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For years we’ve been hearing about how BitCoin is going to change the world by creating a secure digital currency that wouldn’t be susceptible to fraud or counterfeiting techniques.  While the hype machine was in overdrive smart people began to realize that the idea of BitCoin wasn’t really all that transformative after all.  The real genius lie in the mechanism behind BitCoin: the Blockchain.  Ever since this was realized entrepreneurs and corporations have been racing around the clock to create new Blockchain based businesses that would take advantage of this knowledge and capitalize on BitCoin’s momentum.  Now, just a few short years later, we may have an early winner in this race: Ethereum.

So what exactly is this new crypto currency?  Well, for starters it’s more than just a digital currency.  It’s really a platform for secure transactions and contracts of any kind.  According to their official website:

“Ethereum is a  decentralized platform that runs smart contracts: applications that run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third party interference.  These apps run on a custom built blockchain, an enormously powerful shared global infrastructure that can move value around and represent the ownership of property. This enables developers to create markets, store registries of debts or promises, move funds in accordance with instructions given long in the past (like a will or a futures contract) and many other things that have not been invented yet, all without a middle man or counterparty risk.”

Inc. does an even better job of summing up this new technology:

“If you aren’t familiar, what Bitcoin does for payments, Ethereum does for anything involving programming and computing. While it utilizes its own version of a blockchain, it is functionally different from Bitcoin. For example, on the Ethereum platform you could host a crowdfunding campaign or any type of ‘smart contract.’  Ethereum’s goal is to make a decentralized internet. And it has a very good shot at becoming ‘the new internet,’ literally. It could one day replace a lot of technology and ways that we host and execute code online.”

A new internet?!?! Sounds to me like the plot of this season’s Silicon Valley! But more than that, it also sounds like something that is inevitable.  So if you’re looking for a smart investment to make forget about BitCoin.  Ethereum is now where it’s at!

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Is Ethereum the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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#896 -TradeHero

The idea of a fantasy stock market game isn’t new.  But TradeHero finally gets it right.  Because with this app you’re not just buying and selling fake stocks to build a phony portfolio in order to beat your friends.  That is part of it.  With real prizes on the line too.  But, the real heart and soul of the game is the educational aspect.  By following the success of other “heroes” you can actually learn useful advice to help you master the real stock market.  And best of all those “heroes” are able to profit from their success.

As Tech In Asia explains:

“On TradeHero, users who are less familiar with how stock markets work can learn how to trade. On top of that, more experienced users can earn money by monetizing their reputation as a talented and well-informed stock trader. This means that one user can subscribe to another user’s feed to know whenever they make a trade or post a comment. This information is valuable because it can then be applied to the real stock market.”

This is the fantasy football equivalent of having access to hundreds of Matthew Berrys.  Unofficial experts who you can use to help make valuable decisions once they’ve established themselves with a long track record of success.  Which is more than we can say for Berry.

Having access to this much crowd sourced unbiased information is a real game changer for middle class investors who may not be able to afford a financial advisor and who may not have sufficient knowledge about how the stock market works on their own.  Instead of blindly playing their hunches they now at least have a fighting chance of getting it right.  At least as much of a chance as one can have when it comes to the stock market.

Is TradeHero the Greatest Idea Ever?

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You probably didn’t notice but yesterday was a monumental day as Title III of the JOBS Act went into effect.  Why is that significant?  Well, it means that anyone can now directly invest in a new company via a process known as equity crowdfunding!

This is huge.  Previously, if you wanted to invest in a company you needed to be an accredited investor.  Meaning that you needed to have a net worth of at least $1,000,000 or a yearly income of at least $200,000.  But now any Joe Schmo with a dollar and a dream can follow his heart and invest in an idea that they feel passionately about it.  Albeit up to a certain limit.  As Fast Company explains, “Investors who make less than $100,000 a year can now invest up to either 5% of their annual income, or $2,000, whichever is greater. Investors who make more than $100,000 a year can invest up to 10% of their annual income, but they cannot invest more than $100,000 in one year.”

The key difference with equity crowdfunding when compared to ordinary crowdfunding is that instead of contributing money to a cause that you believe in for a one time reward i.e. early access to the finished product or some other small scale perk like a t-shirt, with equity crowd funding you’re a real investor in a future company getting in at the ground level before the company goes public.  That’s a huge difference.

A few years ago when Alibaba filed for their IPO I was livid that I couldn’t get in on the action ahead of time at the pre-IPO price of $68 per share.  When I finally did have an opportunity to buy after the IPO the share price was jacked up into the high 80’s.  It has subsequently gone down into the low 80’s.  Meaning that if I had gotten in on the ground floor I would have turned a profit and if I would have purchased when all of the other common folk were eligible I would have lost money.  Another classic example of the rich getting richer while the poor get left out in the cold.  Well, now with equity crowdfunding legalized that’s no longer an issue.  A savvy forward thinking investor who can spot trends ahead of time, such as yours truly, now has as good a chance as anyone else at finding the next big thing and capitalizing on it exponentially.

