What Happens When you Ignore Basic Business Practices?

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The unfortunate reality is that the majority of claim dollars lost to medical practices are from “self-inflicted injuries”.  While it may feel good to blame the insurance carrier or health plan and their bureaucratic, Byzantine rules, the fact is that physicians and their staff must come to grips with the reality that most of the dollars lost are through a lack of establishing proper management of their own revenue cycle, and most often, because of a decision to disregard basic business practices and payer rules.

Do you want to complain about the rules and not get paid?

Or have the money in your pocket and then complain?

Most claims dollars are lost due to:

  • Failure to identify the patient’s economic obligation before service is rendered to collect payment or guarantee payment before care is rendered.
  • Failure to submit claims in a timely manner
  • Failure to monitor the explanation of payments to identify denials or payment errors
  • Failure to resubmit initially denied claims in a timely manner with the correct information
  • Failure to appeal errors or denials in a timely manner

In reality, the failure is the physician’s, a failure to manage the revenue cycle of their practice.  It is a failure that costs big.

To eliminate the barriers that keep you from promptly receiving your hard earned money, you must make a commitment to learning how to win, and accept the responsibility for continual vigilance.  By doing so you can hold payers accountable for their performance, and in the process, achieve the funds you have legitimately earned. The reporting and other rules that have intrinsically been linked to EHR systems have been a major hindrance for small practices. Time is a precious resource, and physicians can’t always find time to fill out new reports

Payers set their own claim rules and timely filing deadlines.  They do so under their participation contract with you.  The rules are generally not spelled out in the contract, but in the payer’s “Provider Manual”, or in updates to that manual. Your contract with the payer generally includes a provision that gives them the right to issue new rules and policies and obligates you to their acceptance. Keeping up with the updates is necessary, as opportunities are missed for increased reimbursement, and plan specific rules not learned, cause an increase in denials. EHR platforms come with online scheduling, automatic bill pay and a number of other helpful tools that are beneficial to both physicians and patients.

Nearly all payers now have websites with the payer’s policies posted.  A posting is considered “notice” and the change is binding upon you.

Administrators and office managers benefiting from EHR adoption. Building schedules are simplified which reduces the number of missed appointments. Similarly, working with patients to address unpaid or outstanding bills is also more effective.

Even if you never received a provider manual, you cannot escape its obligations.  There is generally a little clause in your contract obligating you to its provisions.   If you can’t find the player’s manual, or if you are not getting the payer updates, call the plan and get a copy of the manual and get on their policy changes distribution list NOW.

Many plans now provide email alerts as to policy changes, which will automatically send you an email about payer policy changes. When combined with better clinical capacities and improved daily workflows, the benefits of EHR adoption create a portfolio of ways to improve a small practice.

Similarly, the payer’s posting of a new policy on a payer’s web site or publishing in their policy guide a policy change is binding upon you, and it could cost you.  You will need to have staff review the payer’s website on a regular basis to watch for new postings that impact your practice.

Regardless of the unreasonableness of the rules health plans create; they bind you under “contract law”.  Contract law legalizes the obligations accepted by two or more parties in a voluntary agreement.  Since the health plan wrote the contract, do you really think those terms and conditions are for your benefit or protection?  Unless the provisions of the contract conflict with state, Federal or local law or policy, you are bound to them, and the payer can enforce its contract terms.  You voluntarily entered into the agreement with the payer.  Whether or not you believe you had a choice, given the size of the payer’s market share, or what employers they insure, there is no law that obligates you to participate with any payer, therefore the relationship is voluntary. Fighting contract provisions is generally a costly and losing proposition.

So strong is the power of contract law, that the regulators have stated that they are not prepared to sit in judgment on the adequacy of documentation as to timely filing, stating “This gives rise to a question of fact which is beyond the jurisdiction of this administrative agency to resolve.  Questions of fact can only be decided in a court of law.”

More importantly, do you want to fight, or do you want to get your money?

Time is money is the old, overused adage, and in the case of claims, it’s your money.  This is where falling for the inbred excuses within the provider community comes back to haunt you.  It’s too confusing, they deny whatever they want, you can’t fight them, it’s not worth the time. Your practice needs to work its claims and receivables without allowing any time lags in getting your claim out the door, tracking its payment, appealing denials, and verifying the correctness of payment.

Vigilance is a responsibility that must be accepted by the physician and the staff.  For only by asserting your rights and knowledge of the rules, can an office protect its income and its money?  This requires an understanding of explanation of benefits/explanation of payments (EOB/EOP), as well as watching for notices of policies and changes that relate to claims.

Managing your revenue cycle means making sure that your claims process follows a process designed for your benefit, not just what is allowable by the payer.  One that always puts you in the position to press the payer for payment, using your state’s regulations as a club. That is if your state requires the payer to pay within 30 days of an electronic submission, hold them to that requirement.  Get your claims, electronically daily, and every day identify with the payer’s website any claims not paid on day 35.  If not listed, then re-submit, if listed, check where it is in the process.  If not set to be paid to you, file a complaint with your regulator of the payer.  If you have the process tight, you will have improved your cash flow, and ended the leakage of your dollars.

