What are smart contracts?

Smart contract: a digital agreement where you can programmatically code “if this” happens, “then something else happens.”

For example, you could write a smart contract to replace your paper contract for something like a mortgage, loan, employment agreement, smartphone payment installment term, or a terms of service agreement.

vitalik-buterins-amazing-tshirt-techcrunch-disrupt

Glasses-wearing cats riding unicorn llamas, UFOs, and rainbows represent
Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin’s vision for smart contracts.

 

Ethereum isn’t the only early-stage smart contract platform in existence right now (e.g. Blockstack is an up-and-coming contender), but for now Ethereum has first-mover advantage and a market capitalization currently second only to Bitcoin, so for this article we’ll focus exclusively on Ethereum and its rapidly emerging ecosystem.

Bitcoin has some very limited scripting capabilities, but the core functionality of Ethereum lies both in its blockchain design and use of its Ethereum Virtual Machine (aka. EVM, and commonly described as a “world computer”).

ETH-landing-page

Behold! WORLD COMPUTER.

 

The EVM operates similarly to Bitcoin in that its decentralized nodes are connected by a peer-to-peer networking protocol. Beyond that, the EVM offers opportunities for much more complex computation than Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is a protocol designed specifically for payments, whereas the EVM is “Turing-complete” (meaning any computation run on one EVM node is able to be run on another node), and any smart contract instruction set runs on each one of these nodes. Similar to functions, smart contracts can call other smart contracts, creating a complex ecosystem.

The ether token, through the use of “gas”, is designed to be the fuel that pays for the execution of these smart contracts.

The EVM allows for the development of decentralized applications (dapps), therefore greatly extending the usefulness of blockchain technology.

The Ethereum Foundation documentation refers to this dapp platform as “Web 3.0”, a backend for a new kind of decentralized and secure internet.

matrix-image

Whoa.

Pros and Cons of Smart Contracts

As with any major new technological innovation, it is difficult to foresee exactly what the most popular use cases will be, and also how unexpected bugs affect the system.

Pros:

  • Decentralized: removal of single points of failure with workflows such as VPNs (dramatic privacy improvements vs.centralized VPNs), distributed computation (imagine an Amazon Web Services-like platform that pays you for free CPU cycles on your computer), and distributed storage (imagine a Dropbox-like platform where you get paid to host small, encrypted shards of someone else’s data)
  • Inclusive: Anyone can write a smart contract, it’s not just for big companies, or the coding elite
  • Intermediary-free: Smart contracts replace expensive intermediaries from contract negotiation and execution
  • Income: Many smart contracts are pay-to-use, with you as a prospective service provider receiving the platform’s token as payment

Cons:

angry-crowd-with-pitchforks

The pitchforks come out when there is major community disagreement, such as Ethereum’s decision to hard-fork after the disastrous 2016 DAO hack.

  • Hacking: Smart contracts have a large attack surface, evidenced by major hacks as was the case with The DAO Hack and multiple Parity wallet multisig hacks
  • Irreversibility: Major hacks destabilize the ecosystem both technically and economically because value transfer between smart contracts is generally irreversible
  • Unintended consequences: Smart contracts are a very permanent form of agreement and current technology does not include essential elements of a mature legal system, such as appeals, arbitration, and mediation

The smart contract space is just now beginning to set a rubric for security best-practices, ICO critiques, and many other key guidelines necessary to producing a healthy ecosystem.

Current Examples of Smart Contracts

Ethereum Name Service

Have you ever seen an ether address? A checksummed address looks like this:

0x7cB57B5A97eAbe94205C07890BE4c1aD31E486A8

For most people this is very difficult to read, and blockchain addresses in general tend to look similar. The ENS fixes all this through its smart contract, which is also interacted with via an ether address. The goal of the ENS is to radically improve the internet’s current domain name system with addresses that appear similar to email, such as “onemonth.eth”.

Initial Coin Offerings

ICOs allow startups to raise massive amounts of capital in incredibly short time periods compared to the traditional venture capital method. Even companies without working prototypes have raised millions in the span of days, without any vetting from educated investors. ICOs have their own pros and cons which are worthy of a separate article.