There is a caveat, however, as there often is with news this good.  And that’s the sad truth that nobody knows how this is going to play out yet.  How will it work?  Will Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer equity crowdfunding options?  Will other platforms emerge?  Are there even going to be worthwhile ideas worth investing in or will all the best ideas follow traditional paths to funding.  And most importantly, will investors get taken advantage of with Ponzi schemes and the like?  Will corruption run rampant?

I don’t know.  All I know is that I like having the ability to invest in an idea that I’m passionate about and be able to profit from down the road.  Some may even say that watching a company grow from startup to fortune 500 juggernaut is as exciting as the actual profit that you’ll receive.  I don’t know if that’s true but that’s beside the point.  The point is that now we’ll get to find out.  The era of equity crowdfunding has arrived!

Is Equity Crowdfunding the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I wish that it was easier to get in touch with people.  Not people that you went to high school with.  There’s Facebook for that.  Not people that you want to hook up with.  There’s dating apps for that.  Rather, people in the know.  Decision makers.  Power brokers.  Movers and shakers.  The kind of people who could tell me whether or not my world changing idea actually has merit.  The kind of people capable of turning my dreams into reality. 

To date no such way existed.  Now it does.  And we have the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins to thank.  That’s because they’ve created a new messaging app that enables anyone to reach out to them during virtual “office hours”. 

Business Insider explains how it will work:

“Called the “KPCB Edge Office Hours,” the app is basically a communication app where users can ask and get instant feedback from one of the three partners of the Edge Fund, the firm’s early stage fund focused on emerging technologies like drones, digital currency, and virtual reality. The three partners — [Anjney] Midha, Roneil Rumburg, and Ruby Lee — spend at least two hours a week answering questions in real-time, while they respond to non-office hour messages throughout the week.”

If you think about it this is really unprecedented and potentially as game changing as any of the ideas that Kleiner Perkins invests in.  For the first time anyone from a barista in San Francisco to a farmer in Des Moines will have the ability to quickly and easily connect with a partner at a major venture capital firm.  The insights that could be gleamed from these conversations could help thousands of young or aspiring entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground, shaping a myriad of industries along the way.   Better yet, it might even transform the way that venture capital funding works making it much more efficient and accessible to the smartphone generation. 

I would say more and extoll the virtues of this initiative even more but I have more important things to do.  Like actually using this app!

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Is the Kleiner Perkins office hours app the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#455 – Tongal

This morning I was riding the subway in New York City along with a bunch of other mindless drones, like I do everyday, when I saw an advertisement that snapped me back into reality.  It was for a company called Tongal and it mentioned something about coming up with ideas.  Intrigued, I decided to check it out.  What I found can only be described as Heaven on Earth.  For here we had a website offering to pay people, regular, ordinary people, just like me and you, cold, hard, cash to come up with ideas!  What the what!!!!

The basic concept is simple.  A brand, say a beer company, or a fast food restaurant chain, or a toy manufacturer will pose a question to the general public.  This may be a suggestion for how they can reach more people or how they can promote a new product.  The general public then has a set period of time, generally a few weeks, to submit suggestions.  The sponsor will then select the best ideas and look to turn them into a usable video that they can use for the advertising campaign.  Winners then get paid.

As TechCrunch explains, “Anyone with a good idea can submit it to their web site, like Twitter, in 140 characters or less. The sponsor selects ideas and from there people with video skills do the creative work. People whose ideas get selected can make $250 to $1,000. If the video gets selected, the person who submitted the idea gets a 5 percent bonus/residual payment. People who make the videos can earn $1,000 to $25,000.”

Check out this video to find out more about how Tongal works:

In addition to what was described on the video there is also a section on the website called Tongal’s left field where the objective is to come up with “out-there-in-left-field ideas”.  My specialty!! In this section users have 500 characters to come up with an idea for how to solve a problem that a company is struggling with.  After the best ideas are selected everyone will have a second chance to use their creativity this time to suggest ways to actually apply the idea.  The top five suggestions for either the initial concept or for how to implement it will receive monetary prizes.

But, wait.  It gets better!  As a way to encourage people to keep coming back for more the site has been gamified!  This means that in addition to earning prize money participants also earn points.  A leader board tracks points and earnings for all participants and then at the end of each “season” the top 20 production and ideation leaders split an additional prize pool with the top five finishers splitting 50% of the pot!  It doesn’t get any better than that!