The blame game has no place in the operation of a medical practice, a medical business.  Blame is an easy way to dodge responsibility for an issue, a problem.

Too often practices fall into the trap of blaming the payers for everything, and in the process, ignore what should be their own responsibility and hide that responsibility from the physician.

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These Are The Concerns Slowly Killing Ad-Tech

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times-square-parade

Black Mirror, recently bought by Netflix, is a hugely popular TV series that is a dark, twisted but spot-on portrayal of the possible ramifications of technology in the future. Advertisements for the show are ironically targeting ad block users, and some argue, are “intentionally creepy.” For better or worse, ad tech is an industry that somehow finds itself embroiled in controversy. Ad blocking was the controversy du jour, until recently when ad blocking rates have leveled out or even dropped. Ad tech’s explosion in recent years, due to the overwhelming user demand for free digital content, has caused the mighty backlash of ad blocking.

Ad tech executives are finally taking a breath after ad blocking has stabilized, yet another monster (or two) have been slowly eating away at the industry: ad fraud and transparency issues.

The International Advertising Bureau (IAB) estimates the economic cost of ad fraud to be around $ 8.2 billion annually. Most of this fraud comes from non-human traffic, which if eliminated would save more than $ 4 billion annually.

A lack of transparency

Today, the ad tech industry is best described as being like the mortgage industry during the subprime days. Advertisers are spending money for short term goals, while not paying attention to whether they’re getting real long term value.

A lack of transparency has enabled fraudsters to build companies based on sales teams, rather than actual technology. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Association of National Advertisers found that in 2015, between 3% to 37% of ad impressions were driven by bots, whereas in the previous study bot traffic ranged from 2% to 22%.

Legitimate ad tech businesses meet a set of proven criteria. They gain their competitive advantages from one of three areas: they own or enable unique supply, have unique data, or own the advertiser relationships.

On the other hand, fraudulent companies rely on arbitrage, and rent the traffic rather than owning it. Other cases involve compromising the user experience.

Common ad fraud threats

Modern ad fraud has evolved significantly from the days of click fraud where advertisers had to deal with fake clicks on their ad campaigns. Today, there’s a variety of technical exploits marketing professionals need to keep an eye on.

Pixel stuffing and ad stacking

Pixel stacking occurs when ads are placed into tiny 1×1 pixels, making them virtually impossible to see. Despite this, when the page is loaded, the session counts as an impression. Ad stacking is fairly similar in that it involves ads being placed over each other so that while only one is seen, impressions still register for both ads.

Ad injection

Ad injection comes in a few different forms. Ads can be placed on top of existing ads (causing ad stacking), or they can completely replace existing ads. The most common form of ad injection is a fake warning telling the user their computer is infected with a virus or that their PC performance isn’t up to par.

Domain laundering

This is when fraudsters take a low quality domain and make it look like it’s actually a more reputable publisher. When advertisers recognize the name, they’ll pay a premium. In addition to costing advertisers money, this threat also potentially leads to questionable ad placements which can harm the advertiser’s reputation.

Best practices for prevention

Even though automated systems are rapidly evolving to combat ad fraud, that doesn’t mean you can sit back and let technology solve the problem. Below are a few best practices you can follow to ensure ad fraud doesn’t harm your company.

  • Request transparency from your publishers: Simply asking your publishers where their traffic originates from can significantly help to reduce fraud. If they aren’t straightforward with you, then that’s a potential red flag.
  • Time your ads: Since bot fraud is more active during specific times of the day, timing your ads properly can help to avoid the bulk of fraudulent traffic.
  • Constantly assess your traffic: Always review your campaigns in order to monitor where the best clicks come from, and adjust your campaigns accordingly.
  • View your site in incognito mode: This allows you to view how your website is displayed to the general public. You’ll also be able to see any sites which have stolen your domain, or ads which may have been injected.

In addition to the previously mentioned action items, it’s also best to consider going with networks with a brand safety department which keeps media, programmatic and direct publishers clean and safe.

Typically these networks have the technology to detect, monitor, and exclude invalid traffic. Additionally reputable companies have different categories for brand safety (adult and nudity, file sharing and illegal content, etc).

An ongoing battle

In order to make sense of the continuously evolving landscape, it’s crucial to keep an eye out on industry trends so you always have a handle on where things are headed.

While it’s impossible to fully eliminate ad fraud, the damages can be minimized by following industry best practices while also trusting your instincts when it comes to dealing with publishers and other entities.

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App Marketers Turn AI and Machine Learning To Drive Growth

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Did you know that 80 percent of users churn within three months of downloading an app? That’s because most apps are marketed to the masses and not necessarily to the right customers.

Oftentimes, the goal of app marketing is to reach as many consumers as possible with the hopes of recruiting en masse and converting at better-than-average ratios. But part of the challenge for marketers is that many of today’s strategies are driven by metrics that don’t link to advanced user targeting and growth.

More specifically, app marketers aren’t using available data strategically to deliver productive user experiences that ultimately drive greater business profitability.