There are a few promising projects, and a massive amount of scams. ICOs have dramatically impacted the tech industry in just this past year, and startups and venture capitalists are working as fast as they can to leverage this new method of fundraising.

Ethereum’s 2014 pre-sale is commonly considered the first ICO. Most ICOs create ERC-20 tokens, a standard that enables token transfer on Ethereum’s blockchain.

Decentralized Exchanges

For most people it is convenient to purchase tokens on user-friendly exchanges such as Coinbase, Bittrex, Bitfinex, and many others. One of the core value propositions of blockchain technology however, is that it is decentralized, and centralized exchanges are a point of vulnerability, as was brutally demonstrated by the 2014 Mt. Gox hack.

Centralized exchanges are also running into issues with regulatory bodies like the SEC all over the world and due to legal concerns do not always list in-demand ICO tokens when they become available for trading. China, for the moment, has banned both token exchanges and ICOs entirely. There is much ongoing debate regarding how regulators should treat blockchain-based assets and the exchanges on which they are traded.

Enter the decentralized exchange: an automated exchange that serves any jurisdiction. There are a couple to pick from currently, and more on the way every day:

Conclusion

Smart contracts are an innovation that are here to stay, although the technology is immature and needs better scaling and security. Much learning is required to get up to speed on what happened, what’s currently happening, and what trends to expect. We’re here to help you grasp what this brave new world means for you, and for society in general.

 

Five Alternatives to Coinbase

Coinbase receives a lot of attention because it’s easy for beginners. The company also made headlines in 2017 when they raised their Series D funding of $100 million. With that said, Coinbase’s fees can be as high as 7%, they only offer three digital currencies at the moment, and you might not like how Coinbase handles their Bitcoin fork (e.g. they chose not to distribute Bitcoin Cash to Coinbase users).

Bithumb Bitfinex Bittrex Gdax HitBTC
Base South Korea Hong Kong U.S. U.S. Europe
Trading volume $900 million $600 million $257 million $183 million $286 million
Trading pairs 10 53 261 9 296
Fiat Currency Accepted Korean Won USD N/A USD, EU, GBP N/A
Country eligibility Open Excluding the U.S Impose restriction on selected states in the U.S. Only available for selected countries; 3 states within the U.S. not eligible Limitation on North Korea, Washington, and the New York States; Otherwise open
Fees 0.15% 0.1% – 0.2% 0.25% 0.1% – 0.25% 0.1%
Major Hack Yes Yes N/A Flash crash N/A

So you may wonder any other alternatives. In this blog, we will give an introduction to five exchanges other than Coinbase across the globe and provide a snapshot of what they are and how they are different. A very useful tool for navigation is CoinMarketCap which tracks the price for most cryptocurrencies, tokens and the trading volumes for exchanges. Most of our following discussion will refer to it.

There are two main reasons we selected these five: liquidity and geography. Market trading volume can reflect how active the exchange and gives you a relative idea whether your buy/sell order can be fulfilled instantly. While cryptocurrencies are traded 24/7, the geographic location of an exchange informs where most of its users and the customer support are likely to be based so you may want to trade during a time that most of them also stay active.  

1. Bithumb

Coinbase alternative: Bithumb

Coinbase alternative #1: Bithumb

Based in South Korea, Bithumb has around $400 million trading volume in the past 24 hours based on CoinMarketCap. Given its location, the only fiat currency Bithumb accepts is Korean Won, either by bank wire or credit card so you don’t have to physically be in South Korea. It offers 10 trading pairs, including Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Qtum, Ripple, Litecoin, Ethereum Classic, Zcash, Dash and Monero.

For transactions, Bithumb charges 0.15% for makers and takers. You don’t need to pay for depositing funds to the exchange but it does impose a fee for withdrawals, depending on the exact coin you are dealing with. Here you can find a full price list.

While it tops the list of worldwide exchanges by its trading volume, Bithumb was also said to have been hacked in July 2017, with some customers reporting the loss of money due of the security breach.

