right minded, and creative. Once we screen for the job traits, cognitive ability and experience, then we have to look at them through our culture lens. Will these people fit into our culture and are they actively curious, are they right minded and responsible for their work? We like them to be creative thinkers and problem solvers. Occasionally people get through, but we weed them out pretty quickly.
CEOCFO: You were recognized recently as the 2016 SBA Georgia Small
Business Person of the Year. Would you tell us about the award?
CEOCFO: CATMEDIA has some patent-pending technology surrounding communications and training. Would you tell us what you have developed in that arena?
Ms. Downey: We developed a visual training tool that allows you to chunk information into small visual pieces. Most people are visual learners and a lot of online training is auditory. This tool is a more visual learning tool. Then, our communication technology is something we have trademarked as BAM Mail®. It is a way to include video, rich text documents, schematics, Q and A’s and to solicit anonymous or identified feedback, depending on what you want, from the recipient. All this fits in a PDF file, sent to you as an attachment via email. Up to 2.5 minutes of HD video can be embedded in one BAM Mail® edition. A leader at the FAA is currently using BAM Mail® to create an organizational change. He sends out a video message, and his entire global workforce responds to that message. Everything is anonymous.
CEOCFO: Are there services you offer that are not getting traction?
Ms. Downey: I think if a client hires you as a training company, they might not understand that you can do marketing, advertising and creative services. It is the same for a client that hires you as a creative services company. They may not understand that you can do any type of training. They are two separate practices. Where they meet is in instructional design and e-learning. Other than that, no. It is up to our people to communicate with our clients what we can and cannot do for them.
CEOCFO: How are you reaching out to prospective clients?
CEOCFO: Would you tell us more about the feature film and why you decided now was the right time to get into that arena?
Ms. Downey: Now is the right time because we have the staff and the ability to finance it. When you are a five-person operation you do not necessarily have the money and the staff to create a full-length feature film because you are doing other work to keep the doors open. This is a substantial investment that I am making, and it utilizes our talent.
CEOCFO: Why is giving back important?
Ms. Downey: How can any human being who has been given any blessings—whether it is with family, friends, talent or success—not want to give back? I think it is natural for people to want to help others and so HopeLoveCharity is my way of helping people and giving back.
CEOCFO: What might be different a year from now at CATMEDIA?
CEOCFO: The move towards large corporations seems to be a tipping point for you now!
Ms. Downey: I work for the largest corporation in the world, which is the federal government. We have a number of federal contracts in healthcare, aviation, and energy. It makes sense to take that experience and transfer it into the commercial space. Companies that work in those spaces are also highly regulated. We understand regulation. We hold federal prime contracts and we understand federal regulations. We can operate in an environment that requires compliance.
CEOCFO: Do the commercial entities respect the government experience you
CEOCFO: Why choose CATMEDIA?
Ms. Downey: We are still a small company but we are doing big company things. We still have the agility of a small company, but we have enormous depth. We have an advertising agency in Atlanta, and a training division in Atlanta. We have multiple Masters and PhDs on staff. We are small company that acts like a big company in how we hire and how we deliver services. Yet we are way more agile than a larger company competing against us.
CEOCFO: Final thoughts?
We’ve been on the Inc. 500 for two years in a row. We have experienced
really explosive growth. The thing that I am the most proud of is that
during that explosive growth, we still maintained exceptional ratings in our
government scores, as well as a 93 on our Dunn & Bradstreet rating. I think
that speaks to my commitment, and the commitment of every single person at
CATMEDIA, to our customers. We are here to deliver the best possible service
we can so that our customer will achieve their goals and objectives. That is
what we do every day. We employ creativity to solve problems and help our
App Security Platform for Scanning and Identifying Risks, Data Breaches, Fraudulent Transaction, Privacy Violations, Cloned App Detection, Device Hijacking, Vulnerability to Hackers and Attackers
Interview conducted by:
Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – June 27, 2016
CEOCFO: Mr. Livne, what is the idea behind AppInsight?
Mr. Livne: Our vision is to create the industry standard for mobile application security. We are automated for penetration testing for mobile applications.
CEOCFO: How are you able to secure mobile apps when it seems to be such a challenge?