Now more than ever, marketers must shift from tracking traditional vanity metrics to measuring the very things that contribute to retention and growth. More and more, successful companies are investing in customer-centric metrics such as CLV (customer lifetime value) to gain intelligent, consumer-centered insights that not only identify the most valuable customers but also key behaviors and preferences to continually improve consumers’ experiences and journey.

Next-generation marketing and CX are about identifying and engaging valuable consumers

CLV is more important than apps in isolation. It helps apps and other touch points work together to deliver value-added, cohesive experiences.

CLV measures the value a consumer represents to the business across all interactions over their lifetime, not just a single transaction or touch point. That is ultimately the definition of customer experience. It is the sum of all moments a customer has with your brand throughout their life cycle. Marketing and customer engagement is now a cross-functional mandate.

Not all app users are the right users. If you use the Pareto Principle, you can assume that 80 percent of business value is attributed to 20 percent of your active consumers. While these percentages aren’t by any means a standard, they do emphasize the need to identify and cultivate the important customers who drive your business.

Instead of casting a wide net and attracting as many users as possible in the hopes of retaining a reasonably active base, CLV tied to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning focuses marketers and also developers on targeted engagement and growth. The idea is to drive profit by investing in more value-added user experiences and personalized offers. Doing so intentionally cultivates meaningful relationships with key customers.

Next-generation customer engagement is about cross-functional collaboration and data sharing

Unfortunately, customer experience today is largely siloed. Marketing, mobile, in-store, e-commerce, digital and so on are not collaborating nor operating against the same customer and market data. But that’s all about to change with the proliferation of AI and machine learning tied to smart CLV initiatives.

When the goal is to deliver targeted and integrated experiences, not just in-app, but across each touch point and the life cycle overall, companies create a truly customer-centric approach. AI then helps brands get a more complete, shared view and understanding of customer behaviors and expectations.

Additionally, AI-driven customer-centricity fosters cross-functional collaboration and data sharing that, by design, boosts customer experiences, along with CLV and business growth.

Identify highest-value customers and deliver targeted experiences

AI/machine learning platforms offer intelligent insights when pointed in the right direction. Successful brands study how much revenue highest-value customers drive over their lifetime and how much it costs to manage those relationships. And they examine CLV across all channels to get a holistic view of high-value behavior in all interactions. When the system can analyze important traits of high-value users, it can learn how to optimize CLV.

For example, to reach potential high-value customers, AI/machine learning uses data from existing high-value customers to optimize campaigns and touch points. In a study by Bain aimed at retail banking, it was found that it costs banks $ 4 every time a customer calls or visits. However, if consumers can complete the transaction via an app, it costs only 10 cents.

The key is to deliver capabilities in ways that consumers prefer and appreciate. Imagine how much AI and machine learning could additionally uncover when tasked with identifying friction points and new opportunities.

AI and CLV call for a new customer-centric playbook

You’ve probably heard time and time again that it costs more to acquire a new customer than to retain one. Brands that are winning prioritize CLV and AI and are drafting the playbook as they go. They:

  • develop a customer-centric mindset.
  • open doors between silos around in-store, digital and mobile so teams can focus on one clear business goal, rather than individual metrics (such as engagement or clicks).
  • align customer-facing groups to a business outcome such as CLV and promote cross-functional collaboration and data sharing to assemble a holistic view of the customer across all touch points.
  • understand who their highest-value customers are, how much revenue they drive over their lifetime and how much it costs to manage the relationship — across all channels.
  • focus on measuring and communicating clear business goals rather than individual or vanity metrics.

AI and machine learning improve both by using existing data without cognitive bias. The more the system learns, the more it optimizes.

In the end, not all customers are created equal. By identifying those who drive value, how and why, you can learn how to design and deliver personalized value to them and enhance customer engagement and experiences to grow your business now and over time.

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How to Fix All the Things You Hate About Meetings with AI

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meeting room

Meetings have gotten a bad rap over the years, with people mistakenly assuming every meeting is a productivity drain. In fact, good meetings can be a huge boost, especially if they help you work through issues and come up with new ideas.

For meetings to be useful, though, it’s important to find ways to overcome the very things that have traditionally spoiled meetings.

Here are five common meeting annoyances, as well as some tips that can help fix them.

Too Many Notes

Capturing information in meetings has always been complicated, especially once flip charts and whiteboards get involved. Some businesses still rely on this method of data gathering, finding that their frantic scribbles help get their ideas on paper.

However, at the end of the meeting, someone is usually tasked with collecting all that information, which too often means trying to decipher handwriting and turn incomplete thoughts into something coherent.

Microsoft Pix, along with tools like smart markers and electronic whiteboards like Kaptivo, provide a way to capture those scribblings, improving on the information to create useful content that can be later used. All this done through new advancements in AI.

It’s important to find a way to make sure any data gathered during a meeting is collected and shared with those who can use it to get results for your business.

Nobody Is Taking Notes

As you’re speaking to a roomful of people, is anyone taking notes? If not, how can you be sure the information discussed will be remembered after everyone leaves the room?