2. Bitfinex

Coinbase alternative: Bitfinex

Coinbase alternative #2: Bitfinex

Bitfinex is based in Hong Kong and accepts U.S dollar. The trading volume is at a similar level with Bithumb, around $400 million but it has a total of 53 trading pairs. Some of them are crypto-to-fiat (BTC/USD) and rest are crypto-to-crypto (ETH/BTC). This page provides a full list for your reference.

However, do take note that Bitfinex has issues with depositing and withdrawing U.S. dollars directly from bank wire, and it bars U.S. residents from trading due to banking compliance issues.

In terms of the security: Bitfinex was hacked in 2016 during which $60 million was exploited. Following the hack, investors were issued BFX token as an equity representation for 36% of the total hacked amount which Bitfinex later obliged to buy back in 2017.

The fee structure is similar with Bithumb. Deposition is free while transaction charge can vary from 0.1% to 0.2% based on the transaction amount, and the withdrawal of any asset also comes with an associated fee.

3. Bittrex

Coinbase alternative #3: Bittrex

Coinbase alternative #3: Bittrex

Bittrex, is based in the U.S. and regulated by the U.S. government. A major difference between Bitfinex and Bithumb is that Bittrex is a crypto-to-crypto only exchange, meaning Bittrex doesn’t accept USD (or any fiat currencies). But if you have Ether stored in a wallet somewhere, you can send it to your Bittrex account to buy Bitcoin.

Given this feature, Bittrex offers 261 cryptocurrency trading pairs, and amounting approximately $370 million market volume. For each transaction, they charge a 0.25% commission, slightly higher than the previous two options. But it would be a go-to if you have a wide interest in different coins.

Finally, Bittrex hasn’t seen any security hack that was to the level Bitfinex had suffered. That said, at least one user has reported a hack which resulted in his nearly 7 Bitcoins being stolen.

4. GDAX

Coinbase alternative: Gdax

Coinbase alternative #4: Gdax

GDAX is owned and operated by Coinbase. While you can buy/sell cryptocurrencies on both Gdax and Coinbase, the core difference lies in the order book: When you buy Bitcoin on Coinbase, you are buying the inventory from Coinbase’s own stock, which means you pay the real-time price of bitcoin — for which Coinbase charges you a higher fee.

GDAX, on the other hand, plays the order book role, which matches your bid/ask with someone’s ask/bid. The exchange is also based in U.S. and offers a total of 9 trading pairs, both fiat-to-crypto and crypto-to-crypto. Compared to Bitfinex and Bithumb, Gdax is more diverse in terms of supporting global major fiat currencies, including the US dollar, Euro, and British Pound. The fee ranges from 0.1% to 0.25% depending on the transaction volume.

While no major security hack was reported on GDAX, there was once a price flash crash where Ether just plunged from over $300 to as low as 13 cents, which triggered a margin call that liquidated the positions held by many leveraged traders. But Coinbase later announced it would reimburse the amount to investors.

5. HitBTC

Coinbase alternative: HitBTC

Coinbase alternative #5: HitBTC

And finally, after Asia and America, we move to the Europe, where HitBTC is based in. In terms of the liquidity, HitBTC and Gdax are at a similar level, both somewhere between $150 to $200 million. But HitBTC operates in the same style as Bittrex, which provides only crypto-to-crypto trading. Yet, it offers even more options than Bittrex – 296 trading pairs according to CoinMarketCap, beating Bittrex’s 261, with a smaller transaction charge, at 0.1%, compared to Bittrex’s 0.25%.

How to find the exchanges where you can trade specific cryptocurrencies?

 

Visit Coin Market Cap: They have over 1200 coins listed, among which you should find the one you would like to invest. For example, if you are particularly interested in Ripple, locate Ripple from the top and click on it. Then the next page you will see a chart for the historical price of Ripple, as shown in the screen capture.

Go to the “Market” tab, after which you will be able to see all the exchanges that offer the trading of Ripple, as well as their corresponding trading pair and volume in the last 24 hours.

