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Very Good Security makes data ‘unhackable’ with $8.5M from Andreessen

August 28, 2018 No Comments

“You can’t hack what isn’t there,” Very Good Security co-founder Mahmoud Abdelkader tells me. His startup assumes the liability of storing sensitive data for other companies, substituting dummy credit card or Social Security numbers for the real ones. Then when the data needs to be moved or operated on, VGS injects the original info without clients having to change their code.

It’s essentially a data bank that allows businesses to stop storing confidential info under their unsecured mattress. Or you could think of it as Amazon Web Services for data instead of servers. Given all the high-profile breaches of late, it’s clear that many companies can’t be trusted to house sensitive data. Andreessen Horowitz is betting that they’d rather leave it to an expert.

That’s why the famous venture firm is leading an $ 8.5 million Series A for VGS, and its partner Alex Rampell is joining the board. The round also includes NYCA, Vertex Ventures, Slow Ventures and PayPal mafioso Max Levchin. The cash builds on VGS’ $ 1.4 million seed round, and will pay for its first big marketing initiative and more salespeople.

“Hey! Stop doing this yourself!,” Abdelkader asserts. “Put it on VGS and we’ll let you operate on your data as if you possess it with none of the liability.” While no data is ever 100 percent unhackable, putting it in VGS’ meticulously secured vaults means clients don’t have to become security geniuses themselves and instead can focus on what’s unique to their business.

“Privacy is a part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. We should be able to build innovative applications without sacrificing our privacy and security,” says Abdelkader. He got his start in the industry by reverse-engineering games like StarCraft to build cheats and trainer software. But after studying discrete mathematics, cryptology and number theory, he craved a headier challenge.

Abdelkader co-founded Y Combinator-backed payment system Balanced in 2010, which also raised cash from Andreessen. But out-muscled by Stripe, Balanced shut down in 2015. While transitioning customers over to fellow YC alumni Stripe, Balanced received interest from other companies wanting it to store their data so they could be PCI-compliant.

Very Good Security co-founder and CEO Mahmoud Abdelkader

Now Abdelkader and his VP from Balanced, Marshall Jones, have returned with VGS to sell that as a service. It’s targeting startups that handle data like payment card information, Social Security numbers and medical info, though eventually it could invade the larger enterprise market. It can quickly help these clients achieve compliance certifications for PCI, SOC2, EI3PA, HIPAA and other standards.

VGS’ innovation comes in replacing this data with “format preserving aliases” that are privacy safe. “Your app code doesn’t know the difference between this and actually sensitive data,” Abdelkader explains. In 30 minutes of integration, apps can be reworked to route traffic through VGS without ever talking to a salesperson. VGS locks up the real strings and sends the aliases to you instead, then intercepts those aliases and swaps them with the originals when necessary.

“We don’t actually see your data that you vault on VGS,” Abdelkader tells me. “It’s basically modeled after prison. The valuables are stored in isolation.” That means a business’ differentiator is their business logic, not the way they store data.

For example, fintech startup LendUp works with VGS to issue virtual credit card numbers that are replaced with fake numbers in LendUp’s databases. That way if it’s hacked, users’ don’t get their cards stolen. But when those card numbers are sent to a processor to actually make a payment, the real card numbers are subbed in last-minute.

VGS charges per data record and operation, with the first 500 records and 100,000 sensitive API calls free; $ 20 a month gets clients double that, and then they pay 4 cent per record and 2 cents per operation. VGS provides access to insurance too, working with a variety of underwriters. It starts with $ 1 million policies that can be much larger for Fortune 500s and other big companies, which might want $ 20 million per incident.

Obviously, VGS has to be obsessive about its own security. A breach of its vaults could kill its brand. “I don’t sleep. I worry I’ll miss something. Are we a giant honey pot?,” Abdelkader wonders. “We’ve invested a significant amount of our money into 24/7 monitoring for intrusions.”

Beyond the threat of hackers, VGS also has to battle with others picking away at part of its stack or trying to compete with the whole, like TokenEx, HP’s Voltage, Thales’ Vormetric, Oracle and more. But it’s do-it-yourself security that’s the status quo and what VGS is really trying to disrupt.

But VGS has a big accruing advantage. Each time it works with a clients’ partners like Experian or TransUnion for a company working with credit checks, it already has a relationship with them the next time another clients has to connect with these partners. Abdelkader hopes that, “Effectively, we become a standard of data security and privacy. All the institutions will just say ‘why don’t you use VGS?’”

That standard only works if it’s constantly evolving to win the cat-and-mouse game versus attackers. While a company is worrying about the particular value it adds to the world, these intelligent human adversaries can find a weak link in their security — costing them a fortune and ruining their relationships. “I’m selling trust,” Abdelkader concludes. That peace of mind is often worth the price.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Laying the foundations of good SEO: the most important tasks (part 1)

June 23, 2018 No Comments

Nobody ever said SEO was easy. It not only requires a myriad of different methods that evolve over time and follow no particular pattern, but is also impacted by ever-changing search engine policies.