Note-taking is an ongoing issue for meeting leaders, especially as technology has gradually made offices paperless. It’s important that meeting organizers fully embrace technology, making it as easy as possible for participants to bring their laptops or tablets into the meeting to take notes.

Applications like GoWall move meetings beyond talking heads, equipping attendees with the tools they need to not only take notes, but to share them with others in the audience. As others speak, employees can add their own notes to a group wall, inspiring others in attendance to build on those thoughts.

Virtual Attendees Don’t Share

Virtual meetings with AI have given remote team members the ability to attend meetings, whether they’re on the road or they always work from home. Unfortunately, those same remote attendees may not be as engaged as those who are in the room, since doing so means finding a way to chime in.

Zoom provides a “raise hand” feature that lets your remote workers signal that they have something to say. Always pay close attention to avoid missing these alerts. You should also make a concerted effort, with every meeting, to give remote workers an equal chance to participate in the meeting. In addition to asking each person to give a brief update, also include some of your remote workers in the agenda each month to make sure they feel included.

Several People Dominate

Everyone has been in a situation where a “meeting hog” takes over the conversation, either lengthening a meeting or cutting into the time that might have been used by others. It’s up to meeting organizers to keep everyone on track, quickly steering the conversation if someone begins to dominate.

SmartSheet’s free meeting agenda templates can give you the start you need to create professional-quality agendas. You’ll find with an agenda in place, your meetings are shorter but on topic and your attendees are engaged, since they’ll know what to expect.

Participants Aren’t Engaged

Is everyone in your meeting paying attention from start to finish? The only way to gauge this is to look around the room and see if anyone has checked out, but even then you may not know. This becomes even more complicated with remote workers, since they could be surfing the internet or watching TV and you’d never know. If they aren’t captured on video at all times, they may even get up and walk way at various intervals.

One long-popular trick to ensure people stay engaged is to randomly call on people to speak on the topic at hand. Make an effort you include remote participants in that effort. If you’re hosting virtual events like webinars, coordinators like Virtual Venues specialize in helping hosts keep attendees interested.

Although many have preconceptions about meetings with AI, they don’t have to be a reality. With the right tools and techniques, you can change the way your staff feels about meetings, whether they’re in the office or working from home. Make sure you measure the results to determine whether your tools are working, including pulling reports and noting whether the items discussed in the meeting were followed up on after the fact.

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The Best Company Culture Isn’t Elusive — It Just Takes Work

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Programmer working in a software developing company office

“Company culture” has received a lot of lip service over the past few years, with businesses striving to land on “Best Companies to Work For” lists and obsessively monitoring their Glassdoor reviews. As Millennials bypassed Generation X to become the largest segment of the U.S. workforce, Millennials’ valuing of company culture above everything else made creating an appealing company culture even more important.

Many companies, however, have continued to treat brand and company culture as something beyond their control, something established by “the powers that be.” What they fail to realize is that they are the powers that be — their efforts are what directly establish the very culture being created within their walls and beyond.

Developing the best company culture possible doesn’t require magic, and it isn’t something that belongs to the masses, independent of the C-suite’s mission or influence. What it takes is work and intentionality, two things any leader can invest in starting today.

Think Through Your End Goal

Raj Jana, the founder of JavaPresse Coffee Company, graduated from college and immediately began working long hours in pursuit of each promotion needed to climb the corporate ladder. Then, one of his mentors died three months prior to retirement. Realizing his mentor would never get to spend endless days woodturning, as he’d dreamed of, Jana was motivated to reverse this ladder-climbing mentality.

Rather than envision happiness as something he’d get around to “someday,” Jana founded his coffee company on the idea that happiness is an intentional choice made every single day. Inspired to help others appreciate — and stay in — the present, JavaPresse’s mission became to transform everyday coffee rituals into “extraordinary daily experiences.”

“I think, more than anything, our company vision has united our team to deliver messages, products, and designs with an air of consistency,” Jana explains. “Our core values are built around a desire to help customers stay grounded, and the energy we put out to achieve our mission returns itself 10 times with the right customers who are passionate and excited to be a part of our family.”

Mortality is a good reminder of what’s truly worthwhile, and it’s good for every leader to ask a simple question: Why should our employees spend a third of their day here versus somewhere else? Defining what makes your specific company the one that deserves people’s time and attention — whether it’s making coffee, building engines, or developing marketing campaigns — is the first step in creating a strong company culture.

Ask What Employees Want — and Need

The next step is going beyond the C-suite to consider what employees want — and need — from your company. As leaders acquire more and more resources, it can be easy to forget that employees often don’t have the money, time, or assistance leaders do. The next question they should ask: What can we do to make it possible for our employees to spend a third of their day here?

Grocery chain H-E-B was named one of Indeed’s “Best Places to Work: Culture,” and its achievement stems, in its employees’ eyes, from the brand’s ability to make every employee feel valued and receive help from people at all levels of the organization. “I love that the managers, all the way up to the store managers, are actually doing something,” one employee said. “They don’t just stand around and watch you work.”