Bitcoin vs. Ethereum

What’s the difference between Bitcoin and Ethereum?

First, it’s important to understand that there are two categories of digital coins: Cryptocurrencies (e.g. Bitcoin, Litecoin, Monero, ZCash, etc) and Tokens (e.g. Ethereum, Filecoin, Storj, Blockstack, etc.)

Bitcoin is a “cryptocurrency.” Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are competing against existing money (and gold) to replace them with a truly global currency.

The promise of Bitcoin is that it is:

  • A global currency which allows individuals to own their own money (without having to rely on national banks).
  • Lower fees for transferring money across geographic borders.
  • Financial stability for people who live in countries with unstable currencies. (e.g. In 2016, the Venezuela’s currency hit an inflation rate of 800%). In addition, two-thirds of the current global population has no access to banking, or limited access — Bitcoin is changing that.

Ethereum is a “token.” What Bitcoin does for money, Ethereum does for contracts. Ethereum’s innovation is that is allows you to write Smart Contracts: basically any digital agreement where you can say “if this” happens, “then something else happens.” For example:

  • If I vote for the President, then my vote is official and no one else can vote as me.
  • If I sign my name on this document, then I own the car, and you no longer own the car.
  • Up until now we’ve carried out these agreements with a signature at the bottom of a paper document. Ethereum dramatically improves this model because it is digital, and proof of the transaction can never be deleted.

Comparison chart: Bitcoin vs. Ether

Bitcoin (BTC) Ether (ETH)
What is it? A currency  A token
Inventor Satoshi Nakamoto Vitalik Buterin; Other co-founders include Gavin Wood and Joseph Lubin
Went alive January 2009 July 2015
Supply Style Deflationary (a finite # of bitcoin will be made) Inflationary (much like fiat currency, where more tokens can be made over time)
Supply Cap 21 million in total 18 million every year
New token issuance time Every 10 minutes approximately Every 10 to 20 seconds
Amount of new token at issuance 12.5 at the moment. Half at every 210,000 blocks 5 per every new block
Utility Used for purchasing goods and services, as well as storing value (much like how we currently use gold).  Used for making dApps (decentralized apps) on the Ethereum blockchain. 
Price Around $5,600 at the moment Around $300 at the moment
Purpose A new currency created to compete against the gold standard and fiat currencies A token capable of facilitating Smart Contracts (For example: a lawyer’s contract, an  exchange of ownership of property, and voting)

Ethereum vs. ether

Let’s go a step further:

Bitcoin itself is two things: (1) it’s a digital currency known bitcoin (lowercase, also referred to as BTC) and Bitcoin is a technology (also known more generally as  blockchain). Both are called the same thing which admittedly can be confusing for newbies.

  • Bitcoin = The name of the Bitcoin network
  • bitcoin = The currency (or BTC)

With Ethereum it’s similar, but slightly different: the token is called ether (or ETH) and the network is Ethereum. 

  • Ethereum = The Ethereum network
  • ether = The token (of ETH)

Bitcoin vs. Ethereum

Where do I buy bitcoin and ether?

Coinbase is the most popular, and easiest place to buy both bitcoin and ethereum. Other popular exchanges where you can buy them include: Gdax (owned by Coinbase), or Kraken

Join Coinbase now and get $10 of free Bitcoin if you buy or sell $100.

How much does it cost?

You can visit Coinmarketcap anytime for the latest price of BTC and ETH.

It’s important to know that you don’t have to buy one entire BTC or ETH, you can buy a smaller percentage of either.

bitcoin vs. ether: How many tokens are available?

For Bitcoin, the total supply cap is set at 21 million. At the moment, according to CoinMarketCap, the circulating supply is around 16,586,737 BTC

A new BTC is generated approximately every 10 minutes. And after 2140 no more new bitcoins will be created, which is why Bitcoin is said to be deflationary (the opposite of inflation).

When new bitcoins are created miners compete to get them. Miners are people with can play one of two  possible roles: they use their computers to claim new bitcoin AND/OR they help verify transactions on the network — much like a bookkeeper. 