Yet SEO is actually quite methodical. While you will need to mix and combine multiple on-page, off-page, local and other factors to come up with an effective SEO strategy, you can’t just start anywhere. You must prioritize tasks — from basic to advanced SEO — to succeed.

If you do not begin by laying a foundation, you will end up spending a lot of time without achieving the results you need to support your bottom line.

Set up and check SEO tools

SEO deals with data, so your first priority should be to make sure your tools to collect and analyze that data are working properly. The most important are:

  • Google Search Console. You will not be able to track a site’s performance in Google search without this. It is also useful for keyword analysis, implementing and fixing technical SEO, and analyzing UX factors, for example
  • Bing Webmaster Tools. While not as popular as Google, around one quarter of all searches in the US are performed using Bing, and it does have some useful features that enable users to analyze keywords, inbound links, traffic and more
  • Google Analytics. Make sure that your Google Analytics account is properly connected to Google Search Console, then set up specific reports and goals to track your website’s performance stats (e.g. traffic, top-performing pages, page views, bounce rate, CTR)
  • Yoast SEO for WordPress. Since WordPress is one of the most popular CMS systems on the Web, chances are you will be using the Yoast SEO plugin. Intuitive and user-friendly, it helps with titles, meta descriptions, URLs, keywords, and content quality. More technical like sitemaps and robots.txt is also covered.

Keyword research

Keyword research is the foundation of all SEO activity. Once you have ensured that your SEO tools do their jobs, figure out which keywords you need to optimize for and which errors you need to fix to avoid penalties. There are three key areas to keep in mind:

  • Over-optimization. Keyword stuffing will quickly put you on the wrong side of Google, so you should ensure that keywords are placed naturally (you will notice if over-optimization is an issue). On average, you want to have up to five ‘required’ keywords and keyword phrases per page.
  • Long-tail keywords. It’s important not to use one keyword repeatedly, so to optimize for user intent placing long-tail keywords in your content is a must. Use Google Suggest, Google Keyword Planner and Keyword Tool to research the long-tail keywords your customers are searching for.
  • Synonyms and LSIs. Another way to show to Google that you cater for your audience is to include multiple variations of keyword synonyms and LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) phrases in your content. As a rule, these are low-competition keywords and you can rank for them pretty easily. Carry out some research using Quora, Reddit and other forums to figure out which keywords your customers use in searches. Tools such as KWFinder, LSIGraph and Answer The Public may also will help.

On-site optimization

To improve your site’s rankings in search engines, you must provide clear signals that your pages are better than those of your competitors. In other words, you need to excel at on-page SEO. Here are some key areas to focus on:

  • According to Brian Dean’s search engine rankings research, shorter URLs featuring one keyword rank better than longer URLs. Since Google prefers this format, it naturally makes sense to shorten them and place your target keyword in the URL to make it more descriptive.
  • Tags and descriptions. Titles, subtitles, alt tags and meta descriptions are important on-page SEO factors. Ensure that:
    • They all feature your targeted keyword
    • The title does not exceed 70 characters
    • h1, h2, and h3 tags are scannable (i.e. allow users to get a post’s meaning without reading it)
    • The alt tag allows users to figure out the image’s meaning if it is not displayed on the page
    • Meta descriptions are descriptive and feature LSIs for user intent.
  • External links. Links to trusted, authoritative websites are indicators that a piece of content is well-researched and well-referenced. Furthermore, they provide additional value to users. Use between five and eight external links in your content pieces.
  • Internal links. You should link your pages together to create crawling paths for Google bots and conversion funnels for your users. Place between two and five internal links per content piece.
  • Website structure, navigation, and UX factors. According to the three-click rule, users should be able to find any information on a website within three mouse clicks. No matter how much sense this rule makes, it comes down to the fact that any website must be easy to navigate and use, and its structure simple and cohesive.

Conclusions

In this article the author has shared his perspectives on the most important SEO tasks with regard to SEO tools, keyword research, and on-page optimization factors.

These three areas are the foundation of any SEO campaign as will they allow you to efficiently collect and analyze data, optimize the keywords your customers search for (and thus drive targeted traffic), and enhance your website by optimizing URLs, tags, descriptions, structure, navigation and UX.

Other areas to keep in mind are technical SEO (specifically, the factors related to mobile-friendliness and loading speed), content, and off-page optimization. These will be discussed in the next article.