Mr. Livne: First, we have a top notch security team from the intelligence corps of the IDF, and military in the United States. Now they are using their abilities to protect mobile apps, and be on the offensive side. What we do is download all of the apps in the world to our database and then we reverse engineer the code to reach the binary code. Then we run a static & dynamic code analysis, which enables us to identify all of the security vulnerabilities in each app, all done automatically without any integration to the app development.
CEOCFO: These are many new ways the bad guys are finding to create problems. How are you able to anticipate what might happen in the future?
Mr. Livne: We have accurate data, with accurate vulnerabilities for each app. If you give me the name of an app, I can look at it in our system and analyze it. Then predict where the hacker will look in this app, because we know in advance what are the current vulnerabilities in this specific app. We know how to think like an attacker, but we are here to make sure that your app will be safe. We provide 24/7 ongoing scanning to our customers in order to find if there is a new vulnerability detected. We have a research team that is all of the time upgrading system and looking for more new vulnerabilities. We can also give you remediation on how to solve your problem. After identifying your problem, we can guide you as to how to fix your problem.
CEOCFO: Who tends to come to you for services? Is there a common thread?
Mr. Livne: We divide our customers into few segments. The main segment consists of banks and finance. What is important about this segment is there ability to pay and also their awareness and belief in security products. We also have healthcare segment that has regulations and sensitive data that they do not want to be breached and out there. You also have the gaming industry, with their gaming apps, and they are sensitive about whether someone has cloned or breached their app. In addition, any app where there is a transaction of money could be our customer, because if there is a transaction of money, then they need to know that their app is secure.
CEOCFO: There are many companies in security. How do you gain attention?
Mr. Livne: We are still a startup company. Once we become commercial ready, it will be easy to prove to companies what we can do for them because we already know their problems. In a few months we will do a great deal of PR and content marketing, so people will be able to just look into our website, put in the name of your app and get a mini-report for free. We will give them the grade and rank of your security level. We will tell you how many vulnerabilities we find in your app and we will give you one for free. However, if you want to get the full report and ongoing protection, then you can just put your credit card in our site and you will be protected with the highest standard in the world.
CEOCFO: What is your go to market strategy?
Mr. Livne: Currently we are engaging with beta customers. We are doing this with direct sales. If we want to meet with big Bank, we will scan their app before calling and let them know that we have found some interesting insights that they should address. This makes it easy to arrange an appointment. We can then show up to the meeting with the insights that we found while scanning their app with our system. We can actually show them the vulnerabilities that we have found. This is one go to market strategy. The second is to collaborate with distributors, because our technology is really easy to scale. We are now in the process with a few big security companies that have many customers that we will be able to reach. Then their sales staff can sell AppInsight as a complementary product.
CEOCFO: What is the barrier to entry for a competitive product or solution?
Mr. Livne: First you have-to-have the knowhow, and it is super hard to gather all of the top talent and top-notch security experts in the same room. Then it is really expensive, and you have-to-have the ability to pay for each one’s salary. In addition, structuring everything together takes a great deal of time.
CEOCFO: When you started were you sure that it could be done?
Mr. Livne: When I started the company I was one hundred percent sure in my skills and the ability to build it. I just needed to get the money from investors and we chose the best investor that we could find as a partner. We needed one that was familiar with the space, Accomplice Ventures, and they funded us. We then created the team, and aimed to select the best employees. I had the vision and had already spoken with potential customers, because I knew how to solve the problem. I also knew what I needed in a product for analyzing the apps, so I could hire the people to design it.
CEOCFO: What surprised you so far through the process of putting together a company and a solution?
Mr. Livne: What surprised me was the difference between the US market and the market in Israel, because although our R&D team is based in Israel, our investor is in the US, and we are a US based company. Therefore, what surprised me was the difference in the two markets, where the US market is so mature and has the awareness, while in Israel, although we have all of this talent, we are still a few years behind the US market.
CEOCFO:. Why pay attention to AppInsight today?
Mr. Livne: People should pay attention to AppInsight because we are creating the industry standard and almost any organization has a mobile app, and 85% of all apps fail in basic security tests. Therefore, if you want to know that your app is well secure or not, we already have the answer. All you need to do is contact us and we will not only tell you your vulnerabilities, but give you the answer on how to fix it.
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