There’s no set cap for a total supply of ETH. At the moment, around 94,815,798 ETH are circulating.

bitcoin vs. ether: What can I do with them?

You can use Bitcoin to send or receive money, or to purchase goods at popular sites like Overstock.com, Namecheap, or Tesla. You can also hold your bitcoin as an investment, or for long term storage of value (kind of like how people invest in gold). 

Ether is not as popular as BTC for purchasing goods. At the moment ether is mainly being used by developers building applications on top of it. Over time, and as more apps are developed, the value of ether will likely move from being speculative (as it is now), to more useful in everyday life. 

How to storage bitcoin and ether 

Once you buy digital currency you’re going to want to store it in cold storage (this is a much more secure place to store your currency. Exchanges like Coinbase are where you want to buy currency, but after you purchase the currency it is not advisable to leave your money at the exchange.)

Bitcoin, ether and many other types of coins can be stored on a cold storage option like Trezor. If you’re serious about buying, sending, or storing larger amounts of cryptocurrencies I’d suggest you pick one up.

Bitcoin vs. Ethereum: Want to learn more?

I teach about Bitcoin and Ethereum at Columbia University’s Business School. And also teach online with One Month.

Join my online Bitcoin and Blockchain tutorial or leave a comment below if you have any questions!

Proof of Work vs Proof of Stake

There are two common ways that blockchain networks mine new coins: proof-of-work and proof-of-stake. In this article we’ll explain the difference and what it means for bitcoin, Ethereum, and other altcoins.

Proof-of-work Proof-of-stake
Which blockchain adopts it Bitcoin, Ethereum*, Litecoin Nxt, Peercoin, BlackCoin, Gridcoin
How to select the block creator The one who has the proof of solving a math function. The one who locks up the wealth as a bet to enter a random selection algorithm
Reward Block reward + Transaction fee No block reward, just transaction fee
Hardware reliance Heavy Light
Potential issue 51% attack Nothing-at-stake attack

New to Blockchain?

Before reading you should know that blockchain refers to the record of transactions being sent and received on a network, for example, Bitcoin; and that miners are essentially the bookkeepers of those transactions. 

Proof-of-work: a method which requires miners to validate transactions on a blockchain by working out a mathematical function (called hash).

Proof-of-stake: a method which allows miners to validate block transactions according to how many coins they choose to put at stake on that network (as deposits). Here is a post where the founder of Ethereum explained a design philosophy of PoS.

Both methods exist to serve a common purpose on the blockchain: To validate that the person sending bitcoin (or any digital currency) has the correct amount of funds in their account. And that after the transaction is done, he or she no longer has the coin in their account (aka. to avoid double spending).

And yet, the two take an inherently different approach towards that goal.

PoW v.s. PoS: Buying a shovel v.s. Deposit in a bank

By definition, Proof-of-Work means to solve the hash function and prove the result is correct. While it’s hard to unravel the function, it’s easy for other miners to verify the result once a miner gets it – just putting it back to the function to see if it works out, like an algebraic problem. If it does, congrats! Here’s the prize. So take out your shovel, do the physical work, and show everybody you have mined the gold.

Proof-of-Stake, however, is a mechanism that needs no math. Instead, inside the network, you simply lock up a certain amount of your stake, i.e. your whatever cryptocurrency generated in this blockchain. That is your proof because something is at stake. The network uses a random selection algorithm to determine who the next block creator is, with factors like how many coins you lock up, what the coin’s age is, or how long you have locked up already, etc. Different PoS-based blockchain has various criteria, but the gist is not much hardware work is required. It’s somewhat like deposition and interests.

PoW v.s. PoS: Block reward v.s. No block reward

In PoW-based blockchain, miners do the hard work and will be rewarded. Recall Bitcoin and Ethereum, where a new block rewards 12.5 Bitcoins and 5 Ethers. But there’s another thing called a transaction fee. When you send a Bitcoin to me, that transaction needs to be validated and documented on the blockchain through the hash function math that miners are doing. But they are not doing it for free so you need to attach a transaction fee. The next lucky miner who creates the next block will receive all the transaction fees and the block reward itself, so it’s 12.5+ Bitcoins.