And part of making employees feel valued meant making the work setting more flexible than in a traditional retail environment. Also named the top retail place to work by Indeed, H-E-B earned accolades from employees for offering flexibility in scheduling, generous bonuses, and employee development. The company has clearly considered what will make its employees stay for more than a season.

As every employer knows, employee needs can change with the stages of their lives as well. Affiliate marketing firm Acceleration Partners crafted a parental leave policy to ensure that its employees’ new circumstances didn’t impact their ability to contribute. The organization offers flexible re-entry for new parents in recognition of the fact that almost 75 percent of unemployed mothers would have returned to the workforce with a more flexible schedule in hand.

Find Ways to Spread the Love

The third question leaders need to ask themselves is simple but often overlooked: How can we ensure that our employees help each other while they spend a third of their day here?

One smart way companies have locked down employees who are devoted to each other’s success is through referral programs. Boutique app development company Appstem realized it needed a way to compete with bigger tech companies in San Francisco and implemented an employee referral program. The program has enabled the company to spread the word about its benefits, like a flexible work setup, and it’s helped with employee retention, too: Employees who refer friends and former colleagues are more invested in staying, and these close-knit relationships lead to more internal collaboration.

Other companies have done the opposite and cleaned house to ensure their highest-performing employees aren’t held back by those who refuse to engage in hard work. “Top performers want to work with other top performers,” explains Bill Sanders, managing director of consultancy Roebling Strauss, Inc. “Keeping low performers around directly lowers the moral[e] of everyone else, even average performers.”

Company culture is increasingly important in attracting — and keeping — the best talent, but it’s not elusive. If leaders ask themselves these three questions, they’ll create a culture that people will happily and successfully spend a third of their day in for a long time to come.

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The 22X Fund and Democratizing Startup Investment

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22X Fund

Tradition leads you to believe: start a company in a garage or basement, find a few people to tell you it’s a good idea, raise a small bit of money from your friends & family, move to Silicon Valley, raise more money from a well known VC and become a technology rockstar.  

Well those of us that are living and breathing this perceived narrative know that it is mostly untrue.  As the founder of Trueface.ai a face recognition startup, I am overwhelmed with how often people just assume ‘the valley’ is throwing money at any face recognition or artificial intelligence (A.I.) company.  It’s just not the case as the venture world has shifted their risk profile to focus more on growth investing.  

The history of raising money has always positioned the venture capitalist in the position of power, dictating to the market which companies have a higher chance of success.  But how investors make the decision to invest is unpredictable and not always backed by real expertise in building companies.  

Now that’s changing. New types of funding like ICOs and equity crowdfunding, accelerators and corporate venture arms are giving startups more options to raise funds. The newest and most exciting of these new investment vehicles are “security tokens.”

Security tokens are backed by real-world assets such as equity in a company. Like “utility tokens” they are tradable on exchanges. They allow many investors globally to buy into a promising project whether that’s investing a group of startups or a real estate project.

The game has now changed for investors thanks to tokens and how they can allow for someone to instantly diversify.  I can remember back to a finance class in college; we learned all about modern portfolio theory and diversification to reduce unsystematic risk.  We’ve been taught, broadly speaking, to invest in the minimum number of companies necessary to drive your exposure to unsystematic risk to near zero.  The number of which is accepted is 30 companies in multiple industries and different levels of risk associated.  

This theory is what has me incredibly excited about securitized tokens and specifically 22X Fund. The 22X Fund is the first security token of its kind – a founder-organized initiative of 30 companies from the most recent batch of 500 Startups (Batch 22), one of the best technology accelerators in the world. The startup founders of 22X joined forces to revolutionize the way we think about fundraising. The securitized token represents up to 10% equity interest in each company, providing investors with access to Silicon Valley’s best and brightest with one single investment. The batch of 30 companies was vetted by the 500 Startups organization and had previously raised over US$ 22,000,000 in capital to get to the stages they are at today.

Investors within the 22X Fund gain access to 30 high growth companies with one investment and can reduce their overall risk while having access to liquidity by trading the token as they see fit.

There are incredible benefits to both sides here – the founders of the companies have access to global capital ranging from smaller private investors overseas, to family offices to traditional institutional funds.  The 22X Fund empowers its founders to spend less time raising money and more time focusing on how to grow their business and be successful.  Although I still believe the venture capitalists play a critical role in the ecosystem, it reduces their power to be the final say about who has an opportunity to be successful. It democratizes startup investment.   

The long-term implications for the relationship between traditional venture capital and founders are still up in the air, but I think for the community this is an incredible step forward.  Silicon Valley is known for its forward-thinking, risk-taking and against the grain mentality. This new type of fundraising is precisely what should be expected from incredibly driven, determined and bright founders who are willing to take risks.

 

Editors Note & Disclaimer: TrueFace.ai & its parent company Chui are alumni of the ReadWrite Labs accelerator program. 

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The Power of Doing Things For The Right Reasons

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keith krach

I believe in karma: we all reap what we sow. But I also believe in doing things for the right reasons without any expectation that you might somehow be paid back for your actions in the future.