All in all, I really love the crowd sourced concept at the heart of Tongal.  This is a great way for people from all walks of life to put their creativity to good use and to get paid for it in the process.  But be forewarned.  None of you stand a chance against me!!!

Is getting paid for coming up with ideas the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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#419 – Receipt App

The latest in a series of posts about potential new apps.

Last month in a post about some of my random thoughts I wrote about an idea for an app that helps you keep track of and easily access your receipts by storing a digital copy of them.  Here’s what I had to say at the time:

“There are a lot of great banking apps out there that help you better manage your finances but I have yet to see an app that helps you manage your receipts.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to do that?  All you’d have to do is  take a picture of your receipt and then the app will sort through the data, update your budget automatically, and send you a monthly report on all your spending.  It could even send a report to your accountant at year’s end to help you file your taxes.  You also won’t have to keep paper receipts in your wallet or in a file at home anymore and you could even use this app in a store if you ever wanted to return something.  Better yet forget about taking a picture of the receipt.  Whenever you buy something the store could send an electronic receipt directly to this app for future reference eliminating the need for paper receipts all together.”

Since that time I’ve come to find out that there are a few apps out there that digitally manage your receipts including one called OneReceipt that pulls digital receipts from your email inbox.  However, that app doesn’t go as far as I’d like it to.  Rather, what I’m looking for is an app that can keep track of our spending without us even having to think about it.  There would be no need to scan in receipts with our phones or have receipts pulled in from our email.  Instead, the app would work silently in the background, following us wherever we go, keeping track of our spending at all times, and automatically saving a receipt without us even having any knowledge of the fact that this took place.  It would even create a receipt for cash based transactions such as when we are tipping someone for services rendered.

My motivation for creating this enhanced receipts app is that a recent business trip convinced me just how much this app is really needed.  From airline bag fees to cab fares to parkway tolls to parking meters there was a whole litany of things that I wound up having to pay for almost all of which I either couldn’t get a receipt for or forgot to.  Now I’m out hundreds of dollars.

That wouldn’t be the case if there was an app that could take have taken care of all of my expenses for me.  Something simple and easy to use that did all its work in the shadows so that I wouldn’t have had to even think about receipts at all.  Something that could have, I don’t know, actually let me focus on the business I was supposed to be conducting!  

I know that some of this isn’t technologically feasible yet and the rest of it may be a massive invasion of privacy since we’d essentially be creating an app that could track our every move and keep dips on all of our spending but at the same time that doesn’t diminish the fact that I still really, really want it.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had an app that automatically saved receipts for all our spending?

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#333 – Fantex

I remember reading a quote a few years ago regarding one of my favorite baseball players, Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus.  This was back when Andrus was still a highly touted prospect and had yet to appear in a major league game, yet to do any of the things that would net him the 8 year, 120 million dollar extension he just signed back in April.  If I remember correctly the quote was from an executive within the Rangers organization and appeared in an issue of Baseball America .  Now I’m paraphrasing but I think it said something along the lines of “if baseball players were stocks I’d bet my mortgage on Elvis Andrus becoming a good baseball player.”

Ever since then I’ve held out hope that one day we would get to the point where baseball players and athletes everywhere were actually stocks that could be traded as their value fluctuated in relation to their on the field performance and off the field antics.  Now that day is finally here thanks to a new company called Fantex Brokerage Services. 

According to ESPN the service will be starting with football players not baseball players as the, “initial public offering will be for Houston Texans running back Arian Foster.”  The article indicates that Fantex will be, “paying Foster $10 million for a 20 percent stake in his future income, including contracts, endorsements and other related business revenue.”

For someone like myself with an interest in investing and more than a passing interest in sports this is a dream come true.  Sure, you could argue that predicting future performance in sports is just as much as a crapshoot as picking stocks, maybe even more so due to the propensity of players to get hurt, but at the end of the day I’d much rather put my money where my mouth is on something that I’ve spent my whole life analyzing than on something that I know very little about.  I mean, I can tell you more right now about Foster, off the top of my head, such as where he went to college, when he was drafted or in his case not drafted, how he performed last week, how much money he makes per year, etc. than I can tell you about any of the companies that I’m currently investing in.  In most of those cases I’m investing in an idea, such as 3-D printing, more than I am in the company itself.

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of other people feel the same way that I do and so I can definitely see this concept taking off if done properly.  The key is going to be how many other big name players Fantex can sign up.  Foster is a good start but a nicked up 27 year old running back on a disappointing team is probably not a great long term investment.  Stock in LeBron James or Bryce Harper, however, now that’s a different story. 

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Would you be willing to invest in this man?

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