In PoS method, the blockchain has no block reward. Only transaction fees. That’s also why participants in the PoS blockchain should be called validators, not miners. They only facilitate the validation process of transactions without the mining activity like PoW does.

Ethereum Mining

Ethereum Mining

PoW v.s. PoS: Hardware heavy v.s. Light reliance

Because of the hefty math solving, PoW requires supercomputing power. For example, Bitcoin mining involves tons of mining chips which consume lots of electricity, depreciate fast, and could pile up at the landfill.

On the other hand, PoS relies substantially less on hardware. By just locking up your stake inside the blockchain network, you won’t expect a daunting electricity bill as you would from Bitcoin mining rigs.

PoW v.s. PoS: Potential Threat

Following the point above, since PoW mining requires physical hardware, the more powerful mining chips you have, the stronger computing capacity you own, then the more likely you can create the new blocks. It leads to a potential danger when one place accumulates over 51 percent of the entire network mining power. It is then capable of becoming a center, which is the fundamental situation that blockchain tries to eliminate. This is called 51% attack.

On the other hand, PoS imposes a threat called Nothing at Stake attack. The details can be very technical. But the important concept is that just as validators lock up a lot of their stakes, they can also lock up nothing. They may have no chance of creating the next block but because nothing is at stake for them, they have nothing to lose just to purposely mess up the blockchain. This video is recommended if you’d like a more technical explanation.

*Ethereum currently is still running on the proof-of-work protocol. But it is confirmed that proposals for Ethereum to switch to proof-of-stake, known as Casper, are being developed by the network’s founder Vitalik Buterin.

The Newbie Guide to Ethical Hacking

I hack websites. I’ve been doing it for a long time, across various industries, tech stacks, and programming languages. When I tell people what I do, especially those in the tech community, they often ask how I started and how can they learn more. So today, I’m going to give you a quick intro into the tools and tricks to get started with web hacking. The best way to start is to dive into the details, using some hacking tools.

Here’s how I recommend starting:

  1. Understand the tools of the trade
  2. Understand common attacks and defenses
  3. Practice on test sites

Since we will be focusing on web hacking, a basic understanding and/or refresher may be useful. If so, check out my post on, “Understanding HTTP Basics,” then come back. Don’t worry, its pretty simple but lays the groundwork for later.

Tools of the Trade

The first thing I think anyone trying to get involved with web app security needs to know is how to use the most common web hacking tool, the proxy. Proxies let you intercept HTTP requests and responses, allowing you to fully understand how a website works and lets you uncover security issues. I wrote a post, “Web hacking Tools: Proxies,” which walks through installing and using the most common web proxy used by security people, Burp.

After you spend some time using a web proxy, it’s pretty eye opening to see how some of your favorite sites work, under the covers at the HTTP layer. This is also super-useful during normal development to debug and troubleshoot web application problems.

Common Attacks

Next, you need to gain an understanding of the common attacks hackers use to break-in, so you can test your sites and code for these vulnerabilities. You should check out my article on the iCloud attack here. OWASP provides a list of the top 10 attacks. This is a great place to start, although I should warn you that some of them get into the weed fairly quickly. Once you understand those, you can review sites you build to make sure they are protected.

Practice makes perfect

Armed with your first hacking tool, the web proxy, and an understanding of common attacks, it’s time to put your newfound knowledge to the test with a few hacking challenges. There are a few great sites out there where you can learn and try out hacking techniques without being worried about breaking the law. These are a few of my favorites:

After you brush up on your skills, you can take it to the next level with a few public bug bounty programs. These programs are great because they pay for you finding vulnerabilities in public websites, such as Google, Facebook, and Paypal. Make sure you read all the rules before starting:

If you don’t want to deal with these companies directly, you can also join a bug bounty program through a dedicated bug bounty company. These work with various businesses to test security using a pool of freelance hackers, including you! These two are the best:

Finding A Technical Co-Founder Or Developer For Your Startup

How do you find a co-founder or a developer to come onboard your startup?