This is what I call “pure heart” where you’re only motivation is to help others in need. And sometimes it is during the worst of times when someone’s true heart actions make the most impact.

For example, I’ll never forget the tragic events that unfolded on 9/11. As it happened, our company was hosting a large conference for our financial services customers in New Orleans the day the planes struck the World Trade Center. As the news trickled in—this was far more than just an accident—a dilemma quickly presented itself: many of our customers were based in New York City and were soon worried sick about their colleagues and family members.

But with the airports under lockdown, how were we going to get the 1,000 people attending our conference home?

And that’s when I witnessed one of the most amazing pure heart moments of my life. Without waiting to be told by anyone, our conference coordinator had called up several local bus companies and rented every vehicle she could inside the city. She then helped coordinate a plan where she set up tables by state as a way to get people organized.

We then gathered everyone together and explained what we knew about the situation. I asked everyone to bow their heads in a moment of silence for the fallen. I then told them we had rented busses to take them back home. But, if anyone was more comfortable waiting until things quieted down, we told them we would cover their rooms.

Most people wanted to get home, however, so we loaded everyone we could on the busses along with food and alcohol to help pass the time.

But even as we loaded up the busses, we noticed people wandering over from a nearby hotel. They had also been attending a conference, they told us, but the people hosting it had just disappeared. “Do you have any room on your busses for us?” they asked.

“Of course,” we said, as we boarded as many people as we could before sending them off toward home.

Again, we did all of this without thinking and without a thought as to the cost. It was just part of our culture to take care of our customers because we thought of them as part of our family. We knew how scared they were and how much they wanted to be home with their families, so we did everything possible to make that happen. That’s what I mean by pure heart.

A few weeks later, we also did our best to help the victims of the attack, which included purchasing a new fire truck for a firehouse in Manhattan that had lost five of its brothers. Again, we didn’t do this as a PR stunt or to get attention: we just felt it was the right thing to do.

Did karma ever pay us back for those good deeds? Perhaps. I know many of the customers we helped bus home that day remain friends to this day. But the biggest takeaway is that we knew we made a positive impact on the lives of thousands of people.

How can you put a price on that?

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Is It Time To Modernize Your Tech? 5 Updates Your Business Should Implement Today

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Smooth traffic in crossroad. Concept for advantage autonomous technology. 3D rendering image. (Simply shading)

Technology drives businesses. While that fact might lead us to believe that we need every technology out there, our budget may not necessarily agree.

Nevertheless, there may be places in your business that aren’t as efficient as they could be. These are costing you more in time and resources. Instead of living with these inefficiencies, you could be investing in technology that modernizes your processes. Your business could achieve significant ROI in exchange for those updates.

According to Bernard Fraenkel, practice manager and VP of engineering for Silicon Valley Software Group and an expert in technology modernization, “Company founders often refer to their companies, or their products, as their ‘baby.’ In the way that one parents a child differently at different stages of development, technology and methodology must evolve as the company/product grows from its early stages, to market launch, to hyper-growth mode.”

With that philosophy in mind, here are five must-have updates that your technology stack needs for your business to thrive, both in the year ahead and beyond:

  1. Cloud Services

Perhaps you’ve already added some type of cloud service, but you can’t say you’ve implemented cloud if you’ve just signed up for Dropbox. That’s a start, but it is not modernizing your technology by any means. Beyond cloud storage, you want to think of other ways that you can take advantage of the technology. Think of cloud as a way to work from anywhere. Plus, it will let you collaborate in a very efficient way.

That means looking at every aspect of your business to see where cloud services could be incorporated. While Dropbox is great for storage, think of other cloud applications. That’s because this technology works for communication, project management, disaster planning and business continuity, logistics, inventory, and the entire supply chain. Cloud services can also help with CRM, marketing and sales, and even IT. In addition, cloud services can enable you to scale up in a cost-effective way.

  1. Remote Access

If you have started adding remote workers (e.g., freelance staff) or are considering it, then it’s important to add remote access technology. This technology provides a way to securely open your network so those working away from your office can access the information they need. After all, you don’t want them using public WiFi, as its lack of security can put your proprietary information at risk.

Consider a virtual private network, which is more affordable than other types of access technology, such as constructing your own intranet. Plus, it offers greater scalability, security, and flexibility to expand your reach and team size when you need to do that.

  1. Security

Security is one of the most important ongoing technology investments that you will need to make. This doesn’t require you to build out an IT security team, which is most likely not in your budget. Instead, you can seek out a security consultant who can assess your current security technology and provide a framework for what you need to have in order to ensure compliance as well as address any vulnerabilities that are detected. This may include recommendations on how to beat hackers at their own game. It may also require investments in antivirus protection, security training and certification, and emerging technology such as biometrics if that fits your organization.

  1. Automation

Automating as much of your business as possible is worth every penny of the investment you might make. That’s because you’ll see the technology doing the time-intensive tasks that eat into your labor budget. Plus, you’ll be able to take on more business and maintain efficiency because an automated process — unlike its manual counterpart — never reaches a point where it cannot operate.