Search Engine Watch


The difference between good and bad Facebooking

December 15, 2017 No Comments

 “Social media” is a clumsy term that entangles enriching social interaction with mindless media consumption. It’s a double-edged sword whose sides aren’t properly distinguished. Taken as a whole, we can’t decide if it “brings the world closer together” like Facebook’s new mission statement says, or leaves us depressed and isolated. Read More
Social – TechCrunch


The difference between good and bad Facebooking

December 15, 2017 No Comments

 “Social media” is a clumsy term that entangles enriching social interaction with mindless media consumption. It’s a double-edged sword whose sides aren’t properly distinguished. Taken as a whole, we can’t decide if it “brings the world closer together” like Facebook’s new mission statement says, or leaves us depressed and isolated. Read More

Mobile – TechCrunch


Yahoo Gemini Guide: Change is a Good Thing

August 5, 2017 No Comments

Nearing the end of last year, I wrote A Step-By-Step Guide to Yahoo Gemini. The guide focused on the following main points when it comes to setting up Yahoo Gemini; What Yahoo Gemini can do for you Campaign types Creating a campaign Ad group settings Ad copy Keywords Tracking While the guide still holds true […]

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


The Good, Bad, And Ugly Impact Of PPC On Journalism

December 29, 2016 No Comments

Among the many structural shifts required to make make the digital leap, scaled monetization of online content is among the most complicated of tasks. Enter display advertising to help fill the void.

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


Why Ad Blockers Are Good For The PPC Industry

December 18, 2016 No Comments

Ad blockers are forcing advertisers to develop better strategies. Get tips on how to make better ads to reach the right audience!

Read more at PPCHero.com
PPC Hero


Why Nothing Apple Does Is Ever Good Enough

February 15, 2014 No Comments
Apple is kind of like a wildfire. It burns so hot, it creates its own weather.How else to explain Wall Street’s rats-off-a-sinking-ship reaction to another quarter of stratospheric sales and profits from the cash machine that Jobs built? The only rule with Apple is: No matter how well it does, a whole different school of stock market physics seems to apply.On Monday, after the markets closed, Apple reported its most recent quarterly earnings, and investors responded by dumping their shares. The company’s stock price dropped as much as 9 percent in after-hours trading. With most companies, such a sell-off comes after a big loss, tepid projections for the future, or quarterly numbers that failed to meet the expectations of Wall Street analysts. But in Apple’s case, it arrived after the company reported $ 13.1 billion in profits on sales of $ 57.6 billion, beating the Street’s consensus.The problem with Apple is that all the numbers have become so large that it’s hard to comprehend how they get any larger.The company said it sold a record number of iPhones for the quarter (51 million), as well as a record number of iPads (26 million). And big profits and sales are predicted to continue. For casual students of capitalism, all this sounds like everything is going right.

Instead, the big drop in Apple’s stock price has become something of a ritual purge every time the company announces big news. See, for example, here, here, and here. Similar disappointment greeted CEO Tim Cook’s announcement of the iPhone 5s and 5c back in September. The 5s looked especially great — best in class, even — but for Apple, sometimes even great isn’t enough. The same holds true for sales and profits. It’s not about how big they are. It’s about how much bigger they could be, but aren’t.

During the first decade or so of the new century, Apple went from a company that made a device that transformed the music industry to a company that made a device that transformed every industry. And its revenue growth reflects that trend. As the iPhone went from coveted status symbol to ubiquitous tool of the mobile age, sales began to rise. Once the iPad was introduced, Apple’s growth rocketed, setting the standard that has been nearly impossible to match as the market for smartphones and tablets has matured — a dreaded word. While iPhones and iPads are still setting new records, overall growth is flat, and this past quarter’s iPhone sales came in below expectations for the holiday season by 5 to 6 million units. Apple’s numbers represent a healthy consistency but not that next level of nose bleed-inducing altitudes .

It’s possible Apple could once again reach those heights with the release of a category-creating wearable gadget or smart device, and some of the pessimism around Apple arises from the reality that the company has yet to do this. Rumors of such Apple hardware have been around for ages. Apple poaching former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts was seen as the surest sign yet that the company is getting into the wearables game. The trouble is that Wall Street wants an Apple smartwatch now, and it hasn’t seen one yet.

Meanwhile, activist investor Carl Icahn sees other deficiencies in the Apple machine. Icahn’s version of “not good enough” is Apple’s $ 100 billion stock buyback plan, which he believes the company should hike up to $ 150 billion. So he’s using Twitter to badger Cook and company almost constantly.

In a sense, the problem with Apple is that all the numbers have become so large, they can’t get any larger. Then again, a majority of the world’s people still don’t own smartphones. If Apple can figure out how to get its devices into even a fraction of those hands — which it has struggled to do in emerging markets, compared to Google Android — maybe it could finally add enough billions to its balance sheet to make everyone happy.


Wired: Business


video-wall

To Be Effective With B2B Video, Tell a Good Story

January 29, 2014 No Comments

Video can be a marketer’s best friend or worst enemy. Everyone is in agreement of the value of video. We are in a content crazy world (at least that’s what marketers believe although what type of content is delivered is often extremely questionable but that’s for another post) and that content machine needs to be fed.

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divergent-trailer-released

Divergent Trailer Imagines a World Where You Only Have One Good Quality

December 9, 2013 No Comments

Over the last year, movies based on “young adult” novels has gotten heavy. Where once we had wizarding worlds (Harry Potter) and teen romance (Twilight) now we see kids fighting life-or-death battles against the system and subverting norms left and right.

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