How do you speak to Code Monkeys? And what do you do if you don’t know any developers? For entrepreneurs with business and non-technical backgrounds, these issues can seem like huge and overwhelming bars to making your idea a reality.

The good news is that you can take concrete steps to find technically-minded folks and get them excited about your projects. It just takes a little research, a willingness to ask around, and the ability to form sentences more coherently than Kanye West.

It just takes a little research, a willingness to ask around, and the ability to form sentences more coherently than Kanye West.

1: Speak the language

The first and most essential thing that will endear you to technically-minded potential co-founders and developers is surprisingly basic: the ability to sound at least familiar with their area of expertise.

You don’t have to become a complete programming geek, but you do at least need to put enough effort and do enough research to be cocktail-party-literate in code.

Computers are a science, and there’s a technical jargon that separates people who know what they’re talking about from people who get made fun of on the Whartonite Seeks Codemonkey tumblr. You need to either learn enough that you’re able to correctly communicate your needs — like knowing the difference between Swift, Android, and website building — or be able to frame your pitch so that your co-founder can tell you what you need.

2: Make sure you (sound like you) know what you’re talking about

In the pitch itself, developers get excited in the details. Having tangible research, the results of an MVP experiment, domain experience or field credentials go a long way towards proving your credibility.Make sure you front-load all of that when reaching out to people.

Remember that it’s not just on your co-founder or developer to bring some tangible skill to the table. You have to prove that you’re showing up with the skills that are going to make your startup a success and make someone excited about working with you. To that end, it’s definitely a faux pas to be stingy about what you’re offering someone to come onboard. Resist that proprietary possessive fallacy that your idea is yours. When you start collaborating with someone else, the idea gets bigger than just you. And most of the time, that’s what makes it better.

Resist that proprietary possessive fallacy that your idea is yours. When you start collaborating with someone else, the idea gets bigger than just you.

3: Brevity and clarity are an entrepreneur’s best friends

When you’re reaching out to co-founders and developers, bear in mind that successful emails are short, direct, and spelled correctly.

Even if you have the Best Idea Ever, dial down the hyperbole. Yours isn’t the first idea a developer’s heard and it won’t be the last. You’ll be much more convincing if your pitch is based on evidence.It’s even better if you can provide figures, like the example from Derby Jackpot does, of what the market demand is and what kind of opportunity you’re trying to seize. When in doubt, think “Just the facts,” and not “What would Kanye do?”

If you already know what technology requirements your project needs, specify that. But if you don’t, don’t trying and bluff your way through it. The Derby Jackpot pitch makes no mention of what platforms they want to launch on or what components they need to make virtual horse racing a reality. And that’s fine. The email makes up for it by cleanly and clearly presenting the idea. It also wraps up quickly, with an easy invitation for interested developers to ask questions and learn more. Leave them wanting more.

4: And remember, the social network isn’t just a movie…

If you don’t know where to start looking for a technical co-founder or developer, that’s okay. There are other people out in the world who do, and chances are you know some of them. Pack that pitch email with details of what you’re looking for in terms of time commitment/what you can offer, and send it out to 5–10 of your friends. Ask them to refer you not just to one or two folks who may be interested in your project, but to include people who may know someone else who is. Ask for introductions and more than likely, a few degrees of separation later, you’ll have a strong list of candidates.

The more effortless it is to help you out, the more likely people will do it.

As with your pitch email, you want to make the referral process as easy as possible. The more effortless it is to help you out, the more likely people will do it. One good way to think about phrasing your request is with a scorecard. Avoid a lengthy back and for by detailing what you’re looking for and what you’re not. What kind of commitment you’re looking for, what your budget is, whatever logistical constraints you have: any detail at all will help your network find the person who can best help you.