You may even want to consider software that incorporates artificial intelligence so you can expand the range of what can be automated. Doing so will help you automate more areas, such as technical support and customer service.

For example, just in marketing alone, you can automate email campaigns, social media posts, landing page development, advertising, and analytics. You’ll experience a considerable return on that investment almost immediately in terms of efficiency and cost savings.

  1. Blockchain

Although blockchain serves as the foundation of Bitcoin, it is not the same thing as that cryptocurrency. The technology can do so much more, enabling revolutionary changes to numerous processes across an organization and a wide range of industries. Blockchain offers a way to authenticate, track, and secure any type of financial or non-financial transaction. It can help improve identity verification and can secure contracts plus any data stored in the cloud. Everything from government agencies and healthcare facilities to manufacturing companies and multi-firm supply chains can benefit from it.

Thoughtful Investments Spur Development

Having an evolutionary philosophy is central to making the best technology investments and driving continual improvement as your business expands and the environment around you changes. By making thoughtful technology investments linked to specific improvement goals, you’ll find that your investments in technology pay off in more ways than one, whether you are a consumer-facing organization or a B2B enterprise.

The post Is It Time To Modernize Your Tech? 5 Updates Your Business Should Implement Today appeared first on ReadWrite.

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ReadWrite Labs and Tata Communications Host Executive Roundtable on Digital Transformation

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Put great minds in one room, and over the course of a dinner, they’ll share some significant insights. This is exactly what happened at an event hosted by ReadWrite Labs and Tata Communications in Silicon Valley this month. The topic on the minds of these thought leaders was Digital Transformation (DX), a concept, challenge, and opportunity being discussed among all industries, businesses, and demographics today.

Moderated by Kyle Ellicott of ReadWrite Labs, the group discussed why Digital Transformation (DX) is now becoming mainstream, the numerous challenges companies face on their transformation journey and where we are in term of life cycle across all areas of industry.

Redefining Digital Transformation

According to Ellicott, even though digital transformation began surfacing in the 2000s, the term was associated with existing initiatives driving radical changes from paper-driven manual processes to the ability to digitize existing forms, tasks, and processes.

But the significance of Digital Transformation in recent years is about redefining business models, strategy, and customer experiences. Nothing before could make such dramatic changes because previous digital transformation initiatives had only been used to address one part of one issue. Instead today, it’s about taking on all the interrelated issues in different industries at one time for the most disruptive change possible.

Technology is Not the Only Issue:

Common issues  with digital transformation are the technology,and the capability to integrate and migrate, as well as people’s unwillingness to embrace change. Many countries like China making the move willingly to digital across all generations and among consumers and businesses. However that’s not the case with industries and consumers in different areas of the world.

Another issue is the lack of openness around data, data sharing and ownership. In many instances, data has numerous parties that can access it. However, they are limitations about what they can do with it. The ability to be open to sharing data freely among partners or connected access points within the networked society has yet to happen. Until it does, there will be hesitation for select industries to take the step toward digital transformation.

Benchmarking the Best Industries

One way to get past these issues was to look at the top industries that are doing digital transformation well. Their best practices can educate other industries. Also, they offer a benchmark for companies that want to start on their digital transformation.

Many guests at ReadWrite Labs’s event most often named transportation as a benchmark digital transformation industry. That’s because of the recent strides in the connected vehicle market. The market has gone beyond the call button for assistance. It now provides data to manufacturers that help produce better vehicles. Also, manufacturers can personalize the experience a driver has with that car brand. Now, transportation is connecting to smart cities through street lights and other IoT infrastructure.

Additionally, healthcare, including digital health and telemedicine, is a great example of digital transformation. The migration started with medical records and an understanding that DX could enhance efficiency and service. Currently, the healthcare industry is enhancing the overall experience for patients. The digital transformation framework has changed how doctors are diagnosing patients. It’s also making healthcare more accessible to many patients around the world. The result is faster diagnosis and treatment, helping to improve the lives of many.

The IoT thought leaders also mentioned payments and e-commerce and logistics as other industries that are becoming more adept at digital transformations. Both have benefitted from digital transformation in terms of more satisfied customers, faster service, and lower operating costs.

Envisioning a Different Future

Ease of access to old world services with the likes of Uber, Airbnb and many other sharing economy successes have illustrated how technology is driving business models and how entire industry ecosystems can be leapfrogged in a matter of years. Technology is now driving the formation of new industries and business models. It is no longer the other way around where business models once figured out how to insert technology into their processes. Digital Transformation has become a subject for the c-suite and is part of the strategic process of many companies.

To these thought leaders, even with all the confusion in many companies, the gap is closing. Technology solutions are available and implemented incrementally changing how things work for a company and its ecosystems. Companies and organizations are also incorporating experience-led engineering both for their customers and employees to get the most out of the DX frameworks.  For these leaders, they agreed that use case-led direction clarifies what DX is capable of delivering.

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AI’s Role in Driving the Sales Experience

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Much has been made of AI’s role in serving customers, and AI-supported smart devices have invaded homes everywhere — Amazon’s Alexa was even used to order millions more Alexas as Christmas presents in 2017. Artificial intelligence is embedding itself in our technology-obsessed culture, but not every industry has taken advantage of AI’s utility.

Adam Honig and his co-founders at Spiro saw an opening to use AI to drive the sales experience. Businesses utilize CRMs to compile and track the data needed to support ongoing sales efforts and pinpoint new sales opportunities. But Honig, the CEO of Spiro, says that many companies aren’t getting the data they need from these platforms — they aren’t used correctly, fully, or consistently, meaning the information these sales teams are working from is skewed.

Spiro is an AI-driven CRM, complete with a conversational email interface, or an email bot, that utilizes existing data — from salespeople’s calendars, emails, and more — to lay out a schedule or to-do list for a salesperson and anticipate next moves. The AI function can process existing information more quickly than humans poring over spreadsheets can, empowering the CRM to predict how many follow-ups it may take — and what format will be most effective — to close a deal.

But that’s not where Spiro sees AI’s intersection with the sales experience ending.

How a People-Driven Industry Benefits From AI

It’s well-known that AI can process data better than humans can — a Massachusetts Institute of Technology startup’s software developed stronger predictive models than the majority of its human competitors did, and some predict that AI will be better than us at everything by 2060. But even then, there are limits: Eleni Vasilaki of the University of Sheffield says there’s “little evidence that AI with human-like versatility will appear any time soon.”

That’s what confounds many: How could an industry fueled by personal relationships, charisma, and camaraderie be driven by AI? Sales is surely a people-driven arena, but it’s already focused on tracking metrics and moving the needle by predicting human behavior. Honig and his co-founders realized, through their CRM work with more than 3,000 companies, that the problem lies in the data being gathered.

“To say that salespeople hate CRM is an understatement; most consider it a soul-sucking beast of burden that doesn’t add any value to their sales life,” Honig says. “We knew that salespeople desperately needed a CRM that would help them make more money, not give them more work. When I saw the movie ‘Her,’ I realized that the new AI technologies that were emerging would be perfect to automate non-sales tasks so they could focus on selling.”

Is This the End of Sales as We Know It?

Beyond increasing productivity and efficiency, automation can relieve salespeople from manual tasks, freeing them up for more high-level strategic efforts. Though many predict that AI will lead to mass unemployment as human beings are relieved of their duties, AI is designed to elevate the skill sets needed in each industry so complex, nuanced problems with big implications are solved by humans who will have to absorb those outcomes.

That’s why Honig believes AI will augment, not replace, salespeople. “In some ways, AI is already replacing salespeople at a fast pace,” he says. “Amazon.com’s AI algorithms make specific purchase recommendations and provide a high level of service that’s hard for retail salespeople to match.”

What that means is that to compete, salespeople selling to businesses have to be prepared to embrace solutions that make them more effective with customers. “In practice, this means using AI solutions to do things that technology can do better, like entering data, and let them focus on the things that people do better, like building rapport and really understanding the needs of a customer,” Honig explains.

The Productive Path Forward

The biggest benefit AI may offer to the sales process is its data-gathering capabilities. Whereas some salespeople operate from instinct or their “gut feeling” about a customer and his needs, sales is often now held to the same standard and expectation of ROI as most marketers and advertisers. Without numbers, it’s hard to maintain a budget, commission, or even a permanent position.

Despite this need for hard data, many sales departments track information haphazardly, failing to record final contract numbers in a database or neglecting to indicate how many touchpoints a lead went through before finding his way to the bottom of the sales funnel. That lack of information may not impact that specific sales process, but it can alter an entire team’s goals and predictions. AI-driven platforms like Spiro can grab the data where it’s buried and build their own reports, adding a layer of analysis and interpretation for human reviewers. Honig says Spiro’s reports have been shown to contain eight times more data than regular CRM reports, underscoring the power of AI.

The other side of AI’s productivity can be seen in its ability to look at an overview of a person’s behavior, add context, and predict future actions. “Imagine if your CRM could advise you who you should call and follow up with to drive all your leads and deals forward,” Honig says. “That’s what we do. Spiro uses a machine learning algorithm that was trained by more than 15,000 salespeople to identify the best times for follow-up, the best email templates to be used, and the best contacts to focus on.”

Thanks to these insights, Spiro’s customers have indicated they reach up to 47 percent more prospects each week. A big factor in reaching more customers is having the AI predict which prospects won’t close so salespeople can focus on others. Human hope makes it hard for sales professionals to shut down a potential source of income when they can’t see where the road ends.

“Artificial intelligence will do more and more for salespeople,” Honig says. “Beyond advising them who to call and follow up with, it will automatically identify similar prospects and suggest that salespeople call them. It will listen in on sales calls and provide real-time feedback to help make the pitch even better. It will learn from emails, calendar appointments, and phone calls to craft specific proposals based on what’s already happened.”

In other words, Honig predicts AI will become salespeople’s constant companion, designed to help them make more money. Sales may be a people-driven industry, but AI is on a path to ensure it values data as much as instincts.

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