5: Look around and use online resources in your search

If you’ve tapped into your network and come up dry, that’s okay. Here are a few ways to tap into the world of the internet (and the ground) to find a developer:

  • Check and see if you can insert yourself into a pre-existing network or local community. You may live somewhere with meetup groups, tech or programming-specific schools and bootcamps, and tech-related business events. All of these are great avenues to explore and make connections.

If you’ve left no in-person stone unturned and still come up short, don’t despair. There’s still a magical land called the Internet, where people can connect with each other across space and time.

Wherever you go online, just make sure you follow some basic etiquette. Take the ten minutes to get a feel for the community you’re entering. Get a sense of its tone, read the rules, and make sure you’re posting in the appropriate way, in the appropriate space. You don’t want to immediately spam a thread with requests — and just like in reaching out to individual developers, make sure that you come across as thoughtful, engaged, and able to provide some value to the discussion.

It’s all about the long game

However you reach out, it’s people who are going to make your company. You want to create a connection that’s strong enough to see you through all the exciting challenges of building and launching your idea. So don’t be afraid to reach out, put in the time to make connections with both tech-minded individuals and communities. The best thing you can do is to a take those extra few weeks to really get to know someone. Then find your team, and get to work.

Founder Friday Series

This post is part of a series of short, candid, quick videos and essays on entrepreneurship and starting your own business– I call it Founder Friday.

If you want to see more of these, leave a comment and let me know that you like it.

Google Analytics: The Modern Way to Know Your Users

How many users came to your site today?

Do you know how many people are coming to your site? How could you figure that out? Well, if you live in the 1990s, you could put one of those little web counters at the bottom of your screen and keep track every time someone clicks it (you could also say hi to Ace of Base for us).

Now there’s a much better way to track web activity: Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a free service you can sign up for that will track all sorts of useful information on your site. It tracks much more than just who shows up. It will also tell you how many users are boys or girls, where they’re coming to your site from, how often they come back, even what kind of computer they’re using.

At One Month, we use Google Analytics to track data that allows us to figure out what sort of content will help our community best. Like when we found out that many of our visitors are Windows users, that helped us remember to keep them in mind when we make our classes.

Any web site you make can benefit from Google Analytics. It doesn’t matter if the site is a straight out of the box site from somewhere like Squarespace or if it’s a site you made yourself. It also doesn’t matter if you’ve never tracked the site before; you can add Google Analytics to it now.

Here’s how you get started:

  • Create a new account at the Google Analytics homepage.
  • Fill in a quick form with some details of you and your web site.
  • Copy the tracking script they give you into the code of your site (make sure it’s showing up on every page).

Then you’re ready to track your demographics.

Takeaways

  • Google Analytics helps web sites track user demographics
  • If you have a web site, you need good demographics to make content your users need.
  • Adding Google Analytics to your web site is easy no matter what kind of web site you’re using.

What is a 500 Internal Server Error page?

500 Error – is a status code that means internal server error. Basically the application itself broken. This is usually a code error somewhere. They often look the same to you as a user, but there’s a major difference from the developers perspective.

There’s tons of others, but the basic rule is:

  • 1xx means informational (I’ve never actually seen this though, so don’t worry about what it means)
  • 2xx means success
  • 3xx means redirection
  • 4xx means a browser error – like you’re trying to load a page that doesn’t exist or you shouldn’t access. Basically it’s your fault usually.
  • 5xx means a server error – like the developer fucked up somehow.

What are littleBits?

What are littleBits?

LittleBits are kind of like legos, but for circuits. Using littleBits, you can make a wide array of hardware projects straight out of the box. Want to connect a timer to another device (like a flashlight, a tool, a musicbox, or even a couch)? You can!

You don’t need to know how to code to get started with littleBits — all of the logic is pre-programmed.

Here are some of the things you can make:

  • A flashlight
  • A flashlight with a dimmer
  • Or even a flashlight with a dimmer and an alarm clock!
  • As you can see, you can begin to build upon each item and make more and more complex projects.

Other projects you can try with littleBits:

Where to get started:

  • Visit littleBits.cc for more information and inspiration.
  • “The bits may be little, but the possibilities are epic!”